Megillat Rut: A Story of Chesed by Yaakov Schiff


Every year on Shavuot Ashkenazic Jews read Megillat Rut. We read about Elimelech and Naomi, about Rut and Orpah, about Rut’s active choice to follow her widowed mother-in-law, and about her eventual reward by way of the benevolent Go’el, Boaz.

This is a beautiful episode, but every year, we are faced with a perplexing difficulty: Megillat Rut seems to be puzzlingly simplistic. One may easily read the four Perakim of this Sefer and understand the Peshat more or less completely, yet come away with little to no understanding as to the purpose of this Sefer in Tanach, let alone why it is read every year on Shavuot. What is Megillat Rut but a nice story about the lives of a few obscure characters? What real relevance does this narrative bear to the rest of Tanach other than its mention of the lineage of David HaMelech at the very end of the sefer? What special message lies in this Megillah that has any special significance relative to Zeman Matan Torateinu? There seems to be nothing extraordinary detailed in these Pesukim; there is only a tale of essentially ordinary people acting in a just and proper manner. Indeed, Rav Zeira, as quoted in the Midrash Rabbah on Megillat Rut, states that this Megillah contains neither purity nor impurity and teaches neither about any Issur nor Heter, neither prohibition nor permission; in fact, the only reason why this Megillah was even written, he claims, was to teach about the reward given to Gomlei Chasadim, those who do acts of kindness. Can this truly be all that Megillat Rut is about? Is this really reason enough to include it as one of the Sifrei Kodesh of Tanach—and to feature it prominently as a special part of our Shavuot experience?

In order to arrive at an answer to these questions, one need not look any further than this week’s Parashah, Parashat Naso. There are several important topics discussed in Naso, from the laws pertaining to Sotah to the special priestly blessing, the Birkat Kohanim. Yet, among all of these topics, there is one topic that stands out, one that takes up a very large part of the Parashah. This, of course, is the section detailing the Korbanot brought by the Nissi’im, the heads of each tribe, at the Chanukat HaMishkan, the dedication of the Mishkan. The reason why this portion is so lengthy is because the Torah details every single Korban individually, despite the fact that every Korban is exactly the same as the others. The question has often been asked why this might be; why should the Torah go out of its way to mention the same gift twelve times over? We know that the Torah does not waste words.  One celebrated answer that has been given is that every Nassi purposely chooses to make the same exact contribution as all the others who had come before him. Why? Simply because they all understand that if one Nassi is to offer more than the Nassi who came before him, he would compel all of the Nissi’im after him to continue raising the standard, thereby forcing the final Nassi to contribute an enormous amount of money! Therefore, out of regard for his fellow leaders, each Nassi chooses to give the same exact offering as the Nassi before him. Now, one might easily remark, was that really so special an occurrence that the Torah should have to spend so many seemingly extra words on it?’ Answers HaKadosh Boruch Hu: ‘Why, absolutely!’ The Torah mentions every single Nassi’s Korban individually just to teach us the extraordinary value of simple, everyday Chesed.

Keeping this in mind, one may now respond with resounding certainty to the questions raised earlier about the significance of Megillat Rut. The fundamental objective of Megillat Rut is indeed no more or less than teaching the value of, and the reward given for, Gemilut Chasadim; the primary theme of this Sefer, central and crucial to its message, is simply normal, everyday Chesed. For all its seeming simplicity, Megillat Rut conveys a remarkable lesson about the power of everyday actions, and of the importance and significance of acting “Lifnim MeShurat HaDin”, above and beyond the letter of the law. What emerges from this story is a message not only worthy in and of itself, but essential to all of Torah and Yahadut. The reader of this Megillah is left with an inspiring, astounding message that these everyday righteous actions are in fact the essence of Torah and Yahadut. As Rabbi Chaneles explained in the name of Rav Taragin of Yeshivat Har Etzion, the ideals that we as Jews pursue do not require us to act as “superhumans,” but rather as “super-humans,” acting in a just and proper manner.

Specifically on Chag Shavuot, when we celebrate the anniversary of Matan Torah, it is important that we hear Megillat Rut to remind us that Yahadut is not all about Ma’amad Har Sinai and Gilui Shechina, but about regular, everyday Midat Chasidut and Chesed. Our job is Chesed and Ma’asim Tovim; in the merit of our actions, Hashem will provide the Nissim and Niflaot. 

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