Chabad philosophy

Chabad philosophy comprises the teachings of the leaders of Chabad-Lubavitch, a Hasidic movement. Chabad Hasidic philosophy focuses on religious concepts such as God, the soul, and the meaning of the Jewish commandments.

Teachings are often drawn from classical Judaic teachings and Jewish mysticism. Classical Judaic writings and Jewish mysticism, especially the Zohar and the Kabbalah of Rabbi Isaac Luria, are frequently cited in Chabad works. These texts are used both as sources for Chabad teachings as well as material requiring interpretation by Chabad authors.

While Chabad was founded by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, much of Chabad philosophy bases itself on the teachings of Rabbis Yisroel ben Eliezer (the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism) and Dovber ben Avraham, the "Maggid of Mezritch" (Rabbi Yisroel's successor and Rabbi Shneur Zalman's teacher and mentor).

The teachings of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad Rebbe, form the basis of Chabad philosophy. Rabbi Shneur Zalman's teachings were greatly expanded upon by succeeding generations of Chabad Rebbes. One of the most central Chabad works is the Tanya by Rabbi Schneur Zalman, and many themes found in the Tanya receive greater treatment in subsequent works.


According to Shneur Zalman's work Tanya, the intellect consists of three interconnected processes: Chochma (wisdom), Bina (understanding), and Da'at (knowledge). While other branches of Hasidism focused primarily on the idea that "God desires the heart", Shneur Zalman argued that God also desires the mind, and that the mind is the "gateway" to the heart. With the Chabad philosophy, he elevated the mind above the heart, arguing that "understanding is the mother of fear and love for God".[1]

According to Jonathan Sacks, in Shneur Zalman's system, Chochma represents "the creation in its earliest potentiality; the idea of a finite world as was first born in the divine mind. Binah is the idea conceived in its details, the result of contemplation. Da'at is, as it were, the commitment to creation, the stage at which the idea becomes an active intention."[2] While in Kabbala there are clearly delineated levels of holiness, in Hasidism and Chabad philosophy these are grounded in the mundanities of people's inner lives. So in reality — according to the Chabad analogy — Chochma is the birth of an idea in the mind, Binah is the contemplation, and Da'at is the beginning of the actualisation of an idea. Sacks argues that this provided a psychological formulation that enabled the hasid to substantiate his mystical thoughts. "This was an important advance because bridging the gap between spiritual insight and daily behaviour had always been a problem for Jewish mysticism."[2]

Chabad philosophy argues that man is neither static nor passive nor dependent on others to connect to God.[2] Shneur Zalman rejected all ideas of aristocratic birth and elitism — he argued for meritocracy where all were capable of growth, every Jew — in his view — was capable of becoming a Tzadik.[3]

Chabad often contrasted itself with the Chagat school of Hasidism.[4] While all Hasidism have a certain focus on the emotions, Chagat saw emotions as a reaction to physical stimuli, such as dancing singing or beauty. Shneur Zalman, on the other hand, taught that the emotions must be led by the mind, and thus the focus of Chabad thought was to be Torah study and prayer rather than esotericism and song.[2] As a Talmudist, Shneur Zalman endeavored to place Kabbalah and Hasidism on a rational basis. In Tanya, he defines his approach as moach shalit al halev (Hebrew: "מוח שליט על הלב", "the brain ruling the heart").[5]

Recurring themes


Prayer takes a central place in Chabad philosophy. In the Tanya, the desire to pray is referred to as the "desire for life". Rabbi Shneur Zalman wrote to one Hassidic community, counselling those who were unable to remain at the synagogue for lengthy prayers, to leave early, rather than disturb the rest of the congregation.[6]


A central position in Chabad philosophy is the notion that the ultimate service of God can be achieved through contemplation and other cognitive processes, rather than through emotions. Chabad philosophy differs from the teachings of other Hasidic groups in this regard, placing greater emphasis on the use of the mind's cognitive faculties in religious devotional efforts.[7][8] Chabad philosophy provides a conceptual approach to understanding God and other spiritual matters, maintaining that contemplating such topics constitutes Avodat Hashem ("the service of God").[9]

Chabad philosophy also incorporated the teachings of Kabbalah as a means to deal with one's daily life and psyche. It teaches that every aspect of the world exists only through the intervention of God. Through an intellectual approach and meditations, Chabad teaches that one can attain complete control over one's actions.[9]

Torah study

Shneur Zalman fought against the perception that was prevalent in the early years of Hasidism that the movement neglected Talmudic study by focusing too heavily on mysticism and obscurantism. He emphasized that mysticism without Talmudic study was worthless — even dangerous.[3] Without Talmudic study, he argued, the mind could never be elevated — and if the mind is not elevated, the soul will starve. On the other hand, he argued that while Torah was to be the focus of all study, it was also important to integrate the Torah's teachings into one's life. In a letter to Joshua Zeitlin of Shklow, Shneur Zalman wrote: "The Hasidim, too, set aside time for study. The difference between them and the Misnagdim is this: the latter set time for study and they are limited by time, whereas the former make the Torah their path of life."[3]

Shneur Zalman taught that Torah must be studied joyously – studying without joy is frowned upon. He provided a metaphor: when a mitzvah is fulfilled an angel is created. But if the mitzvah was joyless then the angel too will be dispirited. Thus, while Shneur Zalman emphasized that Hasidism focus on traditional Jewish scholarship rather than on mysticism, he was emphatic that this must be done with zeal and joy.[3]

Bible stories

Rabbi Shneur Zalman stated that in the bible, lofty teachings are transcribed in the form of stories. Rabbi Shneur Zalman quotes an unnamed source, stating that studying such biblical episodes simply as stories does not constitute the fulfillment of the Jewish commandment of "Torah study".[10]


In Chabad thought, the study of Kabbalah is seen, in some instances, not only as an act of religious study, but as a way to fulfill other Jewish commandments. In the Tanya, the study of Kabbalah is divided between the study of Seder Hishtalshelus (the Kabbalistic theory of the evolution of the universe), and the study of the esoteric meaning of the commandments. The study of the commandments is said to be a superior form of study, because it relates more closely to the performance of mitzvoth, and in some cases, is considered to take the place of the commandment itself.[11]

Seder Hishtalshelus

Main article: Seder Hishtalshelus

Seder Hishtalshelus (Hebrew: סדר השתלשלות), meaning "Order of Development/Evolution", refers in Kabbalah and Hasidic thought to the chain-like descent of Spiritual Worlds (Olam/Olamot) between God and Creation. Each spiritual Olam-World denotes a complete realm of existence, resulting from its general proximity or distance to Divine revelation. Each realm is also a form of consciousness reflected in this World through the psychology of the soul. The concept of Seder Hishtalshelus is explored in numerous Chabad philosophical works.

Love of God

According to Rabbi Shneur Zalman, there are two main forms of human love for God. One form, called the "natural love", is one that is brought about through the subjection of bodily drives, the other, "produced love", is the result of contemplation on topics which arouse such emotions.[12]

Love of one's fellow

Ahavat Yisrael (Hebrew: אהבת ישראל, "love for one’s fellow Jew") is a biblical precept,[13] greatly elaborated in Chabad thought.[14][15] In the Tanya, Rabbi Shneur Zalman states that the obligation to love one's fellow Jew extends even to sinners.[15]


In Chabad thought, charity is seen not only as a physical act of giving, but as a conduit for spiritual enlightenment. In the Tanya, giving charity is said to draw inspiration and bring about humility.[16]


Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson advanced, in his writings and lectures, a proposed unity between opposing concepts. He proposed that it was possible to unite the mundane aspects of the world with the aspect of "godliness" in the world. Schneerson emphasized the significance of creating an "abode for God on this world". Consequently, he encouraged his followers to unite a life in the modern world with the teachings of Judaism. He felt that the world was not a contradiction to the word of God, and it was to be embraced rather than shunned.[8]

Schneerson taught that the use of modern technology does not necessarily contradict a life of spirituality. For that reason, Chabad has consistently utilized modern technology to spread its message. Since its inception, Chabad have used the radio, and later television, satellite feeds, and the Internet to spread its message.[17]

Dirah Betachtonim

Dira Betachtonim (Hebrew: דירה בתחתונים) is the process of manifesting the presence of God within the world. An examination of Dirah Betachtonim is found in Samech Vov by the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn. In Samech Vov, this concept is described as the ultimate purpose of creation.[18]

Dirah Betachtonim is also explored by the seventh Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel. Central to the Dirah Betachtonim concept is the notion of sublimating the physical aspects of existence.[19]

Other concepts

A number of other important concepts in Chabad philosophy are referenced in scattered locations in Chabad literature. Though these topics were discussed in brief and were not the focus of any major work, new insights have been drawn from their treatment in Chabad thought.

Roles of rebbe and hasid

In its earlier formulations, Hasidic thought had elevated the rebbe to a level above that of typical hasid. A rebbe was closer to God, his prayers were more amenable to Him, and a hasid should satisfy himself with attachment to the Rebbe and hence indirectly to God. A rebbe was to be a living example of perfection and would concern himself with intellectualism on behalf of the followers.[2] According to Sacks, Chabad stressed the individual responsibilities of every Jew: "The rebbe...became more of a teacher and adviser, recognising the vocation of each of his followers, guiding them towards it, uncovering their strengths, and rejoicing in their achievements."[2]

In Chabad thought, the Rebbe is not an intermediary between the Hasid and God. Rather, the role of the rebbe was to train followers to become spiritually self-sufficient and to turn to their Rebbe for instructions rather than intercession with God, miracles or blessings.[3]

Hasidism traditionally demanded that every Hasid personally participate in the dissemination of Torah and Judaism to one's surroundings and seek out the benefit of one's fellow Jew. Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn said: A Hasid is he who surrenders himself for the benefit of another.[20] Beyond this, Chabad demands pnimiyut (inwardness / sincerity): one should not act superficially, as a mere act of faith, but rather with inner conviction.[21] The relationship the Chabad Hasid has with the Rebbe is called hiskashrus. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn stated, "A bond with me (hiskashrus) is made by studying my ma'amorim of Hasidut, by fulfilling my request concerning the daily recital of Tehillim, and the like."[22][23]

In a continuation of longstanding Chabad tradition, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson demanded that each individual exert themselves in advancing spiritually, and not rely on the Rebbe to do it for them.[24]

Major texts


Main article: Tanya

Sefer HaTanya, Shneur Zalman's magnum opus, is the first schematic treatment of Hasidic moral philosophy and its metaphysical foundations.[2] The original name of the first book is Sefer Shel Beinonim, the "Book of the Intermediates." It is also known as Likutei Amarim — "Collected Sayings." Sefer Shel Beinonim analyzes the inner struggle of the individual and the path to resolution. Citing the biblical verse "the matter is very near to you, in your mouth, your heart, to do",[25] the philosophy is based on the notion that the human is not inherently evil; rather, every individual has an inner conflict that is characterized with two different inclinations, the good and the bad.[26]

Some have argued that Shneur Zalman's moderation and synthesis saved the general Hasidic movement from breaking away from Orthodox Judaism. It allowed for mystically inclined Hasidim to be familiarized with traditional Jewish scholarship and observance, and for traditionalists to access Hasidism within the framework of Jewish scholarship.[27]

Likutei Torah/Torah Or

Likutei Torah/Torah Or is a compilation of Chassidic treatises by the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. The treatises are arranged according to the Weekly Torah portion, and are studied regularly by Chabad Chassidim.[28]

Toras Chaim

Main article: Toras Chaim (Chabad)
Toras Chaim, 1866 edition, Warsaw

Toras Chaim is a two volume work of Hasidic discourses on the books of Genesis and Exodus by the second Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Dovber Schneuri.[29] The work is arranged in a similar fashion as Likutei Torah/Torah Or following the weekly Torah portion. The treatises in Toras Chaim are noted for their length and depth.

Imrei Binah

Main article: Imrei Binah

Imrei Binah is a work by Rabbi Dovber Schneuri considered to be one of the most profound texts in Chabad philosophy.[30][31] The central themes discussed in Imrei Binah are the Hasidic explanations for the commandment of the reading the Shema and donning the Tefillin.[32]

Samech Vov

Main article: Samech Vov

Sefer Hamamaarim Taf Resh Samech Vav (Hebrew: ספר המאמרים תרס״ו), is a compilation of the Chasidic treatises by Rabbi Shalom Dovber Schneersohn, the Rebbe Rashab, from the Hebrew year 5666 (1905–06). This series of Chassidic essays are considered a fundamental work of Chabad mysticism.[33]

Ayin Beis

Main article: Ayin Beis

Sefer Hamamaarim Taf Resh Ayin Beis (Hebrew: ספר המאמרים תרע״ב), is a compilation of the Chasidic treatises by Rabbi Shalom Dovber Schneersohn, the Rebbe Rashab, from the Hebrew year 5672 (1911–12). This series of Chassidic essays are considered a fundamental work of Chabad mysticism.[34]


The talks or "Sichos" of the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, contain a wealth of commentary on Chabad Hassidic thought. Major compilations of these talks include:

Other major texts

Other major texts of Chabad philosophy include:


Main article: Maamarim (Chabad)

Chabad Maamarim/Ma'amorim (Hebrew: מאמרים, lit. "discourses", singular Maamar Hebrew: מאמר) are the collective term for the essays and treatises of Hasidic thought written by the Chabad Rebbes.[36] While the more often studied series of Maamarim go by the particular name of the series, lesser known treatises are either referred to as "a Maamer by-" a particular Rabbe of Chabad or as "Maamarim from the year...".

Hayom Yom

Main article: Hayom Yom

Hayom Yom (Hebrew: היום יום, "Today is day ...") is a short work compiled by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson at the behest of his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn. The book is formatted as a calendar for the Hebrew year of 5703 (1942–43). The calendar contains a number of Chassidic insights and customs and is read by many Chabad members on a daily basis.

Other works

Contemporary works

Toward a Meaningful Life

Toward a Meaningful Life is an English-language best-selling book on Chabad philosophy written by Simon Jacobson. The book distils Chassidic ideas and translates them into contemporary English. The book has sold over 300,000 copies and has been translated into a number of languages.

Bringing Heaven Down to Earth

Bringing Heaven Down to Earth is a book written by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a writer and editor for Freeman's book transcribes the teachings of Chabad philosophy as short "meditations". The book contains 365 such meditations.[39][40]


A number of scholarly journals have been published by the Chabad movement; journal articles often cover topics in Chabad philosophy. Well known Chabad journals include:

See also


  1. Tanya', Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Chapter 13.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 The Encyclopedia of Hasidism, entry: Habad, Jonathan Sacks, pp. 161–164
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Hasidism: The movement and its masters, Harry M. Rabinowicz, 1988, pp. 83–92, Jason Aronson, London ISBN 0-87668-998-5
  4. "Chagat" is an acronym for "Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet" (kindness, severity, beauty), the Kabbalistic terms for the three primary emotions.
  5. Tanya, ch. 12
  6. Shneur Zalman of Liadi. "Kutres Achron: Essay 8". Tanya. Kehot Publication Society. Brooklyn: New York.
  7. "Chabad" is a kabbalistic acronym for the names of these cognitive faculties.
  8. 1 2 Weiner, Hebert, 9½ Mystics (ISBN 00206-81607).
  9. 1 2 Stroll, Avrum, ‘Encyclopaedia Judaica’’, Second Edition, Volume 18 pages 503–505 (ISBN 00286-59287).
  10. Shneur Zalman of Liadi. "Inyan Shene'emar B'imaot". Ma'amari Admur Hazoken: Parshiot v'Moadim. Vol 1. Kehot Publication Society. Brooklyn: New York. (1983):168. Available on Archived June 10, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. Shneur Zalman of Liadi. "Kutres Achron: Essay 4". Tanya. Kehot Publication Society. Brooklyn: New York.
  12. Shneur Zalman of Liadi. "Sha'ar Yichud V'emuna: Introduction". Tanya. Kehot Publication Society. Brooklyn: New York.
  13. “Love your fellow like yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
  14. Schneersohn, Shalom Dovber. "Maamar Heichaltzu".
  15. 1 2 Shneur Zalman of Liadi. "Lekuttei Amarim Tanya: Chapter 32". Tanya. Kehot Publication Society. Brooklyn: New York.
  16. Shneur Zalman of Liadi. "Kutres Achron: Essay 7". Tanya. Kehot Publication Society. Brooklyn: New York.
  17. Zaleski, Jeffrey P. (June 1997). The Soul of Cyberspace: How New Technology Is Changing Our Spiritual Lives. Harpercollins. ISBN 0-06-251451-2. Retrieved April 7, 2007.
  18. Paltiel, Yosef Y. Samech Vav. Inside Chassidus. Accessed April 1, 2014.
  19. Levin, Faitel. A Synopsis of the Dirah Betachtonim System. Accessed April 15, 2014.
  20. Sefer Hasichos 5700 p. 33
  21. The Mystical Dimension vol. 3 by Jacob Emanuel Schochet. Kehot Publication Society 1995 p.198.(ISBN 0826605303)
  22. HaYom Yom, entry for 24 Sivan; et al.
  23. Kaploun Uri. "The Gashmiyus of a Rebbe".
  24. Toras Menachem vol. 2 p. 212–213
  25. Deuturonomy 30:14.
  26. The Encyclopedia of Hasidism, entry: Tanya, Jonathan Sacks, pp. 475–477 (15682–11236)
  27. The Messiah of Brooklyn: Understanding Lubavitch Hasidim Past and Present, M. Avrum Ehrlich, Chapter 2
  28. Rubin, Eli. The Oral Teachings of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Lyadi. Accessed April 3, 2014.
  29. Kabbala and Chassidism. Accessed April 4, 2014.
  30. New Edition of Imrei Bina, Made Possible by a Gift from Mouli Cohen, Inspires Scholars of Chassidism and Mystics World Wide. Vocus. July 22, 2009. Accessed April 7, 2014.
  31. Donor Prints New Imrei Bina. July 22, 2009. Accessed April 7, 2014.
  32. Schneuri, Dovber. Imrei Binah: Introduction. Accessed April 7, 2014.
  33. Jacobson, Simon. Centennial of a Revolution: Samech Vov 100 Years Later. Algemeiner Journal. Accessed April 1, 2014.
  34. Ayin Beis. Accessed April 7, 2014.
  35. 1 2 3 Schneerson, Menachem M. Hayom Yom... Archived April 13, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.. Kehot Publication Society. (Hebrew edition). (1967): p. 7.
  36. Hasidic Thought: Text and Commentary, Norman Lamm, Yeshivah University, introduction
  37. Learning Torah. Accessed April 10, 2014.
  38. The Longer Shorter Way. Accessed April 10, 2014.
  39. Tzvi Freeman. Archived April 7, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. Accessed April 2, 2014.
  40. Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. Archived April 7, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. KabbalaOnline. Accessed April 2, 2014.
  41. 1 2 Cooper. Levi. "On Etkes' Baal Hatanya." Accessed April 14, 2014.

External links

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