Even the small, routine acts of kindness can be elevated and made equal to the greatest acts of self sacrifice.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week we will be celebrating the holiday of Shavuot. Shavuot is the day we received the Torah at Mount Sinai, 50 days after leaving Egypt.
In addition to the general theme of Torah on Shavuot, there is also the theme of Ruth – the Moabite princess who converted to Judaism. The reason Ruth is an important part of Shavuot is because the Jewish people, too, were considered to be like converts when they accepted the Torah on Shavuot,. Hence, a theme of conversion, or, more precisely, commitment, to Torah is in order. Ruth excelled in that area.
As part of our recognizing Ruth, the Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot. The story opens with Ruth, a Moabite princess, who was the daughter-in-law of the Jewish Naomi. Naomi’s husband Elimelech and their two sons, Machlon and Kilyon, were living in the land of Moab, just across the Dead Sea, in Jordan.
Sadly, Elimelech, Machlon, and Kilyon all died. Following this tragedy, Naomi decided to leave Moab and return to the Land of Israel, where she was born. Her daughter-in law, Ruth, insisted on going with her.
Widowed and penniless, they went to the Land of Israel. Searching for food and charity, Ruth happened upon a field belonging to Boaz, who was a relative of the late Elimelech (Ruth’s former father-in-law). Boaz was one of the leaders of the Jewish people at the time. When Boaz heard that a relative of his was seeking food, he made sure to provide Ruth with whatever she and Naomi needed to live on.
When Boaz finally met Ruth, he said, “I have been told all that you have done for your mother-in-law…and that you left your mother and father and your birthplace and came here, to a nation that you did not know.” (Ruth 2:11).
The commentators explain that in between the lines of these words, Boaz was hinting to Ruth that she would be the mother of royalty. In the merit of these two acts of kindness, sticking with her mother-in-law by immigrating to the Land of Israel and converting to Judaism, she would be the forerunner of King David, King Solomon and, by extension, the Messiah.
We are told that Boaz, who eventually married Ruth, mentioned her two deeds in this specific order: First, her loyalty to Naomi, and then converting to the Hebrew faith. This seems to imply that the first act of kindness is equal to her second act of kindness. In other words, both acts together earned her the merit of her great reward.
The question is asked: Are these two acts of kindness really on equal footing? One was an incredible act of self-sacrifice. She gave up the life of a princess for the life of a poor widow in a foreign land. She left the Moabite culture and embraced the Jewish religion. This was something completely unheard of, if not outright insane. Imagine! Ruth went from life in the palace to begging for grain in a foreign field!
Her other act was certainly special, but it was a bit more “routine”. Plenty of good women remain loyal to their mothers-in-law even after the death of their husbands. Why did this act earn her so much merit?
It’s explained that even the small and “routine” acts of kindness can be elevated and made equal to the greatest acts of self sacrifice. Ruth’s sincerity in everything she did elevated her every act. As they say, it’s not the quantity, but the quality.
As we approach Shavuot and celebrate the acceptance of the Torah, let us remind ourselves that in God’s eyes, every act of kindness is special. We have to make sure to perform all acts of kindness with sincerity and devotion so that we, too, will merit greater rewards than expected.