Shavuot 5780/2020Lessons About the Crown from Ruth, not Corona

 The two-day festival ofShavuot begins tonight. The Bible describes it as an agricultural celebration but most people know it as the as the Jewish holiday that commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.  It took seven weeks for this nascent nation to travel from Egypt to Mount Sinai. The name Shavuot, literally means “weeks” and refers to this seven-week period. In addition, in the days of the Temple, the counting marked the seven weeks from the wheat harvest on the spring festival of Passover, to the harvesting of barley on Shavuot.  One of this festival’s customs is the communal reading of the Book of Ruth. As an agricultural holiday, it’s easy to understand the book’s connection to Shavuot because the framework of the entire story revolves around the harvesting season. But what connection does the Book of Ruth have to the giving of the Torah?  Before answering, let us give a bit of context.Ruthopens with the account of the migration of a wealthy man named Elimelech, along with his wife Naomi and their two sons, from the land of Israel to the immoral society of Moab. He left the Holy Land to escape the pressures of the poverty-stricken Jewish people who were constantly asking him for handouts. Soon after their arrival, Elimelech died and their two sons married royal Moabite princesses — one named Orpah and the other named Ruth. After a short time, the two sons also died. Having lost both her husband and her sons, Naomi decided to return to her homeland and bid farewell to her daughters-in-law. Orpah, originally refused to abandon her mother-in-law but then decided to stay in Moab. Ruth chose a different path by remaining with Naomi and her people (i.e. the Jewish people) She knew that harsh poverty awaiting them by going to the Land if Israel but she couldn’t leave Naomi and decided to become Jewish. She stated the immortal lines,…wherever you go I will go and wherever you lodge I will lodge; your people are my people, and your God is my God. (Ruth 1:16).Poor and hungry, Ruth gathered bundles of wheat that had been dropped by the reapers in the fields of Boaz, a prominent and wealthy Jewish judge. Eventually, Boaz took notice of Ruth’s refined character and modesty and asked her for her hand in marriage. Their great-grandson was King David; in the future, the redeemer of the Jewish people will be their descendent.What does all this have to do with Shavuot? Furthermore, why would we read from a book in which there is a tragic element; Elimelech (Naomi’s husband) should have been the father of the Davidic dynasty but due to his miserliness and unwillingness to deal with the Jewish people’s plight he forfeited that opportunity. He left Israel to avoid the poverty-stricken Jews, who were constantly asking him for help. Who did eventually become the ancestor of the Davidic dynasty? A woman who wasn’t even born Jewish and whose lineage was connected to the cruel Moabite nation. It is unfortunate that Elimelech lost this priceless opportunity Why would such a tragic story be read on Shavuot, the festival that commemorates the giving of the Torah?Although there is tragedy in the Book of Ruth, it is a document of kindness. Ruth could not abandon her mother in law; her unusual nature was recognized by Boaz, who would ultimately become her husband. In the Talmud and all subsequent Torah literature, Ruth is characterized as the paradigm of kindness.  On Shavuot, the day the Torah was given, our sages wanted to emphasize the valuable lesson that Torah must always be accompanied with kindness. Ruth’s great, great grandson King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 89:3 “the world will be built on kindness.”  The Talmud says that this concept is so important that it is actually corroborated by the Torah itself, which begins with kindness (G-d’s clothing Adam and Eve after they sinned) and ends with kindness (G-d personally tended to the burial of Moses)  and it (the Torah) is filled with kindness from cover to cover.On Shavuot we read the Book of Ruth to ingrain us two important messages. The first is how far a great person can fall if (s)he isn’t constantly engaged in acts of kindness. We know Elimelech was a great man because when he is first mentioned in the beginning of the story, the verse doesn’t use the Hebrew generic term for man, it uses the word ish, which, in biblical Hebrew, denotes greatness and leadership qualities. Elimelech was no simpleton but ultimately a leader must be a paragon of kindness. Therefore, even though he had many admirable qualities and even leadership potential, being as he left the Land of Israel during their time of need, it was not appropriate that he become a leader of his people. He even had the pedigree of a monarch (he was a decedent of Yehuda, the progenitor of the monarchy) but due to this failing he was rendered a footnote of history.Ruth was a woman descended from the hated people of Moab, a nation so despised that Jews aren’t even supposed to marry its converts! She became an archetype of kindness. She was the daughter of a king and chose not to return to that life but rather to follow her destitute mother in law to a foreign land without any justification or motive other than being a kind person and remaining with her aged mother in law in her time of need. This teaches us an important lesson about Jewish leadership:  family background, education, or social standing are not the prerequisites. If they were, the Jewish monarchy wouldn’t descend from such an ignoble source. Every Jewish leader mentioned in the Bible epitomized kindness and they serve as our paradigm for leadership and that’s why this book is designated to be read publicly in synagogues throughout the world. The main message of the Book of Ruth is selfless devotion and kindness; this is ultimately the message of the entire TorahChag Samayach.  Have a wonderful Shavuot. (Sources: Rashi, Nachalas YosefTorah from Dixie,
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 Good Shabbos
Rabbi Oppenheim
Charlotte Torah Center