The 20th volume of the popular Chasidic Heritage Series, a seven-year-old Chabad-Lubavitch publishing project that translates and annotates Chasidic texts that for years have been beyond the reach of laypeople, has hit the shelves. Titled Creation and Redemption, the new book presents a discourse of the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe in an easy-to-understand translation with the copious footnotes and explanations that the series has become known for.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that much of the English-speaking public, many of whom would find the original Hebrew, nuances and terminology of these advanced Chasidic discourses out of their reach, can't wait to devour the new offering.

Such is the case with Golan Ben-Oni, the vice president for network architecture with IDT. Always curious of philosophy, he said that he was turned off by the lives that traditional philosophers lived: "They turned out to lead depressed lives and basically all died as depressed people," he said.

But then he explored Jewish philosophy, and specifically Chasidic thought, and was pleased to learn that the great Chasidic Rebbes lived lives of purpose. He was hooked.

"The opposite was taking root," he explained, remembering the days he first started learning about Chasidism. "It brought meaning to life, and the people who taught it brought a positive atmosphere and a positive outlook."

That reality can certainly be found in the series' newest volume, a presentation of a discourse that was said by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, shortly after arriving in the United States in 1940. At the time, he assured that Judaism could survive in the New World, just as it had in Europe, asserting that "America is no different."

In Creation and Redemption, which is considered by some to be an explanation for his dedication to Jewish activism, the Rebbe discusses the conflicting ideas of personal exile and personal redemption . The dichotomy between the two is underscored when comparing the constraints inherent in a person's materialistic existence as opposed to the times that a person experiences a meaningful – redemptive – spiritual moment in life. In the end, the two can be synthesized, says the Rebbe, when acknowledging that G‑dliness is very much a part of the physical world. The task is just to reveal it.

Seeing a Need

Rick Nathan began studying with the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute at the Lubavitch Chabad of Northbrook, Ill., and then later with Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Illinois. Studying Chasidism "provides me a lens to view the world and myself," he said. "There is no uncomfortable silence about why things happen and why they do not happen."

"I struggle like everyone does, day to day," said Nathan, a financial analyst. But Chasidism provides a way "to view life and how to behave at every situation. Today I am very comfortable with who I am. In the past I did not really know who I was."

In both cases, Ben-Oni and Nathan began with the basics and quickly moved up the ladder of Chasidic texts, beginning with the landmark Tanya, penned by the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, and published in 1797.

For Ben-Oni - who was learning in his home in Hackensack, N.J., every morning with his study partner, Rabbi Shaya Gansburg, currently the co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Harlem, N.Y. - there was a dearth of English volumes that presented translated discourses along with sufficient explanation to contextualize key concepts.

So Ben-Oni and Gansburg brainstormed to create a series that would give every layperson who wanted to learn a Chasidic work the ability to do just that. Traditionally, to understand a Chasidic discourse well, one needs to posses a wealth of information about key concepts and references to other works. So any edition in English would have to "help the reader build their skills on their own and would make Chasidism easily accessible to them," explained Ben-Oni. They approached Rabbi Shmuel Marcus, then an editor at Kehot Publications, and Rabbi Yosef B. Friedman, Kehot's executive director, who enthusiastically took on the project and assigned a small team of scholars to head up the effort.

Thus was born the Chasidic Heritage Series in 2000. The idea was to create a translation that is very closely similar to the advanced Hebrew but would also be a flowing text that a layperson could read from, explained Rabbi Avraham Vaisfiche, an author of some of the volumes and one of the series' editors. "While some of the volumes are very deep and steeped in kabalistic concepts, we work to present them in an understandable way."

According to Vaisfiche, much goes into readying a volume for publication.

"The research for a discourse can sometimes span many months," he said. "Every source for the content brought in the text is researched, and footnotes are added to the translation."

But while the footnotes give readers the tools to explain concepts that are not explained in the discourse, the editors are nevertheless careful to keep as much to the context of the discourse as possible and to not veer off into other subjects.

"The hope is for the students to learn other materials once they learn to navigate with the text with the English and annotation," said Ben-Oni, who still studies every morning with a teacher who at times spends an entire week on four lines of text.

Indeed, the Chasidic Heritage Series has become something of a staple in the libraries of many Chabad Houses, with classes devoted to a single text. Moscowitz leads such a class every Shabbat morning in Northbrook.

"The class is very insightful, and the participants especially enjoy this class," said the rabbi.

Nathan said he looks forward to each Shabbat morning's dose of Chasidic thought.

"The more I read, the more I realize that I keep knowing less and less," said Nathan. "It is like an onion that just grows more layers."

To browse and purchase volumes of this series click here.

Follow these links to read a sampling of the Chasidic Heritage Series:
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