A Tanya for Metairie

Friday, 19 August, 2011 - 11:37 am

Dear Friends,

In December of 1796, a new work of Jewish thought was published, authored by one of the greatest minds of the time, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, founder of Chabad. In his great humility Rabbi Schneur Zalman titled the book, Lekutei Amarim – a collection of sayings. However it has come to be known as Tanya, after the opening word of the book. The author labored over the work for 20 years before bringing it to print. Several of his colleagues, the great Chassidic masters of the third generation, were extremely excited with the new work. One declared “that the author has managed to fit an infinitely great G-d into a small book.” Another said that “with this book we will be led out of exile,” an expression that was previously reserved for the Zohar. Within a few years the Tanya revolutionized the Jewish community of Russia and its impact was felt throughout Eastern Europe and beyond.

This forum is inadequate to convey the true depth of what the Tanya is all about. In short, the Tanya presents a systematic life path for a Jew, providing the tools for dealing with many of the conflicts that one faces in trying to have a real relationship with G-d.

Over the years the Tanya met with much opposition from within the Jewish world and without. The religious Jewish establishment felt threatened by the fledgling Chassidic movement and the Tanya was central to Chassidism’s intellectual appeal in Lithuania. The Haskala movement viewed the Tanya and its path as one of the greatest obstacles to “enlightenment” and assimilation. The Czarist government jumped onto the anti-Tanya bandwagon and the author was arrested, but ultimately vindicated and released.

The Tanya was published many times during the 19th and 20th centuries as the need arose. It’s been translated into multiple languages and scores of volumes of commentary have been written to make it more accessible to a wider audience. In early 1984, the Rebbe launched a campaign to have Tanyas printed all over the world. The idea was to bring an infusion of spiritual energy to each community. Until then there had been about 200 editions of the Tanya since its initial release in 1796. In that first year, over 1000 Tanyas were printed in cities around the world. The New Orleans Tanya was #245. Later that year, my father, Rabbi Zelig Rivkin, traveled to Jackson, MS and Little Rock, AR and had Tanyas printed there as well. In the summer of 1991, the Rebbe ascribed much importance to what he felt was a new frontier for teaching Tanya, upon the release of a Braille edition of the Tanya.

Now, 20 years and 4000 Tanyas later, Metairie, LA has its own Tanya. Tanyas will soon be released in Baton Rouge, Shreveport and more cities in Louisiana. May the light of Torah as illuminated by the teachings of the Tanya infuse our state and region with a spiritual energy boost that will propel us all toward the path of redemption through the coming of Moshiach.

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