We will soon be celebrating Shavuot and Matan Torah, the spiritual birth of our people. My esteemed religious leader, Rabbi Aaron Raskin, distinguishes between Passover, the physical birth of Am Yisrael, and Shavuot, our spiritual birth.
As a Jewish woman, when I think of Shavuot I automatically equate the holiday with Ruth, the great grandmother of King David. It is Ruth who inspires all Jews, especially the women, to be the best version of themselves. Shavuot reminds us to be proud of our womanhood.
Ruth’s story is set in the latter period of the melachim, 50-100 years before King David’s birth. It was a time of turmoil, lawlessness, and volatility.
The Zohar teaches that we each have a spark of Gdliness. Our spark is our soul, our special essence that we receive from Hashem. That means our best selves, or best versions of ourselves, are already within each of us. We just have to develop them to reach our potential.
How was Ruth the best version of herself?
Ruth’s essence was revealed in her loving-kindness, respect, loyalty, and other merits shown to her mother-in-law (MIL), Naomi.
Naomi tested both daughters-in-law when her husband and sons died. She heard the famine was over and decided to leave Moav and return to Bethlehem. Orpah gave in to Naomi’s urging to take leave of her on the third time “turn back my daughters” (1:12), paralleling the three times a would-be convert is discouraged. Ruth, on the other hand, proved her desire to become a Jew was genuine.
Once in Eretz Yisrael, Ruth lovingly went to the fields to get food for Naomi and was the epitome of modesty at all times.
Ruth taught Jews, particularly Jewish women, how to be the best versions of themselves. We can also look to Ruth as the model daughter-in-law (DIL).
What made Ruth an inspirational DIL? What characteristics can a DIL foster to be her best self, and form a strong and loving relationship with her in-laws?
The devotion that developed between Naomi (MIL) and Ruth (DIL) was unique and positive. The connection was nearly magical. Naomi had been married to Elimelech, a prominent man; Ruth was a Moavite princess. Yet, when the two women appeared in Eretz Yisrael, they were both poor, and Naomi was downtrodden and bitter. Ruth did not hesitate to go out to glean in the fields and gather food for Naomi and herself. Ruth knew she must find sustenance for herself and her MIL, who was too old to glean. Ruth strengthened herself and was able to overcome her fears and act despite her dire circumstances.
As we read the megilla, derech eretz (respect) was repeatedly the number one trait that Ruth displayed to her MIL. First, Ruth demonstrated the ultimate respect by accompanying Ruth back to Beit Lechem. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your Gd my Gd.” (1:16). The subsequent act of respect Ruth exhibits is when she heads to the fields to glean the grain left by the harvesters, to feed Naomi. She also obeys Naomi when Naomi develops a plan for Boaz, a close relative and “kinsman redeemer,” to take Ruth as his wife.
The middot that follow closely after respect are strength, vulnerability, and courage. Psychologists note that vulnerability is frequently associated with courage. Being vulnerable means being susceptible, exposed, unprotected. Ruth exhibited these behaviors when she insisted on staying with Ruth, “she was determined to go” (1:18). These three virtues are highlighted throughout the four chapters of the megillah.
Commentators say that Ruth was exhilarated when she reached Israel, in spite of being out of her comfort zone. She stretched herself, and was rewarded with a kind and wonderful husband, and with being the ancestress to the Davidic (messianic) line.
It takes this triad of qualities, in addition to others listed above (derech eretz), and below (honesty, authenticity, and the ability to communicate), to be a successful DIL. It can be frightening, challenging, and even unnatural for a bride to assume the responsibility of being a daughter to a couple one barely knows or perhaps met a year ago. Still, how gratifying is it when a genuine bond emerges between a
DIL and MIL?!
Ruth was also honest and authentic. She refused to return to her father’s home of idol worship, and converted to Judaism, dedicating her life to doing good for others.
Finally, Naomi and Ruth always kept their lines of communication open, thereby building a strong and loving relationship.
Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach. Her coaching specialties include life, career,
and dating coaching. Ellen can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org