Tanya is one of the most awesome, if not the most inspirational books ever written, reprinted literally over three thousand times since its early printing, it’s no wonder, that what’s called “the Bible of Jewish mysticism” is so popular.
Tanya for Dummies, is my humble attempt to take this very very complex esoteric wisdom and make it user – very user, friendly!
The first book of Tanya to be studied is called the gateway to understanding how God and the world are one.
The reason this is the first book to be studied (though it’s the second of the five books in the series) is because, as the author Rabbi Shneur Zalman explains, all our thoughts, speech and actions, come from either a love toward, or a fear from, something or someone.
The Tanya itself, is based on the verse “it’s very easy to practice Judaism!”
The reason it’s easy, is because we can choose to think any thought we wish and if you see how God is lovable or reverent, you can induce love and reverence for God, thus inducing your heart to not only follow your inborn instinctual desires (pleasure and not to have pain) but also the true wisdom, the wonderful guidelines of how to be good and not cruel – namely Judaism.
In simple words, to understand how God is one with this world, first picture before there was time and space and matter – even the most atheistic scientists agree, time space and matter has a beginning, which they call the big-bang – so before the big bang, there was no time, space or matter – now in order for something to come out of nothing, there must be something before the nothing, for nothing comes from nothing, something, cannot come from nothing.
This first something is God.
God’s imagination creates whatever he desires – so imagine that, if you could picture a car and boom it would appear; in six days God pictured, or in the words of Tanya, spoke the world into existence.
But here’s the catch, imagine you imagine a car – how long will your car exist? – only as long as you imagine it, for as it only exists from your imagination, the second you stop imagining it; is the second it stops existing! – this is really hard to do – but really try to close your eyes (first read this : ) and picture you are God, and there is nothing, now imagine the six days of creation; imagine creating the universe: first time and space and planets, and then oceans, and then grass, and then fish and birds, and then insects and animals, and finally people – now how long can your universe exist? – only as long as you imagine it!
Similarly, all of us, every atom – for everything is made up of atoms – only exists as long as God consciously thinks/speaks about it.
This has been proven scientifically, for we now can see that atoms are popping in and out of existence, yes you me and the bumblebee (don’t you just love rhymes) are continually popping in and out of existence; which means, God consciously thinking/speaking us into our natural dimension.
Here is another great example, only recently available to us – we now have virtual realities, in which your avatar can play, shop, speak etc. – it is a real, fake word – it is real because it behaves exactly like our world, you can buy and sell, interact etc. etc. but it is not real, for without a computer, it cannot exist.
In other words, our world is real to us, because it works, but in its essence, it is simply God.
Einstein discovered this – BTW he was very big believer in God and his entire quest in science was “to discover God’s mind”- when he famously said e=mc2 – All matter is energy, and as the famous theory of relativity explains, all that we experience is just that, a relative experience – wow! Imagine! our whole world is really God!
The third book of Tanya (this should really be studied before the first two if one needs to repent) is called the book teaching one how to repent.
Tanya explains, within us is God, our true souls, but also a satan (a devil as others think of it) or in the Jewish terminology, a Yetzer Hara, a demon (bad angel) whose goal is to get us angry which comes from our ego.
Before you can be kind and merciful, you must give up your resentments.
The reason we get angry, is because we have an ego.
As the Baal Shem Tov taught, that a man driving in a car as a passenger fell asleep, and unbeknown to him, as the car rode up a hill and started travelling on higher terrain he woke up – but because he was sleeping, he couldn’t realize that he was actually higher than before.
Similarly, our ego is developed when we are asleep – when we are incapable of rational thinking, which begins around the age of six – so until then, we develop our identities/ personalities, and by the time we are six, we are already certain of our cosmic significance.
Now, because we are so certain of our cosmic significance, we likewise get very upset, if someone offends us.
And God-forbid when we get angry, we fail to understand, that it is not us, but our ego thinking, “how evil other people are” – for without an ego, even though you may abhor evil, you don’t get angered by it!
For example (sorry for the crude example, but it does the trick) imagine if you saw one person take another person’s head and put it in a toilet bowl, you would think, disgusting – now imagine, if someone did it to you – you may think “I want to take revenge” – for in the first instance, you were judging the crime, in the second, you are angry; and once anger enters, we cannot be nice, kind people, because until this demon gets eliminated, until we can stop hating, we are possessed with the insane need for vengeance!
So ironically, the way to get rid of your anger is to get rid of the cause of your anger, your ego.
So instead of hating, think about all the bad things you have done!
For example, my uncle Henry Dworcan once told me, that his son came home from school and was angry at his teacher – “my teacher shouted at me for no reason” – “true, he shouted at you today for no reason, but is it not possible that God is punishing you for something wrong you did, another time?”
Now the main book of Tanya, is called the book for Beinoinim.
The author believes, we can gain complete control of our thoughts, speech and actions.
Frist of all he teaches, five kinds of people exist.
From bad to great:
The worst is someone who is delusional, meaning, they think they are something they are not – without going into the psychology how and why this happens – as long as a person is delusional, they behave in any way which suits them, with having no regard for another’s pain.
The next is more of your average person – within us all, as mentioned is both God and the Yetzer Hara, simply put, both the love and anger desires – so when we are loving, we are beautiful people; but when we are angry, we are cruel (as we are trying to blow off our steam, because it feels terrible to be angry) but the difference between the normal person who sins (by being and acting out of anger) is that they will feel remorse, guilty – they feel bad that they sinned (as opposed to the delusional person, who cannot see anything but their own justifications.)
Now there are two kinds of average persons – the normal average person will be cruel from anger but feel bad, and the better average person, will apologize.
But we can all become Beinoinim teaches the Alter Rebbe, for we can actually reprogram our heart.
You don’t have to feel what others make you feel; you can choose to feel whatever you want to feel!
Here’s how you do it:
Number one, you can teach yourself to love others – you do this by realizing that all of us contain both God and the Yetzer Hara, good and evil, so the more you love the God in you and realize that God/good is also in everyone else (and if they are just angry, you can also feel sorry for their God/good; because their anger is its master, which is like putting someone not in prison, but in a torture chamber indefinitely) so because you identify (see the similarity between you and others) guess what, you will love them!
When you love people, you treat them as you wish to be treated, first and foremost, respectfully, secondly, with compassion.
Now the truth is, we naturally love people (unless our anger messes our love up) but here’s the thing, we likewise have inborn instinctual desires (as mentioned, for pleasure and not to have pain) and these desires are often stronger than our love for people – “what to do” “what to do,” because if we are so busy trying to give ourselves pleasure, or stay away from pain, do we really have the “time” to help others – the answer is called self-discipline.
We all have the ability to tell ourselves what to do – firstly, we need to decide – how can I practically express my love? – what can I do to help others? – and then, through the amazing gift – which in the entire universe, only people were given, of self-discipline; we can order ourselves, to do it! (as mentioned, if we have minimized our ego, through seeing the bad we have done, then asking and trusting God for forgiveness (so we don’t feel bad, just get humbled from this exercise) we have the ability to tell ourselves what to do!
Imagine that, a life in which you can be proud – of all the goodness and kindness you have helped others – Now who wouldn’t want that!!!
All of the above is really simple – but it only works, after you do it : )