for spreading some pre-Shavuot wisdom. This excerpt was taken from an essay featured in
edited by Rabbi Dr. Stu Halpern.
By telling the story of King David’s genealogy through the Book of Ruth, the text is offering a nuanced framework for thinking about our own history, both national and familial. As psychologist Dr. Lisa Miller has demonstrated (The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving (New York: Picador, 2015), 291), the ability for families to articulate their struggles and challenges builds resilience among their members.
Through the tale of a foreign, marginalized widow, whose personal risk mirrors that of other biblical mothers, we are reminded of the sacrifices that sustain the continuity of the Jewish people. We are reminded of the ability of kindness to heal. And we are reminded of the power of family, both biological and beyond. Ruth’s story inspires us to meet the challenges of our own circumstances. Through the tale of communal openness to a disconnected stranger, we are given the keys to redemption. After all, it is the eventual offspring of Lot’s daughter, Rachel and Leah, Tamar, and Ruth, with a family bloodline of struggle, alienation, and foreignness, coupled with selfless dedication to continuity, who is uniquely suited to lead the Children of Israel and bring the nations of the world closer to God. Like Moses, whose virtues and leadership abilities were developed through his fractured, foreign experiences in both Egypt and Midian, Ruth too embodies the marginal figure’s messianic capabilities.
It is through our own striving to survive and flourish alongside our imperfections, struggles, and feelings of disconnectedness that we will eventually repair a fractured world.
“...in the end, Ruth reminds us that nothing is more beautiful than friendship, that grace begets grace, that blessing flourishes in the place between memory and hope, that light shines most from broken vessels. What else is the Messiah about?” (Nehemiah Polen, “Dark Ladies and Redemptive Compassion: Ruth and the Messianic Lineage in Judaism,” in Scrolls of Love: Ruth and the Song of Songs, ed. Peter S. Hawkins and Lesleigh Cushing Stahlberg (New York: Fordham University Press, 2006), 74).
From: “It’s in the Gene(alogy): Family, Storytelling, and Salvation,”Gleanings: Reflections on Ruth, Stuart Halpern, ed., Yeshiva University / Maggid Books, Jerusalem, 2019
Rabbi Dr. Stu Halpern is Senior Advisor to the Provost of Yeshiva University and is responsible for developing interdisciplinary educational and communal initiatives. He has edited 15 books, including Books of the People: Revisiting Classic Works of Jewish Thought, and has lectured in adult Jewish educational settings across the U.S.
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