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Kenneth Brander
President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Ohr Torah Stone

The Book of Ruth and Receiving the Torah: Respecting the Humanity of Others

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On the holiday of Shavuot, we read Megillat Ruth, which focuses on the same period of history as the Book of Shoftim (Judges).

In fact, the Gemara tells us that the two books were written by the same author. [Bava Batra 14b]

And that’s why when you look at the books of Ruth and Shoftim, you will see that they have similar styles of language and similar themes.

In fact, Josephus, when he counts the books of Tanach, merges the Book of Ruth and the Book of Shoftim into one.

And there are several important contrasts between them that create a parallism.

The first is the way in which each book concludes:

בַּיָּמִ֣ים הָהֵ֔ם אֵ֥ין מֶ֖לֶךְ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אִ֛ישׁ הַיָּשָׁ֥ר בְּעֵינָ֖יו יַעֲשֶֽׂה׃
It was in these days, there was no King in Israel,
and therefore, everyone does what they want.

[Judges 21:25]

וְעֹבֵד֙ הוֹלִ֣יד אֶת־יִשָׁ֔י וְיִשַׁ֖י הוֹלִ֥יד אֶת־דָּוִֽד׃
And Oved begot Yishai, and Yishai begot David.
[Ruth 4:22]

In the former, anarchy reigns. In the latter, we read of the origins of the Davidic dynasty, answering the challenge at the end of the Book of Shoftim and heralding the Jewish People’s ultimate destiny.

Additionally, the Book of Shoftim is filled with stories of people who are anonymous, who are treated as objects.

For example, we will never know the name of Yiftach’s daughter, who pays the price for the narcissistic actions of her father. [Judges 11:30-40]

We will never know the name of the pilegesh of Giv’a who is abused, raped, killed, and then cut up into many pieces. [Judges, Chapter 19]

The Book of Shoftim treats people as objects, to the extent that sometimes their basic needs – food and water – aren’t provided, and they perish.

Professor Dr. Yael Ziegler explains that the Book of Ruth – and indeed, I think why we read it on Shavuot – is a “tikun” (a response) to what happens in the Book of Shoftim. [“Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy”, 2015, Koren Publishers]

Because in the Book of Ruth, we move from people who are anonymous, and we give them names.

We move from people being on the periphery, to the center of history, and to lives that have purpose.

Let’s look what happens to Ruth; let’s look what happens to Naomi: they were anonymous. They were cast aside. [Ruth, Chapter 1]

But then it takes a leader like Boaz, who doesn’t speak much in the book, but does something more important: he actively listens. [Ruth, Chapter 2]

And because he actively listens, he’s able to help the woman who is collecting the abandoned sheaves and allow her to become the matriarch of the Davidic dynasty.

In contrast, there’s another character in the Book of Ruth who is not willing to listen to Ruth or Naomi. He is referred to as “Ploni Almoni” (the Hebrew equivalent of “John Doe”). We don’t even learn his name; he is simply known as “Anonymous”. [Ruth 4:1]

This is because he thinks that leadership is about speaking, not about listening.

The Book of Ruth highlights the fact that in Judaism, the credo is to actively listen.

Yes, “Na’aseh”, but also “v’nishma”. [Exodus 24:7] Yes, we have to do, but actually, we have to listen.

We have to evaluate the situation.

The credo of the Jewish people is about “Sh’ma Yisrael”, it’s about listening. [Deuteronomy 6:4]

Torah she’b’al Peh, the entire Oral Tradition, is built on the words “ta sh’ma”, come and actively listen.

We follow the mandate of Beit Hillel and not the mandate of Beit Shammai because Beit Hillel listened to Beit Shammai and only then shared their opinion. [Eruvin 13b]

We read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot, because if we are to celebrate a relationship with God, we must begin by actively listening.

We have to follow the message of Boaz.

We have to understand that the credo of the Jewish people is to actively listen.

Regarding members of our family: it’s not enough to love them, we have to respect them.

And regarding the Jewish people: it’s not enough to love them; we have to respect them, we have to actively listen.

The Book of Ruth, a response to the anonymity of the Book of Shoftim.

The Book of Ruth, which gives names to otherwise anonymous people, and which treats people not as objects but as human beings.

And all of this begins by listening to them.

And through that, the Mashiach is born.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based network of 30 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He is the rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue and founder of the Katz Yeshiva High School. He served as the Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University and has authored many articles in scholarly journals.
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