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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Shavuot: Savoring the Book of Ruth

(Ruth and Boaz)
 Shavuot and the Book of Ruth go together like wheat and barley.

Shavuot (aka Shavuos, the Festival of Weeks, the Festival of Reaping, and the Day of the First Fruits) marks the day that God gave the Torah to the Israelites at Mount Sinai.  As some of these holiday names indicate, it also celebrates the bounties of the grain harvest (barley during Passover, and wheat at Shavuot).  The Bikkurim (first fruits) of Israel’s “Seven Species”were brought to the Temple at Jerusalem at this time of year.  These “first fruits” offerings included wheat, barley, dates, figs, pomegranates, grapes and olives.  The seven-week Counting of the Omer also ends at this time (marking 50 days since Passover began – thus the Hellenistic term “Pentecost”).

Wikipedia lists a number of reasons why the Book of Ruth is read aloud in synagogues on Shavuot.  The barley and grain harvests are an integral part of the story, Ruth was King David’s great-grandmother (David was said to have entered and left this world on Shavuot), and Ruth desired to become a follower of the Torah (a Jew).  

The Book of Ruth (aka Megillat Ruth or “The Scroll of Ruth”) consists of only four chapters.  The first chapter gives some background information.  During a famine, Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons migrated to Moab.  While there, the two sons married Moabite women – Ruth and Orpah.  Elimelech and the two sons ended up dying, and the three women were left to fend for themselves.  Naomi selflessly urged Ruth and Orpah to go back to their families of origin.  Orpah finally did, but Ruth insisted upon remaining with Naomi.  Her loyal response to Naomi has echoed throughout the centuries:  … for whither thou goest, I will go... thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God… 

After returning with Naomi to Bethlehem, Ruth meets Boaz (a distant relative of Naomi’s late husband) while gleaning barley in his fields.  Boaz had heard about Ruth’s loyalty, and therefore treated her very kindly.  He tells her:  … be thy reward complete from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to take refuge…  When Naomi heard of Boaz’ kindness to Ruth, she encouraged Ruth to marry him.  Boaz, after honorably checking in first with another of Ruth’s possible “prospects,” happily married Ruth.  Ruth and Boaz had a son named Obed, who became the father of Jesse.  Jesse became the father of King David (who in turn became a forefather of Jesus).

Talk about an encouraging ending…  It’s no wonder that congregations never tire of gleaning inspiration from this whole Megillat each year at Shavuot.


Copyright June 8, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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