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Marianne Novak

I am Ruth

I am Ruth
I am the best friend,
your bff
I am loyal and kind

Yet I live in a land that is less so
A land whose origins were sinful
Yet born from women-
From Lot’s brave daughters
Who thought the human race was over –
who had no time to ponder
Women who sacrificed themselves to save the world

But my Moabite people have been known not to be kind
especially to those people who follow the one Gd

And to my surprise, a fancy, pleasant woman and her husband and sons arrive in my land
from the House of Bread in the Hebrews’ land
to escape a famine
I marry the son known as sickly —
And my sister marries the son known as bad—
I should have known it wouldn’t go well.

Yet when all the men die,
I remain Ruth, the best friend,
loyal and kind
And I can’t go home like my sister
Because this family has awakened
A calling in me —
I hear it
and I show my loyalty by doing kindnesses.
I stay with the pleasant woman as she is bitter about her lot
Yet, she is going where I need to go,
where I need to be
Who I need to be

We arrive and the fancy woman is now poor
and she brings me- from a forbidden place,
She brings me — the Other
But I stay- because
I am Ruth,
the best friend,
Loyal and Kind

I am a foreigner in a foreign land yet I know this is the place
A place where I can glean,
where I won’t starve
Where the owner with his strength,
Greets his workers invoking the name of Gd

I am noticeable – perhaps because I don’t quite get the etiquette
But the strong man sees that I have been called –

That I have left my land,
my birthplace,
I have left my parents
To come to this land to practice kindness
I haven’t been commanded like the other Strong One
I have elected myself

And a myriad of kindnesses are heaped upon me in this field
And I run home to tell the pleasant one –
She gently corrrects me but still calls me her daughter –
As I have landed in the field of a redeemer

And my MIL gives me instruction
To make sure this man, though old, can lift her up and remove her bitterness
I shall go to the threshing floor and find him there-
tired, sated and perhaps his heart a little lighter with wine
And he will tell me what to do

And I go,
Because I am Ruth,
the best friend,
loyal and kind

Yet this loud message-
this homing beacon in my brain –
Links me to all the other women before me –
The righteous women who did what was right —
without hand wringing or philosophizing—
Because these women –
They got the job done—

So I go
but I tell the redeemer that he must redeem –
And he is kind and loyal
And he promises to do what is right
To not only redeem land
But to redeem me

And he uses his power to dissuade the so-and-so
For the good
And then I’m his home
And the son that we have will of course follow Gd
As I am redeemed, this son, this loyal servant redeems my mother in law
And fortunes have been reversed

I am Ruth,
the best friend,
loyal and kind

My son redeems my pleasant mother in law
My line is linked with another strong woman with agency who did what she needed to do to survive
and did not burn.

I am linked with the matriarch who also said ‘I will go.’
And to all past and future women who ensured that because of their righteousness,
our people,
now my people
merited receiving the gift of the Torah.
And in turn my kindness is equated with royalty

My redemption is linked to the ultimate redemption.

I am Ruth
I am the best friend
I am loyal and kind

 

This was originally delivered at a Shavuot Sermon  Slam at Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob Congregation, in Skokie , IL in 2023.

About the Author
Rabbi Marianne Novak recently received Semikha from Yeshivat Maharat. She lives in Skokie, IL with her husband Noam Stadlan. She is an educator for the Melton Adult Education Program and a Gabbait for the Skokie Women's Tefillah Group. She recently joined the Judaic studies faculty at Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School in Chicago, IL.
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