Friday, August 14, 2020 -
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Shavuot, Ruth…beginning anew

This week we will celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, marking G-d’s revelation at Mount Sinai and the gift of the Torah.

On Shavuot we open the scroll of Ruth. Every Biblical character has special qualities that we try to crystallize through study from various angles. Then we endeavor to integrate these attributes into our own character and personalities.

Ruth is one of those Biblical characters whom we learn so much from via the gentility, quietness and intimacy of what seems but a short tale.

It is this way despite the dramatic circumstances of the story, the death and loss of Ruth’s husband, her father and brother-in-law; despite Ruth’s status as a total outsider in the Jewish community that she makes an effort to embrace. Despite all this, it is she, Ruth, who catalyzes the changes and transformations in the people around her.

Ruth is selfless. She is almost there as a neutral force to take on the needs of those around her and to nurture them. First is Naomi, whom Ruth takes care of. Then Boaz. Ruth’s lovingkindness and devotion breeds blessing and abundance all around her. It is Ruth who teaches and enables Naomi, her widowed mother-in-law, to begin living again.

The poignant image imprinted forever will always be that of the two women side by side, Naomi and Ruth.

Naomi, in whose life was once such fullness, is now in a place of emptiness and bitterness. Ruth, herself in dire straits and a total outsider, teaches us how to triumph in adversity.

At various times in our lives we have all been visited by feelings of loss, bitterness, depression or sadness. Feelings of emptiness or exclusion. Instead of getting sucked into these very real, very human, but nonetheless dangerous or toxic emotions, Ruth teaches us how to be brave and how to go beyond the loss and pain. It is Ruth, singlehandedly, who acts as the agent of change in this story that we read in just a few days.

With poise and equanimity, Ruth, the widow, the foreigner, has the grace, wisdom and nobility to teach us how to react to tragedy and the unexpected turns life may take. When there is a door, suddenly blocked and locked, it is Ruth who is like a locksmith, who teaches us about the key, the way to turn it and create a new opening when all seems closed or cut off.

Ruth turns to G-d. Ruth chooses G-d. She becomes a faithful follower of G-d in her time of need. It is through Ruth’s loyalty and devotion to those around her that she becomes our teacher in understanding the possibility of nobility emerging from our response to tragedy. Ruth trusts in life again after all seemed lost. It is this trust that inspires the confidence in others all around her — trust in self, trust in one another, in living again.

Ruth achieves this above and beyond by following Naomi from Moab, and ultimately trusting in G-d. By faithfully choosing and embracing G-d, Ruth articulates her unwavering belief in carrying on. At a time when those around her may have felt diminished by G-d or the diminishment of G-d, Ruth followed Him, and thereby cultivated trust in G-d.

In her way, Ruth fought a fight. When those around her were at a loss and may have felt they were playing hide and seek with G-d, Ruth taught us about seeking G-d, not hiding from Him or focusing on G-d’s hiddenness.

Like a tall lighthouse, Ruth came along and in her gentility actually became the strong one who revealed the possibility of light and rebuilding after loss; of continuity and redemption in a world gone dark.

Instead of retreat and isolation following tragedy, Ruth taught how to reconnect with people, with G-d, with living life and, ultimately, with the hope of redemption.

Warmly wishing you all a wonderful Shavuot!

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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