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The Impact of Tanya

Avigdor Hameiri, an Israel writer and poet, was born in Hungary in 5646. He was orphaned of his mother at a young age and was raised by his grandfather, who taught him Hebrew and Tanach. When he grew older, he learned in the yeshiva named for the Chasam Sofer in Pressburg, Czechoslovakia. However, he later left the path of Torah and mitzvos and became a writer. He was 20 years old when he published his first poem, and he quickly earned international recognition and esteem for his craft.

During World War I, he enlisted in the Austrian-Hungarian army and was taken captive by the Russians. He was sent to a labor camp in Siberia, where he suffered greatly. After a prisoner exchange he was released and he went to Odessa, where he began publishing articles and poems in Hebrew language newspapers. He made aliya in 1921 and began writing for the daily newspapers. Over the years, Hameiri wrote over one hundred books, many of them best sellers. In 1968 Hameiri was awarded the Israel Prize for literature.

Hameiri always wrote what he thought. He wrote a lot about his religious past as well as his suffering as a Jewish soldier in a foreign army and then as a POW in a Siberian camp.

At first he belonged to the political right, but over the years his views changed and he moved to the left. He was famous for his sharp and histrionic writing. He would often attack the rabbinic-religious establishment and wrote against the religious galus (exile) Jews.

In 1930 he settled in Ramat Gan, where he met a Chabad chassid, Rabbi Meir Blizinsky, who brought many prominent leaders close to Judaism and Chassidus. In 1940, their acquaintance turned into a real friendship which lasted thirty years, until his passing in 1970.

With Rabbi Meir’s encouragement, Hameiri wrote letters to the Rebbe, and also sent the Rebbe his books, despite the fact that they were filled with anti-religious incitement.

In 1953, Hameiri visited the United States and met with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Afterwards, he remarked that before walking into the Rebbe’s room, he had imagined the Rebbe as a great king surrounded by servants. How surprised he was when he saw the Rebbe, “who is not just a king but also a servant who toils and labors and whose time is so precious that every minute is important to him.”

During the meeting, the Rebbe spoke to him about various things and asked him what he provides the youth as far as Judaism is concerned.

Hameiri was very confounded by this question and had no answer. The Rebbe said that he did not have to give him an answer on the spot.

When Hameiri returned to Israel, he told his friend Rabbi Blizinsky about the audience with the Rebbe and mainly discussed the question that the Rebbe had asked, about what he provided for the youth. This question bothered him for months.

Hameiri continued writing to the Rebbe. When his health deteriorated, he asked the Rebbe for a blessing. In his response, the Rebbe quoted the aphorism of the Baal Shem Tov that love for one’s fellow Jew is even for a Jew one has never met. The Rebbe added:

I firmly hope that by the time you receive my letter, your health will have already improved and G-d who sees the heart recognizes the resolution to change in those matters we discussed when you visited here and I also alluded to them in my letter to you. [Apparently, the Rebbe is referring to his question about his influence on the youth.] This will increase the blessing of the Healer of all flesh, and your recovery will be a quick one. I await good news and conclude with wishes for good health, physically and spiritually.

The Rebbe also wrote a letter to Rabbi Blizinsky, in which he made a special request, that Hameiri be a rising flame: 

May you succeed in fanning the G-dly spark in him until it becomes a flame that rises of its own accord, as our sages say, this is the goal of raising up the lights.

Then the Rebbe asked Rabbi Blizinsky to start learning Tanya with Hameiri.

In 1960, on the Eve of Yom Kippur, Rabbi Blizinsky finally acted upon the Rebbe’s instructions. He visited Hameiri in his home and shared with him a concept in Chassidut, which Hameiri enjoyed very much. “Where do you hear such things?” he wondered. Rabbi Blizinsky told him that this is discussed in Tanya.

“Then I want to learn this book!” said Hameiri, surprising Rabbi Meir, for he was a writer known for his heretical ideas.

They began the next night. In the first lesson, they learned the first chapter of Tanya, about how the soul takes an oath to be a tzaddik and not a rasha. The next day, they continued with the second chapter, with Rabbi Meir explaining each point in depth. Every evening they learned together, until they reached the sixth chapter.

When it was time for the seventh lesson, Hameiri bowed out without saying why.

In later years, Rabbi Blizinsky said that the first six chapters of Tanya had already had an effect and as a result, Hameiri changed his heretical views.

A short while after he began learning Tanya, Hameiri became partially paralyzed and could not speak. He asked his wife to write to the Rebbe about his condition and to pray for him. His wife asked Rabbi Blizinsky to do this, and Rabbi Meir wrote to the Rebbe about Hameiri’s poor state of health.

The Rebbe’s blessing was fulfilled a short time later; although he was already 75, his speech was restored and he recovered and lived a number of years more.
 

 


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