By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
Second Day Shavuot
May 18, 2002
Megillat Rut is customarily read - in many communities, publicly - on Shavuot (Soferim 14:18; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 490, Rema). Outside of Israel, where the festival is two days, Rut is usually read on the second day.
This megillah tells the story of Rut and her mother-in-law Naomi who find a way to reunite with the people of Israel after being abroad in Moav. Rut, a Moabite woman who could have rejoined her people after the death of her husband, does all she can to care for Naomi: she returns with her, and then seeks to marry Naomi's relative Boaz in order to redeem a piece of land for her. Rut's innate kindness (chesed) is the focus of her character and the driving force of the narrative.
Said R. Zeira: This scroll has neither impurity nor purity, nor prohibition nor permission, so why was it written? To teach you how great is the reward for those who perform acts of kindness (Rut Rabbah 2:15).
Still, the question should be asked: Why is Rut, a book containing no Torah laws, read on Shavuot, the Festival of the Giving of the Torah?
However, upon closer examination, we find quite a few connections in Rut to Torah laws:
And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go, return, each one to her mother's house . . ." And Naomi said, "Return, my daughters. Why would you go with me? . . . Return, my daughters, go . . ." And Rut said, "Do not implore me to leave you, to return from behind you. Rather, where you will go I will go, and wherever you lodge I will lodge. Your nation is my nation and your G-d is my G-d. Wherever you will die I will die, and there will I be buried. Let Hashem do thus to me, and more, for only death will separate between us." And she saw that she insisted on going with her, so she ceased speaking to her (1:8,11,12,16-18).
On the basis of this passage, we learn that we discourage a candidate for conversion three times; we expect full commitment to all the laws of Judaism from the candidate once accepted; and we teach the basics of Jewish law to him or her (Yevamot 47b).
- Using Hashem's Name in greeting:
And behold, Boaz came from Bet-lechem and he said to the reapers, "May Hashem be with you." And they said to him, "May Hashem bless you!" (2:4)
The Talmud (Berachot 55a) says that Boaz and his court instituted the use of Hashem's Name in a greeting. This decree was approved by the Men of the Great Assembly (ibid. 63a) and the Heavenly Court gave its assent to this human decree
- Gleanings for the poor:
And she arose to glean. And Boaz commanded his young men, saying, "Let her even glean among the sheaves and do not humiliate her. Also, let drop for her some of the small sheaves; leave them for her to glean and do not rebuke her" (2:15-16).
The Torah teaches that gleanings (stalks of grain that have fallen to the ground, called leket) and forgotten sheaves (shich'cha) must be left for the poor and the stranger (Vayikra 19:9-10), as well as for the widow (Devarim 24:19-21). Rut qualifies as a poor person, a stranger and a widow.
- Shabbat clothing:
Since Naomi tells Rut to change her clothes for her meeting with Boaz (3:3), the Sages learn that one should have a special set of clothes for Shabbat (Yerushalmi Peah 5:7).
- Derech eretz:
Boaz invites the other relative, the redeemer, to sit (4:1). The Sages learn from this that a younger person must not sit until an elder gives him permission (Yerushalmi Ketubot 1:1).
Boaz assembles ten elders, which is the basis of the requirement of ten men at a wedding ceremony (Ketubot 7b).
- Redemption of property:
The Torah (Vayikra 25:25) requires a relative to buy back the property sold by a poor person, so as to keep the property in the tribe. This is the opportunity offered to the unnamed relative, but taken by Boaz, in Chapter 4:3-4.
- Levirate Marriage (Yibum):
The Torah (Devarim 25:5-10) requires the brother of a man who has died childless to marry his widow so as to continue the name of the dead in Israel (Yibum). Although Rut's husband Machlon left no surviving brothers, it seems that the ancient custom was for another relative to perform this marriage as an act of kindness (Ramban on Bereishit 38:8). In Chapter 4:5,10 Boaz undertakes Yibum when the relative refuses.
A form of property transfer (chalipin or kinyan sudar) is derived from Rut 4:7 (Bava Metzia 47a).
The Torah prohibits marriage with Moabites because of their lack of chesed (Devarim 23:4-5). However, this exclusion does not apply to women, as taught by the Oral Torah (Yevamot 76b). Boaz is thus allowed to marry Rut, the paragon of chesed, and David is their great-grandson. Ultimately, the monarchy and the Messiah depends on the Oral Torah. This, suggests Eliezer Zweifel (1815-1888), serves as a response to deniers of the Oral Torah such as the Karaites, and may be the reason for reading Rut on
How could we have missed these connections? Rut seemed like just a simple pastoral story!
Perhaps this is the point. This was a generation of ineffective leadership, "a generation that judged its judges" (Bava Batra 15b): an accused idolater would beat the judge who sought to judge him (Rut Rabbah, Introduction). But, when leaders do not set the example for Torah living, the values of Torah are embodied by simple people living their lives, people like Rut.
On Shavuot, the festival commemorating the giving of the Torah, we project a world in which the values of Torah laws are so pervasive that they have surpassed the form of edicts, and have become part of everyday life.