Tanya on Air: How the “Lessons in Tanya” Came To Be




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    Tanya on Air: How the “Lessons in Tanya” Came To Be

    From Beis Moshiach Magazine: In honor of Yud Tes Kislev, we present the story of what is perhaps the most popular Tanya study aid — the acclaimed “Shiurim b’Sefer HaTanya” which were edited by the Rebbe as scripts for radio broadcasts • Full Article

    By Rabbi Shalom Yaakov Chazan, Beis Moshiach Magazine

    “…This Motzaei Shabbos marks two years since Tanya began to be studied over the radio… We find that in all things, when we reach that time of the year which is the anniversary, we are inspired once again.

    “May Hashem, may He be blessed, provide an increase in strength in the inyan of spreading the wellsprings. Learning the Tanya on the radio is a detail of this inyan, and may he continue to expand with diligence not only ‘as much and as much again’ – which according to Chazal means up to eight times – but even more and more, without stop.”

    (Shabbos Mishpatim 5722)

    For many years, ever since Motzaei Shabbos Parshas Mishpatim, 5720/1960, when Rabbi Yosef Wineberg began giving a weekly Tanya shiur on the radio in New York, he had the zechus of being mentioned in the Rebbe’s farbrengen nearest the program’s anniversary. The Rebbe praised R’ Wineberg’s devotion to this special role and spoke about the advantage in broadcasting Chassidus over the radio.

    The Rebbe’s high regard for this Tanya shiur is attested to by the following two facts: 1) The Rebbe regularly listened to the shiur and would eat Melave Malka while he listened, 2) The Rebbe edited every shiur from beginning to end before it was broadcast, adding many notes and explanations.

    These shiurim were the basis for the monumental Lessons in Tanya that is probably the foremost and most widely used aid for Tanya study in its original Yiddish edition and in the many translations.

    In 5770 (2010), to mark fifty years of the Tanya shiurim on the radio, a special Melave Malka was held. The next day, I visited R’ Wineberg who brought us back to fifty years ago. His excellent memory enabled us to review the events that led to this historic achievement with all the dates and names of the people involved in the innovation and implementation of the idea.

    He spoke with his characteristic emotion, which reminded me of the chayus with which he gave the Tanya classes. R’ Wineberg is known as an excellent speaker whose oratory is appreciated by Jews of all backgrounds and levels. Numerous Jews in New York and further afield looked forward to the wonderful shiur he gave. His shiurim were enjoyed by ordinary people as well as rabbanim and roshei yeshiva.

    Two years later on 7 Tammuz 5772, at 94 years old, he passed away. May this republished interview and the many zechusim he had in all his work for the Rebbe’s inyanim and especially in spreading Chasidus be l’iluy nishmaso:

    How It All Began…

    How did this shiur begin?

    It all started thanks to a weekly radio program I gave for the benefit of yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim. I obtained a slot on a radio station and I delivered divrei Torah and asked people to donate to the yeshiva. That was my first encounter with the medium. When the program was successful beyond my expectations and listeners expressed interest in Chassidus, I realized that this was an incomparable tool for spreading Chassidus. If the radio is good for “harvesting gashmiyus” (i.e. raising money), then why not use it for “planting ruchniyus” (i.e. teaching Chassidus)?

    In Cheshvan 5719/1958, when I had yechidus for my birthday, I mentioned the idea of having a Tanya shiur on the radio. The Rebbe thought a moment and then said, “It is not yet the time for it.”

    I explained that I did not intend on presenting a shiur solely on my own responsibility and I suggested that the Rebbe review them, but the Rebbe repeated that it wasn’t yet time.

    A year later, I heard that Rabbi Nachum Goldschmidt a”h in Eretz Yisrael had started broadcasting a Tanya shiur on Kol Yisrael to mark the 200th birthday of the Baal Shem Tov. So when I had yechidus on my birthday in 5720/1959, I mentioned the idea again and said, “In Eretz Yisrael they are doing it already.” The Rebbe still did not give his approval.



    A few weeks later I thought that perhaps, if I prepared a sample shiur, the Rebbe would give it his blessing. Along with the sample shiur I included a letter in which I wrote that I was aware of the great responsibility in teaching Tanya publicly but I relied on what I had learned in Tomchei Tmimim in Otvotsk from the mashpia R’ Boruch Friedman a”h. The Rebbe reviewed the shiur and I suddenly got a completely different reaction. Shortly after I submitted it, it came back edited by the Rebbe. The Rebbe also included $100 as his participation in the expenses and added his bracha.

    Since the editing of the first shiur, the Rebbe displayed a special interest in this project. He showered those involved with numerous blessings and directed us in every detail. On Motzaei Shabbos Parshas Yisro, 5720, I went to the studio and told the listeners about the importance of studying Tanya and that starting the following week, there would be an ongoing shiur in Tanya.

    The Style of the Shiurim

    What was the style of the shiurim? Were they intended for beginners or did you explain things in depth?

    With the first shiurim I wasn’t clear on how to approach it. As I said, I learned Tanya with R’ Boruch Friedman and he followed the simple meaning of Tanya. Yet when I listened to R’ Goldschmidt’s shiurim, he presented long and detailed explanations on various topics in Chassidus, mainly on the concepts that appear in Tanya, and I saw that he was popular in teaching Tanya to the public. You can’t argue with success!

    I decided to let the Rebbe decide. The Rebbe’s answer was: “It has to be as simple as possible.” When I mentioned that R’ Nachum taught differently, the Rebbe said: “In Eretz Yisrael it’s different.” I understood that the Rebbe wanted the shiur in America to be appropriate for beginners so as to be mekarev them to Chassidus.

    The Rebbe Looks Over the Lessons

    I’ve heard that the Rebbe edited every shiur before it was broadcast. What can you tell us about that?

    Yes, every shiur, from beginning to end, was reviewed by the Rebbe. First I would collect various commentaries on Tanya and then I would work out a shiur. At this stage, I presented it to the Rebbe and a short time later I received his notes. Often the Rebbe added significant additions so that I had to redo the entire shiur. I would show up at the studio with notes that included the Rebbe’s additions.

    Several years went by and one day I was told by Rabbi Chodakov that from that point on, the Rebbe would not edit the shiurim and instead, I should show them to someone else in addition to Rabbi Tenenbaum.

    I swallowed my disappointment and decided to try anyway and hope for the best. I sent in the next shiur to the Rebbe and this time, I kept a copy for myself in case the Rebbe would not give it back to me. In the end, the Rebbe edited this shiur too… and the ones that followed. This continued until we completed the first cycle of Tanya.

    Shiurim in Tanya as it appeared on vinyl record

    After the Rebbe had a heart attack on Simchas Torah 5738, I thought that I should stop submitting the shiurim temporarily so as not to bother the Rebbe. I intended to drag out the shiurim that the Rebbe had edited earlier until the Rebbe recovered. But when the Rebbe saw that no shiurim were submitted, he asked R’ Groner about it and I realized how important it was to the Rebbe that he edit them.

    There were times that the Rebbe edited the shiurim more than once. For example, after the Rebbe edited the shiur that I was going to give on chapter 49, the Rebbe sat for three hours on Motzaei Shabbos Chanuka and wrote an amazing explanation on the chapter. When the Rebbe finished it, it was close to the time that I gave the shiur so I could not rework the Rebbe’s deep thoughts in the style of the radio broadcast. The Rebbe told his secretary R’ Binyamin Klein, “Give this to Wineberg and let him do with it as he wishes.”

    I announced in the shiur that week that we had the privilege of receiving an explanation from the Rebbe and that I would divide it into three parts which I would broadcast over three weeks.

    That was just one example. The Rebbe put in hours of work into the shiurim. It was only after the sefarim Shiurim B’Sefer HaTanya were published and long lines of notes in the Rebbe’s handwriting adorned the margins, that it was possible to fully appreciate that we were dealing with something unprecedented.

    When The Rebbe Farbrenged Every Shabbos

    They say that you had the zechus of being one of the people responsible for the Rebbe farbrenging every Shabbos during the year of mourning after his mother passed away.

    Yes. What happened was, the Rebbetzin passed away on Shabbos, the 6th of Tishrei, 5725/1964, and I dedicated the shiur on Motzaei Shabbos l’iluy nishmasa. I didn’t think it was appropriate to write to the Rebbe about it during the shiva and it was first on Chol HaMoed Sukkos that I wrote about this to the Rebbe. The Rebbe wrote on the note: “It’s surprising that you did not inform me about this previously, as everyone is constantly looking forward to something that provides nachas ruach, especially at a time like this.”

    In that letter, I told the Rebbe that on the last Thursday of his mother’s life I said a special shiur about the yeshiva and since I knew that she sometimes listened to the broadcast, I called to tell her about it. The Rebbetzin told me that she had listened to it and added: “May Hashem give us the strength to reap the nachas.”

    Hearing the weakness in her voice as she said this, I responded, “On Rosh Hashana there was a happy farbrengen and we hope that it will be a happy year.” The Rebbetzin replied, “If only that were so for all Jews. The Rebbe himself needs it.” And she concluded with brachos for me and my family.

    At the end of my letter I wrote that since the Rebbetzin highly esteemed the broadcast of Tanya and sichos, perhaps it would be worthwhile to arrange that every Motzaei Shabbos of that year there be a broadcast reviewing a sicha (instead of just on Shabbos Mevarchim as it was until then) and it should be l’iluy nishmasa. Since in those years the Rebbe did not farbreng every Shabbos, I wrote that I could take the lessons from the Likkutei Sichos that were already printed or from talks that were not printed yet.

    The Rebbe liked this idea very much. He drew a line through the words “perhaps” and made an arrow to the words “it would be worthwhile arranging.” He also circled the words “throughout the year” and added in his handwriting, “and this strengthens my consideration to farbreng, bli neder, on Shabbos, at least briefly in quantity.”

    Regarding what I wrote at the end of the letter that I did not have a source of money for the expenses involved in having a longer broadcast every week, the Rebbe circled the words, “the expenses involved in this” and wrote, “half is on me.”

    After I received this response, with the amazing note that the Rebbe would cover half of the expenses himself, I asked for the Rebbe’s consent that I be his partner and provide the other half. The Rebbe agreed.

    A few weeks later, my son Avrohom had yechidus on his birthday and the Rebbe said, “Ask your father what is happening with our partnership. Your father knows what I’m talking about.”

    Throughout the years, we would stop the shiurim during the summer since many people left New York and we didn’t want them to lose the continuity of the shiurim. That year, since the Rebbe farbrenged every Shabbos, I thought that maybe I should continue through the summer. I consulted with someone and he advised me to take a break during that summer as I did every year. I wasn’t satisfied with this and wrote to the Rebbe. The Rebbe said that surely I spoke with those askanim who always maintain that it’s better to do nothing. The Rebbe instructed to continue the shiur that year even in the summer.

    Shiurim in Tanya in Russian

    How long was each shiur?

    The shiur was only fifteen minutes but the preparations for it took many hours. During the first editing I was greatly assisted by R’ Yosef Menachem Mendel Tenenbaum. Then it was a big job to incorporate the Rebbe’s comments and additions, not to mention traveling to the radio station of WEVD in Manhattan, the technical preparations for the broadcast and the trip back home.

    In later years, after R’ Chaim Boruch Halberstam built his broadcasting studio WLCC in 770, I began giving the shiur from there. With the improvement of the technology I was eventually able to give the shiur from my home directly to the radio station.

    In the course of your fundraising work for Tomchei Tmimim, what happened with the shiur when you were on the road?

    R’ Moshe Pinchas Katz, who was a member of the committee we formed for the Tanya shiur, gave the shiur those weeks I was out of town. From the outset, we did not intend for just one person to prepare and give the shiur. At the meeting that took place when the shiur first began, it was decided that a committee would be formed to take care of the technical details. The committee was formed and the work was divided among several people.

    When it became apparent that the bulk of the task would rest on my shoulders, I told the Rebbe in yechidus that I didn’t know if I could do it since I was very busy with Tomchei Tmimim and I had a family etc. The Rebbe smiled and said, “Nu, you can call another meeting… “

    Then he added in a serious tone, “You have to commit to going through all of Tanya at least one time.”

    Although the Rebbe spoke explicitly about one cycle, even then it was clear that he planned on it continuing. While going through the gloss in chapter two, which has deep ideas, the Rebbe wrote, “for the first time it will be enough to say it briefly.”

    The Rebbe encouraged me throughout and this gave me the ability to manage even when under pressure. For example – for one of the shiurim, I prepared a tape recording and sent it to the radio station on Friday as I did many other times, in order to save myself the effort although I still had to go to Manhattan for the broadcast of the chazara of the Rebbe’s farbrengen on Shabbos.

    When Shabbos was over, the phone rang and R’ Chodakov told me that the Rebbe made certain changes in the shiur, sort of a second edition of the editing. The radio station already had the tape and I had to tell them not to use it and that I would be coming to do a live shiur. Now I had a problem. Usually, I used the travel time to Manhattan to prepare chazara of something from the farbrengen based on notes I received from the Rebbe, but this time I was busy redoing the Tanya shiur and could not think about the sicha. After the shiur, I wrote to the Rebbe what happened and said that I was afraid I did not do a good job with the chazara. The Rebbe crossed off “not” and wrote, “It was conveyed properly and the merit of the many aids him.”

    22 Years Later: The Siyum on Tanya

    How long did it take you to complete one cycle of Tanya?

    22 years, until Motzaei Shabbos Parshas Tazria-Metzora, 5742/1982. The Rebbe referred to this at a farbrengen that took place that Shabbos and said that the Alter Rebbe’s niggun should be sung at that farbrengen and again at the next farbrengen three times. The Rebbe noted that “through this was accomplished the inyan of spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus throughout the world and in a way that at the moment that Tanya is learned, it is heard everywhere.”

    Publishing The Lessons in Book Form

    Whose idea was it to publish the shiurim?

    Even before the sefarim, the Vaad L’Hafatzos Chassidus began producing the shiurim on tape, but since they didn’t have someone to work on it, only a few tapes were produced. Then Rabbi Moshe Leib Rodstein a”h suggested that they be published. At first, this idea seemed strange to me. I asked the Rebbe about it and the Rebbe said no. But the next morning there was a change and the Rebbe said the shiurim should be published.

    The work on editing it took a relatively long time because all the material had to be reviewed and changed from a speaking style to that suitable for reading, while ensuring that the changes were only stylistic because the material had been reviewed by the Rebbe. Boruch Hashem, since it was first published it has been enormously successful. It was originally published in Yiddish and then it was quickly translated into Hebrew by Rabbi Avrohom Chanoch Glitzenstein. It was printed in Israel over twenty times. Every year it is reprinted and each time it is sold out.

    It was translated into English by my son, Sholom Dovber and edited by Uri Kaploun. We didn’t realize how widespread the English version would become. It even appears in the catalog of the Book Club for Bnei Brith, and they have ordered hundreds of copies!

    Over the years, I heard that the English translation reached some interesting places. The shliach, R’ Raphael Tennenhaus of Florida said he met with a president of a university who was described as completely estranged from religion. When the shliach visited his office, the president asked him whether he had heard about Lessons in Tanya. He said that he learned it every day and even taught it to a group he formed at the university!

    There are numerous Jews of all walks of life who learn it, boruch Hashem. Recently it has been translated into French and Spanish and I received a lot of positive feedback. Wherever I go, I hear about distinguished people, some of whom have no connection to Chabad, who learn Tanya thanks to Lessons in Tanya.


    In the years since Rabbi Weinberg’s passing, the lessons have been published in more languages (including Russian) and in a brand-new English linear edition and continue to aid the study of Tanya every day all around the world. May we be zoche to reunite with Reb Yossel at the hisgalus of the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach which in a large part is surely due to the tremendous hafatzas hamaayanos he was responsible for.


    Sidebar: The Rebbe Edits Other Broadcasts Of Rabbi Wineberg

    In Teves, 5727, a certain organization asked for the Rebbe’s support in a broadcast for their organization. R’ Chodakov asked R’ Wineberg to prepare a speech in support of the organization but said it shouldn’t be in the name of Lubavitch. R’ Wineberg wrote the speech and since he hought people would assume that it was in the name of Lubavitch he decided to have the Rebbe look it over. To his great surprise, he received a detailed response in which the Rebbe commented on every detail, regarding the time and manner of delivering the speech, as well as the content of the speech itself.


    Beis Moshiach magazine can be obtained in stores around Crown Heights. To purchase a subscription, please go to: bmoshiach.org



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