The festival of Weeks (Shavuot) is just a few days away. We’ve been counting our way
through seven weeks from the second night of Passover, and day #50 — Beginning on
Saturday evening — is Shavuot. When we encounter this festival within the Torah, we find
a harvest celebration of the first fruits – bikurim (same root as bechor, first born). And when
we revisit the scroll of Ruth, the harvest provides a background for the beautiful story.
The rabbis added a new layer to the Shavuot experience — Z’man Matan Torateinu, the
time of the Giving of the Torah. This reframing of the holiday presents the study of torah as
a spiritual moment, a renewing of our covenant, a deepening of our love of the Word.
Back to enduring power of the story told in the Scroll of Ruth. There’s the tragedy that
bonds Naomi to her Moabite daughters in law, the persistence of Ruth who so movingly
pleads with Naomi: “Don’t ask me to leave you…” There’s the kindness of Boaz, and, of
course, the epilogue which draws the thread from Ruth to King David.
Whenever I think about the scroll of Ruth, I’m struck by the power of kindness and love.
Surely there’s an abiding faith — your people shall be my people, your God will be my God
— but I think the glue that holds it all together is love, the extra cup of kindness reserved
for the poor gleaner who has nothing. It is our love for the stranger, our taking a risk by
offering food and shelter, by caring, that will herald redemption.
The times in which we live are beset by sorrow and pain. Cruelty and indifference have left
callouses on our humanity. Back in that ancient tale, Naomi was worn down enough to
declare: Don’t call me Naomi (which means sweetness and pleasantness); call me Mara
(which means bitter) because God’s hand has been rough on me. Still, despite her bleak
outlook, she let Ruth in. And Boaz, blessed with a kind heart, was the agent of a sweet and
blessed turn of events that lift us up each year as we embrace Torah, and we remember
that kindness paves the way to salvation.