This year on Shavuot, as on every Shavuot, Ashkenazic Jews read Megillat Rut. The Megillah contains the story of a woman who accepted the Torah and converted from being a Moavi to a member of Klal Yisrael. This is symbolic of our own conversion from slaves to Hashem’s nation when we accepted the Torah at Har Sinai, on the date which we now celebrate as Shavuot.
If we look more deeply into the Megillah, it seems to have a very weak connection to Shavuot. The story of Rut’s conversion is a lesser theme of the Megillah. In fact, when exactly Rut’s conversion occurred is a matter of dispute between the Zohar and the Gemara! This demonstrates that the conversion has a less than pivotal role in the story. The majority of the Megillah, rather, revolves around Rut and Naomi’s emotional and economic journey from poverty to prosperity. Rut’s interaction and subsequent marriage to Boaz lifts both Rut and Naomi from the poor class and allows them to gain societal status. So why is it that we read Megillat Rut on Shavuot? Surely there are other, more dramatic, episodes of converts’ conversions throughout Judaic liturgy!
We can also question the very nature of Shavuot as we celebrate it. Why does Shavuot merit “Aliyah LeRegel,” the pilgrimage of Jews in Eretz Yisrael to the Beit HaMikdash? It makes sense to make such a pilgrimage on Pesach, for it is the holiday on which we express our relationship to our Redeemer. Sukkot is also a logical time to visit the Beit HaMikdash, for it is the holiday on which we recognize the role of HaKadosh Baruch Hu as our Protector and Sustainer. But Shavuot is simply an anniversary (albeit a crucial one) of the receiving of Torah. There are other anniversaries that we commemorate (such as Chanukah and Purim) but which are not Regalim. What is special about Shavuot that it deserves to be elevated to the status of Regel?
The difference between Shavuot and other significant events in Jewish history is the impact it had on the future of all Jews. Chanukah, while crucial in allowing Judaism to exist today, does not have a daily impact on our lives. Purim, as well, does not manifest itself within our day-to-day actions. But the Torah we received on Shavuot is the very essence of our existence. All of our actions are dictated by this one crucial event. The Sinai experience transformed us into a nation with a unique bond to our Creator, thereby changing us forever.
It is this transition that is seen in Megillat Rut. Rut was a poor widow with little prospect of rising from her poverty. Yet her embrace of Torah and its values gave her a new lease on life. She was able to redefine her existence and mother the Davidic dynasty. Our encounter with Hashem, similar to Rut’s encounter with Hashem, has had very similar ramifications including a complete change in the way we live our lives. Thus, Rut’s story perfectly mirrors our receiving the Torah and is a fitting installment in our Shavuot Tefillah.
-Adapted from a Dvar Torah by Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer