They say knowledge is power, at least according to Renaissance era British scientist Francis Bacon. He had a point, one which had long been central in Jewish life. There's so much knowledge in Jewish texts that it would be quite impossible to read it all in a lifetime, let alone master it. There are millions of titles across thousands of subjects, most of which take years to grasp fully.

This posed a challenge for towering medieval Jewish scholar Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, known as the 'Rambam', or Maimonides. Born in Spain, raised in Morocco and later the personal physician to the Egyptian sultan Saladin, Rambam was the leader of the Jewish community of his time. 

The challenge wasn't only that it was too much to learn. After all, the Talmud writes that life is about being our best selves, not checking off accomplishments (though that is important too).

The Rambam’s challenge was based on his unique approach to Torah study, and life in general. Maimonides knew that all pursuit of knowledge had to be relevant and inspiring to each individual in a personal way. Yet there is so much to learn and so much to strive for that one can feel overwhelmed. Academic success, financial success, physical endurance, spiritual exploration, science, medicine, music, languages, art. How should we structure our goals and ambitions in life? Where does one even start?

Maimonides' answer to this challenge changed the entire course of Jewish history, especially the Jews’ relationship with the the Mitzvah of Torah study.

In an unparalleled, brilliant fashion, Maimonides reworked the entire Torah in a trailblazing new work called 'Mishneh Torah'. As if using a minesweeper, Maimonides combed through the entirety of Jewish literature, covering a veritable ocean of information. He highlighted anything which had a connection to a person's practical, personal life, and left out all hypothetical analysis.

The result was a perfectly organized, 14 book codex of the entirety of action-based Torah study (i.e only subjects which directly related to one of the 613 Mitzvahs/action based commandments). A book which your average Jewish man and woman would be able to click with and feel that it was talking to them on a personal level. Many people have the custom to complete this work every year.

In highlighting only the parts of the Torah which are relevant to each of us on a personal level, the Rambam reminded us not to berate ourselves for falling short of goals which are not our own, not achieving what others have achieved, or not doing ‘what they say’ we should do. 

While upholding the critical importance of general Torah study (it is still a special Mitzvah to delve into analytical study of Torah, even when not tied to one's personal life), the Rambam zoomed into what Torah study, pursuing knowledge, and achievements in general are really all about: Discovering how to be ourselves, not how to be someone else. 

The Rambam taught us a timeless, priceless lesson that was relevant in twelfth century Egypt where he lived, and today as well. Yes, it might be a great achievement to balance on a tightrope, build the world's tallest building or create the world's fastest car. But if it's not for us, we don't have to do it.

Knowledge, goals and objectives are critical in life. Without them we remain stagnant. But the goals need to be anchored in our own, personal lives, to our own needs, talents and faults. The ultimate goal is how we can make our own, unique selves shine. And we all can shine and add light to the world in a way which no one has ever been able to, nor ever will.

So what are we waiting for?

Rabbi Avrohom