Home June 2011 Women and Love

Women and Love

With the arrival of Shavuot, our thoughts naturally turn to acts of chesed (lovingkindness), since Shavuot is zman matan toratenu, the “season of receiving the Torah.”  It is also the holiday when we read the Book of Ruth, who was the grandmother of King David.

What is the common thread?  The Torah is the Word of God (the epitome of chesed), and Megilat Ruth was conceived as an ode to lovingkindness.  Rabbi Zeira said, “This scroll tells us nothing of ritual purity or defilement, of prohibition or permission.  For what purpose was it written but to teach us how great is Ruth’s chesed to her mother-in-law and, thus, earned her place in Jewish history as the Mother of Royalty.

A study of Ruth and Naomi can be especially poignant for women in describing their relationships to one another.

Upon first meeting Naomi, we see a shadow of her former self, stripped of the bounty with which she left Bethlehem, bereft of husband and children, returning to her former home with two Moabite daughters-in-law who had been princesses in that dastardly nation.  Naomi encourages them not to accompany her as she is certain they will be scorned and ostracized.  Orpah finally kisses her mother-in-law and tearfully departs, but Ruth clings to her.  She sublimates herself to Naomi and to the God of Israel.

What was it about Naomi that so inspired her daughter-in-law to follow her and emulate her ways?  Naomi – like her name – was pleasant and beautiful.  The Nachal Yosef says she was “refined in word and deed.”  She was generous: Before her flight she was deeply loved by the women of Bethlehem and never missed the opportunity to lend her personal assets.  She was a devoted wife, leaving for Moab upon her husband’s urging.  And yet, she was responsible and devout, accepting her diminished state as a punishment from God for her sin of leaving the Land of Israel.

Naomi was also a devoted mother who, after the death of her sons, spent the rest of her life redeeming them in order that their names not be erased from this world.  She was wise and insightful with her daughters-in-law, knowing when to let go and when to persist.  She was educated and knowledgeable, teaching Ruth and Orpah how to establish a Jewish home and ultimately converting Ruth.  Naomi was a survivor who returned scorned and yet sensitive to the barbs, stares and indifference she encountered upon her return to Bethlehem.  And yet, she was proud and dignified – never asking her relatives for support.  Most of all, Naomi was a ba’alat chesed, woman of lovingkindness.

Like Naomi, Ruth was both beautiful and strong.  She converted at a time when it was generally accepted that Moabites could never be legitimately accepted into the People of Israel.  She was devoted to Naomi and yearned to be like her.  Although a princess of royalty, she left the land of her birth, followed her mother-in-law into abject poverty and, at the bidding of that same mother-in-law, proposed marriage to Boaz – a very old man.

Boaz — recognizing her unselfish act of chesed — blesses her.  The Sages tell us that Ruth’s latest act of chesed may have been even greater than her former acts to her mother-in-law and even that of embracing Judaism.

A Final Thought

All of us have the opportunity “to convert” and bring ourselves closer to God.  For each of us, this will be accomplished according to a different plan.  Shavuot offers us an opportunity to cultivate a little bit of Ruth into our own lives.

June 2011 Iyar/Sivan 5771

Candle Lighting Times and Torah Portions

Friday, June 3

Light candles at 7:39 p.m.

Saturday, June 4

Torah Portion: Naso

(Numbers 4:21-7:89)

Tuesday, June 7

Erev Shavuot

Light candles at 7:41 p.m.

Wednesday, June 8

Shavuot

Light candles after 8:43 p.m.

Friday, June 10

Light candles at 7:43 p.m.

Saturday, June 11

Torah Portion: Be-Ha’alotcha

(Numbers 8:1-12:16)

Friday, June 17

Light candles at 7:46 p.m.

Saturday, June 18

Torah Portion: Shelach

(Numbers 13:1-15:41)

Friday, June 24

Light candles at 7:47 p.m.

Saturday, June 25

Torah Portion: Korach

(Numbers 16:1-18:32)

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