Table for Five: Shavuot Edition
In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
May the Lord reward your deeds, and may your reward be full from the Lord God of Israel, under Whose wings you have come to take shelter.
Marcus J Freed, Actor, Writer & Jewish Educator, marcusjfreed.com @marcusjfreed
Quentin Tarantino’s lockdown experience was a surprise to many people. Having married an Israeli woman, he embraced being stuck in Israel during the early covid era and enjoyed time with their daughter who calls him ‘Abba’. The iconic filmmaker who brought us the violent imagery of “Reservoir Dogs” became deeply connected to the land of our forefathers.
The Book of Ruth recounts Boaz’s blessing to Ruth, who followed her calling despite a painful personal history. The blessing is beautiful – “May the Lord reward your deeds” – but the history of rewards for righteous people is a complex history.
Many tzaddikim suffered greatly, experiencing the apparent opposite of rewards. Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel was beheaded, Rabbi Yishmael’s face was removed, Rabbi Akiva was raked with iron combs, and Rabbi Haninah ben Teradion was burned alive.
It sounds like a bloody Tarantino movie, full of action, violence and unexpected plot twists. Where, then, is the reward for the righteous?
We can retranslate the verse as “May the Lord complete and fulfil your actions”. The word for ‘complete’ is a derivation of ‘Shalom’, and can be read as a blessing to achieve a sense of peace and completeness in everything you do.
The word for ‘deeds’ can also be read as your purpose, or soul’s calling. On Shavuot we receive the word of God, which happens at every moment. You listen for your personal calling, to use your unique gifts and fulfil them in the world. May you be blessed with the strength to complete your mission.
Rabbi Gershon Schusterman, Businessman, Mashpia
Shavuot, the 3,334th anniversary of our receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai, commemorates the cataclysmic event when heaven and earth met and God spoke the Ten Commandments to our predecessors. This changed the world forever.
For the descendants of Abraham, this was their conversion to Judaism. They became a holy nation, bound by their allegiance to their Creator and His commandments. They became a family, bound by their responsibility and allegiance to each other.
On Shavuot, we read the Book of Ruth, for Ruth was the quintessential proselyte. Born a Moabite princess, she married a Jew and, when widowed, abandoned her lofty status to accompany her mother-in-law, Naomi, to Israel, living in poverty, modestly gleaning barley stalks left behind by the harvesters. Her dedication to Judaism is expressed in her pledge to Naomi: “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people are my people, and your God is my God; where you die I will die and there I will be buried (Ruth 1:17). God noticed. He orchestrated that Ruth find favor in the eyes of Boaz, a venerable judge and leader, whom she later married and they became the forbears of the royal family of King David.
Every Shavous we take inspiration from Ruth. We renew our vows to eschew the superficiality of wealth and status and to rather find shelter under the wings of the God of Israel and meaning in a life filled with His Torah and its commandments.
Rabbi Avraham Greenstein, AJRCA Professor of Hebrew
This verse contains the biblical version of an idiom (i.e. that of taking shelter under the wings of the Divine) that has become a conventional, yet evocative, way to describe the process of becoming a Jew by choice. It is worth noting that built into this image of taking shelter is an implication of vulnerability and of a need for protection. That is in fact the case for Ruth who arrives widowed from Moab, with no means and no friend but her despondent and equally dispossessed mother-in-law. Boaz recognizes the precariousness of Ruth’s position, and he admires her sacrifice as well as her loyalty to Naomi and to the God Ruth has newly committed herself to.
Boaz notes in the previous verse that Ruth has left her family and her homeland in preference for an unknown future with a nation heretofore unknown to her. This journey from the familiar to the uncertain and into the hands of the Divine is an echo of the patriarch Abraham’s journey by God’s command to leave his homeland for a promised land and an auspicious destiny. Ruth certifies her membership in the tradition of Israel with her Abraham-like trust in the God of Israel and her acts of kindness.
On this holiday of Shavuot that celebrates our receipt of the Torah, Ruth reminds us that the first step to receiving the Torah is that of facing the uncertainty of life and trusting in the Divine love and untold amazement we have yet to discover.
Aliza Lipkin, Writer and Educator, Maaleh Adumim, Israel
In Megillat Ruth we read how Naomi suffers the death of her husband and two sons in Moav. Upon hearing that the famine in Israel ended she returns destitute to her homeland with Ruth, her daughter-in-law, who refuses to leave her side. Ruth decides to find them sustenance by going out to glean in the fields. She haps upon Boaz’s field where she gleans all day. When Boaz arrives and learns her story he gives her special treatment and blesses her saying, “May the Lord reward your deeds, and may your reward be full from the Lord God of Israel, under Whose wings you have come to take shelter.”
His blessing appears to have been accepted and fulfilled by God, for in Psalm 91, compiled by Ruth’s great-grandson David Hamelech these exact words are found, “With His wing, He will cover you, and under His wings, you will take shelter”
This concept resonated deeply with King David because it was firmly implanted in his very being by Ruth. Her full devotion is witnessed by her words to Naomi “ wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God my God.”
This all-embracing devotion of Ruth was rewarded by having King David as a great-grandson. His faith and devotion to God were so heartfelt and compelling that his words have been an unparalleled source of prayer and solace until this day, connecting us to His wings of shelter.
Cantor Michelle Bider Stone, Shalom Hartman Institute of North America
There are many hypotheses about why the book of Ruth is read on Shavuot, but I’m struck by a lesser known theory that the rabbis connected Shavuot and Ruth to show the indivisibility of the written and oral Torah. On Shavuot, we celebrate the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, including both written Torah and the centuries long practice of its interpretation. So, how does the book of Ruth represent the oral Torah?
According to Deuteronomy, Israelites are not allowed to marry or even interact with Moabites. Ruth, the protagonist of the megillah, comes from Moab, yet she is able to marry an Israelite and join Israelite society, a reinterpretation of Torah for its time and circumstance. This verse is said by Boaz, who marries Ruth and welcomes her into the Israelite people.
The Sefat Emet, the 19th century Hasidic work, explains that Boaz represents the Oral Torah on Shavuot because of his courageous reinterpretation of Deuteronomy that allows him to marry Ruth the Moabite. Boaz exemplifies the importance of the interpretative tradition that allows for our intergenerational dialogue so vital to learning and living Torah. Ours is a multivocal tradition that values the voices of the past and present. We, the Jews of the present, are integral to that long-standing interpretive tradition, and reading the story of Ruth on Shavuot expresses our commitment to it.
This weekend, as we again stand at Sinai to receive the Torah, let us remember to add our voices to the chain.
With thanks to Marcus J Freed, Rabbi Gershon Schusterman, Rabbi Avraham Greenstein, Aliza Lipkin, and Cantor Michelle Bider Stone
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