The prolific Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning writer, storyteller, poet, and essayist. He is also one of Spirituality & Practice's Living Spiritual Teachers. The focus of his attention in this volume in the SkyLight Illuminations series is Tanya, a transformative book of Jewish wisdom written in 1797 by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Hasidism. Shapiro's intention is to make the mystical and spiritual teachings of this 53-chapter book accessible to as many people as possible and to encourage serious students of this sacred text to seek out a teacher and delve into the original Tanya.
Shapiro's translations of key selections of the work are linked to his commentaries which in turn are animated by his understanding of Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and the field of comparative religion. In the introduction, he outlines the major philosophical ideas of Tanya as the nonduality of God, the close encounter between YHVH and the one true self, the five worlds/five intelligences (body, heart, mind, soul, and spirit), and the distortions of reality. The four core spiritual practices covered are Torah study, contemplative comprehension, breaking the heart, and tzedakah (acts of generosity and economic justice).
Both the Torah and Tanya honor the deep yearning for God that is part of the human makeup. God is both the transcendent One (the Holy One) and the imminent many (Shechina, the Presence of God). Mercy is a mark of divine grace. As Shapiro notes, "Tanya is loathe to condemn anyone or to imagine anyone to be beyond redemption."
In the last sections of this book Shapiro hits high stride in his commentary on passages dealing with the cultivation of humility as an antidote to the dullness of heart; sadness as a tool that can be used in the return to God; the art of loving the One by loving the many; attaining true joy; illuminating the world through generosity; the ways in which love and awe uplift to God; relying on the "inner Moses"; and practicing two types of awe.