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Shabbat Parashat Bamidbar 5775

Parashat Hashavua: Ruth and Torah

Rabbi Daniel Mann

Many and fascinating reasons are given for the minhag to read Megillat Ruth on Shavuot. Some link Ruth’s acceptance of the Torah to Bnei Yisrael’s acceptance, through which she and they, respectively, became converts (see Bina La’itim, Drush 17). If we take that approach, it is striking how different the path of Ruth was from that of Bnei Yisrael. At Sinai, the entire process of matan Torah was divinely orchestrated in a miraculous manner in which Hashem revealed Himself and the people had little choice but to accept (see Avoda Zara 2b – Hashem held a mountain over their heads). Ruth, on the other hand, accepted Torah after Hashem seemed to have abandoned her husband and his Jewish family and after she was repeatedly discouraged by Naomi.

The S’fat Emet (640) says we read Ruth on Shavuot to teach that concerning Torah, the study is not the main thing but action is (Avot 1:15). He continues: “By involvement in Torah, man’s spirit is fixed, and he can then fix his actions.” Again, Ruth seems to not fit so well into the description, as her wonderful actions preceded her involvement in Torah.

How, indeed, did Ruth come to Judaism? The simple (and, I submit, the correct) reading of the p’sukim is that she was drawn to Naomi’s personality and wanted to follow her. The crux of the desire for conversion is included in Ruth’s speech of: “Where you shall go I shall go, and where you shall sleep I will sleep; your nation is my nation and your G-d is my G-d. Where you shall die, I will die, and there shall I be buried …” (Ruth 1:16-17). While this seem to indicate that the conversion was highly based on a personal connection to Naomi, Chazal (Yevamot 47b) saw in each element of these p’sukim an acceptance of a different set of halachot.

Based on the above, we will explain Ruth’s impetus for conversion as follows. Ruth viewed Naomi as an ideal human being – a kind, devoted woman with beautiful piety. Ruth was drawn to Naomi indeed, but not for her wit or her money (the latter, she no longer had), but by the Torah within Naomi, which Ruth understood was the source of her piety and refinement. Thus, when Ruth proclaimed she wanted to follow Naomi in her various stations in life, Chazal viewed it as an acceptance of the related Torah values that these engendered.

Now we can appreciate the similarity between Ruth’s conversion and that of Bnei Yisrael. Some (see Meshech Chochma, Devarim 33:4) explain that the mountain held over Bnei Yisrael’s head was not a physical threat but a powerful draw to Hashem that they could not overlook. To a great extent, that is what Ruth, with her special sensitivity, experienced vis-à-vis Naomi. When the Sefat Emet speaks of the Torah reflecting on the actions, it is not Ruth’s actions, at least not originally. Rather, Naomi’s actions were reflective of the Torah she absorbed. It was Naomi’s Torah actions, which were mirrored in Ruth’s image, that are the Torah of action that connects Megillat Ruth to Shavuot.

May we learn Torah in a way that improves our actions and improve our actions in a way that glorifies the Torah we learn and practice.

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