A simultaneous new start to study of Mishneh Torah and Sefer Hamitzvot
By: Motti Wilhelm
Throughout the long, difficult months of the coronavirus pandemic, many have said that a bulwark against worry each day was their study of Torah—particularly, the daily study of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah—a connection to eternal wisdom in a time of uncertainty.
Now, as the 39th cycle of daily study comes to its end, thousands worldwide are celebrating its conclusion. And with the availability of many new online study tools, thousands more are joining in the daily study for the first time as the 40th cycle begins.
The celebration this year consists of three study tracks all concluding simultaneously.
When the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory—instituted the daily study of Rambam, he suggested a daily study regimen of three chapters, finishing the entire Mishneh Torah in under a year. For those unable to study three chapters on a daily basis, the Rebbe proposed learning one chapter a day, allowing the learner to finish the entire work in just under three years.
For those who found even the daily chapter to be a challenge, the Rebbe instituted a third track: studying the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvot (“book of commandments”). By studying the more concise summaries of the mitzvahs all 613 commandments could be completed annually. This year, being the third year since the start of the 13th cycle of one-chapter study, all three tracks will be concluding their study, making for a momentous commemoration.
When the Rebbe instituted the daily study of Rambam in 1984, he explained that one of the intentions was to achieve unity by having the entire Jewish people learning the subject at the same time. With the amount of resources to aid the study increasing from year to year, this unity—encompassing any Jew at any stage—has never been closer to full realization.
On the digital stage, Chabad.org offers numerous resources, starting from the online edition of Rabbi Eliyahu Touger’s landmark translation of the entire Mishneh Torah and a wealth of audio classes. Jewish.tv features a wide selection of videos, including the renowned classes of Rabbi Yehoshua B. Gordon. Chabad.org’s daily study app and the Hayom app bring all these resources and more into the palm of your hand.
In print, recent years have seen a massive influx of study aids and publications, providing the scholar to the layman with the right resource to enhance the learning process. The weekly Chayenu magazine carries the Rambam being studied each week in the one-chapter-daily cycle, together with the Touger translation published by Moznaim. Scholars such as Rabbi Adin Even-Israel (Steinsaltz) released contemporary commentaries on the Mishneh Torah, and Dr. Baruch Davidoff, a dentist from London, published a ground-breaking set revolutionizing the study of the text.
Three Celebrations in One
The worldwide Siyum Harambam will highlight these components, alongside celebrating the accomplishment of those who spent one year or three fulfilling the goal of learning every mitzvah in the Torah. Organizers say that the celebrations also serve to draw more people to start the new cycle.
Celebrations around the globe are taking place beginning on July 9, but as the pandemic still rages, large public gatherings will not be held this year. Despite the challenges (or perhaps because of them), online Siyum Harambam webcasts and festivities that mark the completion of the Maimonides’ magnum opus will be bigger than ever. The wonders of modern technology being utilized in the absence of traditional gatherings allow for the siyum (“completion”) celebrations to reach audiences as never before.
The central celebration in New York is one such example. In prior years, thousands from the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn and other areas would attend with featured Hebrew and Yiddish-language speakers hailing from diverse Jewish communities across the tri-state area. With the event being held online this year, a much wider pool of participants will be able to join from any location around the globe.
Addressing the event will be Torah scholars from the East and West coasts, and even the chief rabbi of Bnei Brak, Israel. A similar event being held earlier the same day will feature a live stream from Maimonides’ resting place in Tiberias, Israel, and a siyum for the Montreal Chabad community being held over Zoom will highlight a Chabad emissary beginning the new study cycle from Maimonides’ original house in Fez, Morocco.
On Sunday, July 12 at noon Eastern time, a program called “Hope and Healing: Gaining Strength from Maimonides’ Wisdom” will be broadcast from Israel, hosted by Colel Chabad with greetings from former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, in addition to a keynote address by Rabbi Mendel Kaplan.
In the introduction to Mishneh Torah Maimonides expresses his goal: to make it possible “for all the laws to be revealed to both those of lesser stature and those of greater stature, regarding every single mitzvah, and also all the practices that were ordained by the Sages and the Prophets.”
Organizers note that Maimonides himself would no doubt be heartened by how far the world has come to achieving just that.