Only one author in Jewish history had the courage to say that his compilation encompasses the entire Oral tradition. Who was he? What is his book? And is it practical for us?
A. Second to the Torah
Maimonides opens his work with a fascinating preface, describing the transmission of Torah knowledge from Moses to his day. First, there was only the Written Torah on paper; everything else was transmitted orally. Later, the Mishnah and Talmud was compiled. Soon, there was a vast corpus of material that was very difficult to master. Therefore, Maimonides chose to compile a single work which would include all the laws of the Torah, in a clear and organized format (Source 1).
In 1984, the Rebbe announced a new initiative: every Jew should study a portion of this work, thereby uniting with all other Jews and achieveing mastery of all the commandments of the Torah.
B. Don’t Be Ashamed
After announcing this initiative, the Rebbe would dwell on the daily study portion at every farbrengen. In the following segment, he dwells on Maimonides’ choice for the opening passage of the work: “Then I shall not be ashamed, for I have gazed at all Your commandments.” What is the meaning of this passage?
Maimonides set out to do something very audacious: to compile a work that would be considered “second to the Torah.” People would invariably ask: How could he possibly be so assertive?
With this verse, he indicates that he is not ashamed — because he genuinely mastered the entire Torah. Thus, he was not only allowed, but obligated, to share his wisdom with the Jewish people. Just as Moses was humble while knowing his true worth, Maimonides recognized his potential and his — resulting — obligation: to share the entire Torah with the entire Jewish people.
C. Who Should Be Ashamed?
There is also a simple meaning to the verse: A person who studies the Written Torah could feel ashamed: he studied the entire Torah, but he is still clueless as to how to fulfill the commandments — because they are not spelled out clearly in the Torah. This person, the verse says, should “gaze at all Your commandments” by studying Mishneh Torah, and then he will no longer be ashamed.
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