In 1796, a new book on Jewish philosophy was printed and ready for distribution. It was written by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad branch of Chassidism, and in his humility he titled it Likutei Amarim, "a compilation of sayings." Many simply called it "the Tanya" (the first word of the opus). The Tanya quickly gained immense popularity. The first edition published 15,000 copies. The next year a second printing, with 5,000 copies, and a year later a third printing with 20,000 copies came off the printing press. To date the Tanya has seen thousands of printings and ever-increasing popularity.
Why was the Tanya so novel? Who was the Rebbe's target audience and what was his objective for them? Looking no further than the Tanya's title page we read the Rebbe's self-stated mission statement spelled out lucidly:
…based on the verse, "For this thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart that you may do it" (Deuteronomy 30:14); explaining clearly how it is exceedingly near, in both a lengthy and a short way, with the aid of the Holy One, blessed by He.
Committing to the mitzvot is not like plastering a super-imposed persona of morality to cover up our true animalistic selfLet's go to the verse that the Rebbe quotes as the basis for his writing. In the end of Deuteronomy, Moses gives a final speech before his passing. In it he makes this elusive remark, "For this thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart that you may do it." Though Moses doesn't specify what "thing" he's referring to, from the context of his words it is clear to the commentators that what's "close to our heart" is loving G‑d, and what's "close to our mouth and actions" (i.e. "that you may do it") is the performance of G‑d's commandments. Moses assures us that loving G‑d is close—accessible to the average human being. And living a Torah lifestyle becomes a natural labor of love when it's predicated upon a love and affection toward our Creator. In other words committing to the restrictions and obligations that G‑d dictates is not like plastering a super-imposed persona of morality to cover up our true animalistic self. To the contrary, with love, G‑d's mitzvot will feel close to us, they will resonate with everything that we really want out of life.
Most people have a natural affinity towards money, a natural love of attention and enjoy nicer things. But for most of us, loving G‑d just doesn't come natural. Stress, disappointment and apathy are tall obstacles that stand in the way of living inspired. Yet Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi sees in Moses's word an affirmation and an opportunity. Perhaps it is possible to develop a vibrant and emotional relationship with G‑d. So confident is he, that he devotes the fifty-two chapters of the Tanya to systematically explaining how to actualize Moses's promise.
One of the first things that the Rebbe establishes is that we have an innate love for G‑d. A gift that we're born with, a love that can never be extinguished. The Rebbe calls this the ahavah misuteret, the (oftentimes) "hidden love." Unfortunately this love usually becomes so deeply submerged in our consciousness that we can't feel it. But we all have the ability to access that latent love, awaken it, and tap into its inspiration.
Sometimes the ahavah misuteret will feel threatened and immediately jump into action. Here's a true example of this phenomenon:
Living in Hebron, Israel, in the 1920s was a teenage Jewish boy who became alienated from his friends and instead hung out with his Arab neighbors. In 1929, a group of Arabs broke into the Hebron Yeshivah and massacred more then 50 people in cold blood. On that very day the Jewish boy was playing cards with his Arab friends in their home when the murderers barged into the home and shouted. "Any Jews here?!" The Arab friends covered for him and shouted back, "No!" The gang left. But something stirred within the Jewish boy. He started fidgeting and then, much to his friends' dismay, he jumped up and ran out of the house. He ran towards the gang of murderers and when he reached them he yelled, "They were wrong—I am a Jew." He was immediately shot and killed. Apparently his love for G‑d couldn't tolerate being blatantly denied and burst out to defend itself.
The Rebbe calls his strategy the "long and short way." Long, because it takes concentrated effort; short, because it is effectiveBut when our identity of love doesn't feel radically threatened, it lays low and doesn't overwhelm us. To the contrary, it waits for us to stimulate it. The Rebbe develops a remarkable strategy to awaken this love and calls it the "long and short way." It is long because it takes concentrated effort, but short because it is effective.
The Tanya talks to the Jew who strives deeply to do G‑d's commands not out of habit or social obligation but rather from a place of developing a relationship with Him. The Rebbe's methodology has changed the lives of the millions who have studied his groundbreaking book.
To find out more about his method, join a Tanya class today!