by Dovid Zaklikowski
As part of the 200th anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad-Lubavitch, Kehot, the Chabad-Lubavitch publishing house, has reissued the full corpus of his written works, including 26 volumes of his discourses and one volume that contains all of his surviving correspondence.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, popularly referred to as “the Alter Rebbe,” did not personally publish his works on Chassidic philosophy and Jewish mysticism during his lifetime, with the exception of the Tanya. Over the years, hundreds of manuscripts and pamphlets containing these discourses were found and kept by the respective leaders and followers of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Some of them were published as appendices to Tanya, others as Torah Ohr and Likkutei Torah, all of which have been regularly studied by students of Chassidic thought for more than 150 years. By the mid-20th century, other surviving pamphlets and handwritten manuscripts were scattered across the globe, mostly in Israel, New York, Poland and Russia.
Most of Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s teachings were not published until the 1950s, when the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, encouraged the collection and publication of these manuscripts. Following the Rebbe’s call, they slowly trickled into Lubavitch World Headquarters, where they were published over the past six decades in 26 volumes.
Zalman Shazar, who served as president of Israel from 1963-1973 and was a namesake of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, served as an important source of many of these works. Shazar spearheaded the efforts in Israel, where he was able to uncover many unique manuscripts, particularly in Jerusalem.
In a talk delivered in 1960 in the presence of Shazar, the Rebbe noted that over many years the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory, had striven to collect all the writings of Chabad-Lubavitch leaders, starting with Rabbi Schneur Zalman. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchakwas determined, the Rebbe said, “to purchase them, or obtain them in other ways, in any place they were found.”
“And now, thanks to a deserving person [Shazar],” the Rebbe continued, “we have merited that many discourses that were not previously available were published.”
The purpose of the totality of Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s extraordinarily detailed and extensive body of works can be summarized by the Rebbe’s synopsis of the Tanya in a letter, where he wrote that the Tanya “expounds a philosophy and way of life permeated with profound awareness of the Supreme Being whose benevolent Divine Providence extends to all His creatures, to nations as well as to every individual human being. It is a philosophy that inspires trust in G-d, a feeling of [humility] and confidence, dedication to the time-honored moral values, and a deeply felt responsibility to promote all that is good, indeed vital, for a wholesome and meaningful human society.”
While those practical goals are embedded within all of Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s works, his discourses focus on analyzing the sublimely complex details of how the spiritual worlds work.
In an in-depth analysis of Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s discourses, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel (Steinsaltz), author of the Steinsaltz Talmud and a prolific contemporary writer on Chassidic thought, states that the entire corpus of Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s work gives us a unique understanding of how the Chabad philosophy evolved into the sophisticated, scholarly body of teachings that it is today.
“We can now understand,” he wrote, “how Chabad received such a different character than other Chassidic movements.”
Chabad teachings, Even-Israel noted, are first and foremost “centered from its beginnings on developing the intellectual understanding and grasping [of the teachings]. To achieve a grounded, enlightened understanding in one’s heart and mind, there cannot just be the throwing out of (individual) ideas,” he wrote.
According to Even-Israel, Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s early teachings, like those of his predecessors and the early chassidic masters who were his contemporaries, contain brilliant but relatively brief and concise presentations on individual Jewish concepts.
In contrast, explained Even-Israel, many of Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s later teachings comprise single, comprehensive discourses that explain fundamental concepts in great depth and breadth. “From here one can see the beginnings of the great Chabad library of thought, both in quantity and in quality.”
The latest reprinting of the volumes, which includes many corrections and additions, is the first time that Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s discourses in their entirety are available as a single set, giving new enthusiasm and access to students of Chabad teachings.