Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com
Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein
It is well known that the megillah we read on Shavuot is Ruth. Why? Because just as the Torah, which we received on Shavuot, is based on chesed/loving kindness, so too does Megillat Ruth focus on chesed. Further, since Ruth is the ancestress of Dovid Hamelech who was born and died on Shavuot, we read about the legacy he inherited and passed on through the royal House of David. However we do not commemorate the yahrzeit of any of our forefathers or other bastions of Yiddishkeit by reading their legacy on their yahrtzeit. Therefore there must be deeper connections between these themes.
Our first undertaking, then, must be to understand the essence of chesed, how it differs from justice and tzedakah/righteousness. In The Scroll of Kindness, a translation of Nachalat Yosef, Rabbi Lipowitz uses the Ramban to differentiate between these three terms. While justice denotes a legal obligation, and righteousness is prompted by personally obligated motivation, chesed is beyond any legal or interpersonal motivation. It is an act of total goodness to another.
This desire for pure goodness was the reason Hashem created the world. Obviously, Hashem had no obligation, legal or emotional, to anyone. Hashem created the Man solely to benefit his creation, for human beings to enjoy the world and bask in God’s Presence. Since the world was built on kindness, and mankind was created in God’s image our level of spirituality can only be measured by our altruistic deeds for others, without the demands of external or internal laws. It is through these acts of kindness that Man’s image of God is reflected.
Kindness is one of the three pillars of the world, as Shimon Hatzadik writes in Pirkei Avos. It is small kindnesses woven throughout the Megillah that lead to the redemption of Bnei Yisroel from the egoism they had fallen into. We see the effects of this egoism individually in Elimelech who refused to benefit his starving countrymen from his wealth, and the redemption through Ruth’s refusing to leave her impoverished mother in law. It is small acts of kindness that bring the Messianic vision.
In Matnas Chaim, Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon cites a beautiful insight of the Chofetz Chaim on a the last blessing in the Shemoneh Esrai Silent Prayer: “… For with the light of Your countenance You gave us… Toras Chaim ve’ahavas chesed/the Torah of life and a love of kindness…”In that moment of revelation at Sinai, writes Rabbi Salomon, Hashem showed us the interdependence of Torah and chesed, that neither can exist without the other. When Hashem looked into the Torah to create the world, He used the medium of chesed. On Shavuot we celebrate both as the necessary components for the earth’s continued existence.
While it is true that no new halachot/Torah laws are introduced in Megillat Ruth, writes Rabbi Rothberg in Moda Labinah, the Megillah teaches the essence of Torah, to teach us the rewards of chesed between man and man. On the day we celebrate receiving the Torah, we focus of its underpinnings, on Chesed.
In Mishlei 31, the Aishes Chayil, we sing that “her mouth opens with wisdom, and the Torah of chesed is on her tongue.” In Mizmor Ledovid, Rabbi Dovid Cohen quotes the Gemara, which asks what could possibly be a Torah that is not chesed; are there two separate Torahs? The Gemara begins by explaining that Torah which is observed and studied for its own sake is, by definition, Torah lishmoh. But Torah that is studied and observed for the purpose of teaching others is Torat chesed.
Rabbi Cohen cites the Midarash that Hashem tells the Jews to raise their voices in Torah and Tefillas. Lift the Torah heavenward. Let the angels see that you share, that there is love and peace among Bnei Yisroel. That the Torah is not a cold study, but a Torah that fosters chesed. That Torah infuses all you do in your life. That you are constantly toiling in Torah.
A perfect example of Torah that is not a Torah of chesed is recorded in Samuel I. Doeg was a brilliant, learned man, a member of the Sanhedrin. Yet he brought tales of loshon horo about David to King Saul, instigating the execution of an entire priestly city. [It is important to note that loshon horo refers to speaking truth that is nevertheless destructive without constructive purpose. CKS] Doeg studied Torah for the sake of Torah, but he did not practice Torat chesed.
Hashem injected each us with a yetzer horo, an evil inclination. After all, we are all physical beings drawn to physicality, infused with tendencies for both good and bad, and with the power to choose between them. And as Rabbi Aharon Kotler zt”l citing Rabbi Dessler reminds us, He gifted us with the antidote for the evil inclination, the Torah. That is why the luchot/Tablets Moshe Rabbenu carried down from Sinai are most often depicted in the shape of a heart rather than as the squares they were in reality. The Torah cannot remain cold stone; it must enter the heart.
One of the major ways we customarily celebrate Shavuot is by eating dairy and honey. One of the sources for this beautiful custom comes from Shir Hashirim, the allegorical love song between Hakodosh Boruch Hu and Bnei Yisroel. Our Sages homiletically ascribe Verse 4:11 “…Honey and milk are under her tongue…” as referring to the words of Torah Bnei Yisroel speak. In Chazon Lamoed, Rabbi Shapiro Offers an explanation beyond the sweet taste of honey. Halachically, if particles of a bug or of the non kosher bee itself fall into the honey, one questions whether the honey remains kosher or is no longer considered pure. The ruling is that if the particle was so broken down that it was absorbed by the honey, the honey remains pure and kosher. Conversely, if the pieces remain separate and identifiable, the honey is no longer kosher.
We are meant to be a cheftzah shel Torah/an object or vessel that is in its essence Torah. Interestingly, the root of cheftzah is desire — we are meant to have the desire to be a depository for Torah. As the Kli Yakar notes, if we were not physical beings with a yetzer horo, Hashem would not have given us the Torah — we would not have needed that antidote.
In support of this idea Rabbi Shapiro cites two of the questions our souls will be asked when they return to to their Maker. Citing Tosafot, he notes that these two questions are really the same question posed in two different ways. Did you conduct your business with integrity, and did you set aside time to learn Torah both really mean to ask if you have allowed the Torah to impact your daily life. In this sense, have you incorporated Torah into the necessities of daily, or has the business of life remained separate and distinct from Torah? Do you do your business with a different set of rules than those you espouse when you are in shul? Have the physical fragments of life been absorbed by the sweet message of Torah, or has your entire life become tainted by your secular behavior? Does Torah dominate, or does ego dominate?
And milk is part of life itself, reconstituted from mother’s blood. Milk and honey are to remind us of who we are, people of chesed whose entire life is permeated with and transformed by Torah.
It is not just that the Torah begins and ends with chesed. If we study the particular acts of chesed Hashem does at the beginning of creation and at the end of the Torah, we will note that both acts concern the physical body, writes Rabbi Leff in Why We Celebrate. In Hashem’s first act of chesed to Adam and Chava, He clothes their bodies to prevent their embarrassment. In His final act of chesed in the Torah, Hashem buries Moshe Rabbenu who had elevated his body to such a level of sanctity that only Hashem could bury him. This is the framework for our own lives, to elevate the mundane so that it is subsumed within the sacred.
From the opposite perspective, yet making the same point, Rabbi Berger cites Rav Shimon Shkop in identifying Torah lishmah/for its own sake as the Torah of loving kindness, for the essence of the entire Torah is the development of loving kindness toward others. That is what the Torah teaches and what we are to transmit to others in teaching Torah.
If we are to cling to Hashem, as the Torah commands, we are to emulate Him. Hashem does not isolate Himself away from mankind, but is constantly involved in our well being. Similarly, writes Rav Aharon Kotler, we are not meant to study Torah as gurus on isolated mountain tops, but to be involved with others and act to benefit them, thus actualizing the purpose of creation and the image of God within ourselves. This is the model presented in Megillat Ruth.
The very name Ruth can be translated as seeing, writes Rabbi Bernstein in The Call of Sinai. Acts of kindness begin with seeing. Ruth’s connection with her mother in law should have been severed with the death of her husband, but Ruth saw the devastation of Naomi, focusing on Naomi instead of on her own hardship. Ruth chose to see Naomi, to stay with her and support her, just as Moshe Rabbenu, Prince of Egypt, chose to see the suffering of his brethren. Only after one chooses to see can one begin to act with kindness toward the other.
While Rosh Hashanah represents the completion of the physical world, Shavuot, with our receiving the Torah, represents the spiritual completion of the world, writes Rav Dovid Cohen in Mizmor LeDovid. It is the Torah that completes the purpose of creation.[When is a building complete? When it is still an empty structure, or when the tenants move in and give it life? CKS] Our mission is to elevate creation through acts of chesed, for olam chesed yiboneh/the world was created on a foundation of chesed.
Every mundane act we do becomes a mitzvah if we designate it as a chesed that Hashem commanded. We set the table, for Hashem wants us to eat properly, we diaper the baby, because Hashem wants us to physically care for the child. we bathe and dress properly because Hashem commanded us to care for our physical well being.
Turning now to the link between King David and Shavuot, we must know that the function of a Jewish king is not to sit authoritatively on a royal throne and accept gifts; he is meant to be actively involved in the security and well being of his subjects. He must see what they need. He must be the source of chesed. This is the quality King David inherited from his great grandmother Ruth and transmitted to his son Solomon. On Shavuot, with David being coronated as king, we are also coronating Hashem as King, with Torah and its purpose, chesed, merging. While on Rosh Hashanah, Hashem decides on our physical needs, on Shavuot, He decides on the fulfillment of our spiritual needs. Hashem’s interest is in bringing joy to people by having a relationship with them, a relationship built on our emulating His chesed. The Jewish king must reflect Hashem’s chesed by his own chesed, thus prompting us to recognize the continuous chesed of the King of kings. When we proclaimed na’aseh venishma/we will do and we will hear, we were again coronating Hashem as our King through the acts of chesed we would do in His Name, adds the Sifsei Chaim, Rabbi Friedlander.
This is Chag Hashavuot, not just the Holiday of weeks, writes the Netivot Shalom, but also the holiday of oaths. We take the oath that we will serve Hashem will all our hearts, and Hashem takes the reciprocal oath that He will forever take us as His nation.
This is the time to pray that Hashem help us spiritually, to give us opportunities for chesed, and to open our eyes to these opportunities so that we can strengthen our relationship with Him and achieve the joy He wants us, in His chesed, to experience.Download PDF