It’s amazing. The author opens the book of Tanya with a story!
Tanya is the basic book of Chabad.
After all, we have an encompassing school of thought, two hundred years old, tens-of-thousands of scholarly tomes, based in Talmud and Kabbala, all sprouting from one book — Tanya.
And that book begins with a story.
Not only a story—but a story from another world, one none of us can, so to speak, verify.
This point is even more poignant considering what the discipline of Chabad is meant to be. The name itself is an acronym meant to indicate its very content. It’s meant to be a way of life, a study, which emphasizes our intellectual side.
What is the first line of Tanya? A story. A story which accents the inherent power each of us has within. Not one which is an outcome of something we’ve studied or accomplished. Rather, it’s an innate part and parcel of our very being. Something each of us inherits at birth. A power we’re infused with from even before birth.
Rabbi Simlai taught (Niddah 30:b): “What does the fetus look like in its mother’s womb? Like a folded writing pad. Its hands rest near its ribs, its elbows rest near its thighs, its heels close to its buttocks. Its head rests between its knees. Its mouth is closed. Its umbilical cord is open. It eats and drinks what its mother eats and drinks, but doesn’t excrete, so as not to endanger its mother.
The moment it exits to the world, whatever was closed, opens, and whatever was open, closes. Otherwise it would be unable to live for even a moment.
A candle burns above its head. It can see from one end of the world to the next.
Don’t be surprised by this because, really, someone can sleep in one location while dreaming about a far away place.
A person has no better time in his lifetime than during those days, as it says, ‘Would that I were as in my early months, during those days that G-d watched over me.’
That child is taught the entire Torah, as it says, ‘And he instructed me and said to me, ‘May your heart draw near to my words; keep my commandments and live.‘
The moment the baby exits to the world, an angel comes and strikes him on the lips causing him to temporarily forget what he was taught.
The angel swears in the child.
It is sworn: “Be righteous, and do not be wicked. And even if the entire world were to tell you that you are righteous, nonetheless know that you can always fall back into sin.
Know that the Al-mighty is pure, his servants are pure, and the soul He placed in you is pure. If you protect its purity, good. If not I will retract it from you.” (End of quoted text.)
Something very essential is being expressed here. And, its rightful place is, indeed, at the very outset of Tanya.
Though the remainder of Tanya, and by extension the teachings of chasidus in general, are primarily intellectual, nevertheless the opening line informs us that our deepest source of strength is way beyond intellect or emotion.
It’s based in an oath—one we’re sworn into even before birth. It’s an oath that the soul itself is bound by.
The word for ‘oath’ – shvuah is the same root as the word for empowerment ’sovah.’ This oath is seen as an all-encompassing empowerment of the soul, soon descending into a physical body.
Wherever life’s path may lead it, whatever trials it will face to overcome, the power is already there.
This story is personal. For each of us. Whenever the going gets rough, I think about it.
Anytime you feel the need to find strength to overcome any of your life’s battles, Remember Your Angel.