Shavuot and the Story of Ruth

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, May 2, 2018

On Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, we commemorate the receiving of the law at Mt. Sinai. Shavuot is one of the special festivals in the year that has one of the five “scrolls” or megillot assigned to it. On Shavuot, the scroll that we read is the Book of Ruth.

There are three reasons that the Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot. First, the story of Ruth takes place during the summer harvest. Second, the story of Ruth reminds us that the Torah, which we received at Sinai, is so precious and valuable. Ruth, a Moabite, chooses Judaism. She elects to cast her lot with the Jewish people, saying: “Where you go, I will go, where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God.” Ruth’s choosing Judaism makes us more aware and appreciative of the blessings of being Jewish. Third, some scholars say that we read the Book of Ruth because it reminds us of King David. King David was Ruth’s great-grandson and traditionally Shavuot marks both David’s birth and death.

The story of Ruth is a very beautiful and moving tale. We follow Ruth from tragedy and despair to faith and commitment. After the tragic death of her husband and sons, Ruth journeys with her mother-in-law, Naomi, and her sister-in-law, Orpah, back to Naomi’s homeland in Judah. Naomi urges her daughters-in-law to return to their own families, where she hopes they will find some comfort. But Ruth refuses, instead entreating her mother-in-law not to leave her, and to welcome her into her family in Judah and the faith of Israel.

Ruth is said to be the first gioret, or convert to Judaism and because of this many who choose Judaism read this story at the time of their conversion or choose Ruth as a Hebrew name. The Book of Ruth is also unique in that so many of the major players are women and therefore we see the events from women’s perspectives, a rarity in the Bible. Many commentaries have been written on Ruth. One of my favorites is a collection of modern commentaries, Reading Ruth: Contemporary Women Reclaim A Sacred Story, edited by Judith Kates and Gail Twersky Reimer. It offers excellent insight into the Book of Ruth and will enhance your celebration.

Wishing everyone a joyous Shavuot!

Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

Filed under: President's Message

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