I COULD MAKE Jewish jokes about food and fasting but, like last month’s matzo, this would grow stale. Which is why, when speaking of Shavuot, I will refrain from talking about cheesecake and blintzes. I will not refrain from eating them but will only mention that, unlike other major holidays, the reason we eat dairy might have to do with an unfamiliarity with the laws of kashrut before receiving the Torah in the desert, and not wanting to mess it up. I personally do not prepare dairy for Shavuot but, rather, keep the meal “parve” which means neither dairy nor meat. Serving fish, vegetables and grains, I’ve always felt that this better replicates the Sinai Diet. To each his own.
On Shavuot we read the Book of Ruth and each year I blink back tears from the narrative. Without a Me-Too button pinned on her tunic, Ruth uses her innate morality, G-d-given womanly gifts of beauty and gentleness and, along with oodles of intellect, morphs into an eternal role model for all genders. She is a chance-taker, a defier of oppression, devoutly G-d-fearing, romantic and sensual. Everything I wish to be when I grow up.
When my then-young daughters were growing up and I assayed to instill some grace into their lumpish mannerisms, I would often say, “Pick up your toys like Ruth.” This meant bending their knees to scoop up an offending Lego or Barbie instead of sticking a toddler butt in the air and falling forward. Ruth did not want her skirt to immodestly rise in the back, and I told my daughters to imagine themselves wearing skirts. And, no, I did not encourage my sons to bend at the knees but, nevertheless, insisted that they clean up their messes.
Mother-in-law Naomi encourages her widowed daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, to go home to their people, the Moabites. She understands that these childless “strangers” will not receive warm welcomes from the same Jews to whom Naomi wishes to return. Orpah grabs the opportunity, gives her a quick peck on the cheek and splits. It should be noted that the root of the word “kiss”—neshikah—in Hebrew is “neshek” or “weapon.” A kiss can be dangerous, fooling the receiver. The abominable-to-the-core-Moabites are not friends of the Jews. (“Moab” literally means “from the father.” They are products of the incestuous relationship between Lot and his eldest daughter. No modesty there.) Ruth, on the other hand, proffers a warm hug which means to press oneself against another. The root of the word “hug”—chibuk—is “debek” or “to cleave.” (Glue is called devek in Hebrew. Hugs don’t lie. Ruth wants the connection, the heartbeat, regardless of the cost. She is born of royalty—albeit twisted—but is willing to bring purity to her life even if it means a lowering of status. Until this time, many had embraced aspects of Judaism, but Ruth is the first to boldly request official admittance to the tribe. She is the embodiment of ger tzedek, a holy convert. The upright and wealthy Boaz makes her his bride, thus announcing for all time that there is an authentic place for those who sincerely accept our code of ethics.
The matzah of Pesach represents humility. Seven weeks later we aim to remain tethered to this spiritual thread and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our brethren—either by birth or by choice—at the foot of a figurative Mount Sinai, and again receive our birthright with open arms and hearts. With a combination of both awe and entitlement, our outstretched arms again reach to the Heavens in an expression of gratitude.
New York native Andrea Simantov has lived in Jerusalem since 1995. She is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.