Table for Five: Shavuot

Jew By Choice
June 12, 2024

One verse, five voices. Edited by Nina Litvak and Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

Thus Naomi returned from the country of Moab; she returned with her daughter-in-law Ruth the Moabite. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.. 

– Ruth 1:22

Aliza Lipkin
Writer and educator, Maaleh Adumim, Israel

The symbolism of Ruth arriving in Beit Lechem at the beginning of the barley harvest is robust. The barley harvest begins on the second night of Pesach, the first day of a newly redeemed Israel. A nation transformed from slaves of a foreign country into a nation free to dedicate their lives to G-d, their people, and their mission to be a light unto the nations. 

We begin counting the Omer at the onset of the barley harvest and finish counting by Shavuot. These interim days serve as an opportunity to perfect our character. In doing so we strengthen our bond with G-d as we renew our dedication to Him and His Torah on Shavuot. 

Ruth’s resolve to commit to a Jewish life was rewarded with Divine Providence guiding her to glean from Boaz’s field. She arrives at the start of the barley harvest corresponding to the beginning of the Omer count, which is no coincidence. After she declares her full allegiance to Naomi, G-d, and the Jewish people she is ready for the transformation these days offer. Her valuable time spent with Naomi was bolstered during these fortuitous days gleaning with Boaz’s maidens, no doubt learning the essentials she will need to mother Boaz’s child and to instill those values into her descendants who will ultimately yield Moshiach. 

This parsha teaches us that anyone, even a foreigner from a despicable nation such as Moav, can uplift themselves to the highest level given the will and determination to do good.

Rabbi Pinchas Winston

There are different types of miracles. There are miracles that WOW, like the 10 plagues in Egypt, the splitting of the sea, and even something as recent as the Six-Day War. Then there are the “quiet” miracles, the ones that seem more coincidence than anything else, of being in the right place at the right time. But make no mistake about it: “Quiet” miracles are every bit as miraculous as the “loud” ones. The story of Rus and the building of the foundation of Moshiach is the story of a quiet miracle. Ostensibly, it seems like just another story that starts off negative but has a happy ending. It is not. Below the surface is a story of the Divine manipulation of history to bring about fantastic results that have impacted all of history with the best yet to come, likely in our time. Who knows where the story really began, but it certainly was advanced when Lot left Avraham to live in Sodom, from where he was later forced to flee with his wife and two daughters. He lost his wife along the way, and eventually had sons through his daughters. The one named Moav became the people from whom Rus eventually descended, and later left behind when she converted to Judaism. Eventually, Rus gave birth to the Davidian line of kings and Moshiach, and the soul that was hidden in Sodom was redeemed by Lot, passed on to Rus, and born into her son, the soul of Moshiach.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz
Founder, JewsForJudaism.org

On the first day I attended a reserve police academy, I was given law books for the State of California and Los Angeles County. Together, they contained more than 10,000 statutes, codes, and laws. Considering this, the 613 biblical commands no longer appear overwhelming, as some critics of the Torah argue. 

When Ruth decided to return to Bethlehem with Naomi, she was not frightened by the “burden” of the Torah. To the contrary, she was prepared to join the Jewish people by accepting the God of Israel and the responsibility of observing the commandments. This commitment is alluded to in Hebrew letters of Ruth’s name which have a numerical value of 606. Since Ruth was already following the seven Noahide commandments, by accepting the additional 606 she brought the total to 613. 

This lesson is particularly appropriate for the Shavuot holiday, which commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people more than 3,300 years ago. The Torah contains spiritual, moral, and ethical lessons, and the Jewish people have proudly carried the torch of the commandments and served as a “light to the nations.” 

In these troubling times compounded by confusion and lack of moral direction, the Ruth narrative reminds us of our collective responsibility to transform the world into a world filled with the knowledge of God, which will be ushered in by Ruth’s descendant, the heir to the Davidic throne, who will bring our messianic hopes of peace to fruition.

Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Professor of Talmud, Yeshiva University

Are Jews members of a race or a religion? 

The answer is so important that it is the reason behind the special reading for Jews on the holiday of Shavuot, the day commemorating the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. 

It is the Book of Ruth – the story of a Moabite who voluntarily chose to identify with the children of Israel. Ruth was not a Jew by birth but a Jew by choice. And that makes her the heroine of a historic decision that was divinely blessed by God with the birth not too many years later of two major biblical figures: King David as well as, ultimately, according to tradition, the Messiah! 

It was Maimonides who was famously asked whether a convert to Judaism may pray with the words “Our God and the God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” The ruling universally accepted is positive. More decisive than biology in defining our ancestry is belief. Judaism is the fulfillment of Martin Luther King’s dream that his children “will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” 

Ruth is the paradigm of the Jew not defined by race — race is not a personal choice — but by our values. It is rooted in one fundamental truth: God created every one of us in His image, representatives of the universal divine image. Understand that and you grasp the link between Shavuot, Ruth — and the Messiah.

Rabbi Lori Shapiro
Artistic Director/Open Temple 

Ruth has a cache like none other; a young widow who travels outside her family’s homeland, she says little, but when speaking, the words transform. Captivating in her vulnerability, Ruth, a young bride and now widow, uses language sparingly. So why is verse 22 a repetition of verse 19, which already establishes that Ruth and Naomi have reached Bethlehem? Why the repetition of the return? 

I’ve always been drawn into the idea that the text translates “Kalatah” as “daughter in law” when it literally writes “her bride” (complete with a possessive “mapik” in the hey, a sign that this bride belonged to Naomi). This word is a keyhole into the repetitive meaning. It is here that the text transforms, an act of t’shuvah. “Naomi returned, “or “did t’shuvah.” In the wake of her mourning, she is turning and returning, “and Ruth the Moabite, her bride, with her.” A new life has begun for the women in the fields, as they return from the fields of Moav. Ruth makes Naomi feel young again. Their friendship restores Naomi, and her t’shuvah through mourning is nursed through this sacred bond. And there they came, to Bet Lechem at the beginning of the barley harvest, a harvest representing all people, as barley was the most modest of grains. It is in Bet Lechem that Naomi is restored and the reaping of the harvest a symbol of the completion of this cycle of mourning to life. May we all rediscover this restoration through love.

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