16 May 2010

"Thoughts on the Book of Ruth"

by Roy S. Neuberger
Dear Friends:

What is it about the Book of Ruth?

The story is so understated!

"And it happened in the days when the judges judged.... A man went from Bais-Lechem in Judah to sojourn in the fields of Moab, he, his wife and his two sons...."

Such plain words, and through these words the earth-shaking drama of King David unfolds. Beneath these words the heartbeat of the Messiah can be heard, throbbing ... throbbing ... throbbing! Beneath these words "the G-d of Glory thunders, G-d is upon vast waters. The voice of G-d is in power! The voice of G-d is in majesty. The voice of G-d breaks the cedars, G-d shatters the cedars of Lebanon!" (Psalm 29)

Such quiet and simple words ... such awesome power!

Can you imagine that King David could come from Moab, the most depraved nation, founded in unspeakable shame and ignominy!

"An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the congregation of G-d ... to eternity... They did not greet you with bread and water on the road... and he hired against you Balaam son of Peor ... to curse you." (Deuteronomy 23:4)

"No other people are as abhorred by Israel as the two nations of Ammon and Moab, and especially Moab." (Book of Our Heritage, Page 820) The children of Lot, the family of Our Father Abraham, and yet .... they hate us. "For the nation to whom they owe their very existence they had no mercy!" (Book of Our Heritage, Page 822)

From this depraved nation comes the seed of the Messiah?

This is the LAST place you would look!

How is it possible?

"Who is like Hashem, our G-d, Who is enthroned on high, yet deigns to look upon the heaven and earth! He raises the needy from the dust, from the trash heap He lifts the destitute to seat them with nobles. He transforms the barren wife into a glad mother of children...." (Psalm 113)

"You are eternally mighty, G-d, You revive the dead...! (Shemoneh Esreh)

I don't know if we take seriously how enmeshed we are in the impurity of Exile. We don't even begin to realize how far away we are from the world of sanctity in which the Holy Temple existed, a world of purity in which the King of the Universe was accessible to us. We are so buried in materialism that we find it extremely difficult even to believe there could ever be a world of total purity and sanctity, let alone that we could live in it. Can we even imagine the Garden of Eden? It is a fairy tale to us! And yet that is exactly how G-d created the universe, and that is exactly how He desired that it should exist, in that condition of absolute purity and allegiance to His will.

My friends, there must be a way to get from here to there! There must be a way to get from Exile to the perfect world that G-d created and that we have since ruined!

It would seem that the Messiah's task is to bring us from here to there. And that perhaps is a clue to the meaning of the Book of Ruth, for part of King David himself comes from that utter depravity called Moab.

That is one part of King David. The other part is Boaz. Who is Boaz?

Boaz was the leading sage of his generation. (Ruth Rabbah 5:15) His name means "in him there was strength," because he mastered his evil inclination. (Tikkunei Zohar 31:75b)

King David came from Ruth and he came from Boaz. We can understand Boaz, but why Ruth? Why does the Messiah have to come from a nation which epitomizes the utter depths of impurity?

Well, then, why did the Children of Israel have to come out of Egypt, from the utter depths of the forty-ninth level of impurity? Why? Because that's where we were! If we were to come out at all, that's where we had to come from! G-d is Av ha Rachaman, the Father of Mercy! He promises that He is going to send "goail livnai bnaihem l'ma'an shmo b'ahava" .... A Redeemer to their children's children, for His Name's sake, with love." (Shemoneh Esreh)

"A person should have two pieces of paper, one in each pocket.... On one of them [is written] 'The world was created for me,' and on the other, 'I am dust and ashes.'" (Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshiska)

Our Father Abraham was a shepherd. Our Father Isaac was a shepherd. Our Father Jacob was a shepherd. Our Teacher Moses was a shepherd. King David was a shepherd! It is not easy being a shepherd! "By day scorching heat consumed me, and frost by night. My sleep drifted from my eyes!" (Genesis 31:40)

G-d sent Fathers to the Jewish People who would shepherd us with a spirit of self sacrifice! G-d Himself entered Exile with us! "I shall descend with you to Egypt." (Genesis 46:4) Do you think that someone who has not felt the impurity can bring the children out? Will He send someone to take us out who has not been in Exile himself?

Unless the redeemer has himself been in Exile, unless he himself has felt the utter emptiness, the torture and depravity, the hopelessness, how can he lead his brethren out? How can he speak the language of those who still wallow in the quicksand?

So King David HAD to come from Moab, and this is the amazing message from the Book of Ruth!

"And so, Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife, and he came to her. G-d let her conceive and she bore a son. And the women said to Naomi, 'Blessed is G-d Who has not left you without a redeemer today! May his name be famous in Israel. He will become your life-restorer, to sustain your old age; for your daughter in law, who loves you, has borne him, and she is better to you than seven sons!'" (Ruth 4:13-15)

From the darkness we emerge in triumph, and from the depth we rise! "Min ha maitzar ... From the straits did I call upon G-d and G-d answered me with expensiveness. G-d is with me; I have no fear!" (Psalm 118)

The darker the night, the brighter the dawn! On Shavuos we learn through the night, and in that merit may we soon see the everlasting dawn of the coming of the Messiah, the rebuilding of the Holy Temple and the day when the King of the Universe will restore his Presence to Zion! What a day that will be! The world will be renewed, all impurity will be removed forever and we will rejoice in everlasting unity with the Holy Torah in the Land of our Fathers.

May G-d send the Redeemer soon in our days, "l'ma'an shmo b'ahava," for the sake of His Name, with love."

Roy S. Neuberger