NEFESH HATZIMTZUM, Volume 1: Rabbi Chaim Volozhin’s Nefesh HaChaim with Translation and Commentary
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NEFESH HATZIMTZUM, Volume 1:
Rabbi Chaim Volozhin’s Nefesh HaChaim with Translation and Commentary
by Avinoam Fraenkel
Published by Urim Publications
Hardcover, 811 pages
"Nefesh HaTzimtzum" is published in two volumes which are sold separately. Find Volume 2 here.
Nefesh HaTzimtzum provides the single most comprehensive and accessible presentation of Nefesh HaChaim, a work which has been described as nothing less than a “Shulchan Aruch of Hashkafa,” a formal presentation of how a Jew is to view and philosophically interact with the world. Written by Rabbi Chaim Volozhin, Nefesh HaChaim has resided in almost total obscurity for nearly two centuries due to its deep kabbalistic subject matter.
"Nefesh HaTzimtzum" opens up the real depth of the ideas presented in Nefesh HaChaim together with all of Rabbi Chaim’s related writings, making them accessible to the public for the first time in any language.
In addition to the complete English translation, "Nefesh HaTzimtzum" includes the full facing page Hebrew text of Nefesh HaChaim and many other writings by Rabbi Chaim, along with in-depth explanations, an informative historical overview, an easily consumable innovative presentation layout and a full index.
After centuries of confusion, extensive clarification is provided of the central Kabbalistic concept of Tzimtzum, or the secret of how an infinite God occupies a finite world. Most importantly, it unequivocally demonstrates that the key Kabbalists, including the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Chaim Volozhin and the Baal HaTanya, all unanimously agreed on the underlying principles of the concept of Tzimtzum and that contrary to widespread historical misunderstanding, there was no fundamental dispute about the philosophical principles of Judaism between the Hasidim and the Mitnagdim. Based on this, "Nefesh HaTzimtzum" shows that both Nefesh HaChaim and Sefer HaTanya present the same methodology for serving God which is rooted in their identical understanding of the concept of Tzimtzum.
This volume contains the complete Hebrew text of Nefesh HaChaim which is brought to life by an illuminating translation and incisive commentary. It additionally provides extensive translated source material necessary to properly understand the basic text. The text is further complemented by an informative introduction which includes a historical overview.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Avinoam Fraenkel received rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. He is also a hi-tech professional, providing business management software solutions.
PRAISE FOR "NEFESH HATZIMTZUM"
“Rav Fraenkel’s . . . translation and elucidation of the Nefesh HaChaim is outstanding.”
–Rabbi Dovid Cohen
“There is much pseudo-depth in this generation and it is a true pleasure and comfort to encounter a writer who
invests maximal effort towards reaching the truth of the Torah and of wisdom.”
–Professor Jonathan Garb
“R. Avinoam Fraenkel . . . has proven at length . . . that everyone agrees that the concept of Tzimtzum is not to
be understood literally . . . .”
–Rabbi Yitzchok Meir Morgenstern
“We owe Avinoam Fraenkel an immense debt of gratitude for a monumental labour of scholarship. Truly this is
a work by which, at every level, we are enriched.”
–Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
“Many will now begin to properly study this holy book [Nefesh HaChaim].”
–Rabbi Hershel Schachter
“Nefesh HaTzimtzum is a monumental work which truly explains the teachings and worldview of Rabbi Chaim
Volozhin. . . . Avinoam amazingly dispels the confusion [about Tzimtzum] by explaining the historical factors and
providing scholarly proof.”
–Rabbi Moshe Schatz
I am at a loss for words to describe how blown away I am by the magnitude of Avinoam Fraenkel’s Nefesh Hatzimtzum.
Nefesh Hatzimtzum is a translation and study guide to R’ Chaim Volozhin’s Nefesh Hachaim. For those unfamiliar, Nefesh Hachaim is the “Shulchan Aruch” of hashkafa and philosophy. The concepts presented by R. Chaim are a basic platform to give us knowledge of the closest that is humanly achievable in relating to God and by extension, our ability to serve Him.
Nefesh Hatzimtzum is simply outstanding. It is a crisp and clear presentation of what has essentially been a closed book. Now Nefesh Hachaim is not only accessible, but in Fraenkel’s two volume set (over 1600 pages!), one also enjoys the benefits of a spoon fed education on the material.
In addition to being the best translation of Nefesh Hachaim that I have yet to see, volume one of Nefesh Hatzimtzum includes the full facing page Hebrew text of Nefesh Hachaim, along with in-depth explanations, and incisive commentary. There is also a comprehensive historical overview of the Nefesh Hachaim and all there is to know about R’ Chaim Volozhin. The extensive table of contents and index is inviting and user friendly.
The second volume is an exhaustive presentation of everything to do with the concept of “Tzimtzum,” God’s “retraction” from the world as He created it. Or, as the author puts it, “the secret of how an infinite God occupies a finite world.” Most importantly, it unequivocally demonstrates that the key kabbalists, including the Vilna Gaon, R’ Chaim Volozhin and the Baal Hatanya, all unanimously agreed on the underlying principles of the concept of Tzimtzum. Contrary to widespread historical misunderstanding, there was no fundamental dispute about the philosophical principles of Judaism between the Hasidim and the Mitnagdim. Based on this, Nefesh Hatzimtzum shows that both Nefesh Hachaim and Sefer Hatanya present the same methodology for serving God which is rooted in their identical understanding of the concept of Tzimtzum.
Nefesh Hatzimtzum is simply mind-boggling. There are few sefarim available today in the English language that offer a thorough education in such an important and lesser known area of Torah. This two volume set is a must have for anyone who values high quality English Torah works. Nefesh Hatzimtzum is for those with an interest in halacha, kaballa, and philosophy. It is for rabbis, laymen, academics, and all those with a thirst for knowledge and a desire to understand the Creator. Nefesh Hatzimtzum is simply a treasure waiting to be discovered and enjoyed. Fraenkel has made an historic contribution to the Jewish people.
-Rabbi Ari Enkin, Torah Book Reviews
The famed Yeshiva in Volozhin (founded 1803) stands as an emblem of complete devotion to Torah study. According to Prof. Imamnuel Etkes, the yeshiva had three principle qualities when administered by Rabbi Hayim (d.1821). First, the Yeshiva in Volozhin studied Torah round the clock in mishmarot (watches or shifts) of study because the study of Torah maintains the world. Second, they had an uncompromising approach to the true and simple meaning of the text of the Talmud, avoiding pilpul. Third, was the value of fear of God (yirat hashem) defined as control of one’s passions, Kabbalah, and devotion. Rabbi Hayim wrote his work Nefesh Hahayim The Living Soul presenting this path.
Nefesh Hahayim should have been translated into English decades ago as a Torah classic, instead it had to wait until 2015 for its first serious translation by Avinoam Fraenkel, a Hi-Tech professional with rabbinical ordination, currently working as a product manager for a global business management software company. The translation entitled Nefesh HaTzimzum is published [by Urim Publications] in two full volumes for a staggering 1600 pages. The first volume contains facing Hebrew and English pages as well as copious notes, explanations and an analytic index. The second volume has an entire book presenting Fraenkel’s theory of the concept of Divine tzimzum. It also has 400 pages of translations of almost all related texts written by the Vilna Gaon, Hayyim of Volozhin, Zundel of Salant. These ancillary texts are invaluable for any study of Nefesh Hahhayim.
The work is a labor of love by the translator and its shows. It is a wonderful translation and commentary on a difficult text, which should be owned by anyone truly interested in the world of the Mitnagdim, Lithuanian Kabbalah, or Yeshivish ideologies. I highly recommend the two volumes and they belong in every Jewish library of classic texts. The book has sources, indices, outlines, and background resources forever changing the study of the work. Fraenkel deserves a thank you for his readable and well annotated volume. I would recommend Nefesh HaTzimzum for both classroom and yeshiva.
The two volumes focus on Rabbi Hayyim’s doctrine of tzimzum and that is why Fraenkel names the two volumes Nefesh Hatzimzum, in that he assumes that this is the major focus of the work. More striking is that according to Fraenkel, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lyadi and Hayyim of Volozhim basically taught the same doctrine of Tzimzum and that the greats of the last two hundred years were mistaken in thinking that they seriously differed. To prove this point, the second volume has a 360 page presentation, a book unto itself, on Tzimzum and the world of the Malbush. Translating the copious sources from Rabbis Immanuel HaiRikki, Yosef Ergas and Solomon Elyashiv in this exposition by itself would have been considered a major achievement increasing the texts available in English.
-Alan Brill, The Book of Doctrines and Opinions