On the holiday of Shavuot, the biblical story of Ruth is read in synagogues worldwide. It is read parallel to the biblical portion describing the acceptance of Torah by the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.
Ruth the Moabite is the model for welcoming Israelis from the Former Soviet Union (FSU) in becoming fully part of the Jewish people. Ruth’s grandson was King David who brought national unity and sovereignty to the Jewish people. Israel Prize winner Rabbi Haim Druckman strongly advocates welcoming the more than 300,000 Israel citizens from FSU into the Jewish people who were victims of Communist rule. He states it is our moral duty to help our brethren return.
I taught the course “Judaism and Zionism: Roots and Values” at Ariel University for seven years to hundreds of students from all backgrounds. I found my students for FSU to be among the most seriously committed to learning about their heritage that was robbed from them. The leadership of the Jewish people will come from their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In my new book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life, I write about Ruth as representing Hesed, compassion and loving kindness, a trait needed today by Israel’s rabbis. Below is an excerpt from my book (see http://photographgod.blogspot.com).
Ruth exhibits exceptional kindness and trust by dedicating herself to being God’s instrument for providing loving care for Naomi, her destitute mother-in-law. She chooses to leave her Moabite family and become part of the nation and religion of Israel without any personal advantage or self-interest, motivated spirituality from within herself.
The story that unfolds in the Scroll of Ruth, also known as The Book of Loving Kindness, tells of famine in the Land of Israel that makes Elimelekh take his wife, Naomi, and their sons to Moab from their home in Bethlehem. Both sons marry Moabite woman, Orpah and Ruth. Elimelekh and their two sons die, leaving Naomi with neither husband nor sons to care for her. Oraph and Ruth are also left childless widows. When Naomi decides to return to her hometown in the Land of Israel, her daughters-in-law plead to go with her.
While Orpah is persuaded to return to her family in Moab, Ruth refuses to leave her destitute mother-in-law. She says to Naomi, “Entreat me not to leave you and return from following after you; for where you go, I will go; and where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God; where you die, I will die, and there will be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17).
Ruth takes upon herself the care and feeding of her elderly mother-in-law. Since they arrive in Bethlehem during the barley harvest, Ruth takes advantage of the Jewish tradition to leave fallen grain for the poor by gleaning in the field of Boaz, a wealthy relative of Naomi’s late husband. Hesed is contagious. Every act of benevolence and generosity is contagious. Every act of Hesed engenders others. Boaz is so impressed by Ruth’s loving kindness to Naomi that he invites her to eat with his workers and instructs them to give her barley from the sheaves they harvest. Boaz eventually marries Ruth and they have a son Oved. Oved’s son is Yishai, father of King David. We wait eagerly for a time when Ruth’s compassionate acts of loving kindness will spread throughout the world and usher in a messianic age.
The great 16th century kabbalist known as Arizal defines Hesed in the book The Tree of Life as kindness in a sense of absolute, gratuitous and unlimited benevolence. Hesed is the disposition to bestow kindness for the very sake of kindness. It is realized in Malkhut, the Kingdom of space and time, through kindhearted acts of compassion and largess. Photograph acts of Hesed that you see in your life that mirror those of Ruth.