Friday, December 31, 2010

Rabbi Shneor Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812)

Today (the 24th of Teves) is the yahrtzeit (anniversary of death) of Rabbi Shneor Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of Lubavitch.

Reb Shneor Zalman is an important figure in Judaism in general, and in Chassidus specifically. The youngest member of the inner circle of Rav Dov Ber (the maggid of Mezritch; the Ba'al Shem Tov's primary disciple and successor), Reb Shneor Zalman was charged with disseminating the teachings of Chassidus through Russia and Lithuania. A tremendous scholar and a deeply pious man, the Alter Rebbe (as Reb Shneor Zalman is affectionately referred to) further developed the philosophy and structure of the Chassidic movement by penning several masterful works.

Likutei Amarim - Tanya was Reb Shneor Zalman's magnum opus, in which he defined his singular approach to Chassidus, Kabbalah, and philosophy. With a heavy focus on intellectuality, the Alter Rebbe formulated his system of ChaBaD thought, which re-introduced fundamental concepts like panentheism in Jewish thought, the absolute Oneness of God, the structure of the Sefirot and the Tzimtzum process, and the parts of the Soul. What set the Tanya apart primarily was its insistence that one can approach Chassidus not only through faith, but by using the rational faculties as well. The Tanya is a staple for anybody who wishes to really enter the world of Chassidus.

Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk reputedly marveled at the brilliance of the Tanya, remarking that he didn't know how Reb Shneor Zalman had managed to fit a "God so big into such a little sefer!"

The Shulchan Aruch HaRav was Reb Shneor Zalman's response to the Maggid's challenge that he write a codification of the Chassidic customs based on the original Shulchan Aruch, complete with his own insights in    halacha. Indeed, not only is his Shulchan Aruch "required reading" for any serious student of halacha, some of his innovations were adopted universally, such as the use of a honed-steel blade for shechita (ritual slaughter) as opposed to the traditional iron blade. The honed-steel not only made for a sharper edge, it lasted much longer without the need for resharpening.

There is so much to write about this important figure, it could fill an entire book. As a matter of fact, someone did write a biography about the Alter Rebbe, and I highly recommend it.

Z'chuso yagein aleinu.

By the way, tomorrow (Shabbos) is Rav E.E. Dessler's yahrtzeit; please check out B'nei Machshava Tova for a special item tomorrow night in his honor.

Have a great Shabbos!

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