In Hebrew, beinoni means “average” or “in-between.” But to anyone familiar with the teachings of Chabad, the beinoni is a person who successfully resists his negative inclinations. Tanya, the foundational work by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812), is titled “Book of the Beinonim” because it is dedicated to charting and facilitating the mission of the beinoni, who is neither saintly nor wicked, but constantly struggles to bring his better self to the fore. The beinoni may never entirely conquer the animal within, forever waging an inner battle to keep it in check.

“Beinoni” is also the name of a classic Chabad melody (nigun), composed by Reb Aharon Charitonov of Nikolayev, Ukraine. The sixth rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880–1950), especially cherished this song and gave it this name, saying that this particular melody—of all those in the voluminous Chabad repertoire—is the musical expression of the beinoni’s character. To this day, the “Beinoni” is the nigun that is most closely associated with Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak.

As portrayed in Tanya, the beinoni’s world is a place of constant struggle. The beinoni constantly confronts inner tension between conflicting desires, between yearning, contemplation, action and emotion. But all of these tensions are drawn together through a continued and constant effort to maintain the disciplined and joyful service of G‑d in every aspect of life.

Being a beinoni is like dealing with an addiction. The challenges and dangers of temptation don’t go away. Even after years of accomplishment and success, you must always be on your guard. The inclination to indulge doesn’t go away, and overcoming that inclination is neither natural nor easy.

Considering the beinoni’s struggles, the moments of deep difficulty and of lofty elation, you might expect the “Beinoni” nigun to be filled with striving and climbing, yearning and frustration, sharp highs and deep lows. After all, in Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman recognizes the intense difficulty of the beinoni’s struggles, specifically offering solace and comfort in three separate instances,1 and warmly reassuring the beinoni that this should not be cause for despondency “even if you shall be so all your days, embroiled in this battle. For perhaps for this purpose you were created, and this is your G‑d-given mission . . .”2

While there are many Chabad melodies that do eloquently depict the ups and downs of the beinoni’s inner struggle, the “Beinoni” nigun does not seem to be one of them. Here there are no peaks and valleys, none of the searching spiritual angst that drives so many other Chabad nigunim from heartfelt depths to an ultimate crescendo. Instead, this nigun exudes a confidence that is at once restrained and powerful. From the outset, its measured tones build slowly upward, and where other melodies have deep valleys, the “Beinoni” has ever so gentle gullies. This is a classically cerebral and inspiring Chabad nigun. But it is notable for its calm stoicism rather than for searching self-confrontation, intense yearning, or the negotiation of tough challenges and exalted resolutions. Why was it this nigun in particular that Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak singled out as the anthem of the beinoni’s existential struggle?

Listen to the nigun and think about this yourself:

This melody doesn’t depict eternal crisis, but resolute and unbending vision, gritty methodological stamina, the disciplined triumph of ongoing accomplishment.

The fact that this nigun was chosen as the beinoni’s anthem suggests that we need to think more carefully about the beinoni’s defining characteristic. There’s no question that soulful struggle, inner tension and spiritual frustration are often part of the beinoni’s experience, and may even be central to the beinoni’s mission. But existential angst is not what defines the beinoni’s persona. What defines the beinoni is unwavering resolve and stamina. Resolve to see G‑d’s mission through. Resolve not to let the obstacles defeat him. Resolve that he has the intellectual and emotional capacity, the vision and methodological knowhow, to successfully achieve exactly what G‑d wants of him. And with that resolve the beinoni marches forth, calmly and confidently, steadfastly progressing upward along the divine path of ordinary life.

As Rabbi Schneur Zalman notes on the volume’s title page, the “Book of the Beinonim” is founded upon the premise that “the matter is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.”3 His primary purpose is to provide every individual with the intellectual and emotional tools to attain his G‑d-given purpose, and to free himself from despair, from depression and from any other distraction or attraction. The beinoni doesn’t become ensnared in the struggle, but confidently marches through it, successfully sublimating it to the ongoing mission. A significant part of Tanya provides tools for the beinoni to negotiate challenges, not only without falling into depression, but with alacrity and joy.

When we think about it this way, the fact that Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak chose this melody as the beinoni’s anthem begins to makes a lot more sense. This is a very stable melody; there is no descent into uncertainty, no gesture toward approaching despair. It drives forward, pacing itself with measured strength. It pulsates with grit and determination, consistency and unwavering constancy. When it does roll slightly downward, it seems only to be gathering itself for the climb ahead. And even at its highest points, it never ascends into unbridled exuberance or ecstasy. Instead, its rising tones disclose a stirring triumph that is as disciplined as it is resolute, shining inwardly even as the beinoni drives onward, ever vigilant to the demands of the ongoing mission, and ever alive to the happy privilege of being in constant service of G‑d.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, the rebbe who gave this nigun its name and adopted it as his anthem, lived through many difficulties, and three times was forced to rebuild Chabad’s infrastructure almost from scratch. In the wake of World War I and the Russian civil war, and in the face of widespread famine and intense anti-religious legislation, he rallied the scattered chassidim, as well as other rabbis, organizing them to resist the Communist oppressors and preserve the Jewish way of life and learning. After his arrest and exile from the Soviet Union in 1927, he transplanted the center of Chabad activities to Warsaw, Poland, expanding them through a powerful network of educational institutions whose growth was cut short by the Nazi onslaught in 1939. Arriving in the United States in 1940, he immediately set about establishing the central organizations that are the foundation of Chabad’s continued activities till today.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was a deeply incisive thinker whose teachings and writings eloquently display the riches of his literary talent. But above all, he was a leader of tremendous spirit and resolve. Faced time and again with devastating adversity, he never wavered from his mission, from his deep-set commitment to Jewish education, Jewish life and Jewish continuity.

On Simchat Torah 1927, just days before Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was to leave Russia for good, he led his farewell farbrengen, a chassidic gathering at which many of those present were unsure if they would see their beloved rebbe again. The future of Judaism in Russia faced an existential threat. There are many haunting Chabad melodies that could have given vivid expression to their conflicting emotions, anxieties and hopes, and doubtless many songs were sung at this momentous gathering. But the song that is remembered from this last farbrengen is the “Beinoni.” As the Rebbe sang, he also reflected aloud on the inner content, the meaning of each stanza. One Yiddish phrase is recalled: “Az s’iz azey, farvos bistu not azey?” Loosely translated: “If this is the truth, why do your actions not reflect it?”

Perhaps this means that for the beinoni, there are no excuses. However difficult the situation is, the truth remains within reach. Whatever the challenges, the truth can be actualized. We need only summon the resolve to negotiate the struggle, to unwaveringly continue with the ongoing mission.

In Tanya, the beinoni is described not as “a servant of G‑d,” but as “one who is serving G‑d,” one who is “in the midst of service . . . which is in truth laborious, great toil to struggle . . . constantly.”4 This is not a label that describes the essential state of one’s soul, nor one’s interests and inclinations. This is a label that describes what one is doing, what he is constantly fighting for. It’s not about the internal ups and downs. It’s about the eternal way forward. This was the message back in 1927, and this is the message today: What matters most is what we do.