Many consider Rashi (1040-1105) the father of Ashkenazic Jewry. Living at a time when there were probably only 5,000-10,000 Ashkenazic Jews in the world, his teachings reached almost every Ashkenazic family in France and Germany. Rashi was a master teacher. In spite of the demands on his time - he was a vintner, father, husband, teacher, rabbinic judge, and the rabbi of Troyes, France - he wrote the commentary to the Bible and to the Talmud. It is no exaggeration to say that the Talmud would have remained a sealed book, understandable only to a few scholars, had it not been for Rashi's commentary. My teachers in yeshiva often compared Rashi to a mother holding the hand of her child as they crossed a busy street.
Maimonides (1135-1204) was cut from a different cloth. He lived a turbulent life, escaping from the wrath of the fanatical Almohads, waging a theological and practical battle against the Karaites, and suffering much personal tragedy in his lifetime. He was publicly critical of others' opinions and behavior and took strong stands on controversial issues. He was a physician, philosopher, and person of prodigious talents. He knew sciences and pharmacology, languages and psychology. But above all else, he was the foremost Torah scholar of his time - or any time. For this reason, it is often said of him: "From Moshe until Moshe there arose none like Moshe."
The nine hundredth anniversary of Rashi's death is in 2005 and will be commemorated in the French city of Troyes, his birthplace.