Shavuot (5780 – 2020)
The Book of Ruth
This year the holiday of Shavuot falls of Friday and Shabbat, preempting a regular Torah-portion reading and calling for special readings instead. Our Torah readings are taken from various parts of the Torah. One reading tells of our amazing experience – once in all of history – of receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai and the other day’s reading tells about the yearly cycle of holidays – including Shavuot – that we have adopted in perpetuity. In addition, as with every pilgrimage festival, we add a reading from a special scroll. For Shavuot the reading is the Book of Ruth.
Our Torah readings focus on national experiences and observances. The story of Ruth, on the other hand, zooms in on the experiences of a small number of people, members of an extended family, to be sure, but each one a distinct individual. Each has a different relationship to the people of Israel. Boaz, the male protagonist, is firmly and successfully rooted in his community. Naomi, the suffering widow and mother-in-law, struggles with her dislocation from her people and her attempt to return to them. And Ruth, our heroine, chooses to throw her lot in with the Jewish people despite Naomi’s protests.
As a book to be read on this holiday of accepting the Torah, the story of Ruth presents each of us with these three examples of an individual’s relationship to the collective. Are we comfortable in our membership in the community, like Boaz? Do we struggle with conflicting impulses that lead us to leave the community at one moment and return to it at another – like Naomi? Or have we fallen in love with some person or some aspect of the Jewish people and therefore freely commit ourselves with devotion and self-sacrifice to finding our rightful place among the people – like Ruth? Perhaps we can relate to all of them.
The Book of Ruth is so deeply moving for many reasons. But surely one factor is its success in entwining together these three disparate exemplars of Jewish belonging, each supporting and embracing the others.
I am pleased to share this beautiful musical rendition of Ruth’s words of love and commitment to Naomi.
Sonam and Friends Choir, sing “Where E’re You Go” by Allan Friedman, with text from the Book of Ruth:
Where e’er you go, I will go.
Where e’er you lodge, I will lodge.
Your people shall be my people and your God shall be my God.
Where e’er you die, I will die.
There I will be buried.
May the Lord humble me if aught but death parts me from you.
Chag Same`ach v’Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi David Greenstein
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Thank you to John Lasiter for suggesting the title and selecting an image for this Torah Sparks – Rabbi Greenstein