Megillat Ruth
Ruth the Moabite
On Shavuot, after the Shaharit [morning] service, we read Megillat Ruth, the Book of Ruth.

Reasons

There are various reasons for reading this Scroll on Shavuot:
- Megillat Ruth tells the story of a tiller of the soil in Eretz Israel, a man who sows and gives "leket" (the poor man's share of the crop), who reaps and sleeps in barns.
Shavuot is the festival of the farmer.
- The story of Ruth occurred between the barley harvest and the wheat harvest, namely during the reaping period. Thus it is fitting that the Megillah be read on the Festival of Reaping.

According to tradition, King David died on Shavuot, and the Megillah tells of the beginning of the Davidian dynasty (Ruth was the mother of King David,s grandfather). Thus on Shavuot it is also customary to visit King David's tomb on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

Our Sages explain that the Israelites received the Torah on Shavuot and Ruth converted and accepted the Jewish religion during the harvest period. 613 mitzvoth were given to Israel, whereas only seven commandments were given to the gentile nations. When Ruth came to convert, she observed her seven commandments and accepted an additional 606 mitzvoth (606 = Ruth in gematria).

It is appropriate, therefore, to read the book of Ruth on this festival.

Other Megillot - other Festivals

It is customary to read a Megillah on the other two pilgrim festivals, Sukkot and Pesach:
  • On Sukkot we read "Kohelet" (Ecclesiastes) and on Pesach "Shir Hashirim (The Song of Songs). Since Shavuot is also a festival on which a pilgrimage was made to Jerusalem, and it also has an agricultural nature, it was decided to read the Megillah of "Ruth".
It should be noted that the other two Megillot are also read on days of assembly:
  • "Eicha" (Lamentations) is read on the 9th of Av, and
  • "Megillat Esther" on Purim.

Customs

There are various customs related to reading of the Megillah on Shavuot. Generally, in Sephardi and Lubavich communities, the Megillah is not read in the synagogue. In the Diaspora, it is customary to read Megillat Ruth on the second day of Shavuot.

Story

Megillat Ruth relates the story of the family of Elimelech of the tribe of Judah, in the days of the Judges. Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons Machlon and Chilyon, left Beit Lechem [Bethlehem], where there was a famine, and settled in the fields of Moab. There, the two sons married Moabite women - Orpah and Ruth.

In time, the father and his two sons died there, leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law. When Naomi decided to return to her homeland, one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, refused to be separated from her, and accompanied her. By chance, Ruth became acquainted with Boaz when she went to gather ears of corn in his field. The Torah obliges the Israelite farmer to allow the stranger, the orphan and the widow to gather from his crop, and Ruth was a stranger and a widow.

Boaz was attracted to Ruth and married her. The child born of this marriage, Oved, was King David's grandfather.

Themes

The Book of Ruth clearly depicts the lives of the estate owners and farmers in the land of Judah at the time of the Judges, depicting their way of life, the customs and the laws of the Israelites dwelling in their country.

Particularly noticeable elements are:

  • the redemption of the land,
  • the concern for the stranger and the widow;
  • strong family ties and feelings of obligation towards relatives; marriage to foreign women and
  • the usages of the reaping season.
  • However, the common denominator for all these apparently unrelated themes is the attribute of loving-kindness.

Loving-kindness

The deeds of the main figures in the Megillah are depicted in detail, with frequent emphasis on the fact that they acted with loving-kindness, within the letter of the law.

Rabbi Zeira said:

"This Megillah contains neither matters of defilement or purification, nor laws of permission or prohibition. Why then was it written down? To teach the reward that is reserved for those who perform acts of loving-kindness"
(Midrash Ruth Rabbah 2, 16).

"Loving-kindness" stands at the center of the Book of Ruth.

Naomi cares for her daughter-in-law Ruth, and Ruth cares for her mother-in-law Naomi.

In the relations between Boaz and Ruth it is also felt that both are performing acts of kindness to each other.

Even linguistically the importance of kindness is prominent. The word "hesed" (kindness) appears three times in the Megillah, and each time it is connected with a blessing from G-d.

The reward for those performing acts of kindness is the passage from exile to redemption, the direct link to the Kingdom of Israel and the feeling of personal satisfaction that accompanies the good and generous deed.


 

 

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08 Jun 2005 / 1 Sivan 5765 0