RUTH – MOTHER OF MONARCHY

The most simple and fundamental revelation of the Torah for our lives is kindness toward people. This is the ground floor of the structure.  Many towering and substantial floors rise above it, namely devotion to G-d, holiness and kindness: Yet the core foundation is the relationship among fellow men. 

RUTH

by HaRav Shomo Aviner, Head of Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim.

 

  1. When the Judges Judged
  2. Love of Kindness
  3. Power of Persistence
  4. Light of Shir Ha-Shirim (The Song of Songs)
  5. Torah in The Land of Israel
  6. And He Gladdened His Heart
  7. Death will Separate Me and You
  8. Who Can Draw Something Pure From Impurity

 

  1. When the Judges Judged

The Book of Rut teaches us there is Torah in the Land of Israel, and that the Torah is not only for studying but also provides a practical guide to life.  In the Book of Rut, there is no novel insight into the expanse of planets, but rather the realization and embodiment of the Torah that comes down from the heights of heaven into our daily lives, as it states: “That you should do in the midst of the Land where you will enter to possess it” (Devarim 4:5).  All wondrous, exalted and awesome things shall be done in the Land of Israel.  In the Book of Rut, we do not encounter a time of harmony or frightening destruction.  Rather, we are drawn into a style of life based on Torah through people who lived when the judges judged (Rut 1:1).  Apparently the Period of the Judges was not that a wonderful era for the Nation of Israel.

 

The expression “when the judges judged” signifies to our Sages, “Woe to the generation that judges its judges” (Yalkut Shimoni Rut 596).  In other words, the expression alludes to dire conditions of the generation and its judges.  The Book of Shoftim describes a period that parallels the same period of the Book of Rut when immorality and corruption were rampant.  It would seem that the entire Nation of Israel was engaged in immorality and treachery.  It was riddled with idol worship, like the idol of Michah: Internecine war among Jews; murder as in the case of the concubine in Givah resulting in the slaughter of almost an entire tribe of Israel, and other such awful and devastating episodes.  Yet these events did not erase the entire value, holiness and kindness of the Nation of Israel.  When these events occurred, like in the instance of the concubine at Givah, there were still individuals of the same high quality among the Nation of Israel as those described in the Book of Rut: People who were sensitive, and acted kindly toward each other.

 

  1. Love of Kindness

The Book of Rut abounds with kindness.  Our Sages say: In this book, there is no impurity or purity, no prohibition or permission.  So why was it written?  To teach you how great is the reward for acting with kindness (Rut Rabbah 2:14).  The Book of Rut is replete with people doing kind deeds.  It does not command kindness; rather it describes people who practice it and the wonderful reward it generates.  Kindness is the most simple and fundamental theme in the entire Torah.  Kindness preceded Torah, as our Sages say: Proper conduct preceded the Torah (Vayikra Rabbah 9:3).  However, Torah is on a higher level than kindness; and its goal is not to change egotistical people into kind people.  Rather, before approaching it, people should already be kind.  Simple, normal and pleasant bonds of friendship existed before the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.  This is the essence of Genesis that describes the Forefathers as people who performed acts of kindness.  A kind person who encounters the Torah is expected to reach the highest level of kindness.  But if a person confronts the Torah with all his egotism intact, he becomes nothing other than a “religious” egotist.

 

The most simple and fundamental revelation of the Torah for our lives is kindness toward people. This is the ground floor of the structure.  Many towering and substantial floors rise above it, namely devotion to G-d, holiness and kindness: Yet the core foundation is the relationship among fellow men.  The Book of Rut outlines the basic foundation of the ground floor of Torah as revealed through a life of deeds, as the Prophet says: “And what does G-d require of you but to act justly, and with loving kindness and to walk humbly with G-d” (Michah 6:8).  Is this all the Master of the Universe really requires of us?   Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Levi explains that the prophet was speaking to people whose entire life was corrupt and violent; that is why they must first return to a normal course of life of justice and kindness, and only on that foundation will they be able to build higher floors (Kuzari 2:47-48).

 

The Book of Rut describes the leftover gleanings [leket].  Naomi sends Rut to gather the gleanings of corn (Rut 2:2).  She comes to Boaz’s field; he was not the only thoroughly righteous person of his generation who permitted the gleaning of his field. The gleaning [leket] is the generally accepted norm of kindness although its essence is not simple.  The righteousness of many people ends at their pockets.  When they are asked to give from their pockets to others, their fear of G-d comes to an end.  We do not recognise the scythe even though it leaves behind a large quantity of produce. In the Book of Rut, we encounter other commandments, which depend on being in the land of Israel.  Rut said: “And I will gather the sheaves after the reapers” (ibid. 2:7). Rashi explains that this is produce that has fallen [shichechah] (Rashi ibid.).  Therefore it is written: “And he measured six portions of barley and he gave it to her” (ibid. 3:15).  Boaz gave Rut the portion of the tithes for the poor [ma’aser ani] which he owed. The Book of Rut is replete with social customs, which are pleasant, refined and modest.  Boaz said to Rut: “But remain close to my maidens” (ibid. 2:8). Remaining close [devekut] is a strong expression of love and companionship; and so it is clear that “remaining close” relate to the maidens who were to welcome her companions.  Naomi similarly guided Rut when she told her, “When you go out with his maidens” (ibid. 2:22).

 

The relationship to converts is one of honor, compared to the relationship to certain people in our time. One woman, who generally had never excelled in fulfilling light and difficult commandments, nor in consulting with rabbis, asked a rabbi what she should do: Her son was engaged to a convert. She knew she was a decent woman, with fine attributes, and who observed Torah; yet she was not sure the girl was fully Jewish.  The rabbi calmed her by telling her his daughter was named after a convert: This came as a relief.

 

A professor of physics told the story of a Jew in his town who regularly shared with him all sorts of halachic insights, but in the end wound up marrying a non-Jew.  When he saw that his listeners were struck by this strange story, he added that she was fully observant of the commandments.  “A non-Jew observant of the commandments?,” they wondered.  “Of course she converted…but still,” he answered. He was a renowned professor of physics, but a very poor student of Judaism.

 

Such insults to converts occur despite the thirty-six written admonitions in the Torah not to harm a convert (see Baba Metzia 59b; Letter of the Rambam to Rabbi Ovadiah Ha-Ger (the Convert), Igeret HaRambam, Mehadurat Ha-Rav Y.  Shilat 1, p. 239; Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah – Shemot, pp. 255-256, 266; Vayikra, pp. 190-191).  In the Book of Rut, great respect is given to converts. They are befriended, welcomed, and loved.  Yet this “Ploni Almoni,” (similar to John Doe) who had to redeem the field and marry Rut, refused to do so in order not to compromise his estate: There are commentaries which say he did not want to marry a convert (Book of Rut 4:6; Rut Rabbah 7:7; see Sefer Eim Ha-Banim Semechah, Mehadurat Pri Ha-Aaretz, p. 301). For this reason he is referred to negatively: His name is not mentioned.

 

There may have been a number of justifiable reasons for his refusal to marry her: But someone who associates marriage to a convert with a compromise to his estate is not worthy of having his name mentioned: he is simply “Ploni Almoni.” His degrading treatment of her resulted in no reference to his actual name, something rare in the Tanach. His approach to converts stands out in the Book of Rut because the accepted approach is one of respect and inclusion.

 

  1. Power of Persistence

The Book of Rut portrays the simple side of Torah life, revealed through actual life situations.  While it appears to be mundane, in fact it is not so at all. In a certain respect, it is quite complex: While sublime flashes of kindness and holiness are important, day-to-day perseverance is what truly counts.

 

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai asked his students which was the most important verse in the Torah.  The students responded three ways: The second answer explained the first answer and the third commented on both. One said that the most important verse is “And you shall love Hashem, your G-d (Devarim 6:5).  The second said, “And you shall love your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18), an answer which did not contradict the first.  The Maharal explains that whoever thinks he loves G-d but not his creations does not love G-d at all: Loving G-d is revealed through the love of the creations of the Creator (Maharal, Netivot Olam, Netiv Ahavat HaRe’ah, chapter 1).  Ben Pazi, the third student, said that the most important verse is, “You will sacrifice one sheep in the morning and one sheep in the evening (Shemot 29:39). Their teacher answered that Ben Pazi had responded correctly (cited in the Introduction of Ha-Kotev of Ein Yaakov).

 

Indeed, both the love of G-d and the love of His creations are continually tested, morning and night, morning and night.  This is the most important point. Our Sages referred to this sacrifice as the continual sacrifice [korban tamid].  It is sacrificed only once in the morning and once in the evening, yet it is called continual [tamid] because its significance lies in the persistence of the practice. This ongoing practice has significant power.  This answer does not contradict the previous ones but provides a basis for them.

 

Love is undeniably a powerful force.  When a man and woman agree to marry, there is a strong emotional excitement; love burns within them.  But in order to create a structure that lasts forever, the couple must care for the love and continue to discover it after the wedding, morning and evening.  Clearly true love is based on the ability to persevere.  If it dissolves like honey after the honeymoon, it has no value.  This simple fact of life is not altogether simple.  A person, on a daily basis, if not by the minute or second, must have a structured way of expressing his goodness.  A strong but spontaneous urge to do a good deed does not have a lasting effect.

 

  1. Light of Shir Ha-Shirim (The Song of Songs)

Our master, Rav Kook, says in his commentary of the siddur: It is impossible for the world to tolerate the light of Shir Ha-Shirim on Shavuot; we must hide the greatness of its treasure in the Book of Rut (Olat Re’eiyah vol. 2, p. 305).  On Passover, we read Shir Ha-Shirim and on Shavuot, the Book of Rut.  Our master, Rav Kook, explains that the Book of Rut is Shir Ha-Shirim concealed in life.  Shir Ha-Shirim expresses the great inner love that rages for the Master of the Universe.  The world is not able to tolerate this light, meaning it is not able to obtain nourishment from it.  No one can go through their daily life sustained by this great inner burning love.  It must be transposed into life.  Our Sages say: A person who recites Hallel every day curses and blasphemes (Shabbat 118b).  Saying Hallel reflects a magnificent, close and inner elevation and excitement, which corresponds to a certain number of days in the year. On regular days of the year, we recite the prayer section “Pesukai De-Zimra.”  We cannot sustain our lives on the strength of the Divine light we find in Shir Ha-Shirim.  We must hide the cherished greatness in the Book of Rut.  Rut is Shir Ha-Shirim in day-to-day life.  It is the hidden order of life.  Placing the Book of Rut under close scrutiny, we see it conceals the Shir Ha-Shirim.  The conduct of Boaz, who extended kindness and gave the forgotten sheaf and the tithe to the poor, is simply described, unlike the sublime and powerful verses of love we find in Shir Ha-Shirim.  This love, hidden and internalized, motivated Boaz. The intensity of Shir Ha-Shirim is channelled in a modest and humble way in the Book of Rut.

 

  1. Torah in the Land of Israel

The revelation of the great light of Shir Ha-Shirim in life only takes place in the Land of Israel, as it is written, “… to do so in the midst of the Land to which you are coming to inherit” (Devarim 4:5), namely the Land of Israel. The introduction to the Book of Rut emphasises the value of the Land of Israel. On the death of Elimelech, our Sages ask what he did to deserve such a terrible punishment: Their response is that he abandoned the Land of Israel (Yalkut Shimoni Rut 599:40).  Then his two sons died: They had not understood the warning.  Our Sages say: The Merciful One does not exact retribution at the outset of a person’s life.  So it was with Machlon and Chilyon.  First their horses and donkeys and camels died.  Then Elimelech died; and finally, both of them, Machlon and Chilyon died (Rut Rabbah 2:10; Vayikra Rabbah 17:4). The Halachah rules that a person is allowed to leave the Land of Israel in the event of famine (Rambam, Law of Kings 5:9).  There are people who argue that this dictum of the Gemara applies even today, and claim it is permissible to leave the Land because of poor economic circumstances.  This is nonsense.  In America there are some people who have nothing to eat. Such things do not happen here [in Israel]. Sometimes we have to ration but there is no famine: If there were a famine in the Land, to the point that there were nothing to eat, we would be permitted to leave it to save our lives.  Rambam concludes that, even if one is permitted to leave, this is not a pious attitude. Machlon and Chilyon were two great leaders of their generation. They left on account of great hardship and therefore died (ibid.). This is the strict approach.  Certain people for example are strict with themselves and only drink kosher wine with the highest kosher certification (mehadrin min ha-mehadrin – a double strictness).  But note that stringencies are not limited to kosher wine or meat. Remaining in the Land even in the face of terrible hardship, of suffering and famine, is also a stringency.

 

Rambam says that the leaders of the people who abandoned the fight during the times of hardship or famine, saved their lives and solved their problems; yet they did not understand the significance of the Land of Israel.  The Book of Rut begins in the midst of desperate times, and then gradually introduces the reader to life in the Land.  Most of the acts of kindness portrayed in the Book of Rut are linked to commandments dependent on the Land of Israel: Giving to the poor the gleanings, the forgotten sheaf and their tithe.  Acts of kindness can certainly be performed outside the Land; but in the Land of Israel there are unique prescriptions for kindness linked to the agricultural jubilee.  These commandments constitute our state socialism (Orot, Orot Ha-Techiyah 5, p. 25).  This is the way basic love of one’s fellow man is revealed in the national fabric of the Nation of Israel.

 

We are told that Boaz was winnowing barley in the granary at night.  Boaz was Ivtzan the Judge (Baba Batra 91a) who was like the head of government.  Yet at night, he winnowed barley.  The Chatam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer) explains that Boaz did not have time during the day to winnow because he worked so hard in public matters. Nevertheless he worked the Land because of the commandment to settle the Land (Chidushei Ha-Chatam Sofer, Succah 36).  Indeed, he was very involved in other matters, and most of the work was performed through his servants. He did a little bit of work at night because he wanted the merit of working in agriculture with his own hands.

 

Now we see the presence of Torah in the Land. Of all the places in the world, Torah is here, in the Land of Israel, and is revealed through the Land.  Most of the time, the spiritual realm conflicts with the material realm, but this is a phenomenon of exile.   The Chatam Sofer explains the writings of Chovot Ha-Levavot to the effect that everything that adds to the building of the body contributes to the destruction of the mind (Sha’ar Ha-Prishut, chapter 2).  The strengthening of the body and material earthly matters leads to the destruction of spiritual matters.  They cannot develop in parallel; no peace exists between them. A person should ideally suppress the body, act ascetically and not occupy himself at all with earthly or material matters.  Yet the Chatam Sofer says that this pertains to those living outside the Land of Israel, and not in our Land where working the earth is a mitzvah (Chidushei Ha-Chatam Sofer ibid.; see Orot, Orot Ha-Techiyah 27, p. 77).

 

A story is told of a young man living outside Israel who was visiting a yeshiva [in Israel].  There they explained to him at length what a yeshiva was.  Since the yeshiva was near a kibbutz, he asked innocently what is the difference between the two.  They told him: “Here we occupy ourselves with spiritual matters, and there they occupy themselves with material matters.”  He asked, “Is there no spirituality there at all?”  They answered him after some thought, “They have little spirituality because they wash the laundry from the yeshiva.”  The great Redemption of our Nation will never come if we adopt such an attitude.

 

It is correct to say that outside the Land of Israel, a person who is engaged in the physical activity of building the Land is cut off from life and has absolutely no share in Torah, holiness or the Divine Presence, except if he is close to others who are spiritual.  There, material concerns are loaded with impurity and corruption. There is little spiritual interest in the strengthening of agriculture in Italy, tourism in France and industry in England.  Outside the Land of Israel, we care for the spiritual state of our world: And we satisfy our material needs with as little as possible. In theory, it would be preferable if one could avoid eating outside the Land of Israel.  Food transforms man into an egotistical materialist, heavy and lazy without a shred of spirituality.

 

  1. And He Gladdend His Heart

Despite it all, in the Land of Israel, materialism has some value.  Agriculture is material in nature, yet generates pleasantness, kindness, love of fellow man, and great ethical values.  Boaz is said to have eaten, but he did not become heavy, corpulent or materialistic as a result. Instead, “And Boaz ate and drank and gladdened his heart” (Rut 3:7).  He was made better.  A man’s heart is his internal self. Pirkei Avot (2:9) asks, what is the proper path a man should follow?  The Sages answer: A good friend, a good neighbour, a kind eye, and above all, a good heart.  A person with a good heart not only has good deeds to his credit, but is good. Boaz was good even after he ate.  His eating did not lead to his undoing.

 

In the Zohar, we find the expression “kerova de-michla” (see Orot Ha-Kodesh vol. 3, p. 290), meaning, “the battle of food.”  When a person approaches his food, he still bears within him a small amount of idealism, altruism and love of fellow man: Once he begins to have a lot of food, his enthusiasm for idealistic expression cools. He has to fight it and is not allowed to let it conquer him: this is the battle of food. The blessing after eating strengthens a person’s resolve following his meal (Orot Ha-Teshuvah 14:8).  This is a battle that extends to a man’s idealism. Boaz ate and drank and gladdened his heart.

 

We are not dealing with a simple level of being: we have here a hidden light. Our master, Rav Kook, refers to the joy of eating in holiness (Orot Ha-Kodesh vol. 3, p. 292) in the Land of Israel.  This is not the joy of a crude and materialistic person.  Eating in the Land of Israel signifies, being united with all the holy sparks contained in the food. When we eat to satisfy a materialistic appetite, we overcome sadness: when we eat in holiness, we experience joy: This is the table before G-d (ibid. pp. 292-293).  A person with a materialistic appetite is saddened after a meal: This is the bread of sadness (Tehillim 127:2).  His sadness is apparently existential: He has no idea what his role is in this world.  He turns his back on the significance of his life.  A person who eats in holiness fills himself with joy.  He eats at the table placed before G-d.

 

These comments of our master, Rav Kook, evoke the style of Shir Ha-Shirim but not of the Book of Rut, where it is simply written, “And Boaz ate and drank and he gladdened his heart.”  Understand that hidden within these words is the very light of Shir Ha-Shirim.  In Israel, there is no conflict or contradiction, and no need to wipe out all earthly matters in order to be elevated and idealistic. Here we see the primacy of the Torah in Israel, in life, in agriculture and even in eating.

 

  1. Death will Spearate Me and You

The Book of Rut is about triumph arising from a continual and great struggle.  We do not see enthusiasm born of the moment, but an intense struggle that brings great enlightenment. Consider where Rut came from and what level she attained. The struggle and her success testify to the possibility of fixing anything broken, and of raising up every particle of goodness through willpower, strength and might.  Naomi tried to dissuade her from converting, but she saw that she persisted (Rut 1:18).

 

Determination, courage and struggle are the attributes that gave her the right to belong to the descendants of Avraham our father.  Avraham our father was the first Rut. All his life he persisted, struggled and overcame. Since Naomi was convinced that Rut was determined, it was evident she was related to Avraham our father (Yevamot 47b).  Rut was caught in a cycle of complications.  Elimelech had abandoned the Land of Israel; he lost his sons and in the end, died.  Rut, a former heathen, was left widowed.  Woven through this complicated situation was a long process of Divine supervision that encompassed all of life’s events, especially those most complex and confused.  When a benevolent will comes along, it is possible to get close, to triumph over all the complications of reality.  Rut found herself in both a human and national complication. Coming from Moabite stock was not a positive heritage.

 

Moab was born in impurity, descended from Lot who had slept with his daughters. Hence the injunction, “an Ammonite and a Moabite shall not enter the congregation of G-d” (Devarim 23:4); but a female Moabite and female Ammonite were permitted (Yevamot 69a).  The spiritual contamination of Lot’s sin did not affect the women, only the men.  Lot’s entire life was one of estrangement and corruption.  Our Sages sum him up in one passage: Separated because of his desire, he sought [wisdom] (Mishlei 18:1; Nazir 23b; Horayot 10b).  Lot distanced himself from Avraham our Father because of his desire.  For a few sheep, he separated himself from a pillar of the world (Shemot Rabbah 2:6; Rambam, Laws of Idol Worship 1:2).  He separated himself and went to a place which the Torah describes: “And the men of Sodom were evil and greatly sinned against G-d” (Bereshit 13:13). Later he committed incest with his daughters, of which he was conscious and not conscious; he slept and did not sleep (Bereshit Rabbah 51:8; Rashi on Bereshit 19:35).  This type of individual is corrupt, and his offspring is corrupt.  Bilaam, who wanted to destroy the Nation of Israel, sent the daughters of Moav to seduce the Jews into sin (Bemidbar 25:1; Rashi based on Sanhedrin 106a).  The Midrash tells us G-d offered the Torah to every nation, all of whom asked what was written in it.  When the tribe of Moav heard that it contained the prohibition, “Do not commit adultery” (Shemot 20:13; Devarim 5:17), they refused to accept it (Sifrei Berachah 343; Pesikta Rabbati 21).  This is the substance of their customs, for they were born of adultery.

 

When Israel reached the borders of Moav, Moav did not come out to greet them with bread and water (Devarim 23:5). Ramban says that he responded to goodness with evil (Ramban ibid.). Avraham adopted Lot, son of his brother Haran when he died in Charan, raised and nursed him until he became enormously wealthy. He distanced himself from Avraham our father because of a dispute over sheep; and his people responded to goodness with evil: They were not prepared to extend to Israel the most basic sustenance.

 

This is where Rut came from.  She made a complete about-turn.  Her ancestor Lot separated himself from Avraham, as it is written: “And they separated (Bereshit 13:11), for he was separated because of his desire.  Yet Rut said to Naomi: “Death will separate me and you” (Rut 1:17).  Lot said: “I cannot tolerate Avraham or his G-d (Bereshit Rabbah 41:7; Rashi on Bereshit 13:11).  And Rut: “Your people will be my people; your G-d, my G-d” (Rut 1:16). Seeing that Sodom was corrupt, he went there to seek wealth and gain.  Rut chose poverty and clung to Naomi.  Lot, who loved to feed his desires, slept with one of his daughters, then the other; and the daughters of Moav committed prostitution among the people.  But Rut remained steadfast.  Naomi asked her not to go with her, because she was already old, and she could not provide her with another son to marry (ibid. 1:12). In Moav, Rut could have married into the aristocracy of the people, as Orpah had done (ibid. 1:14).  But Rut did not even think that way, and was prepared to remain steadfast. Pregnancy through Lot was sinful; by contrast, Rut’s pregnancy elicits G-d caused her to be pregnant (ibid. 4:13).  Lot’s daughter gave her son a crude name to gloat over what she had done, calling him Moav, meaning from my father (Bereshit Rabbah 51:11; Rashi on Bereshit 19:37).  While Rut did not call her son by name, her neighbour called him Oved (Rut 4:17).  Moav was completely aggressive, while Rut was totally modest.  Lot was involved in theft, which led to an argument between the shepherds of Lot and Avraham (Bereshit 13:7 and Rashi ibid. based on Bereshit Rabbah 41:5).  Yet the Master of the Universe did not reveal himself to Avraham while he was with Lot, because his shepherds were claiming ownership of the property of Avraham our father. Instead He returned to speak with him on the day that Lot left him (Tanhuma Vayetze 10; Rashi on Bereshit 13:14).  Rut, the grand-daughter of Lot, made sure that the grain she gathered was considered to be abandoned property so that she could take it (Rut Rabbah 4:9).  Rut was a completely righteous person.  She took the path completely opposite from that of the terrible, destructive path of the people of Moav, who were pleasure seekers and egotists. This comes to teach us that when a person cuts himself off and falls, even after generations of destruction, Divine guidance and supervision will bring him back to the light on the condition that he strengthens himself and is active in the process.  This is the triumph of Torah over reality, of light over darkness.

 

  1. Who can Draw Something Pure from Impurity

Conversion is victory.  A convert is born into a non-Jewish culture.  He strengthens himself, overcomes and reaches for Judaism.  In fact, we are all converts.  When we left Egypt, we were not Jews but the descendants of Yaakov.  This was the pre-Jewish stage.  We were all converted at the Exodus from Egypt: We underwent circumcision, immersion and the assumption of the commandments standing at Mt. Sinai (Rambam, Laws of Forbidden Relationships 13:1-3). A number of people delayed in converting and joined us over the course of generations. Six hundred thousand converted at the Exodus from Egypt, and a number of individuals joined us over the course of thousands of years. We left Egypt with a great treasure (Bereshit 15:14) without a single-minded focus on silver and gold.  We also have a spiritual, cultural and ethical treasure, which perhaps was enriched through us.  The Holy One Blessed Be He set Israel among the nations in order that converts could join with it (Pesachim 87b).

 

Everyone from his country of origin brings us all the good things from their people: This is the advantage of having people join the nation of Israel at later stages. Since the path of the convert is personal, it is all the more difficult.  Conversion is a person’s internal triumph over external complexities. External reality certainly opposes what we want to do.

 

Rut’s conversion contradicts reality, her people’s heritage and family situation.  She did not strive for money, gold or position: She abandoned it all, and was left in command of her spirit and internal stamina.  The exercise of her strength was a victory.  She deserved to enter the ranks of Israel: Indeed, her descendant was King David and the Messiah.  The Zohar says that even Lot harbored sparks of holiness (Zohar 1, Vayera 105:1).  We can see from a plain reading of the text that he welcomed guests; and when the people of Sodom wanted to harm his guests, he stood his ground and refused, despite the apparent danger to himself (Bereshit 19:4-11).  When Avraham went down to Egypt, and declared that Sarah was his sister, Lot kept the secret, for which our Sages acknowledge his merit (Bereshit Rabbah 51:6; Rashi on Bereshit 19:29).  The Master of the Universe did not permit Moshe to battle with Moav and Amon because…”there are two positive elements I have to extract from them” (Baba Kama 38b), namely two good things I will take out from them: Rut the Moabite and Na’amah the Ammonite within whom lies the seed of the Messiah.  A thousand women married Shlomo when he was the king.  But Na’amah, the daughter of the king of Amon, married him after her conversion: since he was of lowly standing, no one believed he was the king (Rama Mi-Panu, Asarah Ma’amarot, Ma’amar Em Kol Chai 3:9; Midbar Kedemut of Chida, 50:24).  She believed him and gave him strength at the time of his weakness: As a result, she had the merit of fostering the lineage of the future everlasting David.

 

Every situation has a redeeming quality.  In regard to Moav and Amon, there were two positive elements; and even in Sodom, there was something to save it.  Avraham our Father contended with the Master of the Universe because of Sodom (Bereshit 18:23-32). The long and short of the matter is that there was only one righteous man, Lot, who was saved from the upheaval; and Avraham did not know that he was fighting to serve the seed of the Messiah.  Lot came from Sodom, and from him, Moav; and from the latter, Rut, the Mother of the kingdom (Baba Batra 91b).  The depths of holiness arose from the depths of impurity, evil, lust, incest and egoism. Who can bring something pure out of impurity (Iyov 14:4).  From this we know that Divine guidance governs every human situation, even the most distant: such is the Divine order of things, to draw purity from impurity. The Torah surmounts even the greatest complexities of reality.  Through the courage of Rut which was not sporadic but constant, as it is written, “Who will go up to the mountain of Hashem; and even stronger: And who will rise in His Holy place?” (Tehillim 24:3), a man rises and stands and strengthens himself every day, moment by moment.

 

Here we see the light of Shir Ha-Shirim hidden in the Book of Rut.  Light is detailed in the most minute sense; pure gold is referred to as very fine dust and is not melted together in one bar of gold, whose value increases even more with time.  This bar of gold is Shir Ha-Shirim.  The dust is Rut who, as it were, did not go about smashing stones and cracking rocks but worked at a steady courageous pace and dealt with her struggles from minute to minute.  As a result, she finally attained the highest level, which shows there is Torah on earth.  While in heaven, things are sublime and wondrous; on earth, we find destruction, banality and ugliness in applying supreme ideals. But this is misleading.  The revelation of holiness in daily life partakes of the greatest might.  It relates to the great light, the great ideal that permeates and takes over reality.

 

This is not banal or trite: It is majestic might and power.  Rut displayed her courage and each incident of life we see in the Book of Rut, of daily righteousness, is continuous and fluid.

 

On Shavuot, the time of the giving of our Torah with thunder and lightning and clouds and mist, the entire people said: “We will do, and we will hear” (Shemot 24:7) in the midst of the encounter with the heavenly Torah from the supreme heights. And G-d descended upon Mount Sinai (ibid. 19:20): The Torah continues to descend upon us until it directs life. The Book of Rut is the victory of life and the organization of life in the strength of G-dly light which descends from the heavens.

 

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