Torah in Action

June 1, 2012 - 5:00 am

“‘The LORD bless you, my daughter,’ he replied. ‘This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor’.” — Ruth 3:10

What do a Moabite woman and a group of Israelites who lived 300 years earlier have in common? The book of Ruth is about a woman from Moab who gives up her familiar life to travel to a foreign country. Shavuot, or Pentecost, recalls the story of a nation just freed from slavery. So why is it the Jewish tradition to read the Book of Ruth on the holiday of Shavuot?

One answer explains that Ruth and Shavuot are two sides of the same coin. While Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah, the book of Ruth describes Torah in action. Shavuot is about the theory; Ruth is about the application.

The goal of the Torah is not spiritual transcendence. It’s not about being able to sit on a mountain deep in meditation or experiencing great miracles like the splitting of the Red Sea. The Torah is about everyday life. When Hillel the elder was asked to sum up the whole of the Torah (around the 1st century) he said, “That which is hateful to you, don’t do to someone else.”

In other words, be nice. Kindness is what it’s all about. It’s the simple things that we do daily, when no one else is looking, that bring the Torah to life. Appropriately, that’s the central theme of the book of Ruth.

When Boaz says to Ruth, “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier,” he is referring to two of the many acts of kindness found within the story. First, Ruth chose to leave her easy life in Moab in order to take care of Naomi, her widowed and bereft mother-in-law. Second, she chose to marry Boaz, a man twice her age, in order to preserve the memory and family line of her deceased husband.

When we look into the story of Ruth we find kindness in the way the harvesters leave behind grain for the poor and the way Ruth works all day in the hot sun to collect the precious sustenance for Naomi.  We witness the kindness of Boaz to Ruth before he even knows her, and we see the great reward that is given to Ruth and Boaz for their kind actions. They become the great-grandparents of King David, from whom the Messiah will come. The book of Ruth is about the small acts of kindness and the huge impact that they have for eternity.

Every year on Shavuot we accept the Bible all over again. One way to do this is to reaffirm its central theme. Make it your goal to do one extra act of kindness each day for one month. One good deed can create a world of difference. And that’s what the Torah is all about.


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