Faith and Kindness
Rabbi Chaim Kanterovitz, Senior Rabbinic International Educator and Director of OTS’s OMEK program
I have always wondered why it is that of all the Megilot – Scrolls that we read, on Shavuot we read the book of Ruth. Yes, it is true that, as the midrash points out, this is a narrative of Chessed and kindness – the kindness of Ruth and the kindness of Boaz – but why is it associated with the giving of the Torah? In fact, if you were to ask me I would suggest reading the book of Proverbs on this day, with its philosophical complex web of words covering faith, doubt and mankind’s condition on earth.
Yet our sages decided that it would be the book of Ruth that is read, for somehow not only is this the book of the origins of the house of David but possibly more significantly, it is the very embodiment of our faith.
In a cryptic but profound midrash our sages describe how Avraham Avinu arrives at his moment of realization that the world has a creator. A moment that sparks humanity’s monotheistic religions but more importantly serves as the moment which we try to recapture. For this was the moment of pure faith. Avraham had no one to teach him, no philosophers to suggest God. It was a world where Avraham was very much a man apart. He was on one side of the world faith-wise and the rest of mankind on the other, as our sages taught. Yet he did discover, he did believe, and he did launch monotheism, founding our faith.
Ruth was the same; she had married into a family that had nothing left to offer her. She saw Judaism at its worst. The family of Naomi had left and deserted their people and land. Yet despite it all she clung to Naomi and her people, and above all – to God.
This is no simple feat. She arrives at the realization herself; Naomi attempts to dissuade her, as she has no prospects and very little hope for the future. Yet she listens to her heart, opens her mind, uncovers her soul and discovers God.
In the book of Shemot the Sefat Emet asks what I regard as a thought-provoking question. The verse in the Torah sates when it describes the giving of the law “…And all the people see the sounds …” yet then the verse concludes it says “…the people saw and trembled and stood from afar.” (Shemot 20:15)
The first part of the verse is in the present tense, whilst the latter part of the verse is in past tense, capturing the emotions and atmosphere of the revelation and Matan Torah itself. Why is this so? What is the Torah teaching us here?
Have you ever noticed how it is that the first of the ten commandments is in reality not a commandment at all? Rather it is read as a statement: “I Am the Lord Your God.” For faith cannot be instructed and forced. Faith such as the faith of Avraham or the faith of Ruth has to be found. The Sefat Emet teaches that for the Jew, it is found within. The verse above speaks in the present tense, for in the realm of the soul there is no past, present or future! The impression of the Torah and the word of the living God on the Jewish soul is not only perpetual, but also eternal.
Hence, there is no need to command it; rather, we are instructed to find it, uncover it reconnect to what already exists within. The Torah is predicated on faith. Ruth is all about faith. Faith in herself, her family, and above all – her God. Faith and commitment. Ruth finds faith just as Avraham our Patriarch did – from within. She is practically abandoned, yet she believes in God and His people. In fact, she clings to Naomi and in doing so leaves all she had known, an entire world of existence behind.
Chessed and faith are two sides of the same coin. The prophet stated “I remembered unto you the Chessed -kindness – of your youth when you followed me in the desert in a barren wasteland.” The Jewish people are complimented, for we had faith in God and followed him through the barren wasteland.
Ruth embodies Chessed- loving-kindness because her faith in God comes from within – the paradigm of Chessed. She finds God in her wasteland, in her desert. Perhaps this is why Shavuot always falls on the week of the portion of Bamidbar, which literally means ‘in the desert.’ It is this type of faith we strive to recreate as we approach Shavuot, the celebration of the giving of the Torah. To rediscover, uncover and reconnect, and to be inspired – as Ruth was – from the Torah itself.