GPS for the SOUL / Conscious Judaism
[Hebrew title: Muda'ut Yehudit]
by Nadav Cohen

Tanya concepts in Modern day language


BRAND NEW BOOK by a former Ascent staff member


Many are interested in studying the Tanya, the fundamental book of Chassidut (written by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi over 200 years ago), but are faced with a problem: it is quite long and not easily understood. Though there are many commentaries on the Tanya, most are also quite extensive, and the new reader feels somewhat overwhelmed, and may give up.

In recent years, the Ascent Institute in Safed conducted an on-line course on the first 12 chapters of the Tanya. Unlike most other Tanya aids, the studies were not based on the actual text of Tanya, but rather on its themes, utilizing oral, experiential lessons, including stories and examples. In other words, we do not read and explain the words of the Tanya themselves, but rather summarize and comment on their general content. The course was a great success, with enthusiastic feedback.

A summary of these lessons is presented in this book for your reading pleasure.

It should be emphasized that studying this booklet does not take the place of studying the Tanya itself; rather, it gives the reader a "taste" that should "whet his appetite" for true study of the Tanya and at least one of its accepted commentaries, to be studied thoroughly and deeply.


Chapter I
Who Am I?

[Part 1-3]

A Book for the "Beinoni"

On the cover page of the Tanya, on which the author defined its goals, it is written that the Tanya is a book for the Beinoni - the average person, an intermediate. At first reading, we may find ourselves a bit insulted - are we merely average? Mediocre? Is that all we can aspire to? I remember that once, when I sat down to study Tanya with someone else, when we arrived at those words, he closed the book and asked me to bring the book for the Tzaddik (the righteous)!

The Tzaddik, the Rasha and the Beinoni
When we hear the concept of "Tzaddik, Rasha and Beinoni" - the Righteous One, the Evil One and the Average One - our understanding is that a righteous one is one who does many good deeds and very little of the opposite; the evil one does very few good deeds and a good deal of the opposite; and an average one is in the middle - fifty-fifty. This is the common, well-known interpretation of these concepts.

Actually, the Talmud addresses these concepts in a similar way, as it describes how G-d judges us, each individual according to his deeds. However, when we delve deeper, we understand that this is merely the simple, surface meaning, and that the concepts are far deeper and more comprehensive.

In general, every matter in the Torah has different levels of interpretation, and we always aspire to reach the deepest meaning, the innermost aspect. In this way, the Torah is much like each person: just as each of us has a body and a soul, an inner and outer being, so do the interpretations of the Torah. And just as with a person we are not satisfied with knowing just his physical being, but want also to understand his deeper soul, so it is with the interpretations of the Torah.

The Metaphoric Title
When we say that someone is "clever as a fox" - do we really mean that he is really like a fox? Of course not. Thus, when we say that someone is a Tzaddik - do we mean that he is essentially a Tzaddik, or that we merely wish to describe the present state in which he has done us a favor or a mitzvah, and so we call him a Tzaddik? It is clear that we have "borrowed" the idea of the fox or the Tzaddik in order to describe a particular aspect of that individual's character.

The Essential Title
Unlike the metaphoric title, there is an essential title. When we bestow the essential title "sage" on someone, we mean to say that his wisdom is manifest in all his deeds. The wisdom is his title, just as doctor is the title of someone whose occupation is healing. This, according to the Tanya, is one's essential title. Thus when we say of someone that he is an essential Tzaddik, it means that he is, in his very nature, a Tzaddik, and his righteousness is expressed in every aspect of his life.

The Inner and Outer Being
In accordance with the above, one can also understand the difference between the common concepts and the precise definition of a Tzaddik. According to the simple interpretation (level) - a person is judged by his deeds alone, and thus it is enough for him to do more mitzvot than wrongdoings to be considered a Tzaddik. But this is a metaphor for the true Tzaddik. The true Tzaddik is an "essential Tzaddik". According to the inner interpretation of the Torah, a person is measured by his true nature, and thus there is a completely different scale for judging who is a Tzaddik and who is a Beinoni.

In order to understand this new scale, and thus to advance practically towards desirable self-conduct, we must first understand the makeup of our inner being and condition, to penetrate the depths of our own soul. In other words, we must study well the structure of our soul in order to understand the concept properly.


Nadav Cohen worked at Ascent in Safed as the Director of Educational Programs.

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