Back to top ⤴

Megillat Rut / The Scroll of Ruth

Megillat Rut / The Scroll of Ruth melds harvest and revelation/commitment aspects of Shavuot in one lovely package, and more themes than that! Here are some quick orientation and discussion points…

  • A farmer is supposed to allow for some leavings in the field for those in need, and this is how Boaz meets Ruth.
  • Ruth states to Naomi (Ruth 1:16):

    Wherever you go, I will go,
    Where you lodge, I will lodge,
    Your people shall be my people
    And your G-d my G-d.

    She did not have to, nor did she grow up in it. Yet Ruth epitomizes that deepest and most personal loyalty to our covenant and to our people. She kept to this even after the death of her second husband Boaz.
  • Ruth the later convert also parallels the Israelites at Mount Sinai who were all converts in accepting the next level of our covenant with G-d and peoplehood. Further, she chose this individually, on her own - and as a woman in those times, all of which can be seen as even harder.
  • While there is no set rule, female converts often take the Hebrew name Rut as symbolic of loyalty, or Sara as first mother of Israel. Male converts often take the name Avraham. The thinking being that you go back to first patriarch or matriarch because in effect they have left their parents' 'home' in some key ways, as well as their people and community in joining us. According to a midrash, to suggest that a convert take the name of Avraham is also said to be an expression of deep love for the convert. (Deuteronomy Rabba 8:2). Another midrash says that Avraham Avinu (Abraham our father) had a special relationship with converts. 
  • As arguably one of our most famous converts, it should be noted that Rut was mother of Oved, who fathered Yishai, who then fathered David hamelech (King David) - who took our peoplehood to yet another whole new level. This certainly reflects the centrality of converts, their accompanying contributions to and reinvigorations of our people.  (And each may be seen in a sense as a reminder like Ruth regarding commitment and looking again within ourselves).
  • The story of Ruth also illustrates going beyond the letter of the law, that a measure of kindness, individual caring and personal deep commitment are also the kinds of attributes needed to bring a time of messiah and better world (messiah can be taken figuratively or literally, depending on your personal view, and the mashiach is supposed to come from the line of David, which again takes us back to Ruth). In other words, to follow Torah means more than law alone.
Back to top ⤴

Dynamic and Imperfect Process

By one account, Tikkun Leyl Shavuot is supposedly to make up for our ancestors oversleeping (!) on the particular day they were to receive the Torah and that Moses had to wake them up. We also have a fresh "backslide" with some golden calf creation and worshipping.  One might say these are not the more auspicious signs for newly expanded commitments and appreciation of the gift of Torah. What kind of example-setting is this?

  • Receiving Torah, commitment, betterment… all are an active, ongoing and imperfect dialogue, interaction, and process. By its very nature (and ours), there will be bumps and setbacks along the way. It would seem that G-d accepted that this was the case – indeed, perhaps the more important message is to know that you can and should try to get back on the wagon after falling off or missing the first go-around. Additionally, Shavuot allows us to review and renew that commitment – having a designated holiday to remind and focus us is helpful.
  • We also reaffirm a passing on from generation to generation - bringing in the children to that love of Torah and our covenant as a people.
  • See a very short, clever and succinct twist on this here, by the way:
  • "Underage Underwriters"  (produced by Chabad)
Back to top ⤴

Challenges and Identity

two kids studyingThis was a major new step in our people's odyssey. Exodus from Egypt gave us a measure of physical freedom, but taking on a group covenant and body of law molds us further along in peoplehood. With freedom comes responsibility. One could not just go it alone, especially in such times and conditions, so we'd require some organized society. Frameworks and consistent basic rules are necessities to survival as a workable society both in desert and once we got back "home". Further, the Torah has preserved us and ensured our survival when later dispersed, as a portable, transmittable foundation and tradition and identity. These are no small feats. 

  • Note that In Israel nowadays, even if one grows up identifying as chiloni / secular, one is surrounded by so much born out of Torah- in language, school education, surroundings, predominant culture, ways of thinking, that it still infuses much of one's national identity. Still on the other hand (if one follows the news in these parts), there are more than enough gaps and lacks between all the various groups (e.g. observant, traditional, secular, political splits, etc.) that could consume us as an Israeli society if we don't rise sufficiently to the challenges here.
  • The challenge outside of Israel is to re-identify what defines us as Jews. For that matter, what makes a "people" now? And are we religion, ethnic group, people, culture, attitude?  (These are also challenges in Israel in many respects, though with some rather different spins and magnitudes). Shavuot is an excellent time to discuss this and what one means by "Jewish" personally, as well as what one thinks and finds appealing about being Jewish. And then how to expand that feeling of identity. Asking a student (or one's child, etc.) directly is a good place to start. What appeals to you? What would increase your feeling of commitment to our people? What do you feel is most important, as well as helpful to learn? (Teaching and learning are also a two-way interaction). Again, Torah, covenant, commitment to a people and to ideals are an active and ever-evolving process...  G-d in effect initiated a creative dialogue and endeavor with his people, that continues to this day.
  • ***What does it require to pass on what is important from generation to generation? What would your students/discussion members think is most important to pass on, and how best to carry that out?
Back to top ⤴

Structure and Law

Ask your students what would it be like if there was no organized society, if everyone were simply out for themselves (we'd have no roads, education system, etc.). Ask what it would be like if there were no laws? (also on the level of in one's home, family, class, among friends…). And what would it be like if there were no chesed- individual acts of caring and kindness?

Back to top ⤴

Leadership and The People

What would it be like to have to be Moses, a leader, organizer, trailblazer, and intermediary with G-d to boot? How would you be an effective trailblazer and organizing leader combined- what kind and mix of skills does that require? On the flip side, how could individuals and various natural groups help their leader, like in the kind of situation we were in then in the desert? What does organizing a people mean?  What does inspiring a people mean and require? And at least as important, what does being an active and engaged populace mean?

Back to top ⤴

"What a long strange trip it's been"

What would it have felt like to be a newly freed slave, following some guy into the desert, suddenly facing new laws and commitments as a people? What kind of emotional rollercoaster journey would that typical Israelite be going through?

Back to top ⤴

"Chosen people"?

This is an ongoing and sensitive debate for some, especially in this day and age. So- were we chosen or did we chose or both? If one takes a more contemporary and egalitarian view, how does our validity as a people fit in with a respectful philosophy of 'each is entitled to their beliefs'. Is it possible to look at the issue without a  problematic sound of insinuated superiority ?- e.g. there being many ways to come to betterment, and ours is also a good and worthwhile one with valuable, unique contributions to make to helping ourselves, each other and the world…    Then what are some of those values and contributions that are more specific to being Jewish?

Back to top ⤴

Having a Relationship

Here's an interesting parallel for the shlosha regalim / three pilgrimage festivals, in terms of our relationship with G-d.  Passover is seen as the courtship period, Shavuot is seen as the wedding, and Sukkot is seen as having embarked on married life together.

For that matter, how do we each view our "relationship" with G-d?  Ask your class or group about both various views/beliefs they've heard or read, and what they themselves think for themselves personally about G-d and their relationship. And perhaps mention that just as people relationships evolve, grow and change over time, so might their opinions and feelings about this one.