The Righteous Ruth – The Brilliant Power of Chessed and Conversion to Judaism

Ruth is often seen as the ultimate convert to Judaism and her book teaches us mainly how to act with Chessed (lovingkindness).

At first glance, the stories in her book might seem simple, but dig a bit deeper, and you’ll uncover some fascinating lessons.

First things first, the main theme of the Book of Ruth is chessed, or lovingkindness. There aren’t many laws in this book, except for the one about male Moabites being forbidden from joining the Jewish people, while female Moabites, like Ruth, are allowed.

We don’t know much about Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi, other than that they were widows and pretty much outcasts. At first, Ruth doesn’t come across as a hero but merits the tremendous gift of being the Matriarch of the Davidic line of Kingship.

Reading the Book of Ruth on Shavuot

We read the entire Book of Ruth on Shavuot, but why? Isn’t Shavuot supposed to be all about studying Torah? According to many rabbis, the main focus of Shavuot is indeed Torah study. Men often stay up all night to complete the Tikkun Leil Shavuot, a special ritual outlined by the Arizal, to show their commitment to Torah even when it’s tough, making up for falling asleep at Mount Sinai when God gave us the Torah.

DALL·E 2024 05 14 15.02.21 An ancient old Jewish sage with a long white beard dressed in traditional robes sits at a wooden desk in an old library deeply engrossed in studyi

But just studying isn’t enough. Sometimes people get so caught up in their studies that they forget basic morals. The sages talk about the “Chassid Shoteh” (a foolish pious person) who wouldn’t save a drowning woman to avoid “compromising his sanctity”. Obviously, no level of holiness justifies letting someone die unless it’s truly dangerous for both parties.

In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria teaches us that “If there’s no Torah, there’s no Derekh Eretz (morality). If there’s no Derekh Eretz, there’s no Torah.” To truly acquire Torah, a person needs to have good behavior and be seen as good by others. The sages disapproved of those who ignored basic civility, as it could lead to a full-fledged Chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name).

Looking at King David’s ancestry from his mother’s side, which includes Ruth, it traces back to one of Lot’s daughters, who named her son Moav. It goes down to Balak, the King of Moav, then to King Eglon, and finally to Ruth. From his father’s side, David descended from the complex relationship between Yehuda and Tamar, adding more questions, which comes to show how Tzadikim never have it easy.

The sages of his time wondered how the King of all Israel could come from such questionable lineage. But that’s exactly how it happened.

We learn from this that only God can judge a person’s spiritual standing. A Chassidic Rebbe once said, “I’d rather judge 1,000 criminals favorably than a single righteous Jew harshly.” This was all part of God’s plan to protect King David, much like a newborn needs constant care.

And that’s why we read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot, which is also King David’s birthday and the day of his passing. As a side note, Shavuot is also the day in which the Baal Shem Tov passed away. Either way, Ruth faced many challenges but stayed on the path of holiness. Her story shows that even if someone isn’t brilliant, successful, powerful, or popular, God notices every effort they make.

Funnily enough, our sages teach that King Eglon merited to have such an esteemed daughter because he merely “lifted” his heavy body when Judge Ehud came to deliver a message of Hashem. Because of his effort in honoring God then, he merited Ruth.

Imagine what a life of Mitzvot and Torah can bring us?

Lessons from Ruth and Chessed

Ruth’s story continues to be a profound example of how acts of lovingkindness, or chessed, can transcend cultural and societal boundaries. When Ruth, a Moabite widow, chose to stay with her mother-in-law Naomi rather than return to her own people, she demonstrated a commitment that went beyond familial duty. This act of loyalty and kindness was not just a personal decision but a statement against the prejudices of her time. By embracing Naomi and the Jewish faith, Ruth showed that true chessed requires courage and the willingness to step into the unknown for the sake of others.

Ruth and Chessed

As it’s written: “May the Lord perform [ya’as] kindness with you” – Rabbi Ḥanina bar Ada said: It is written “ya’aseh.” “As you performed with the dead” – that you tended to their shrouds; “and with me” – that you relinquished your marriage contracts. Rabbi Ze’eira said: This scroll does not contain [the laws of] purity or impurity, and not prohibitions or allowances. Why was it written? It is to teach you the extent of the good reward for those who perform kindness (Midrash Rabbah, Ruth 2:14).

Moreover, Ruth’s actions exemplify how chessed can pave the way for redemption. Her marriage to Boaz, a relative of Naomi, was also the fulfillment of the mitzvah of yibbum (levirate marriage), which seeks to preserve the lineage of a deceased relative. Through this selfless act, Ruth played a crucial role in the continuation of Naomi’s family line, ultimately leading to the birth of King David. This illustrates how chessed can have far-reaching impacts, shaping the future in ways that align with divine providence (Ruth 4:13-17).

In addition to her personal story, Ruth’s inclusion in the lineage of David highlights a broader spiritual lesson about the nature of Kedusha (holiness). Despite her Moabite origins, Ruth’s righteousness and acts of kindness earned her a place of honor in Jewish history. This teaches us that sanctity is not solely about birthright or lineage but is deeply connected to one’s actions and character.

And even non-Jews can merit great things. Ruth’s story encourages us to recognize the potential for holiness in every individual, regardless of their background, especially when they are converting in a Mikvah (Talmud Yevamot 47b).

Concluding remarks

Ruth’s tale serves as a reminder of the unexpected ways in which Hashem’s plans unfold.

Her life, marked by seemingly ordinary decisions and acts of Chessed, was instrumental in the grand narrative of the Jewish people. This highlights the belief that every action, no matter how small, can contribute to a larger history. Ruth’s humility and grace, coupled with her powerful impact, teach us to value the quiet, everyday moments of kindness that ultimately shape our world (see Midrash Ruth Zuta 1:2).

In essence, the Book of Ruth offers a strong message about the enduring significance of lovingkindness. It reminds us that these small acts can break down barriers, create new opportunities, and lead to unexpected blessings.

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Chaim Apsan

Chaim is a teacher and Kabbalah enthusiast. He loves helping Jews connect with true Torah teaching and enhancing their spiritual growth. With a focus on meditation, he guides individuals on transformative journeys of prayer, contemplation, and connection with Hashem. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and kids, and is committed to sharing the wisdom and power of Kabbalah in a genuine way.

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