Chasidic Mapquest


by EJ Tansky - LUBAVITCH HEADQUARTERS, NY

January 3, 2006

Chemists looking for solutions to chemical mysteries keep an eye on the periodic table of elements. Now Kehot Publication Society, the Lubavitch publishing house, has released a Tanya poster to serve the same purpose for students of Chabad Chasidic philosophy who wish to solve spiritual quandaries.

With multicolored rectangles arranged in topical clusters, the poster, which provides an overview of Tanya, the central work of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, looks a lot like Mendeleev’s famous chart. The Map of Tanya, in English on one side and Hebrew on the reverse, shows the key elements of the opus’s first 53 chapters and offers clear clues about their relationship to one another.

The Tanya’s theologically and philosophically dense chapters brim with wisdom and guidance, but Tanya can be hard to get through. Today there are books, radio programs, websites and audiotapes in multiple languages that expound upon the Tanya’s layers of meaning. “Those guides are essential for mastering each note of the Tanya. The map helps you hear the whole symphony,” said the Map of Tanya's creator Rabbi Shais Taub.

The map’s comprehensive overview helps students track the thread of thought woven by the Tanya’s author Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad-Lubavitch chasidism. A question in chapter one may be developed and answered several chapters later.

Inspiration for this approach came from a story told about Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. When asked why his writing was coming along so slowly, he answered: “Before adding even one letter to the Tanya, I review the entire book in my mind.”

A longtime teacher of Tanya, Rabbi Taub, a Chabad representative in Milwaukee at “The Shul East,” created the map as a visual guide for his students. “My whole approach to the Tanya is about understanding its structure,” said Rabbi Taub. On the poster, there is one rectangle per chapter. One or two sentences in the rectangle summarize the chapter’s main idea with a title, or as Rabbi Taub likes to call it, a “super synopsis.” Chapter 38’s rectangle “Action and Intention: Body and Soul” reads: “A mitzvah performed without intent technically fulfills the precept but is lacking life like a ‘body’ without a ‘soul.’”

Those looking for a deeper understanding of Tanya will also appreciate the nifty little icons that appear throughout the poster. These, explains Rabbi Dovid Olidort, senior editor at the Kehot Publication Society, and Hebrew editor of the Map of Tanya, call attention to several themes developed throughout Tanya.

"The Tanya probes some very sublime and deep Chabad concepts,” says Rabbi Olidort. In pursuing these concepts, many students never get a comprehensive view of the scope of this work. “The map is meant to help students of the Tanya gain this perspective and enables them to mine the various concepts in great depth while understanding their place in the broader context.”

Color groups are another signal encoded in the the Map of Tanya. They clue readers into the overarching topic of several chapters. Chapters 26-34 share a tangerine hue because they all fit into Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s teachings on “Fighting Negativity and Depression.” Aside from easing the rigors of studying Tanya. Rabbi Schneur Zalman “wrote Tanya as a compendium of advice. It is not just philosophy,” said Rabbi Taub. “It has everything you need in it” to answer life’s deepest questions--and the map shows seekers where to look.

Developing the map was a three-year project. For an intense month-plus period, Rabbi Taub spent upwards of six hours a day scratching out the first draft on a sheet of notebook paper. Research for the map was based on many essential works on Tanya such as Lessons in Tanya and Nissen Mindel’s foreword to Tanya, both of which were edited by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, according to Rabbi Taub.

Rabbi Taub turned his quilt of arrows, circles and asterisks over to Spotlight Design, a graphics design firm in Brooklyn, NY, and asked them to “turn it into a journey through Tanya,” said Rabbi Taub. Spotlight brought the project to the attention of Rabbi Yosef B. Friedman, director at Kehot Publication Society, which assumed responsibility for its publication.

Whittling down the work to fit a poster without losing the essence of the words, and without muddying meaning, took a great deal of time as did achieving a consensus on the right words to use. The result should enrich the lives of students--in yeshivas and in adult education courses--who study Tanya all around the world.

The Map of Tanya is available at kehotonline.

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