Judaism views all seemingly small things as being important in their own right, as no one can estimate the consequences of even the smallest act of courtesy to others.
In the book of Ruth the “menu” of the lunch that Boaz gave Ruth to eat is recorded minutely. Had Boaz realized the cosmic and generational importance of giving a defenseless, widowed stranger food, he would certainly have provided a fancier repast!
The rabbis of the Talmud taught us that goodness, courtesy, kindness, a compassionate “way of the land,” precedes Torah. Thus the holiday of Shavuot marked as the commemoration of the granting of the Torah to Israel at Mount Sinai is introduced to us through the book of Ruth. The Torah is not only laws and commandments; it is a value system as well.
To understand and appreciate the Torah itself, its value system must be discerned and appreciated first. Otherwise one runs the risk, in the words of Ramban, of being an obnoxious person and yet seemingly remaining within the limits of Torah law. The book of Ruth, though written many centuries after the granting of the Torah at Mount Sinai, is really the preface to the Torah.
The idea of the acceptance of Torah through kind and compassionate behavior towards others is basic to Judaism. The 19th century Mussar movement attempted to make this idea widespread among the Jewish society of Lithuania and parts of Eastern Europe. From nineteenth century Jewish life in the Pale of Settlement to twenty-first century life in our societies, there is an enormous distance in time and attitude. But failure and other human problems remain constant.
The Torah attempts to raise our field of vision to see what can/should be noble in our lives and society via the actions we exhibit towards others. All of the characters that appear in the book of Ruth still walk among us. Realizing this will make our acceptance of the Torah on Shavuot most meaningful and sincere.
“Food for Thought”
The Gaon Rav Eliyahu Chaim Meisel notes that “While it is true that the stork does perform acts of chesed (kindness) toward others, it thinks that what it is doing is a great righteousness which is above and beyond one’s moral obligations. However, this is not so. Dealing graciously with others is not an expression of chassidus (extreme piety). It is simple decency that is expected of everyone.”
From the Torah to Your Shavuout Table!
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk comments: “An earthenware vessel can become unclean only on the inside, never on the outside, for it has no value in itself. Its sole worth lies in the fact that it can serve as a receptacle for an object of value. Metal utensils, on the other hand, have value in themselves and can therefore become unclean on the outside also. Man, being made of dust, is like an earthenware vessel. His worth lies not in the outer shell but in the human qualities within.”
Discuss this thought at your Yom Tov table.
Candle Lighting Times and Torah Portions
Saturday, May 1
Torah Portion: Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23)
Friday, May 7
Light candles at 7:23 p.m.
Saturday, May 8
Torah Portion: Behar-Behukotai (Leviticus 25:1-27:34)
Friday, May 14
Light candles at 7:28 p.m.
Saturday, May 15
Torah Portion: Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20)
Friday, May 21
Light candles at 7:34 p.m.
Saturday, May 22
Torah Portion: Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89)
Friday, May 28
Light candles at 7:38 p.m.
Saturday, May 29
Torah Portion: Beha-Alotekha (Numbers 8:1-12:16)