05/20/2012 02:52 pm ET Updated Jul 20, 2012

Ruth: Love Within Majesty

"Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi: 'May I go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone who may show me kindness?' And she said to her: 'Go, daughter.'"

וַתֹּאמֶר רוּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּה אֶל-נָעֳמִי, אֵלְכָה-נָּא הַשָּׂדֶה וַאֲלַקֳּטָה בַשִּׁבֳּלִים--אַחַר, אֲשֶׁר אֶמְצָא-חֵן בְּעֵינָיו; וַתֹּאמֶר לָהּ, לְכִי בִתִּי

--Ruth 2:2

Ruth, a Moabite woman, marries the son of Naomi, an Israelite woman who has come to live in Moab because of a famine in the land of Judah. When Naomi's sons and husband die, Naomi decides to go home to Bethlehem. She wants to leave her daughters-in-law behind, but Ruth refuses to return to her family. She pleads with Naomi to let Ruth come with her. Naomi relents and the two walk on together toward Bethlehem, where they will be poor and without protection. Ruth chooses to stay with Naomi out of faith in Naomi's God or out of love for Naomi herself.

This act of chesed from one woman to another is followed by many more acts of chesed. Ruth works hard in the field, gleaning the barley that the harvesters have dropped, so that Naomi will have something to eat. While she is there, Boaz, a wealthy landowner and kinsman of Naomi, notices her and speaks kindly to her. Ruth tells Naomi what has happened, and Naomi conceives the plan that Ruth and Boaz should marry. Naomi tells Ruth to dress in fine clothes and anoint herself, then lie down on the threshing floor where Boaz is sleeping. When Boaz awakes, Ruth asks him to act as a "redeeming kinsman," and perform a levirate marriage with her (see day 42). Boaz arranges a meeting of the town elders and obtains permission to marry Ruth. The people bless Ruth, and in time she gives birth to a son, Oved, who is the grandfather of King David.

The day of chesed shebe'malkhut begins the week prior to the holiday of Shavuot, and Ruth's story is traditionally read in synagogues on Shavuot because of her dedication to the Jewish people. Ruth is a powerful force for chesed, first in her relationship with Naomi and later in her connection to Boaz. The beginning of Ruth Rabbah, a midrashic work, tells us that the entire book of Ruth was written to show how great is the reward for doing acts of chesed. Yet Ruth's story has an even deeper message. The story of King David and of the Messiah must begin with an act of kindness. Ruth is chesed shebe'malkhut -- the love inside the kingdom, the love of the Divine Presence, the love that flows through the whole world. We are most like Ruth when we do gemilut chasadim (acts of lovingkindness) for the sake of increasing God's presence in the world.

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