“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
Beginning at sundown on May 19 through sundown May 21, Jews around the world will celebrate the biblically mandated festival, Shavuot, also known better by Christians from the Greek, Pentecost.Originally tied to the harvest and the bringing of the firstfruits to the Temple, the holiday now commemorates the giving of the Law exactly 50 days after the Exodus. This devotion is one of 12 exploring the many lessons this ancient observance has for Christians today.
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 in the Greek, 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 the 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 parting of the Red Sea. The Torah is about everyday life. When the great Jewish scholar, Hillel the elder, was asked to sum up the whole of the Torah around the 1st century CE, 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, acts of kindness abound. We find kindness in the way the harvesters left behind grain for the poor and the way Ruth worked all day in the hot sun to collect the precious sustenance for Naomi. We witness the kindness of Boaz to Ruth before he even knew her, and we see the great reward that was 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, the Jewish people accept the Bible all over again — and it is something our Christian brothers and sisters can do, too. 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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