MAY 28-30, 2009 6-7 SIVAN 5769
"But Ruth said, 'Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you.'" (Ruth 1:16)
Various reasons are given for the custom of reading the Book of Ruth on the holiday of Shabuot. Rav Zeira in the Midrash Rabbah of Ruth says: "This Megillah contains no statements of practical halachah, nothing of what is forbidden or permitted, no mention of what is clean (tahor) or unclean (tameh). Why then was it written? It was written with the single purpose of teaching how great is the reward for those who perform acts of lovingkindness." Ruth was a paragon of hesed; therefore she was rewarded with the destiny that the Jewish monarchy, including the long awaited Mashiah, would emanate from her progeny.
The statement that the sole purpose of the story of Ruth is to illustrate the importance of hesed, has a great impact. However, what is even more interesting is the irony of Ruth's family lineage. She comes from the nation of Moab, a nation known for its lacking in hesed. "When the Jewish nation approached, weary and hungry from their travels, Moab failed to offer it even the barest of sustenance: bread and water." Moab is so lacking in the attitude of hesed, that all men from Moab were branded forever as unsuitable marriage partners. Ruth, who was a product of the selfish society of Moab, overcame that attitude. Ruth, in her loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi, refusing to leave her, became the role model of hesed for us.
Rabbi Yaakov Klein brings from this a lesson for us. If Ruth was able to overcome her society and be a person of hesed, perhaps so can we and our children. What is the attitude of our society? We live in an age of "I deserve it." There is an advertisement for a particular product in which the consumer looks out and says, "It may cost more, but I deserve it!" The ad doesn't say why that person deserves it. The ad, and so our society, implies deservingness is generated by desire. This attitude has seriously encroached on the lives of Torah Jews. When today's child wants something, parents rush to provide it. Consequently children have become accustomed to thinking that their mere desire for something justifies receiving it. If one is exclusively predisposed to receiving, he will have a most difficult time giving, helping and perceiving the needs of others.
Ruth was a princess, and she humbled herself to gather wheat in a field amongst the paupers to feed her hungry mother-in-law. If anyone "deserved" better treatment, it was Ruth. She became capable of ruling over herself, which made her suited to become the mother of Jewish kings. We can do it and so can our children. But it requires effort. Let us learn from the message of Rav Zeira and resolve to teach our children, at least on occasion, that it's not coming to me! Happy Holiday. Rabbi Reuven Semah
The Talmud relates a fascinating episode. When Moshe went up to the heavens to receive the Torah, the heavenly angels didn't want to let the Torah go down to earth. Moshe was afraid to tackle the angels but Hashem told him to answer them. Moshe then told the angels, "Why do you want the Torah? Did you go out of Egypt? Do you have parents to honor? Do you steal, murder, etc.?" At that point they agreed with Moshe and let the Torah come down to the Jewish people and even gave Moshe "gifts." The question is obvious. What was the angels' point and how did Moshe convince them otherwise?
The Rabbis tell us that of course the angels knew they could not fulfill the Torah. However, they wanted to be the ones to decide the laws of the Torah. If ever there is a controversy or a question, the Heavenly Academy should be the decider. Moshe told them, you have to be involved and obligated in order to decide the laws of the Torah. The Torah is not just a subject to voice our opinions on; it is a way of life. If we live a life of Torah and study thoroughly, we have the ability to expound upon it and indeed even be one of the deciders of the Torah. All of our great scholars were indeed permeated with Torah through and through and were able to decide the halachah. It's amazing that although no one would ever contradict a brain surgeon as to his field of expertise, many people venture an opinion in halachah without even studying the subject. Let us recommit ourselves this Shabuot holiday to study, to learn, to understand and indeed to live a life of Torah. Tizku Leshanim Rabot. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
The Magen Abraham asked why we label this festival as zeman mattan Toratenu, the time when our Torah was given to us, since according to Rabbi Yose, the Torah was not given to us until 7 Sivan. Maharsha offered the following answer to this in his commentary to Aboda Zara 3a. The people of Yisrael spent forty-nine days cleansing themselves spiritually from the sinful influences and practices they had become accustomed to in Egypt. This cleansing process was completed only on the fiftieth day. Although they were given the Torah on the fifty-first day, G-d chose to set the date for commemorating this occasion as the fiftieth day. In this way He demonstrated that perfecting oneself spiritually takes precedence to Torah study - we celebrate on the day they perfected themselves rather than on the day they actually received the Torah. The Be'er Hetev cited this passage of the Maharsha and added to it.
This concept is the essence of the lesson our Sages taught (Abot 3:9) that one's fear of sinning must precede one's wisdom. The day we call "the time when our Torah was given to us" is actually the day that we completed our spiritual preparation for receiving the Torah, not the day we received it. This is a fitting answer to the Magen Abraham's question.
This concept may also explain the puzzling declaration found in the Haggadah shel Pesah, "If G-d had brought us to Mount Sinai but had not given us the Torah it would suffice for us." Many commentators mentioned that this seems incongruous - what benefit did we receive by being brought to Mount Sinai if not to be given the Torah? According to the principle of the Maharsha, however, it may be that the statement is remarking that coming to Mount Sinai and completing our spiritual perfection in preparation for receiving the Torah is an enormous achievement in and of itself.
In connection with this thought, it is appropriate to cite the words of Harav Moshe Alshikh in his commentary to the Torah (Shemot 19:1): Our Sages taught us in a Midrash that the people of Yisrael had to wait three months before they could receive the Torah just like a woman who converts to Judaism must wait three months before she can wed. Rav Alshikh pointed out, however, that it was no more than fifty days from the time they left Egypt until they received the Torah. Where are the three months?
One might wonder why it was that after G-d appeared at Mount Sinai and declared the Ten Commandments for the people of Yisrael to hear and accept, they had to wait another forty days before receiving the two tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were engraved. Once they had been commanded these misvot, they should have received the tablets immediately. The truth is, however, that the process of receiving the Torah was not completed - the people had succeeded in purifying themselves from the defilement that had sullied them in Egypt, but they still had to grow further to be worthy of becoming a "holy nation and a kingdom of priests." This growth required a waiting period of another forty days. When they would receive the tablets, their sublime connection with G-d and His Torah would be complete. The fifty days from the Exodus until the Revelation at Mount Sinai, added to the forty days until Moshe Rabenu would bring them the tablets from Heaven, equals a period of three months.
According to this, the day of the Revelation at Mount Sinai is called zeman mattan Toratenu, the time that our Torah was given, because that was the time that the people of Yisrael became worthy of hearing G-d speak to them and command them the misvot of the Torah. Even so, the process of becoming the nation of the Torah was not completed until they received the tablets of the Law. We call this festival Shabuot, weeks, since the main thing that we are commemorating on this day is not so much G-d's Revelation on Mount Sinai (which took place the following day), nor is it the anniversary of G-d's giving us the Torah (which was not completed until we received the two Tablets of the Law). We are celebrating, rather, the completion of the process of cleansing our souls during those weeks, readying ourselves to receive the Torah. (Yalkut Yosef)
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