More than 40 women gathered in a Jerusalem home Wednesday night to celebrate the life and work of the revered medieval sage Rabbi Moses Maimonides.

Hosted by Rivka Marga Gestetner, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary and co-director of the women’s program at the Mayanot Institute a Jewish Studies, the event coincided with the completion of the ninth one-chapter-per-day study cycle of MaimonidesMishneh Torah since the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, instituted the practice in 1984.

For Gestetner, the gathering – which occurred alongside similar events worldwide – had a personal significance: It marked the first time she had finished studying Maimonides’ monumental code of Jewish law.

Because of a schedule that always included an array of responsibilities, from her family to her professional and communal commitments, the much-more demanding three-chapter-a-day cycle had always been out of reach. Even the one-chapter cycle seemed daunting, so she stuck with the study of Maimonides’ companion work, Sefer Hamitzvot, which the Rebbe suggested for people whose time pressures and backgrounds precluded more-intensive daily study.

But three years ago, when the last one-chapter cycle began – on her 37th birthday – Gestetner felt that it was something she had to do. She hasn’t let up since.

“I realized then that if I finished it, I would reach my 40th birthday with this accomplishment to look back on,” she recalled. “Maimonides is so basic to a lot of Jewish learning: He takes the guess work out and gives Jewish practice grounding.”

When the Rebbe encouraged people everywhere to learn the code, he stressed the unity achieved by the entire Jewish People studying the same subject in Torah at the same time. He also emphasized the uniqueness of Maimonides’ work: It is the only body of law that encompasses all of the Torah’s commandments, even those that apply when the Temple is in existence and those that will apply in the Messianic era.

New Commitments

Just over a year after she began studying the code, Mayanot opened its women’s program and Gestetner suddenly found herself with even more work and an extended family of students often placing claims on her time. Finding their mother asleep at the dining room table, a volume of the Mishneh Torah still open in her hands, was a common sight for the Gestetner household.

“It has been good for my kids to see me work hard to complete this, even with everything else that we have going on,” she explained. “It is important for them.”

Though not everyone present at the celebration had personally completed the study cycle, most still saw it as a personal celebration. And several walked away having resolved to at least study the Sefer Hamitzvot over the course of the coming year.

“It was so beautiful,” remarked Danielle Yuter, who will soon enter her second year at Mayanot. “I’d never been to something like this that was entirely for women. There was definitely a feeling of being connected and of wanting to do this myself. We all felt like a part of it.”

In keeping with tradition, a hallmark of the event was the group learning the code’s last chapter, followed quickly by an examination of the code’s beginning. And while many of the women were raised without a background in Torah study, they came to the celebration well-prepared: Every week, they attend classes on Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Faith.

At the celebration, the students drew on their learning to prepare a skit and a quiz on Maimonides’ life and teachings. Hillary Einsohn and Nili Salem, both students at Mayanot, helped organize the evening’s entertainment, which began with a choir performance.

“I just think it is so inspiring that Rivka Marga took this on and she did it so humbly,” said Einsohn. “She’s amazing and we wanted to do something specifically for her.”

Naomi T., who has been studying at Mayanot since September, said that she felt a deeper connection to Maimonides’ work because of the event, and she resolved to complete the new cycle that began on Wednesday night.

“It was really very inspiring to see a woman I know and am close to who dedicated three years to this,” she said. “I know that it can be done.”

Gestetner saw a universal lesson in the proceedings.

“I had no idea it would feel this amazing,” she said. “It shows that you can set long-term goals in your study of Torah and you can reach them.”