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Friday's Sermon: The Story of Ruth

This past week we celebrated Shavuot. This is the pilgrimage festival that celebrates both Moshe Rabbeinu receiving the tablets of the Ten Commandments and Torah, and the first fruits of the harvest, the barley. This is why we count 49 days from the second day of Pesach to this holiday with the Omer, the unit of measure equal to about 43 eggs that was part of the Temple offerings.

We also read the book of Ruth, part of the section, “Writings”. Ruth was a proselyte who stuck by her mother-in-law, Naomi, when they were in dire straits. She was the great-grandmother of David, and therefore the matriarch of the Messiah of the house of David.

Ruth tells the story of Naomi and her husband were wealthy. They had two sons who both married Moabite women. Naomi’s husband and her two sons died leaving the three widows penniless and destitute. Naomi told both women to go back to their native people as they would have a better chance of marrying and living a more comfortable life. The other woman left, but Ruth stayed with Naomi. Ruth had converted and held her Judaism dear.

Naomi was selfless and almost pleaded with Ruth to leave and seek a better life. Naomi felt that being old, no one would marry her, let alone allow her to have more children and why should Ruth subject herself to this misery as well?

In one of the most touching and heartfelt responses in the Holy Scriptures, and literature itself, Ruth tells her she will stay. “Whither thou goest, I will go. Your people will be my people”, she insists. Ruth stays with Naomi. Together they beg for food and subsist on the gleanings of fields, quite a different from their former life of plenty.

Ultimately, Ruth meets the Judge, Boaz, who falls in love with her. They marry and he provides her and Naomi with a comfortable life. It is primarily because she was the progenitor of the House of David that this book is read during Shavuot.

The story of Ruth is a beautiful story of faithfulness, devotion and loyalty. It provides an example of the fifth commandment of honoring one’s father and mother. It highlights what happens when one acts righteously.

Perhaps there’s another lesson here that we can glean. Ruth married into a family of very well means. And the Holy Scriptures discusses that for about, oh, four or five lines. The next three chapters or so discuss what happened after she lost her family and wealth and how she and her mother-in-law struggled to just survive.

Through it all, she seems to have kept up a very positive attitude especially in caring for her mother-in-law. She accepted her current situation and made the most of it. She even helped Naomi keep up her spirits as well. And in the end, her perseverance, as the I Ching says, brought good fortune.

How do we all deal with adversity? Many of us—and let’s face it, it’s human behavior—tend to get upset, angry, bemoaning our fate. We can be prone to negativity and thus inaction. Ultimately, things turn around, life being what it is, and we move on.

Ruth, however, kept up her spirits the whole time and we see that she is rewarded. The Holy Scriptures tends to be sparse at times but we get a sense of what’s important from where it does focus. In this case, it focuses on Ruth’s journey. It focuses on the fact that she survived.

It’s certainly hard when the chips are down to be positive and upbeat. Did Ruth know that in the end things would turn around so dramatically? Did she consider that she was being tested to become the matriarch of the Messiah? Probably not. She just knew she had to withstand tumultuous times.

Consider the fact that Ruth’s origins weren’t even Jewish. As we start our day with the morning brachot, we thank HaShem for making us Jews. Ruth, in effect, made herself a Jewess. She adopted a philosophy that prided humanity and tzedakah about all else. More important, she lived and embodied it.

We can all learn from Ruth’s integrity and tenacity. Perhaps we will not sink to such dire depths and rise to such great heights, but we are will navigate the vicissitudes of life. As we do, let us take it from Ruth, maintain our faith, and look and work towards a grander future.

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