Monday, May 28, 2012

Shavuot and Ruth: Chesed and the Letter of the Law

In today's Huffington Post, a wonderful midrash (interpretation) of the Book of Ruth and why we read the book at Shavuot, discusses an obvious contradiction in pairing the two together.  In Judaism, there can be as many midrashim on one portion of Torah, as there are people reading Torah.  

Rabbi Laura Geller, Senior Rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, California, begins with the following:
It is the anniversary of the giving of Torah at Mt. Sinai. Strange, isn't it, that on the holy day we celebrate the Giving of the Law, we traditionally study a book about breaking the law! We read the Book of Ruth, the most transgressive of the Bible, the book that explicitly defies a Divine command.
 Deuteronomy 23:4-4 says explicitly: "No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted into the congregation of the Lord; none of their descendants even into the 10th generation shall ever be admitted into the congregation of Lord because they did not meet you with food and water after you left Egypt.
Yet the book of Ruth is a story about a Moabite woman who was the great-grandmother of King David, from whose family will come the Messiah. 
After a discussion of the story of Ruth and her many kindnesses, Rabbi Geller asks what would happen to Ruth in America today if she were an illegal immigrant as she was in the story.

I would ask:  What if Ruth was the Lesbian wife of Naomi's daughter.  What if the child she bore, from a donor seed was Oved, father of Jesse, father of King David from whose family will come the Messiah?

 Rabbi Geller concludes that Ruth's acts of kindness transcend the law.  
The Book of Ruth teaches, something that gatekeepers of the law often miss: God wants us to act out of kindness and empathy; God wants us to challenge convention because we see divinity in the faces of other people.
We are given challenges along the road of life.  Moral challenges that test our very souls and our beliefs...our faith.  And yet, within the confines of the strictest laws, Judaism gives us a way to challenge the challenge God, as Abraham did, as Moses did.  It is our heritage.  It is the way we participate in God's creation.

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