In honor of the upcoming Siyum Horambam, marking the completion of the 42nd Rambam study cycle and the start of the 43rd, Vaad Or Vechom Hahiskashrus present an overview of this worldwide campaign instituted by the Rebbe.
By Or Vechom Hahiskashrus
As Chassidim, one of the most basic ways of connecting with our Rabbeim is by following their takonos. Less than a month after Yud Shevat 5710, the Rebbe wrote about the importance of keeping the [Frierdiker] Rebbe’s takonos, quoting a letter from the Frierdiker Rebbe which is also printed in Hayom Yom (24 Sivan): “You ask how can you be bound (m’kushar) to me when I do not know you personally…The true bond is created by studying Torah. When you study my maamarim, read the sichos, and associate with those dear to me – the Chassidic community and the tmimim – in their studies and farbrengens, and you fulfill my request regarding saying Tehillim and observing Torah-study times – in this is the bond.”
It is clear from countless letters and sichos that the Rebbe saw the shiurim as a direct line of hiskashrus to the Frierdiker Rebbe. As we find ourselves after Gimmel Tammuz, it is no doubt that one of the strongest ways of connecting to the Rebbe is by fulfilling the Rebbe’s takonoh of learning Rambam, which the Rebbe referred to as his “dream” and “chavivus meyuchedes” (especially precious to him).
We are pleased to share an overview of the Rebbe’s launch of Takonas Horambam, and its development over the years. It is our hope that this will help you continue, or take on, learning Rambam with a “shturem” in connection with the Siyum of the 42nd cycle of Rambam since the takonoh was first introduced in Nissan of 5744. Much of the information in this overview has been adapted from various ‘A Chassidisher Derher’ articles, chiefly “Limud Horambam, the Global Initiative.”
For the full resource site on the takonoh of Rambam, including articles, sichos, videos, daily study guides, and much more, visit OrVechom.com/Rambam.
The concept of learning Rambam in an organized format was first mentioned by the Rebbe at the farbrengen of Shabbos Chof Kislev 5744 (English). That year, Yud Tes Kislev was on a Friday which meant that the Shabbos Farbrengen was a direct continuation of the Yud Tes Kislev festivities. During the Farbrengen, while discussing the annual Chalukas Hashas held in honor of Yud Tes Kislev, the Rebbe declared that the time had come to begin studying the Sefer Halachos of the Rambam, Mishneh Torah, in a similar fashion. Caught off guard, the Chassidim present were unsure how to act on this appeal. However, the Talmidei Hashluchim who had been sent to Morocco, a country where the Rambam himself had lived for many years, launched a project dividing up the Mishneh Torah amongst all the Rabbonim of Morocco to be completed in honor of Yud Alef Nissan.
A few weeks before Yud Alef Nissan, the Shluchim sent a report to the Rebbe on what they had done and received a response in the next Michtov Kloli-Proti beginning with the words, “Your letter which was included was received, v’tach.” This made the Shluchim very happy, knowing that they brought the Rebbe much Nachas. At the Yud Alef Nissan farbrengen (Audio) (English), the Rebbe said a hadran on Rambam, something relatively out of the ordinary at the time. Although the Rebbe did not directly mention the chaluka that took place in Morocco, the Shluchim felt that the hadran was a positive sign.
Finally, eleven days later on Acharon Shel Pesach 5744 (Hebrew – Muga) (English) the Rebbe praised the work of the Shluchim in Morroco and spoke more about the takonoh of learning Rambam: “While on the topic of Rambam, I’d like to make the following suggestion: we know that there are several study cycles with which people complete the entire Shas by learning a small section each day. It would be a good idea to initiate a similar cycle dedicated to the study of Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, learning a part each day and completing the entire Sefer next year on his birthday, Yud Daled Nissan.”
[The Rebbe explained why each person must study the entire Rambam himself and not just take one section as is regularly done in a Chalukas Hashas, and as was done in Morroco: There is a rule that the Rambam wrote the halachos in order, meaning that he relies on what he wrote earlier, and trusts the student to remember, while not requiring information from later in the Sefer. The result is that one who learns a halacha from the middle of Rambam is liable to misunderstand the Rambam, for he might be missing a piece of vital information. Shas on the other hand is not an orderly compilation, each Mesechta being self-sufficient.]
At a Yechidus Klolis (Audio) (English) for the Pesach guests a few days later (25 Nissan), the Rebbe laid out the details of the new initiative, explaining that the Rambam includes approximately a thousand Perokim, so in order to complete the entire sefer by the Rambam’s next birthday, three chapters should be studied each day. The Rebbe also added that those who find it difficult to study a full three chapters daily could follow their own cycle by learning only one chapter per day, concluding the entire sefer in three years. Immediately following this Sicha, the rabonim compiled and released the very first Moreh Shiur (study schedule) of the Rambam cycle to help participants keep track of the daily chapters.
This Sicha was not only historic in the sense that it began what we now know as the standard practice of learning Rambam every day, but it was also a complete turning point in the Rebbe’s Sichos and Farbrengens as we know them. From this point on, the Rebbe would derive a lesson from the daily quota of Rambam at almost every single talk he gave, both during the week and on Shabbos and Yomtov, resulting in a wealth of novel explanations in the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah. (Many of these Sichos were later compiled together and published in a Sefer called ‘Yein Malchus.’)
On Shabbos, 27 Nissan (English – Unity through Rambam), a day before the very first study cycle was to begin, the Rebbe again dedicated a Sicha to the new takona, adding a third study cycle. The Rebbe explained that those who find it difficult to study even one chapter a day, primarily having in mind women and children, should learn its concepts (following the three-chapter cycle) as presented briefly in Sefer HaMitzvos.
Around this time, the Rebbe also explained two fundamental reasons behind the takonoh and its importance: 1) To foster an achdus (unity) amongst the entire Klal Yisroel through everyone studying the same subject matter in Torah. (See also Yud Beis Sivan 5744). 2) Specifically through studying Rambam one is able to learn through all of the Mitzvos of the Torah, being that the Rambam is the only Sefer that has every halacha pertaining to all time periods. When specifying these reasons, the Rebbe added that truthfully there are more reasons for the new takona, but these will suffice.
On the following Shabbos, Parshas Emor (English) the Rebbe made a special farbrengen explaining that one of the reasons he was doing so was to bolster the “koch” in learning Rambam. “The world today is spiritually asleep”, the Rebbe said, “and the only way to wake it up is by making a shturem about Rambam study.”
Over the coming year, the Rebbe mentioned the new takonoh on multiple occasions (in addition to deriving lessons from the daily Rambam at almost every address). The Chassidim took the campaign to heart and not only scrupulously kept to the daily study schedule, but made sure to encourage anyone they could along the way.
Other notable Sichos from this period include the well-known Sicha of Shabbos Parshas Pinchas 5744 when the Rebbe referred to the takonoh of Rambam as his “dream” of uniting all of Klal Yisroel and that of Chai Elul 5744 when the Rebbe suggested publishing a sefer of Marei Mekomos on Mishneh Torah. [It is interesting to note, that the Rebbe explained the lack of Marei Mekomos in Rambam as an advantage. The Mishneh Torah is a Sefer of “Halochos Halochos,” meaning, that the Rambam does not bring sources or references for what he is writing, with the goal of the Sefer being the only text one would ever need in order to know Halacha. The Rambam later had in mind to add sources for his rulings but that idea never materialized, aside from a small collection of sources collected by his son, Reb Avrohom, in a Sefer titled “Sefer Habiur L’ikrei Hachibur.” The full story of how the Rebbe’s “suggestion” came to fruition, and the entire background, can be found in an article here. Additionally, you can watch Rabbi Yitzchok Prus, who was involved in the project, share a first-hand recount.]
THE FIRST SIYUM
Already over a month before the first Siyum, on Zayin Adar 5745 (Audio) (English), the Rebbe began preparing for the momentous occasion, requesting Chassidim to arrange siyumim around the world to celebrate this great achievement.
The Rebbe even dedicated a Sicha of the Purim Farbrengen (Audio) (English) to this topic, stressing the importance of spreading the Rambam campaign, and in particular conducting siyumim at the conclusion of the yearly study cycle, and celebrations in connection with the Rambam’s birthday. The Rebbe emphasized that even the gentile countries in which the Rambam lived have organized celebrations in connection with the Rambam’s birthday, for this year marks the 850th anniversary of the Rambam’s birth. If gentile nations have decided to honor the Rambam, the Jews should surely do so; the greatest possible honor being the serious study of his great work.
Finally, during the farbrengen of Yud Alef Nissan (Audio) (English), the Rebbe dedicated the second Sicha to explain why a Farbrengen was being held in connection with this day. At its conclusion, the Rebbe added: “The truth is that we need not look too far for a good reason to hold this farbrengen. The best and most important reason is that today, hundreds and thousands of Yidden completed a full cycle of studying Rambam!” The Rebbe then went on to conduct a siyum and haschala in the presence of all the Chassidim, reading the text from the finish and start of Mishneh Torah, and giving a lengthy hadran. Immediately following the Siyum, Chassidim broke into a joyful rendition of the niggun ‘Sisu V’simchu’, celebrating this significant milestone with the Rebbe.
Siyumin were held worldwide at the Rebbe’s request. A special siyum was arranged in Cairo, Egypt, where the Rambam lived. Click here to watch a video presentation by JEM with firsthand accounts from the event and inside information on how a group of Chassidim managed to pull off a Jewish celebration in the capital of Egypt. Click here to read more about the Siyumim conducted in Fes, Cairo, and Tiverya, as well as an overview of the Rebbe’s unique involvement in these Siyumim.
Over the first cycle, many Chassidim were unsure if the Rambam initiative was a one-time thing or something that would continue year after year. (As Dr. Chaim Hecht shared in an interview with A Chassidisher Derher.) Not wasting a single moment, two days later on the night of Yud Gimmel Nissan, the Rebbe spoke a Sicha connecting the Siyum to the Hakdoma, urging Chassidim to begin learning the Rambam from the start, launching the second cycle of Limud Horambam. Additionally, following the official Siyum, the Rebbe responded to the report, “Thank you for the good news and it should be a continuous activity, especially with the second cycle.”
Over a month later, during the Lag Baomer parade (Audio) (English), the Rebbe explained the similarities between Rashbi and the Rambam and once again requested Chassidim to conduct Siyumim, asking that any city that has not yet made a Siyum should do so, and this will strengthen the commitment to Rambam study. The Rebbe also stressed the importance of publicizing them to the entire world, suggesting that the lectures from the Siyumim be transcribed, published, and distributed.
SIYUMIM AND HADRONIM
In 5746, as the second Rambam cycle was coming to a close, the Rebbe reminded Chassidim of the importance of conducting a siyum already on the 15th of Shevat. In the Sicha, later edited by the Rebbe and printed in Likkutei Sichos, the Rebbe stressed the importance of conducting the siyum in the best and most efficient way possible, ensuring that it is done at a time that is convenient for people and in an organized fashion.
It was evident from the Sicha that the Rebbe held the siyum in very high regard, seeing it as an integral part of the global initiative. Needless to say, a team of organizers immediately began preparing for the upcoming siyum.
That year, a large Siyum Horambam was held in a Manhattan hall with over eight-thousand in attendance! Rabbi Shmuel Butman relates the “risk” that the organizers took, asking the Rebbe if he would give dollars to be distributed to all the participants. The Rebbe agreed without hesitation and sent about seven-thousand dollar bills to be distributed. The New York Times reported on the tremendous success of the event, mentioning the Rebbe’s vision for this project and how far it reached in only two short years since its inception. The Rebbe also held a siyum for the second cycle during the Purim Farbrengen of 5746.
Over the years, the Siyum Horambam continued to grow in size and reach, with the participation of many prominent Rabonim of the Jewish world. The Rebbe also requested on numerous occasions that the lectures presented at the Siyum be printed in a book, as well as, publishing chidushei Torah to encourage more people to join the learning initiative
Rabbi Butman relates that following the Siyum Horambam of the fifth cycle in 5749, he was called to the Rebbe’s private residence where the Rebbe told him that he read his report on the Siyum and it made a strong impression. The Rebbe requested that he publish a book commemorating the worldwide celebrations of the annual completion of the Mishneh Torah. The Rebbe asked that the book be completed “before the first Purim” which was only three weeks later! Rabbi Butman presented the book to the Rebbe together with the bookbinder exactly three weeks later during a Sunday dollars distribution. (Read a diary describing the Siyum of that year. Click here to read a Diary describing the Siyum of 5750.)
Every year the Rebbe would personally conduct a Siyum and say a hadran on the Rambam. For a list of Siyumin and Hadranim, click here.
RESPONSE TO NAYSAYERS
One of the most common struggles in convincing the Jewish world of the importance of a daily study in Rambam was that the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah was seen as being a complex and deep Sefer, not a work that should be studied at such a fast pace. The Rebbe dismissed this concern on numerous occasions at the start of the Takona, explaining that the Rambam himself described the Mishneh Torah in his introduction to the Sefer as a “compilation of the entire Torah Sheb’al Peh, including also the takonos, minhogim, and gezeiros that were enacted from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu, until the completion of the Gemara, as were explained by the Geonim in the texts they composed after the Gemara.” Clearly, such a work is not solely intended to be used as a deep explanation of the Gemara for deriving chidushim or the like. The Rebbe explained that the takono his to learn Rambam for the sake of Rambam itself. (This point was explained in numerous Sichos. See, for example, Shavuos 5744 p. 1949 and on; Purim 5745 p. 1442.)
The Rebbe addressed opposition to the new initiative on several occasions. In a Yechidus at the end of Nissan, 5745 (approximately one year after the takonoh was launched), the Rebbe told Reb Gershon Ber Jacobson: “I cannot fathom, how could the study of Rambam be met with opposition. What could be wrong with learning Rambam? The same is true with the opposition some people had when we launched Mivtza Tefillin: what is it that bothers people about putting Tefillin on another Yid? You don’t approve of teaching Chassidus to bochurim? Fine, I may be able to understand your issue. But studying Rambam and putting on Tefillin with Yidden, what could be wrong with that? “My only explanation is that people are intimidated by Lubavitch. Whatever Lubavitch says, they feel the need to say the opposite! If I would announce that there are Ten Dibros, they would respond that there are only nine.”
In a sicha a few weeks later (Lag B’omer, 5745), the Rebbe added: “There are those who make ‘leitzonus’ from the study of Rambam. Amongst all of those people, you will not find even one who has completed the study of one full Sefer of Rambam from beginning to end. He may have a very good head; he knows how to say a good shiur, and he even knows how to make leitzonus. But if you will ask him earnestly, you can be certain that he has never studied one full sefer of the Rambam’s fourteen seforim in its entirety. “How am I so sure? Because if he had obtained a real connection with the Rambam by learning even part of his sefer properly, the Rambam himself would never let him make leitzonus from the study of Rambam.”
On Shavuos 5745, the Rebbe spoke passionately about the people who oppose the Rambam initiative and addressed another concern people may have, that studying Rambam is exclusively for Lubavitch. “Someone might say, ‘I am not a Lubavitcher, so I don’t have to take part in this; I’ll study something else.’ Go find a Sefer—other than Rambam—that enumerates and explains the halachos of every single Mitzvah. Then there will be room for argument! In the meantime, until you find another sefer like this, you must learn Rambam, because you have an obligation to know all of the Mitzvos already today. And you probably won’t find another sefer anyway; according to the experts, a sefer of this kind has yet to be published!”
Needless to say, no opposition, from anyone, would stand in the way of the Rebbe’s campaign. The Rebbe made it very clear that the response to the opposition is simply to utilize one’s time with Limud Hatorah and Ahavas Yisroel and not to even consider being m’vatel Torah responding to the opposers. Chassidim took these Sichos to heart and committed to being more careful in their Limud Horambam and spreading the initiative with anyone they came in contact with.
THE REBBE STUDYING RAMBAM
It is interesting to note that the Rebbe seemed to have a commitment in learning Rambam himself long before introducing the concept to the world.
As early as the 1930’s the Rebbe was observed learning Rambam. At the time, the Rebbe and Rebbetzin were living in Berlin and Paris but would make occasional visits to the Frierdiker Rebbe who then resided in Poland. One student studying in Tomchei Temimim at the time recalled that the Rebbe was often seen walking around with a small bag and one of the things the bochurim would see the Rebbe pull out from the bag was a Sefer of the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah.
Reb Zellig Wallman, a student in Yeshivah Torah Vodaas in New York in 5708-09 recounted that every night he would have a nightly Shulchan Aruch chavrusah in 770, and would often witness the Rebbe pulling a Rambam off the shelf after Maariv and studying from it for some time. “It was quite clear that he was slowly studying through the Mishneh Torah, one Sefer at a time, although we were unable to determine exactly how much he covered per day.”
This all became much more evident after the launch of Takonas Horambam. The Rebbe was commonly seen with a Rambam in hand learning the daily lesson. Most notable was during the Rebbe’s trips to and from the Ohel. Often the Rebbe would continue learning Rambam in the car even after it was parked in the driveway of 770.
Along with the new shturem in learning the Rambam’s magnum opus, Mishneh Torah, the Rambam became a frequent topic in the Rebbe’s farbrengens and in the homes of Lubavitchers worldwide. The Rebbe would often derive lessons in Avodas Hashem from the Rambam’s life and spoke of him often.
Amongst many lessons shared before and after the start of the takona, the Rebbe spoke of the Rambam’s unique approach to hardships, discussed his “accomplished life” of 70 years, and extolled the fact that he was not only a renowned Halachic authority, but a busy physician as well, treating Jews and gentiles alike.
The Rebbe began saying Sichos on the Rambam’s yahrtzeit, Chof Teves, as well as, the birthday of the Rambam which was on Erev Pesach. The Rebbe even held an entire surprise Farbrengen on 20 Teves 5745, months after launching the Rambam campaign, in honor of the Rambam’s Yartzeit.
The Rebbe would often compare the life of the Rambam to that of the Alter Rebbe. The Rebbe explained in the Farbrengen of 24 Teves 5741 (before the launch of the Takona), that there are many parallels between the Rambam and the Alter Rebbe. They both issued decisions on Halacha that guide all later generations. The Rambam’s most well-known Seforim are his Mishneh Torah, which is very scholarly, and the Moreh Nevuchim, a philosophic work. The Alter Rebbe’s most well-known works are his Shulchan Aruch, and his Tanya, which compare to the Rambam’s two great works. They both faced extreme opposition to their teachings, yet the opposition fell away. Eventually, their detractors became ardent disciples.
To learn more about the life and times of the Rambam, click here.
THE RAMBAM AND MOSHIACH
The Rebbe often praised the Mishneh Torah for being the only Sefer that contains all the Halachos of Torah pertaining to each period in history—including the times when the Beis Hamikdosh stood, as well as the times of Moshiach. The Rebbe would often discuss Moshiach through the lens of the Rambam. In fact, the Rebbe would often quote the well-known verse with which the Rambam concludes his Sefer: “Umol’oh ho’oretz de’oh es Hashem…” as a brocha for the coming of Moshiach. In a Yechidus with the Alexander Rebbe on 20 Iyar 5743, the Rebbe quoted a line from the Rambam, “May they be immediately redeemed,” and explained that being that the Rambam is a Sefer of Halachos, this too must be a Halachic ruling that we must be redeemed immediately! The Rebbe even learned a powerful lesson from the Rambam living in Mitzrayim, connecting it to Moshiach, at the Farbrengen of Parshas Shemos 5752 (English).
Studying Rambam as a way of bringing Moshiach was a recurring theme in the Rebbe’s Sichos. After the well-known Sicha of 28 Nissan 5751, when the Rebbe told us that he has done all he can and that we now must do our part in bringing Moshiach, leaving Chassidim bewildered and at a loss, the Rebbe began specifying how we can best hasten Moshiach’s arrival. Amongst the many Horaos, on Shabbos Parshas Vayechi 5752, the Rebbe listed adhering to the takonoh of learning Rambam as one of the ways we can best do our part in bringing the Geulah now.
The Rebbe explained an additional reason why learning Rambam hastens the coming of Moshiach. It is well-known that the study of Mishnayos is a segula for the Geulah due to its unique style of bringing all the Halachos in a concise format, without questions or answers. Similarly, the Mishneh Torah is known and praised for being a Sefer of “Halochos Halochos,” meaning, that the Rambam does not bring sources or references for what he is writing. The Rambam himself addresses this and explains that the Mishneh Torah is intended to be the only text one would ever need in order to know Halacha.
Additionally, when on numerous occasions the Rebbe declared unity as one of the main reasons behind the takonoh of Limud Horambam, he explained that this unity will bring about the coming of Moshiach, as it is the opposite of the cause for Golus – a lack of Ahavas Yisroel.
Below is a list of selected resources to enhance your study of the Mishneh Torah and understanding and appreciation of the Shturem in Takonas Horambam over the years. For the full resource site, visit: OrVechom.com/Rambam.
We haven’t even begun – ‘A Chassidisher Derher’
Rambam: How To – Vaad Hatmimim
Unity Through Rambam – 27 Nissan 5744
The Life & Times of the Rambam – Chabad.org
The Rebbe’s Takona: Rambam – Or Vechom
For the full resource site, filled with articles, videos, Sichos, child-friendly material and much more, visit OrVechom.com/Rambam.