It all started at a very merry Simchat Torah in 2008. Each year, a small group of friends had developed a custom of “making deals” – as I like to characterize them. As an example, the previous year we pledged a donation if my long-haired nephew would get a crew-cut. In amongst the alcohol-infused joy and benevolent mood that followed, these things made plenty of sense at the time, and reasonable sense the next day.
My cousin came over to me all excited with the proposition. He nearly had someone else over the line and was looking to double-up on the deal.
Here was how “the deal” went: I would accept to study one chapter of Mishneh Torah of the Rambam every day, and to purchase one set for home and one set for the synagogue. “And?” I said. One of the key elements in a contract is consideration – the value exchange: In consideration of A doing X, B will do Y. Something was missing here – I was being asked to make several commitments but there didn’t seem to be anything on the other side of the equation. Well, the other half of the deal was that the other person would also make the same commitment. While it sounded like a bit of Indian Business School, I was impressed with his good intent to embark on this study, and wanted to show my support both with my time and money. So I said yes to that year’s “deal”.
In 1984, the Lubavitcher Rebbe proposed a new regular study program for Chabad Chassidim: a daily dose of Rambam. The Mishneh Torah is an outstanding work – the first codification of Jewish Law, and one of the pillars of the Shulchan Aruch – the code of Jewish law. Some people study three chapters of Mishneh Torah per day, and finish in about a year; some study one chapter per day, and finish in about three years; and some study the Sefer HaMitzvot, and complete that in about a year. We had agreed to join the three-year program.
Now, we started study immediately after Simchat Torah that year, which was in the final months of the three year cycle. This past Simchat Torah, we personally completed the entire Rambam. Today, we have completed a full cycle together with everyone else around the world who are a part of this program.
While this achievement feels great, it’s a little like the painting of the Sydney Harbour Bridge: by the time you get to the end, you feel like you have to start it all over again. On the other hand, completing such a broad work which touches upon every aspect of Jewish law, gives a sense of the magnitude of the Torah, and the desire to embark on further such traversals. The more you learn, the more you realize there is to learn. And on we go.