Finding depth, meaning: Journey into the world of the father of Chabad

The greatest innovation found in Tanya is the concept of the two souls and the constant, daily battle that composes the human struggle.

CHABAD RABBIS dance at a conference in Suffern, New York, in 2018. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi founded the movement in 1775 (photo credit: MARK KAUZLARICH/REUTERS)
CHABAD RABBIS dance at a conference in Suffern, New York, in 2018. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi founded the movement in 1775
‘A person is faced with a choice in every moment,” writes Dr. Yehiel Harari in his newly translated book Winning Every Moment: Soul Conversations with the Baal HaTanya, on the self-mastery method developed by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, author of Tanya, a seminal work of hassidic philosophy. The aim of the method? To help a person accomplish his life mission – to win the constant inner struggle at every moment.
“[According to Rabbi Shneur Zalman] it’s a choice between life and death. A person has to choose between a true life of depth and meaning, which is also eternal life, or to latch onto a life that is shallow and fading, the physicality of life that reveals temporariness.” Throughout the comprehensive journey into the world of the father of the Chabad Hassidic movement, Harari takes the reader from the crowds following the funeral of Rabbi Cordovero in Safed in 1570 to the picturesque town of Liozna in Belarus in the mid-18th century; from the study halls of the Maggid of Mezeritch to the invasion of the town of Liadi by French troops led by Napoleon, paving the way into the rebbe’s room for a yechidut session.
“A yechidut,” Harari points out, “is different from a meeting with a psychologist, although they both seek to offer personal treatment and life guidance.”
If Rabbi Shneur Zalman were to be described as a psychologist, Harari writes, he would first start by observing the patient and assessing his state in order to categorize his struggles and their source. “Next he would outline the appropriate treatment,” he continues, “that is, the ideal state of living. Lastly, the rebbe would point out the path needed in order to obtain the student’s proper state of being.” “One who works on himself,” Harari writes on Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s approach, “can reveal his inner essence, which transcends tzimtzum and is beyond the concealment that covers the godly soul.” His individual advice was life changing, and within a few years Rabbi Shneur Zalman was overwhelmed by the number of believers appearing in his hometown for a face-to-face encounter. Compiled over a 20-year period, the Tanya was the rebbe’s solution to address the crowds that sought his guidance.
THE GREATEST innovation found in Tanya, Harari writes in “The Inner Battle,” is the concept of the two souls and the constant, daily battle that composes the human struggle.
“The process of faith as laid out in the Tanya,” Harari maintains, “is comprised of self-awareness of one’s constant inner battle, the battle between self-serving drives and righteous service of the Creator. And in order to heal oneself, Rabbi Shneur Zalman insisted that a person have detailed and thorough knowledge of his own soul potential.” Understanding the essence of the soul, Harari claims in “Soul Colors,” is the core point of this approach:  a man’s soul and body reflect the way the Creator formed and runs the world.
“In general, Rabbi Shneur Zalman sought to show his audience that they possessed an inner spiritual dimension independent of the physical ups and downs they experience,” Harari writes.
“There are no lacks, absences, or separation in such a dimension – only wholesomeness, stability and unity.”
The Tanya, therefore, offers a detailed exploration of the soul’s faculties, in what could be seen as a map of the soul as a conglomerate of systems. Based on the Kabbalist concept of Sefirot, the soul is divided into systems, whose understanding is an essential step for guaranteeing victory in the daily battle between the souls.
As we become more familiar with the concept of systems, Harari takes the reader into the battlefield, raising relevant issues such as “Can a person actually change?” and “What does the ‘victory’ in this battle look like?” AS THE battled is fought, its structure and course shown, the hero of the battle is eventually brought to light: the beinoni. In later chapters the author approaches the concept of beinoni, for whom the book is composed, “a person whose godly soul dominates his animal soul.” “To a certain extent,” Harari concludes, “a beinoni is an existentialist because he chooses his path and his true identity in every moment. He decides to connect to his being, inheritance, insight, and faith with every thought, word and deed.” The word “beinoni” could also mean in between, in the middle, but it is not how Rabbi Shneur Zalman describes the hero of the Tanya – not as someone treading the middle ground between good and bad, between tzadik and rasha.
“His is a precise title that indicates the present,” Harari writes, adding that “a title used by our sages to express the moment between the past and the future. The beinoni lives in the present, and he constantly needs to win the battle in each moment he faces. He’s defined by his deeds in the here and now, and not by anything external.” In Winning Every Moment: Soul Conversations with the Baal HaTanya, Harari grants the reader an accessible pathway to Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s monumental work and approach that became the foundation stone of the Chabad movement.
Above all, it is an inspirational guide that grants the wider audience the opportunity to participate in Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s yechidut for soul-searching to “reveal their inner identity, become more spiritually secure, achieve victory for the godly soul, and overcome spiritual maladies produced by the animal soul.”  The writer has been an editor at The Jerusalem Post since 2018, also contributing articles and book reviews.
By Dr. Yehiel Harari
Gefen Publishing
297 pages; $18