Monday, May 24, 2010

The Scroll of Ruth

Ari Bussel

During Shavuot one reads in the Bible the Scroll of Ruth. Ruth of Moab was not Jewish, yet she is the great grandmother of King David and the matriarch of the Messiah-to-come. After both her husband and brother-in-law passed away, she followed her widowed mother-in-law Naomi to Bethlehem Judea. Naomi and her husband initially moved to Moab to escape the famine in Judea. There they had two sons, each of whom married a Moabian woman. When the two brothers died, leaving behind their brides and widowed mother, Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem Judea.

It was Ruth, the wife of one of the deceased brothers, who implored Naomi to allow her to join, promising that only death would separate them. Ruth said: “for wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you sleep, I will sleep. Your people are my people, and your God is my God.” (Ruth 1:16)

Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem Judea at the start of the harvest of barley (fifty days before the start of the harvest of the wheat). There, according to Jewish custom, the harvesters would leave part of the harvest for poor people, widows and orphans to collect.

Boaz, a major landowner in whose field Ruth was collecting food, married her. The story in the Bible is only four chapters (eighty five sentences) long, and you are urged to read the details. One can draw many personal similarities between the Biblical story and modern day experiences.

Naomi’s family had been away for an extended period of time, long enough to have sons grow and marry. When circumstances changed, there was one home to which to return, Judea. It clearly was not easy for those returning. Many Israelis today—some say 20% or more of Israeli Jews—live in the Diaspora. They have switched the center of life outside of the Land of Israel, yet their identity remains in her stead, and their roots draw their existence from her.

Just last week, at the Israeli Cabinet Meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced a special plan to encourage the return of Israelis who reside abroad. He said: “There are approximately 750,000 Israelis living abroad and our goal is to bring at least 15,000 of them back home per annum. … A certain turning point is currently taking place. Many left Israel due to the absence of possibilities, now some would like to come back since the Israeli economy seems better than others, including those of developed countries. … it is not only right, but worthwhile, to return to the country.”

Like then, now, Israel is the home, the shelter and the family of all Israelis, of all Jewish people. Thus, a Jewish person has the right to return to the land without any burden of proof other than being Jewish. In recent decades Israel has absorbed several major immigration waves, one from the Soviet Union and the other from Ethiopia, with essentially no questions asked.

When the Jews of France felt anti-Semitism persecuting their every step, they escaped and were welcomed to Israel. Recently, Jews in Venezuela feared for their lives and escaped as well, although some stopped along the way in Miami and Spain and remained there. They too were welcomed as will be the Jews of America and Europe, Africa and Australia as the needs arise.

Israel was then, like today, a nation that absorbs new immigrants, and the burden and challenges they face have never been belittled, then or now. Boaz told Ruth, who could not understand why he fancied her and she is “a foreigner,” that he was told all she did for her mother-in-law after her own husband passed away. “And you left your father and mother and the land of your birthplace, and you went to a people you did not know yesterday or before.” Boaz then blesses Ruth “May God pay your acts, and may your salary be whole from God, Lord of Israel, for you came to find refuge under His wings.” (Ruth 2:10-12)

Ruth bore Boaz a son, Oved. Oved was the father of Yishai who was the father of King David.

It is said that the Messiah will be descended from the House of King David.

As I read the Scroll of Ruth, about a non-Jew who was a dedicated human being, loyal and true, I think of the different associations between the Biblical story and our present-day situation. I cannot help but believe we have distanced ourselves so much from that day at Mount Sinai, when we all woke up late, later than the arrival of G-d our Lord, a day that the Torah was given to us for times eternal, that our behavior is truly sinful.

We have reached a point when we doubt our very right to exist, our very history. Israel is our country. It is the same Israel from which Naomi and her husband left for Moab, where a foreign person became part of the Jewish people’s life story and returned to Judea to establish the lineage of the most famous Jewish family in history.

It is the same Judea, Bethlehem and Efrat about which we read in the Bible that today face condemnation by some who believe incorrectly they are in “Occupied Territories.” “Occupied?” Read the Bible, then go visit and you may understand why Jews guard this little piece of land with their lives and are ready to sacrifice their lives for her.

Israel is our very essence, our history and our future, our being, wholeness and oneness. Israel is our connection to G-d the Almighty and defines who we are as a people. She keeps us indivisible, united and indestructible. Lest anyone forget, we must first remember.

May the example Israel sets to the world, values given to her people by the Almighty, deeds of her soldiers and citizens who protect the sanctity of life and everything she gives willingly to benefit the world, be it technological or medical advances, literature and poetry, science and history, continue to forever be a “light unto the nations."

In the series “Postcards from Israel—Postcards from America,” Ari Bussel and Norma Zager invite readers to view and experience an Israel and her politics through their eyes, an Israel visitors rarely discover


This point—and often—counter-point presentation is sprinkled with humor and sadness and attempts to tackle serious and relevant issues of the day. The series began in 2008, appears both in print in the USA and on numerous websites and is followed regularly by readership from around the world.

© “Postcards from Israel—Postcards from America,” May, 2010