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While being a potential bestseller and most viewed on Netflix, the story of a Moabite princess who took upon herself poverty and estrangement in following her ex-mother in law into a strange land, would not be your predicted required text for a solemn day marking receiving the Torah at Saini. And yet, it is. Why did the rabbis Institute reading the book of Ruth on Shavuot and how did this once-impoverished-immigrant become the Royal Matriarch of the most powerful bloodline the Jewish people have ever seen–the House of David.

To properly understand this, we zoom out on the journey, which brought Ruth to the land of Israel. Midrashic sources teach that when Elimelekh, Ruth’s father in law, left Israel, he left in a cowardly manner[1]. Hunger and poverty descended on the land of Israel. Elimelekh, a wealthy man, did not want to hear more beggars knocking on his door nor did he want any more hungry neighbors dwindling his supply of food. He packed up and left for Moav. Elimelekh, the philanthropist and community leader, leaves his townsmen at the peak of their most difficult moment. Even as famine and poverty strike, he dives for the exit.

After Elimelekh’s family arrives in Moav and his two sons marry girls from among the Moabite aristocracy, he and his tow sons die in Moav. His two daughters in law, Ruth, and Orpah face a similar, yet far more difficult, choice than the choice Elimelekh faced not long ago. They can leave their old and impoverished ex-mother in law to her own fate of poverty and loneliness, or they can risk joining that very same fate, by joining her. Ruth and Orpah now can either remain with their well-established families in Moav, or they can join an old (former) mother in law who can guarantee only poverty and loneliness.

The right choice seems obvious—leave Naomi. And yet, unlike her sister-in-law Orpah, Ruth decides to stay with Naomi. She accepts Judaism, its commandments, difficulties, and begins traveling with Naomi to an unknown land—the land of Israel.

The story of Ruth suddenly begins to sound awfully familiar—almost like a mirror version—of the Jews leaving Egypt into the desert—an unknown land—at their own risk, following God, and voluntarily accepting His commandments.

Ruth arrives in Bethlehem–only to hear the pitying whispers behind her back. This does not stop her. She shows her face in public and ultimately does not shy away from asking the hand of the most powerful person in Bethlehem–Boaz. The rabbis teach us, that three generations later she was sitting on a throne next to her great grandson King David and his son King Solomon[2]. Why? Why did she merit this?

“Rabbi Eliezer says: Boaz did his part, Ruth did her part, and Naomi did her part—God said,I too shall do my part”[3]. No one in this story did something supernatural; they all tried their best. At Saini, the Jewish people had no idea what commandments they are about to receive, they didn’t know if they would be able to keep them, they did know, however, that they would try their best. “Naaseh ve’Nishma-we shall do, and we shall hear”[4]. First, we accept what God has to say, then we should hear what it is. No preconditions.

The story of Ruth, and the story of the Jewish people is the story of saying “yes, we can”. It is the story of the power of those who resolve to do what is right no matter what it is that comes in their way. In epic contradistinction to Elimelekh—someone who does all he can to escape his responsibilities—the story of Ruth, and the story of the Jewish people is a story of a people who taught the world to say “Yes we can”, it is the story of God’s response to those who say, “Yes, I will”. Chag Same’ach.

 

 

 

 

[1] ”ולמה נענש אלימלך, על ידי שהפיל לבן של ישראל עליהם. לבוליטין שהיה שרוי במדינה, והיו בני המדינה סבורין עליו ואומרים שאם יבואו שני בצורת הוא יכול לספק את המדינה עשר שנים מזון, כיון שבאת שנת בצורת יצתה לה שפחתו מעילת בסידקי וקופתה בידה, והיו בני המדינה אומרים, זה שהיינו בטוחים עליו שאם תבא בצורת הוא יכול לפרנס אותנו י’ שנים, והרי שפחתו עומדת בסידקי וקופתה בידה, כך אלימלך היה מגדולי המדינה ומפרנסי הדור, וכשבאו שני רעבון אמר, עכשיו כל ישראל מסבבין פתחי זה בקופתו וזה בקופתו, עמד וברח לו מפניהם, הדא הוא דכתיב וילך איש מבית לחם יהודה.” (רות א ו)

[2] רות רבה פ״ב ״לא מתה רות המואביה עד שראתה שלמה בן בנה״

[3] רות רבה (ז,ז)”  אמר רבי ברכיה: כך דרשו שני גדולי עולם – רבי אליעזר ור’ יהושע. ר’ אליעזר אומר: בעז עשה את שלו ורות עשתה את שלה ונעמי עשתה את שלה אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא אף אני אעשה את שלי ”

 

[4] Exodus 24, 8

 

Published in The YU Lamdan May 29, 2017

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