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Rabbi Yosef Wineberg

29 February 2024

Before arriving at the Chabad yeshivah in Warsaw in the early 1930s, I studied in several other places in Poland. In those days every synagogue or smaller shtiebel had an informal yeshivah, and it was in one of these institutions that I first heard about the Tanya from a fellow student.

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He spoke very highly about this classic work of Chabad philosophy, so when I eventually joined the Chabad yeshivah and started studying the Tanya, I felt like I had found a treasure. I would study it on my own, attend classes from our chasidic mentor Reb Baruch “Poilisher,” review what I had learned, and then prepare again for the next lecture. Unfortunately, during the war, I lost all my notes from this time, but thank G-d my studies remained in my mind and heart.

Eventually I moved to New York where I worked for the Tomchei Temimim yeshivah network. In that capacity, in the mid-fifties I began hosting a weekly radio program on a local station, where I usually spoke about different aspects of chasidic thought or practice. Thank G-d, people were pleased with the program and it gave a good impression of the yeshivah, which also helped with our fundraising efforts.

In 1959, I suggested to the Rebbe that I start another radio program to teach Tanya. I would prepare a script for the class each week, and the Rebbe could give his approval before it went to air. At first the Rebbe turned the idea down: “The time hasn’t come yet,” he said.

But a year later, I heard that a prominent teacher of chasidut named Rabbi Nachum Goldschmidt had started teaching Tanya on the radio in Israel. I decided to prepare a sample script and send it to the Rebbe for his approval. As soon as I did, the Rebbe edited the draft and sent it back to me with one hundred dollars to help with the expenses. He approved. And so, in the winter of 1960, I started teaching Tanya on the radio, starting with the author’s introduction.

Each week, I would type up a script for the broadcast, go over it with Rabbi Yosef Menachem Mendel Tenenbaum, a good friend of mine, and then send it to the Rebbe. The Rebbe reviewed every word, often adding notes and explanations, and I would then deliver the class live, late on Saturday night, after Shabbat.

At first, like Rabbi Goldschmidt in Israel, I tried to explain everything at great length but the Rebbe told me, “Israel is different.” I had prepared four pages just on the “oath” discussed in the first chapter, but he heavily edited them down; if I start explaining things this deeply, he said, I will end up confusing beginners. In general, the attention and time the Rebbe put into those classes was astonishing.

One year during Chanukah, the Rebbe didn’t have time to review my class on chapter 49 of Tanya before Shabbat. So, when Shabbat was over, instead of going home to light the Chanukah candles, he stayed in his office working on the draft, while I stood outside. He ended up spending three and a half hours writing an explanation on the end of the chapter, before calling in his secretary. “Give this to Wineberg,” he instructed, “and let him do what he wants with it.” The Rebbe knew that I wouldn’t be able to deliver his glosses that evening because I would need to study them first. So I rushed off to the radio station in Manhattan, and I taught them in the subsequent weeks; he had written enough material for three classes!

At one point, however, the Rebbe informed me through Rabbi Hodakov, his senior secretary, that he would need to stop editing the scripts. He just didn’t have the time. Instead he suggested finding someone else, in addition to Rabbi Tenenbaum, to go over them.

Nevertheless, I decided to send the Rebbe my next draft anyway. But just in case he wouldn’t send it back, I made a copy of the document beforehand.

I submitted the draft to the Rebbe’s office – and it came out, edited! The only explanation I have is that Rabbi Nissan Telushkin had been to the Rebbe that week for an audience. Rabbi Teluskin was a respected rabbi and author who was very fond of my program. Maybe he had put in a good word about the program, and that helped in some way.

In 1964, on the Shabbat after Rosh Hashanah, the Rebbe’s mother, Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, passed away. That evening, I dedicated the program to the memory of Rebbetzin Chana, and announced when the funeral would be.

I happened to know that Rebbetzin Chana was a great admirer of my Tanya class. Rabbi Berel Junik, who often assisted her, told me that she had once remarked to the Rebbe that when other people taught Tanya, “either they water it down, or you can’t understand what they are saying. But Wineberg doesn’t water it down and you understand.”

The Rebbe had smiled and said, “He’s on the right track.”

So, after the shiva period had passed, I wrote a letter to the Rebbe with a suggestion. In his mother’s memory, I proposed adding another fifteen minutes to the weekly program, in which I would give over the Rebbe’s own address from the Shabbat that had just concluded. The Rebbe would not speak every Shabbat, so on weeks he hadn’t, I would use one of his talks from previous years that had already been published.

“Receiving some nachas is always welcome,” replied the Rebbe, “and especially at a time like this.” Not only did he approve, but he also added: “this reinforces my idea to hold a farbrengen on every Shabbat of this year.” Apparently, he had been thinking about holding a gathering every Shabbat of that year, and the fact that his words would almost immediately be relayed to a much larger audience, was a factor in his decision to do so.

Radio time was quite expensive, and when I initially suggested adding those fifteen minutes, I didn’t yet know where I would get the money.

“Half of it is on me,” pledged the Rebbe.

This presented me with an opportunity. If I personally committed to paying the other half of the money, it would mean that I was the Rebbe’s partner for this segment. I asked for his permission, and the Rebbe agreed.

After twenty-two years of broadcasting, in 1982, I finished a full cycle of the Tanya, from the title page to the very end, and I started again from the beginning.

Before I finished the first cycle, someone suggested printing the classes as a book. When I brought the idea to the Rebbe in an audience, he didn’t respond at first. The next morning, however, I received a message to “immediately” start preparing the book.

We first published in Yiddish, the original language of the broadcast, and the Rebbe was so pleased that he gave a public talk about the new book. After that, Rabbi Chanoch Glitzenstein translated it into Hebrew, and my sons Levi and Sholom prepared an English translation, titled Lessons In Tanya. Today, it has been published in seven languages, and tens of thousands of people continue to regularly study Tanya from it. The Rebbe invested so much time into those classes, I believe, because he foresaw what would come of them.

The vice-chairman of United Lubavitcher Yeshivos, Rabbi Yosef Wineberg (1918-2012) delivered weekly radio broadcasts on chasidic teachings for nearly fifty years. He was interviewed three times, in the years 2008 and 2009.