Updated: Sep 8, 2020
Ruth can be seen as the quintessential convert to the Jewish People. The stories from her book might seem trivial at first sight but once we delve a bit deeply, we find many fascinating lessons.
First of all, the main theme of the book of Ruth is Chessed (lovingkindness). There are almost no halachot, except for the novellae that it’s only a male Moabite who is forbidden from entering the Jewish People, but females are allowed. Moreover, we don’t know much about Ruth and her mother in law Naomi, except that they were widows and dejected from society. At first glance, she doesn’t appear to be a heroine of any sort.
We read the whole book of Ruth on Shavuot, but for what reason? Certainly on Shavuot one should be entirely focused on studying?
One of the answers many rabbis give is that on Shavuot, the main focus is Torah study. There are lofty and holy rectifications one must do on this night according to the Arizal. Men mostly stay up all night to finish the Tikkun (Rectification) of the Night of Shavuot, as he details it in Sha’ar HaKavanot (the Gate of Mystical Intentions). This is meant to demonstrate our full commitment to Torah even when it wearies us down or deprives us of our sleep as in the night of Shavuot, in make up for the fact we fell asleep on Mount Sinal when Hashem wanted to give us the Torah.
However, merely studying is not enough andpeople might get carried away while ignoring basic Derekh Eretz (morals). The primordial example of this is what the sages already nicknamed the Chassid Shoteh (stupid pious) who sees a woman drowning in a river and, fearful for blemishing his own sanctity, doesn’t do anything to save her. Obviously, no amount of holiness excuses a person to leave another one to die in the river unless other factors are involved (like he could die in the process as well).
In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria already taught us that “If there’s no Torah, there’s no Derekh Eretz. If there’s no Derekh Eretz, there’s no Torah”. This means that, in order for Torah to be acquired, a person needs to have pleasing behavior and be seen by others as good. The sages frowned upon those who ignored basic civility because this often could descent into a full fledged Chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name).
If we look more into King David’s ancestry (from his mother’s side, which passed by Ruth) we see it goes all the back to one of the daughters of Lot, who called her son Moav. It then goes down to Balak, the King of Moav from the time the Jewish People were at the desert, to King Eglon and then Ruth. From his father’s side, King David also descended from the dubious relation between Yehuda and Tamar, which also makes things murkier.
His whole line was harshly questioned by the sages of his time. How could the King of all of Israel have descended from such impurefamilies of Moav? But that’s exactly how it went.
Nevertheless, we learn that, no matter a person’s spiritual standing, it’s only Hashem who can judge them. One Chassidic Rebbe was wont to say “I’d rather judge 1000 criminals to the side of merit than a single kosher Jew to the side of guilt”.
This was obviously done on purpose by Hashem in His Infinite Wisdom, who “had” to trick the accusing angel Sa-tan into not seeing what was happening behind the scenes. King David had to be protected, much like a newborn needs constant monitoring to ensure nothing bad happens to him.
And this is why we read the book of Ruth on Shavuot, which, not surprisingly, is King David’s birthday and day of death (as incredibly holy people die the same day they are born). Ruth had all the odds against her but she persisted in the path of holiness. From her book, it doesn’t look like she had any outstanding trait, except for treating her mother in law and Boaz with lovingkindness. And Hashem used her life as a message for all generations. We learn that though a person might not be brilliant, successful, powerful or even liked by his peers, the Creator takes note of every single effort.
This article was written and published in the zechut of all Emuna Builder Partners. May they have complete emuna and continue spreading emuna!