As the sun sets on Thursday night, the holiday of Shavuot commences, marking the third of the Shalosh Regalim (pilgrimage festivals). It is traditionally celebrated with Jewish learning, commemorating the receiving of the Torah. Additionally, on this holiday, the Book of Ruth, one of the five Megillot, is read.
While the story of Ruth may initially seem like a distant fable, it carries profound relevance and demands examination beyond just listening to it in shul. The Book of Ruth delves into complex social and psychological issues, addressing how to respond to the immense challenges posed by the circumstances of the time and place you are in. In light of the era we find ourselves in, I strongly believe that we should extract valuable lessons from this story and adopt what I would like to call the “Megilat Ruth Mindset.”
By embracing the “Megilat Ruth Mindset,” we can navigate the complexities of our own lives. This mindset emphasizes the importance of resilience, compassion, and unwavering dedication in the face of adversity. Ruth’s story teaches us valuable lessons about loyalty, commitment, and the power of kindness, which are particularly relevant and crucial in the world we live in today. Incorporating these lessons into our lives can shape our responses to the challenges we encounter, fostering a more empathetic and supportive society.
This poignant narrative is ripe with unimaginable situations and arduous decisions that the characters are faced with. A family residing in Bethlehem, Judah, decides to flee to Moab due to a severe famine. The family comprises Elimelech, Naomi, and their sons Machon and Chillion. Tragedy strikes as Elimelech passes away, leaving Naomi a widow. Her sons marry Moabite women, Orpa and Ruth. However, an unthinkable occurrence unfolds when both sons and husbands perish, leaving the three widows in profound uncertainty. After the deaths of her husband and son, Naomi decides to leave Moab and return to Israel urging her now-widowed daughter-in-law to part ways with her. Orpa leaves after some pushing from her mother-in-law, while Ruth steadfastly remains despite Naomi’s attempts to persuade her otherwise. Lastly, Boaz demonstrates compassion by safeguarding Ruth and Naomi, ultimately marrying Ruth to preserve their family legacy.
The act of decision-making is a daunting task for humanity. We often long to know the future or have all the options laid out before us, but such clarity is seldom attainable. Instead, we find ourselves making choices guided by internal voices urging us in various directions, just as we witness in the story of Ruth. These choices represent the utmost importance in our lives.
Consistency and commitment emerge as common threads binding all these decisions together. When Ruth chooses to remain by her mother-in-law’s side, she remains unwaveringly committed, as she declares, “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge”(1:16). As the narrative progresses, Ruth consistently goes above and beyond to support Naomi, even in the face of difficult circumstances. Her loyalty and commitment to Naomi are truly remarkable.
Likewise, Boaz demonstrates an unwavering commitment to his role as a kinsman for Naomi, displaying extraordinary kindness towards Ruth and Naomi. As the story unfolds, he welcomes them upon their return from Moab, provides them with crops from his field through Ruth, and even takes steps to secure Elimelech’s land for their benefit. Ultimately, he goes on to marry Ruth, to continue the family name showcasing his deep commitment.
The story of Ruth teaches us the significance of consistency and unwavering dedication in the face of challenges. It emphasizes the transformative power of staying committed to our choices and the lasting impact it can have on our lives and the lives of others.
The commitment shown by both Boaz and Ruth in response to the tragedies and difficulties they faced teaches us invaluable lessons. Their unwavering commitment shares a common value—a deep devotion to kindness and caring for others. I purposely use the term “caring for others” as Ruth and Naomi come from different people. When Naomi decides to leave, Ruth has every right to stay in her homeland, but instead, she remains steadfast in her dedication to go above and beyond in showing kindness towards Naomi.
The story also highlights the importance of welcoming outsiders so that they may embrace us in return. Both Ruth and Naomi exemplify this when Ruth embraces Naomi and her religious beliefs, and in turn, Naomi welcomes Ruth as a part of their people. By extending open arms to one another, they not only maintain harmonious relations but also cultivate strong bonds. Embracing those who may be different from us, when the opportunity arises, yields more positive results than pushing them away. Moreover, continuously nurturing and developing our relationships with them is equally crucial.
In today’s fast-paced world, everything moves at a rapid pace. We are bombarded with constant information and have mere seconds to respond to messages, calls, and various tasks. Sadly, we also live in a time of great division, where many individuals choose to push others away rather than bring them closer. It feels like we’re constantly playing a game of jump rope, switching sides in a matter of moments.
In this era of social media dominance, the concept of “following” others, which is central in the Book of Ruth, has taken on a new meaning. We often follow people based on superficial factors such as their appearance, the content they share, their political views, or a variety of other reasons.
Our kindness and commitment to others have become fluid and unpredictable. The Book of Ruth, however, teaches us the importance of maintaining a commitment to the things that truly matter to us. It acknowledges that circumstances may force us into fluidity, but where we can, it is crucial to stay steadfast in our commitments and values.
Ruth, which is read on the holiday of Shavuot which is better known for the all-night study of Torah and Jewish texts which occurs in many communities, preaches the need for interpersonal commandments. Yes, the act of learning is commended but is unsatisfactory unless it leads to also being committed to caring for others and welcoming people in.
Life is an ongoing journey that begins at birth and concludes at death. Along any journey, even with a reliable GPS, we inevitably find ourselves in unplanned places and situations beyond our control. In life, we often deviate from our intended path or destination, even though we have done nothing wrong and possess little ability to prevent being in the “wrong place at the wrong time.” The Book of Ruth serves as a prime example of a journey filled with unexpected and undesired twists and turns. However, the responses of Naomi, Ruth, Boaz, and others emphasize the importance of maximizing our circumstances.
Throughout life, we will encounter numerous challenging situations, and while many may not be completely fixable, adopting the “Megilat Ruth mindset” can make a significant difference. This mindset involves committing to welcoming others and caring deeply for those around us, enabling us to navigate difficulties with grace and improve the overall situation.
Chag Shavuot Sameach! May Everyone have a joyful holiday celebrating the receiving of the Torah!