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     Sichos In English -> Books -> Mysticism -> The Tree of Life — Kuntres Etz HaChayim


Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV

Chapter XV

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVII

Chapter XVIII

Chapter XIX

Chapter XX

Chapter XXI

Chapter XXII

Chapter XXIII

Chapter XXIV

Chapter XXV

Chapter XXVI

Chapter XXVII

Chapter XXVIII

Chapter XXIX

Chapter XXX

Chapter XXXI

Chapter XXXII

Chapter XXXIII

The Tree of Life — Kuntres Etz HaChayim
A classic chassidic treatise on the mystic core of spiritual vitality
by Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneersohn of Lubavitch

Chapter XXVIII

Translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger

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  Chapter XXVIIChapter XXIX  

In a simple sense, the knowledge [about which we are speaking is] to comprehend the halachah, [understanding] Rashi’s interpretation [of the relevant passages], [and] knowing the simple meaning without fooling oneself. [A student] should understand the motivating principles and rationales for the positions of every Tanna[374] or Amora,[375] and appreciate the dialectic give and take in the Talmud, with its questions and resolutions.

He should know what were the motivating reasons for the halachah, why it generated this question, and what new concept was introduced by the resolution. [He should understand] whether the resolution negated the principle which motivated the questioner entirely, or whether it accepts [the question’s] motivating principle, but diverts the question, [either] by showing that in truth, it is not a question, or by developing a new insight regarding the halachah, explaining it in a more comprehensive manner, and by so doing, removes the question. Thus he must know what is the intent of the halachah once the resolution has been offered.

In general, [a student] must keep in mind the order and connections between the questions and their resolutions, for sometimes a concept is changed because of questions. This is particularly true when questions are asked of two Tannaim or Amoraim who differ, and it is necessary to keep in mind the order [of the give and take between them]. For the resolutions [often] furnish new insights with regard to the essence of the approach of each of the Sages, [revealing] their motivating principles and rationales.

[Similarly, a student must understand] the dialectic reasoning of the Gemara with regard to a law stated in the Mishnah, understanding the simple meaning and the intent of the Mishnah as [developed] through the situations presented by the Gemara and [grasping] the new insights it brings out. In general, he should know all the particulars of a Talmudic passage, having a clear knowledge of all the particulars of each opinion and its motivating principle. Each motivating principle should be clearly defined and they all should be ordered in his [mind], each one having its place.

After [the student] has completed [studying] the entire passage from the text, he should review it by heart (speaking it over), [reviewing] every opinion, the questions raised concerning it, the resolutions offered, and the conclusions reached.

These should all be grasped thoroughly in [the student’s] mind. He should not consider it wearisome to review the subject by heart several times in the above manner until it is grasped comprehensively.

After the interpretation of the subject according to Rashi’s commentary is clear and graphically understood and comprehended within his mind, he should study the interpretation Tosafos offers to the passage. He should analyze whether Tosafos are further clarifying the subject according to the explanation offered by Rashi, [augmenting his commentary] with explanations, or providing a more particular breakdown of the subject. It is necessary to understand which new insights their commentary uncovers.

Sometimes they take a different perspective than Rashi, and explain the passage according to their understanding. Sometimes the difference in perspective relates to the entire passage, and sometimes it involves only one particular. Since [the student] has grasped the passage thoroughly, it will not be difficult for him to comprehend the matter, nor will he be confused because of the difference in approaches and explanations. He will be able to explain that according to Rashi, the passage can be understood in this manner, while according to Tosafos, it can be understood in another fashion.

It is common for Tosafos to raise questions from other Talmudic passages. Thus at times, it is necessary to check that source to understand the question they are raising. And when Tosafos presents a pilpul (dialectic analysis) concerning a subject with regard to the passage at hand — and certainly, with regard to other passages — much composure is necessary. To understand the subject, [a student] must focus his mental energy on knowing the [fundamental] intent [of Tosafos], the rationale motivating their reason. Afterwards, [he must know] the question they are raising with regard to this rationale, and [why] they come to a new rationale or a deeper understanding of the first rationale itself.

[Having mastered the flow of thought, the student] should then review the pilpul by heart until it is clear and structured in his mind, and comprehended thoroughly. And he should appreciate the new insight their pilpul gave to [the understanding of] the passage as a whole.


[This chapter] explains the manner of studying the Gemara, [Rashi’s] commentary, and Tosafos.



  1. (Back to text) [Sage of the Mishnah.]

  2. (Back to text) [Sage of the Gemara.]

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     Sichos In English -> Books -> Mysticism -> The Tree of Life — Kuntres Etz HaChayim

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