Today is the yahrtzeit of Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Baal HaTanya after his famous work, was born on 18 Cheshvan 1745. That day was the 47th birthday of the Baal Shem Tov from whom his father received a bracha to have a son.
The Baal HaTanya was child prodigy but in no way grew up as a Chosid. He was a great grandson of the Maharal MiPrague and lived in the Lithuanian town of Liozna. He married the daughter of a wealthy resident of Vitebsk where he learned in peace after his marriage.
After a number of years the Baal HaTanya decided, with permission from his wife, to go learn Torah in Galus. He felt a yearning to go to Vilna the home of the Vilna Gaon and the fortress of anti-chassidus as well as a yearning to go to Mezritch, where the light of the Baal Shem Tov emanated from his talmid and successor the Maggid Rav Dov Ber of Mezritch. At the end the desire to perfect his tefila swayed him towards Mezritch, where he was personally taught by the son of the Magid, Rav Avrohom HaMalach.
Upon returning to Vitebsk in 1767 a full fledged Chosid, he was promptly chased out of town and hired to become Magid in his old hometown of Liozna. Three years later he was directed by the Magid of Mezritch to reedit the Shulchan Aruch, update it, and make it more concise. This effort bore fruit in his creation of the universally accepted Shulchan Aruch HaRav.
In 1775 after the Magid’s death, the Baal HaTanya traveled to Vilna together with Rav Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk in an effort to defend Chassidus before the Vilna Gaon. This effort was unsuccessful as the Vilna Gaon left the city in order to avoid meeting with them.
The next twenty years of his life were spent creating the framework for Chassidus known as the Tanya. It was published in 1796. It was not universally accepted by Chassidim and was sharply criticized by the Chasidim in Eretz Yisroel who made Aliya some 20 years earlier with Rav Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk. It caused a schism in the Chassidic world that was patched up through the intervention of Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev and Rav Nachman of Breslov.
The publication also led to bitter opposition by the Misnagdim and false accusations caused him to be arrested twice by the Czar’s army, once in 1798 and once in 1800.
The last major chapter of the Baal HaTanya’s life was the Napoleonic War. While some Chassidic Rebbes saw this as Milchemes Gog UMagog and an opportunity for the Geula in the wake of a victory by Napoleon, the Baal HaTanya openly supported the Czar, stating that a victory by Napoleon will bring great wealth to the Jews but a rift between Hashem and His nation. Victory by the Czar will bring poverty but closeness between Am Yisroel and Hashem.
In 1812 the Baal HaTanya fled Liadi, ahead of Napoleon’s advancing army, to the relative safety of interior Russia. In his weakened state his was niftar along the way in the village of Pienna on 24 Teves 5573/1812.
Yehi Zichro Boruch.