In a translated echo of the Foreword to the original Yiddish edition of this work, let us too open with a blessing and offer grateful praise to Hashem for granting us the privilege of working on this elucidation of the Tanya.

In 5720 (1960), my father—Rabbi Yosef Wineberg 'שי—first began to deliver a unique course of weekly lectures over the New York airwaves. These shiurim were an exposition and commentary on the Tanya, the classic work of Chasidic thought by the founder of Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812). The lectures were eventually distilled into print and in 1983 appeared in Yiddish as Shiurim BeSefer Hatanya. In 1984, as their airwaves reverberated in ever-widening circles, the lectures appeared in Hebrew translation under the same title. The present volume, the first (G‑d willing) of a series, is an English rendition of the same work. It covers the first half of the Tanya, Part I—Likkutei Amarim, chs. 1-34.1

It is rare indeed for a work both scholarly and esoteric to meet with such broad and enthusiastic acclaim as did the Shiurim BeSefer Hatanya. Study groups have sprung up around it. Layman and scholar alike have fixed daily study periods in it. For thousands of young Soviet Jews clambering out of the morass of ignorance that is their legacy after seventy years’ repression, the shiurim have come to replace a vanished generation of authoritative teachers.

This gratifying response created a clamor for an English translation. In a sense, this translation is of even greater necessity than were the shiurim in their original Yiddish. True enough, Rabbi Nissan Mindel’s trailblazing translation (Kehot, N.Y., 1962) broke the intimidating language barrier, and this work is heavily indebted to it. Nevertheless, numerous inbuilt barriers still stood in the way of the uninitiated English-speaking reader attempting to study the Tanya. The allusive, often terse style of the book; its deft interweaving of fragments of Scriptural verses and Talmudic phrases; its mystical phraseology—all these combine to make even the simple seem formidable. Add to this the depth and complexity of the author’s ideas, and the novice entering the portals of Chasidism may be forgiven for feeling daunted.

This volume sets out to solve this problem by providing a lucid running commentary on the Tanya. The commentary leads the student by the hand through the text, maps out difficult terrain lying ahead, anticipates each conceptual obstacle, and briefs him on the background knowledge which Rabbi Schneur Zalman credited to his reader’s presumed erudition. Where the text poses a question with no more than a raised eyebrow, as it were, and suggests a solution with an almost imperceptible nod, the commentary places both the question and the answer in bold relief. The difficulty challenges; the answer satisfies.

This is no detached armchair study. Throughout, the commentary pulsates with life as the student is nudged out of the academician’s complacency and is swept up in the quest for G‑dliness and self-perfection that comprises the Tanya.

And indeed, this is a most fitting treatment of a most deserving subject, for the Tanya itself is a work that grew out of the trusty soil of real-life situations—and therein lies its power. While couched in the format of scholarly discussion while presenting a metaphysical system, the Tanya is actually the author’s record of twenty years of counseling as he himself testifies in the Compiler’s Foreword. Thus, a problem addressed in the Tanya is really the anguished cry of a Chasid struggling to bridge the gulf between material and spiritual, between man and his G‑d. The author’s advice is the voice of his mentor—profound, saintly, yet human and fatherly; demanding, yet reassuring.

The “author’s” voice, did we say? There is no remote “author” here, expounding his theories, imposing them on his audience. We have here a Rebbe, leading, guiding, enlightening—and indeed, the commentary refers to him throughout as Chasidim have always referred to him: as the Alter Rebbe (“the Elder Rebbe”).

This human quality is present throughout the Tanya, usually in subtle tones, but markedly pronounced where the Alter Rebbe simulates the first person and speaks for us to ourselves, saying, for example: “Under no circumstances do I want to be parted and severed, G‑d forbid, from the One G‑d; …I desire, instead, to unite my nefesh, ruach, and neshamah with G‑d through investing them in ‘His’ garments, namely, action, speech, and thought dedicated to G‑d, His Torah, and His commandments…out of the love of G‑d that is surely hidden in my heart, as in the heart of all Jews” (ch. 14).

Or: “The capacity of my intelligence and of my soul’s root is too limited to constitute…an abode for G‑d’s unity in perfect truth…. This being so, I will make Him a sanctuary and an abode by studying Torah at fixed times by day and by night to the extent of my free time” (ch. 34).

It is to the lasting credit of the author of this commentary that he conveys this quality so successfully, that the student can wholeheartedly subscribe to the statement (by Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneersohn, fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe): “To study the Tanya is to converse with the Alter Rebbe.”

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The commentary speaks with the authoritative ring of the erudition of the present Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson שליט"א, who critically examined the prepared Yiddish text of each shiur before it was broadcast, correcting, adding, and amending. Of special note are his many insights and explanatory comments that highlight the commentary. In his public addresses, the Rebbe has often spoken highly of the notable contribution of the shiurim on radio to the dissemination of Chasidic teachings. Moreover, their publication in Yiddish and Hebrew carried his consent and blessing, as too does the publication of the present translation.

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A word on the origin and character of the commentary: To Chasidim, the Tanya is the Written Law of Chabad Chasidic teaching, its every word chosen with precision and lending itself to a wealth of interpretation and analysis. Yet Chasidim have always refrained from reading their theories into the work and from using it as a peg for philosophical discourse. They preferred to study it on the level of peshat, seeking the simple meaning of the words and their message. When the Vaad LeHafatzat HaChasidut (“Committee for the Dissemination of Chasidut”) began to broadcast its radio course, it was decided to adopt this traditional approach. My father, who taught the course, based his commentary on the interpretations of the Tanya that he had received from Chasidic scholars at the renowned academies of Lubavitch in Europe and on gleanings from the writings of seven generations of Chabad Chasidic Rebbes.

Realizing that Chasidic thought and terminology were unfamiliar to many of his listeners, the commentator chose a popular style rather than a technical jargon, his overriding priority being the clarity of his exposition. Tangential discussions were held to a minimum. Like its Yiddish and Hebrew predecessors, this English version retains the format and style of the original broadcasts. It will thus be found accessible by the novice, yet stimulating to the savant. Allowance has also been made for the difference in background between the Englishspeaking reader and his Yiddish or Hebrew counterpart.

The direct translation of the Tanya text has been set off from the commentary by the use of different typefaces. Words suggested by the text are usually placed within square brackets, with connecting phrases and explanatory matter in smaller type.

To aid those students who wish to study the text in the original while availing themselves of the translation and commentary, the Hebrew text is given phrase by phrase, followed by its translation and then by commentary. The text incorporates the emendations of the Rebbe in the Kehot 1958 edition of the Tanya. The sources for both the text and the commentary appear in the footnotes, which also provide additional comments not directly related to the peshat of the Tanya.

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Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, instituted a custom whereby a portion of the Tanya (as well as of Chumash and Tehillim) is studied every day. This daily bracket of shiurim is known, from the Hebrew initials, as חִתַּ"ת. Accordingly, the opening words of each day’s section have been marked in these volumes with the date in the margin. Italic typeface (19 Kislev) indicates the dates of a regular year, and boldface (19 Kislev) indicates the dates of a leap year.2

* * *

My gratitude is extended to:

Rabbi Yosef Wineberg 'שי, my father, for affording me the opportunity of translating his work and for the hours he spent with me elucidating point after point. The entire work reflects his renowned gift for clarity and his enthusiasm for the teachings of Chasidut.

Rabbi Yonah Avtzon, Director of Sichos In English, for the unstinting input of his publishing expertise and for his tireless efforts in coaxing a complex manuscript into a polished volume.

Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, my elder brother, for his consistently sound counsel in the formative stages of the translation.

Rabbi Yosef B. Friedman, of Kehot Publication Society, for his devoted involvement in the intricacies of the publishing process.

The administration of the Lubavitch Foundation of Southern Africa, for making available to me the time and resources needed to steer this work through its final stages.

And finally, to Uri Kaploun, who edited the entire manuscript with his characteristically meticulous eye for detail and readability.

May our efforts at “spreading the wellsprings of Chasidut far afield,” and in bringing the world closer to its Creator, join with the efforts of all Israel, and may we be found worthy of witnessing the ultimate Redemption speedily, in our own days.

Levy Wineberg

11 Nissan, 5747 (1987)