William Hamilton

Find the helpers

A tale of resilience.  Once, a woman endured many losses.  After the passing of her husband, both of her sons died.  Emotionally broken, she decided to return to where she grew up.  She advised the same for her daughters-in-law.  One did so.  The other decided not to.  Instead, she journeyed back with her mother-in-law. What makes the biblical story of Ruth and her mother-in-law Noami so current is its formula for resilience.

Even before COVID 19 began depriving us of hugs and tangible expressions of affection, we were experiencing a pandemic of self-harm.  Despair related deaths had shortened life-expectancy (even as people are living longer) in each of the past four years.  The emotional toll of mounting demands made on people of all ages and settings is likely to become incalculable.

We thirst for models of resilience.

The Festival of Shavuot’s Scroll of Ruth couldn’t appear at a more important time for us.  It tells of Ruth’s loyalty and faith formation.  It’s also about Naomi’s emotional rehabilitation.

Our mother-in-law Naomi takes three essential steps. First, she lays bare her raw emotional condition. “Don’t call me Naomi (pleasantness), call me Mara (bitterness)” (Ruth 1:20).  No other biblical figure owns a ‘crushed heartsickness’ as honestly as Noami does here.  Second, she accepts help from others.  Ruth’s companionship is supported by her future-husband’s redemptive deeds.  Lastly, she embraces the ‘give-and-take’ two-directional dimension of helpfulness.  Help provided is help received.  So enmeshed are Noami and Ruth that the baby boy delivered by Ruth is celebrated by women joyously encircling Naomi, singing “Naomi has born a son” (Ruth 4:17).

Birthing brighter times requires all three of these bold steps.  Emote honestly.  Accept help.  Be open to help’s dynamic reciprocity.

‘Find the helpers’ Mr. Rogers used to say.  Doing so may yet become the oxygen of healthy re-entry.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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