One of the special features of the wonderful Yom Tov of Shavuos is the reading of Megillas Rus. While it is a fascinating and delightful story, its linkage to the celebration of matan Torah, the giving of the Torah, is not at all obvious. Why we read Megillas Esther on Purim is a slam-dunk for it’s the very story of Purim. So too, Eicha, Lamentations, on Tisha b’Av, for it is the mournful dirge of the destruction of Yerushalayim and the Temple. But the megillah of Rus doesn’t mention the Torah at all and it seems to be disconnected from the Shavuos spirit.
One school of thought is that Shavuos is the yahrzeit of Dovid HaMelech. Therefore, we lein Megillas Rus which reveals to us the wonderful beginnings of Dovid HaMelech. But there is another reason given which is more central to the very essence of Shavuos. In Rus Rabbah, the question is asked, “HaMegillah hazeh ein bo lo issur v’heter, v’lo tumah v’taharah. Umipnei mah bah? L’lamedcha schar gadol shel gomlei chasodim – This megillah does not contain information about that which is prohibited or permitted, that which is ritually contaminated of pure. If so, why is it taught to us? To teach us the great reward for acts of kindness.” The megillah is replete with heroic kindness. The dedication of Rus and Orpah to their mother-in-law Naomi after the death of their husbands, Machlon and Kilyon, the kindness of Boaz to the Moabite convert Rus; these are hallmarks of Megillas Rus.
This is the reason why we read Rus on Shavuos – to accentuate one of the core essences of the Torah HaKedoshah which is chesed. Indeed, the Medrash at the very beginning of the Torah says that the Torah opens with an act of kindness and closes with an act of kindness. Namely, it starts with Hashem clothing Adam and Chava when they were naked (besides the creation of the entire world which is the most monumental act of kindness. As it says, “Olam chesed yiboneh.”), and it finishes with an act of kindness when Hashem Himself buries Moshe Rabbeinu, to teach us that the entire Torah is full of chesed. This is why we say the phrase Toras chesed in Eishes Chayil for the Torah is a compendium of kindness.
Thus, one of the great lessons of Shavuos is for us to reaffirm our commitment to be a kind, loving people. Indeed, it is one of the three national traits that mark a person as a Torah Jew: rachmonim, baishonim, v’gomlei chasodim, we are a people who are compassionate, we have a sense of shame, and we do acts of kindness. Indeed, the word gever, which means a man and also is the Hebrew word for strength, is an acronym of rachmonim, baishonim, v’gomlei chasadim!
There is a scary thought shared in the sefer Chemdas Eliyahu. He cites the Gemara which asks a historical question. The First Temple was destroyed because we were guilty of three cardinal sins, idolatry, immortally, and bloodshed. However, during the time of the Second Temple, we had Torah, mitzvos, and kindness. So therefore, why was the Second Temple destroyed? The Gemara gives the grim answer: we were awash in the sin of sinas chinam, senseless hatred for each other. The Chemdas Eliyahu comments about the phenomena that it is possible for us to be saturated with kindness and at the same time to be guilty of sinas chinam. This points to a sobering reality. We are ready to do plenty of kindnesses on our own terms. Still, it isn’t necessarily so that loving kindness permeates our very beings. For if that would be true, it would be virtually impossible for us at the same time to be guilty of sinas chinam. This is a tough question which we need to confront about ourselves. Is much of the kindness that we do is truly for others or is it more about feeling good about ourselves or for our own aggrandizement? When Rabbi Akiva said, “V’ahavta l’rei-acha k’mocha; Zeh klal gadol baTorah – Love your fellow man as you love yourself. This is a great principle of the Torah,” he was emphasizing this battle against being self-centered.
This Shavuos, let’s turn our thoughts to waging this all-important battle against our own self-centeredness and in that merit may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, happiness, and everything wonderful.
(To be continued)
Transcribed and edited by Shelley Zeitlin.