Shavuot, Ruth and the Jewish self
During the Festival of Shavuot we read one of
the most moving Meguilot of the Writings of the
Bible: Megillat Ruth. This is a short book, just
4 chapters. It tells the story of Ruth the
Moabite, who, despite having lost her husband in
a sudden death - with the usual immediate danger
of impoverishment - decides to unconditionally
and absolutely join the People of Israel. This
is more significant if we take into
consideration what was established by our Sages:
Ruth was part of the royalty of Moab - the
daughter of King Eglon.
When Ruth became widowed, Naomi, her mother (a
widow as well) suggested that Ruth return to the
protection of her family in Moab, because she,
Naomi, could not support her financially. Ruth
then pronounces one of the most moving and
famous verses of our entire Bible. Speaking to
her mother Ruth expressed in the clearest
possible way the common destiny that linked her
not only to her mother-in-law, but to the people
of Israel as a whole. Ruth says:
'Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back
from following you.
For where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God, my God;
where you die I will die, and there I will be
Thus may God do to me, and so may He do more,
if anything but death separates me from you."
Ruth's statement is clear: she gives up the
comforts of her family - the Moabite nobility,
accepting a life without guarantees of a secure
future - and rejecting, thus, an easy life of
luxury that also included the idolatry of her
family origin. Ruth's joining Naomi is
seen by the Rabbis, in different texts, as the
process of the full conversion that Ruth
underwent - Ruth's total acceptance of
Through analyzing the biblical text, a question
becomes apparent: What exactly did Ruth
commit to - a commitment which made her the
first known convert to Judaism through a clear
formula of acceptance?
Ruth talks about three levels of acceptance
* The most important one: the adoption and
entry into the Jewish people as her own,
even without being born into their ranks:
"Your people shall be my people." Being
Jewish is to adhere to the Jewish people both in
their National being and their ways of life.
* The commitment to the destiny of the Jewish
people, regardless of their troubles or the
dangers that could haunt them: "...
For where you go, I will go; where you lodge,
I will lodge... where you die I will die, and
there I will be buried. Thus may God do to me,
and so may He do more, if anything but death
separates me from you" -
something we have experienced throughout our
history as a people with countless tragedies.
* The commitment to the faith and the principles
of the Jewish people, "your God, my God"
- the acceptance of the richness of Judaism as
her North, her integrity, and her deepest self.
Ruth gives us the fullest expression of what it
means to develop and join the Jewish people in
the color and the warmth of her shaking and
stirring words. This is not only an issue of
faith. Judaism includes a set of beliefs, values
and ideals transformed into a complete way of
life. Ruth tells us that being Jewish is to join
a national destiny, even in dark and tough days,
even in pain and sadness. Being a Jew is to
accept the God of Israel as God, the land of
Israel as our Homeland, the Jewish people and
their destiny as our own. This selfless
surrender, this incontestable will of being
Jewish, was rewarded by God: Ruth, the
converted, became the great-grandmother of
David, the future King of Israel - and thus, the
ancestor of the Messiah himself, who will emerge
from the House of David.
Why do we read Megillat Ruth on Shavuot? The
reason being that during Shavuot we celebrate
the acceptance of Torah by our people (around 3
at Mount Sinai,
as Ruth herself adopted Judaism and made it hers
with its many treasures - and consequences.
May God inspire us to emulate Ruth's example,
experiencing the excitement of being part of the
Jewish people in the true acceptance of the
ideals of our ancient heritage, and the
infinite wealth of our teachings.
May we incorporate Torah as a guide for our
actions and our behavior and our deepest
beliefs, to make a better world - to mend this
Chag Shavuot Sameach!
RABBI CARLOS A. TAPIERO
Deputy Director-General & Director of Education
Maccabi World Union
The Rabbis stated
that Ruth was Orpah's sister, as well as
her sister-in-law, and both were the
daughters of King Eglon of Moab - Ruth
Ruth Rabbah 2:12; Babylonian
Talmud, Yevamot 47b.
The Torah speaks of
600,000 men of military age.
The moment of Matan
Torah, the giving of the Torah, was
marked by a national conversion,
accentuated by the acceptance of the
mitzvot when the Children of Israel
said, "We will do and we will listen"
(Shemot -Exodus - XXIV, 7).
In the Talmudic period several
well-known rabbis and scholars were
themselves converts, or descended from
converts, and there have also been
interesting examples of group conversion
to Judaism, like the entire kingdom of
the Khazars in the eighth century.