24 May 2023 Shavuos 5783: Megillas Rus & The Truth of Torah
Chag Ha’Shavuos 5783, Zman Matan Tora’sainu. It is on this yomtov that the Aseres HaDibros were given to the nation (Shabbos 86b – בְּשִׁשִּׁי בַּחֹדֶשׁ נִיתְּנוּ עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדִּבְּרוֹת לְיִשְׂרָאֵל): the Ten Mitzvos and Ten Declarations through which G-d revealed Himself to the entire nation, in a revelation that never was before, nor ever was since. And it is from these Aseres HaDibros that all other mitzvos in the Torah emanate (see Rashi to Shemos 24:12). Hence, the foundation of kol ha’Torah kuloh is the Yom Tov of Shavuos, when we annually celebrate and commemorate our commitment to, and acceptance of, the Torah ha’kedosha.
One of our long standing customs is to read Megillas Rus on Shavuos. Quoting the Avudraham, the Rema writes, in סימן תצ of the Shulchan Aruch: נוהגין לומר רות בשבועות (אבודרהם) – there is a custom to recite Rus on Shavuos, והעם נהגו שלא לברך עליהם על מקרא מגילה ולא על מקרא כתובים, and the nation (congregation) does not recite upon the megillah the bracha of ‘mikrah megillah’ or ‘mikrah kesuvim’ (just as we recite Shir ha’Shirim on Shabbos Ch’Ha’M Pesach and Koheles on Succos, both without a bracha. Rema, ibid).
The story of Rus is a moving and beautiful narrative, included as one of the sifrei kodesh of the twenty-four books of Tanach. It is a short book, only four chapters long, and tells the story of Elimelech’s family. When a famine hits Beis Lechem Yehudah and the land of Eretz Yisrael, Elimelech leaves his hometown for the fields of Moav, along with his wife Naami, and their sons, Machlon and Kilyon. As a punishment for leaving his impoverished brethren (Elimelech was wealthy and could have sustained the townpeople), Elimelech died, all their flocks died, and then his two sons died. Naami was left alone with her two Moavite daughters-in-law, Orpah (who had been married to Kilyon) and Rus (married to Machlon). Orpah leaves Naami and goes back to her royal heritage, while Rus clings to Naami and converts to Judaism.
Upon return to Beis Lechem Yehuda, Rus gleans in the fields of Boaz (a relative to both deceased Elimelech and Naami), and it is these gleanings that sustain her and Naami. Naami arranges a match between Rus and Boaz, her wealthy, kindhearted relative, and Rus and Boaz marry. According to the Medrash, they were only married for one night, after which Boaz died. But from that one night of union, a son – Oved – is born. Oved is the father of Yishai, the father of (King) David, the father of King Shlomo… the mother and fathers of Melech Ha’Moshiach.
Many reasons are given as to why we read Rus on Shavuos.
The Medrash (Rus Rabbah 3:2) teaches that as King David was born and died on Shavuos, and this book relates his lineage, it is appropriate to read it on this day.
Another reason is that רוּת in gematria is 606 + the 7 Noachide laws, which together equal 613, the number of mitzvos in the Torah.
Yet a third reason is that this narrative teaches us all about chessed (the chessed Rus did for her mother-in-law, the chessed Boaz did for the two of them, the chessed he did by marrying Rus and establishing a name for his deceased relatives). And since one must be a ba’al chessed to be a true ben or bas Torah, we read this book of chessed on the yomtov of the giving of the Torah.
A fourth reason is that the story takes place during the barley harvest, and the days of Sefiras ha’Omer are a time when we count from the first barley offering (offered on 16 Nissan in the BHM”K during Temple times) to the first wheat offering, offered 50 days later on Shavuos.
Another very beautiful and novel reason for reading Rus on Shavuos relates to the truth, eternity and tenacity of both Torah She’biktav (the Written Torah/Written Law) and Torah She’ba’al Peh (the Oral Torah/Oral Law).
“The Sfas Emes teaches that another reason for the reading of this Megillah on Shavuos is related to a halacha established at that time, validating the acceptance of a Moavite convert (Rus) into a Jewish family (the family of Elimelech). Shavuos is the festival in which we celebrate the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Har Sinai. Yet, this Torah has a dual nature, the Written and the Oral Laws. In the Oral law, G-d taught Moshe the details and explanations of the mitzvos set forth in the Written Law. Our allegiance to the Torah may never be split; we embrace the entirety of Torah, both the Written Law and its explanations in the Oral tradition.
“Only through both parts of our heritage can we fully understand G-d’s will. An example of this is the marriage of Rus into a Jewish family. The Torah states: A Moavite may not enter the congregation of Hashem… forever (Devarim 23:4). Without the elucidation and teachings of the Oral Law, it may have been assumed that this prohibition includes females from the nation of Moav, as well as males. It is only through the Torah She’ba’al Peh that we learn that female converts are permitted, and that the Torah’s prohibition only refers to males.
“Hence, Megillas Rus teaches the importance of the Oral tradition, which explains and defines the written mitzvos of the Torah. It reminds us that when celebrating the giving of the Torah, we refer to the whole of the Torah, the full meaning of G-d’s will, as passed on to us through the Oral law and wisdom of the Sages” (Quoted in Artscroll Medrash Rus Rabbah 3:2, footnote 44, Insight A).
Yahadus is a religion of emunah b’Hashem u’v’Toraso – the belief in Hashem Echad, and His Torah. And it is also a religion of emunas chachachim (Pirkei Avos 6:6), belief in our Sages, their teachings, our oral masorah (tradition) and our rabbonim. One without the other is not Torah (the tzedukim/Saducees were the heretical sect who believed only in the Written Law). Hence, on the yomtov of Kabalas HaTorah, we read the story of Rus – a Moavite princess whose kosher conversion was sanctioned by the Oral Law – to teach us that as we accept the emes of Torah, we must accept all parts of Her Truth. Ki heim chayeinu v’orach yameinu – for they are our life and length of our days.
בברכת חג שמח ושבת שלום,