By: Chaya Sora Jungreis-Gertzulin
“Good things come in small packages”. While Megillas Rus contains only four chapters, it speaks volumes.
Shavuos is “Z’man Matan Torahseinu, — Holiday of the Giving of the Torah.” The Book of Rus is read on Shavuos. What is the connection between the two?
Her heart filled with love and enthusiasm, Rus converted and accepted upon herself a Torah life. Come Shavuos, we renew our commitment to our beloved Torah, with the hope and prayer that our observance of mitzvos never becomes routine – same old, same old. We take a lesson from Rus, to whom Torah was new, beloved and special.
Shavuos is also the birthday and yahrtzeit of Dovid HaMelech, King David. Rus merited to become an “Eim b’Malchus – Mother of Royalty”, the great-grandmother of Dovid HaMelech. We honor Dovid’s memory by reading about his lineage on Shavuos.
Rus’ story is one that transcends time, a story we can all relate to. It opens with the word “Vayehi – And it was”. A word that tells us a tragedy is about to occur. A time of Oy Vey! There was a famine in Eretz Yisroel. The earth was dry and parched. Food was a scarce and hard to come by.
We are introduced to Elimelech, who lived in the town of Bais Lechem. The Midrash tells us that he was the “Parness HaDor – the Philanthropist of the Generation”. All eyes turned towards Elimelech. Surely, he would find room in his heart to help the hungry.
People came from all over the land, knocking on Elimelech’s door, hoping that he will take them out of their misery, and help put food on their tables.
But it was to no avail. The door was locked, the windows shuttered. The house was dark. Elimelech was gone. He had picked himself up, and together with his wife and sons abandoned their hometown.
How ironic. Elimelech was from the city of Bais Lechem, meaning “House of Bread”. It was known as a community of givers, who understood the pain of the less fortunate, ready to share their “bread” with the hungry.
Of all places, where does Elimelech end up – Moav. Moav, a nation known to be just the opposite. The same Moavite people about whom the Torah tells us “…Asher lo kidmu eschem balechem u’vamayim baderech b’tzeischem miMitzrayim – They did not greet you with bread and water on the road when you were leaving Egypt”. (Devarim 23:4)
We tend to think of challenges as handicaps, disabilities, a lacking in one’s life. But Megillas Rus teaches us otherwise. Even one’s G-d given gifts of talent, intellect or – as in Elimelech’s case – prosperity, can be challenging. What we do with the blessings in our lives is our test. Will we share with others, will we utilize them to better our world?
That was Elimelech’s test. Would he be there to give strength and support to his people? Will he rise to the occasion?
Elimelech imagined one person after another asking for help. How could he possibly assist so many? Rather than trying, he skipped town, travelling to a place where he would fit right in with a people who lacked compassion for the hungry and indigent.
Time passes. Elimelech, who broke the heart of so many, dies a broken-hearted man. He failed not only his people, but ultimately, his family and even himself.
Naomi, his widow, remains in Moav with their sons. The boys marry Moavite princesses, sisters Rus and Orpah. Tragedy strikes yet again. Both sons pass away, childless, leaving Naomi alone with her two daughters-in-law.
News that the famine ended reached Naomi. It was time for her to return to her land.
Naomi implores her daughters-in-law to remain in Moav, to return to their mother’s home. She understood that life in Israel may be difficult for them.
After many tears, Orpah decides to remain in Moav while Rus – despite Naomi’s cajoling to do likewise – insists on joining Naomi on her trek back home. The Megillah shares with us Rus’ beautiful words, emanating from her heart. “Where you go, I will go… Your people are my people… Your G-d is my G-d…” (Megillas Rus 1:16).
Together, Naomi and Rus make the long journey back. It wasn’t an easy trip. Just think. Today, we take an airline trip, sitting in a comfortable seat, yet it knocks us out. In contrast, Naomi and Rus crossed a hot desert, without any GPS to guide them, or rest areas along the way. But there was no complaining, no begrudging their difficult journey. They had each other, and it was enough.
Rus gave Naomi the ultimate gift. She gave of her very being. She showed kindness, respect, love and understanding, staying by her mother-in-law’s side.
For Rus, it was a journey to the unknown. Would she ever be accepted by the people of Bais Lechem? Would she ever remarry? Where would her new life take her? Rus left everything she knew behind, and was ready to live a Torah life.
Several years ago, while teaching the story of Rus, I was asked a thought-provoking question. “How could Rus leave her mother for her mother-in-law? After all, her husband died, and there weren’t any grandchildren to build a strong bond between the two.”
I explained that while Rus truly loved and admired Naomi, her journey was motivated by a desire to grow. A journey of discovery. A journey of reaching new spiritual heights, connecting with HaShem and His Torah. A journey she felt compelled to embark on.
The Megillah doesn’t share with us any deep religious, spiritual or philosophical discussions between Rus and Naomi. But it was how Naomi lived her life that inspired Rus to be a part of Am Yisroel. Rus understood that it was the ethical and moral teachings of the Torah that guided every facet of Naomi’s life. A life that Rus wanted for herself.
Megillas Rus is a book of life wisdom. It portrays Elimelech, a man who was a leader, a mover and shaker, whose decision to leave Bais Lechem, affected not only himself but his children and those around him. In contrast, we learn of Rus, who although being Moavite, rose above the lifestyle and comfort zone she had been raised in, to become a paradigm of kindness. A Mother of Royalty. A woman whose choice not only changed her life, but that of her future generations.
To paraphrase the words of R’ Zeira in Midrash Rabbah 2:14, “Why was the Book of Rus written? Though it is not a book of laws or commandments, it is a book that teaches us the rewards for acts of loving kindness.”
Rus – a book of contrasts. A book teaching us that decisions matter.
Chaya Sora can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was written L’zecher Nishmas / In Memory Of HaRav Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi, zt”l and Rebbetzin Esther bas HaRav Avraham HaLevi, zt”l