Students of Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidic thought worldwide are continuing to mark the centennial anniversary of a monumental series of Chassidic discourses by the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dovber Schneersohn, known as the Rebbe Rashab, with new materials and classes continuing to appear both online and in print.
The discourses—collectively known as Hemshech Ayin Beis—were given over the course of five years, beginning in 1912. In its entirety, the work comprehensively covers the most abstruse Kabbalistic and Hasidic concepts in such extensive detail that its 144 discourses comprise 1,479 pages in three printed volumes.
The sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory, said that the series represented a new echelon in the teachings of Chassidism, where “all the deep concepts and teachings are explained in clear terms.”
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Corresponding to the centennial, the Kehot Publication Society, the publishing arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, is preparing an ongoing English translation of the work that is being serialized in Chayenu, the weekly study companion of Jewish learning.
In addition, the discourses are being painstakingly compared with the original handwritten discourses, receiving new footnotes and are being published in installments by Kehot. In Israel, two new volumes have been published with explanatory notes on the first 21 discourses.
Yeshiva students and adults alike are placing a greater emphasis on learning the discourses. Classes have sprouted up across the globe in yeshivas, Chabad Houses and synagogues, and the work has become a part of the official curriculum of the Central Lubavitch Yeshiva in Brooklyn. N.Y. Classes are available online as well.
Rabbi Simon Jacobson, director of the Meaningful Life Center, has been teaching the discourses. Jacobson said that Ayin Beis comes to explain “the interface between the Divine and the mortal. Can we marry the heaven and earth? The spiritual and material, can they fuse as one?” he asked.
These discourses “teach us how we could connect these two seemingly diametrically opposed realities,” said Jacobson. “They go into much detail, because it is not just a philosophical, academic exercise. It is also going into how to do it, in specific detail.”
Such detail was a hallmark of the teachings of Rabbi Shalom Dovber, who was famed for his phenomenal mind and analytical treatment of Chabad philosophy. He thus came to be known as the “Maimonides of Chabad Chassidism” for his ability to organize topics in Chassidic thought, just as Maimonides codified the vast corpus of Jewish law.
The 1912 series discusses in very lengthy essays the gradual creation of the world. It reviews the spiritual worlds where G‑dly rays, known as orot, are contracted via spiritual vessels, known as keilim, to make it possible for this physical and finite world to be created from the infinite G‑d.
These spiritual worlds are preceded by what is known in kabbalistic works as keter, literally translated as a crown. The keter is considered to be an even higher bridge from the spiritual to the physical, and is referred to as “G‑d’s will to create the world.”
Rabbi Shalom Dovber explains that there are three levels in keter, which comes from something that is beyond intellect and by analogy is above the head, like a crown. The three levels are the revealed will of G‑d, the hidden will and the will that cannot be revealed.
Rabbi Shalom Dovber Schneersohn, known as the Rebbe Rashab. (Photo: Agudas Chasidei Chabad Library/Lubavitch Archives)
The discourses were first published from copies of manuscripts that Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak placed in the safe possession of his son-in-law, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. The Rebbe was living in Berlin at the time, registered in university and fulfilling many missions for his father-in-law. About six months after the Rebbe’s wedding, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak traveled to the Land of Israel, and on the way he met with his son-in-law. “When the Rebbe, my father-in-law, traveled from his home,” the Rebbe recalled in a December 1976 talk, “he was looking for someone he could leave his manuscripts with, so that they should be returned in completion.”
The Rebbe, in all of his modesty, said that his father-in-law “did not have any other choice,” so he left the manuscripts with him. “When I saw that among the manuscripts was the series Ayin Beis, I immediately made facsimiles of them.” The Rebbe then explained how according to Jewish law a guardian is allowed to make copies of items that are placed in his possession for safe keeping. “There was no doubt that my father-in-law knew that I would make copies of everything that he gave me.”
While fleeing from the Nazis, most passengers carried a suitcase or two, but the Rebbe through all his travels and despite the turmoil took with him many cases of scholarly books and manuscripts written by Chabad-Lubavitch leaders, many of them passed down from each Rebbe to the next. This discourse was there too. “I have it until this day,” the Rebbe said.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn and the Rebbe worked on publishing several of the Rebbe Rashab’s works, but none of his discourses were published as complete volumes until 1971. There are now tens of volumes published by Kehot that include the discourses of the Rabbi Shalom Dovber. In 1976 the Rebbe requested that Hemshech Ayin Beis be published based on the manuscript copies that were in his possession.
At that time, the Rebbe referred to Hemshech Ayin Beis as “great and wondrous in its lengthy explanations and content, even when compared to his other extraordinary discourses.”