Shavuot is the day on which the Jewish people received the Torah from God on Mount Sinai more than 3,300 years ago. This is a holiday to which we have been counting down. Literally.
You see, unlike all the other holidays, the Torah mysteriously does not give a date on which Shavuot is to be observed! The Torah merely tells us to count 49 days from Passover, and then on the 50th day we are to observe the holiday of Shavuot. If you do the math, you’ll find that Shavuot comes on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan.
While there are many beautiful customs observed over the course of the holiday for one day in Israel (two days everywhere else), I would like to focus on the custom of reading the Book of Ruth – a story which truly unites all of us with God and with Israel.
The story of Ruth takes place in the city of Beit Lechem (Bethlehem) in the Land of Israel. During the era of the Judges there was a famine in the land, which forced many to leave for neighboring Moab. Among those who left for Moab were Elimelech and Naomi with their sons, Mahlon and Chilion. Soon afterwards, Mahlon married a Moabite girl named Ruth. Sadly, Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion died, leaving Naomi and Ruth alone and without any family. Naomi decided to move back to Israel and encouraged Ruth to return to her family and remarry.
But Ruth would have none of that. In her words:
“For where you go, I will go. Where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people are my people. Your God is my God. Where you die, I will die.” (Ruth 1:16)
Ruth returned with Naomi to Israel and shortly thereafter married Boaz and thus became the great-grandmother of David, King of Israel.
There are a number of reasons why the Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot. Among them is the fact that the story took place right around the time that Shavuot is celebrated, “at the beginning of the barley harvest.” More significantly, however, is that Shavuot is the day when the Jewish people received the Torah from God through Moses and committed themselves to keeping the mitzvot (God’s commandments) – making it a very appropriate time to read the story of Ruth, who similarly and dramatically pledged her allegiance to God, the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.
Success for the Jewish People can ultimately be found only in the Land of Israel. And that is why it’s so very important to emulate our ancestor Ruth who stood united with the nation of Israel in the Land of Israel.
Chag Sameach – A very happy Shavuot holiday to all of you!