Rus. A Lesson In Faith And Courage

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Rus. A Lesson In Faith And Courage

By Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum

The story of Rus never fails to amaze me. A simple woman follows Naomi back home and converts to Yiddishkeit. And what does she receive in return? She gets the most unbelievable reward. She is zoche to have Dovid Hamelech coming from her. Daniel, Chanania, Mishoel and Azaria were also her descendants. Furthermore, she was also zoche that from her will eventually come Melech Hamoshiach. the ultimate reward that one could ever wish for. This is no small-time reward! By the way, her grandson Yishai, Dovid’s father, is one of the four people the Gemorah cites as never having even committed one sin. He was nicknamed ygp - because he died only because of Adam’s sin with the snake.
This raises a most difficult question. Throughout the centuries, there surely were thousands of converts to Yiddishkeit, yet we don’t find much mention of them at all. Nor do we find any of them meriting such an unbelievably great reward because of their conversion. Certainly we don’t find them deserving of the crown. Why is Rus any different? Why is she singled out for such a great reward for her conversion. After all, can there be a greater reward than Melech Hamoshiach himself! It also seems a little odd that malchus Yisroel should have its origin tainted with foreign Moavi blood. The Moavi nation caused the Jews plenty of trouble in the midbar and then again when they refused to give us food and water when they passed by. She came from Bolok, one of our arch-enemies, who had caused many problems for us. Who was this strange convert that was able to infiltrate the highest level of Klal Yisroel, into the house of royalty itself? Getting such a great reward just for a simple conversion is most difficult to comprehend!
In order to fully understand this strange phenomenon, let us examine the circumstances surrounding her conversion. Rus was the daughter of Eglon Melech Moav (some say she was a granddaughter). She was a princess. She was next in line to become queen. Instead of remaining home in the luxury and comfort of her father’s palace, she follows a poor, penniless broken woman. Her own husband died. There was no motivation of love. Nomi was penniless. There was no motivation of money. In fact, she was sacrificing her own great glorious future. She was giving up her rights to queendom.
What does she see in Yiddishkeit? Only death. Only tragedy. A life of sadness. A life of pain and suffering. Nomi’s husband is dead. Machlon and Kilyon are dead. Nomi herself is turned from riches to rags. All she ever sees is sorrow and pain. All she sees is tragedy and suffering. Why should she want to become a Jewess? She has a life of riches, honor and royalty waiting for her back home! Instead she accepts poverty. She relinquishes her rights to the throne, all because she is convinced of the real truth. What a great and amazing sacrifice! What unbelievable character . We don’t find people converting to Yiddishkeit when the chips are down. There were no converts during the Holocaust. When things are going badly, nobody wants to become a Jew. Certainly Rus was aware of the ravaging hunger that had caused her mother-in-law Nomi to run away from Bais Lechem. Eretz Yisroel was no tourist attraction.
She also must have been informed and well aware of the unwelcome attitude Jews took to converts from her nation, Moav. A man no matter how sincere his motive, was not given a royal welcome. Even if he was the finest and nicest most honest man around, he would still not be permitted to marry a Jewess- 'd ldwa ia`ene ipenr `ai `l. The Torah absolutely forbids a Moavi from intermarring into Klal Yisroel. While he could convert and become a Jew, he could only marry another convert. And there are no exceptions! Surely she couldn’t have been impressed with such racism toward her race!
Many leading Rabbis claimed that the Biblical prohibition of intermaRRIGE included women as well. There was absolutely no precedent to follow. No Moavi woman had ever married a Jew. She was the first test case. She would have to undergo strong court battles to be accepted. She certainly would be met with ridicule and derision, even possible harassment. (Generations later, Dovid still suffered from this harassment and derision.) She certainly couldn’t expect any royal welcome or ten-gun salute. The daughters of Moav had already caused the Jews enough trouble in the midbar by enticing them with z’nus. Twenty-four thousand Jews died in a plague on their account. No wonder many Jews resented them and probably thought they had a legitimate right to totally reject even their women. Hadn’t everybody refused to offer the Jews food and water as they were passing by on their way into Eretz Yisroel? The women hadn’t acted any better than the men. The gemorrah finds an excuse for the women by stating that going out to feed others is only a man’s obligation and not a woman’s. Not everybody accepted this reasoning.
Even thogh a female Moavi was permitted to enter into the folds of Klal Yisroel certainly no one would marry her. Who wants to get himself messed up in a rabbinical dispute? Who would want to get involved in a problematic and doubtful situation? How would she ever find a willing mate? She had too many strikes against her. Her personal genealogy stemmed from Eglon and Bolok, two terrible reshoim that the Jews had killed. Anybody who would check her ancestry would certainly run the other way. Who needs problems? Who wants to be treated like a reject? Who needs all these troubles?
She could return to her father’s palace and be wined and dined in royalty. Religion? She could still remain religious in her own home. Who stopped her? Basya, Pharoh’s daughter, had learned to cope with these problems when she converted. Surely her father would allow her to have an extra set of kosher dishes. He could afford it! What don’t you do for a daughter, even if you believe she has gone astray. There’s always hope she’ll wise up and drop her foolish idealism.
Let’s take a look for a moment how the Jews treated her family. It was a shofet by the name of Eihud, who had sneakily murdered her own father (or grandfather) Eglon, in the privacy of his own palace and then escaped with his life. She should have been filled with contempt and hatred for the people who were guilty of the murder of her father!
Nomi put it to her straight. She withheld no punches. Judaism requires full disclosure of all details. It’s not a religion looking for converts.In fact, our chachomim warn us that converts are actually thorns in our sides. Who wants a pain in his side? Rus must be given all the facts before she can be accepted as a true convert. It wasn’t like today’s Reform rabbis that give you an instant conversion kit and for an extra $25 you get a gold certificate along with it. Nomi paints in vivid detail all the difficulties faced by a Jew. There are 613 mitzvos. Her entire social life would be destroyed. She couldn’t go to any theaters. No swimming at mixed beaches. No membership at prestigious private social clubs. Her menu would be restricted. All the delicious dishes she was so used to eating back home were out. She couldn’t even eat in her own parents’ home. No working or even riding on Shabbos. Nearly all her great enjoyments and pleasures in life would be eliminated. They are against the Jewish lifestyle. A Jew lives a totally different life. There are 365 negative commandments altogether. How would she ever be able to keep so many?
And woe to her if she transgresses just one of them. The punishments are very harsh. You get a hard lashing for intentionally eating even the tiniest bug. For drinking a glass of water on Yom Kippur or eating a small piece of bread on Pesach, the penalty is death by G-d. Eating a scrumptious meal at her parents’ home could even bring death, all depending on the ingredients it contained. Even intentionally lighting a match on Shabbos can get you stoned to death. What tough, brutal and harsh punishments for such seemingly simple offenses. It was serious business. Even if absolutely no one saw you transgressing a law, and the court could not punish you, G-d would eventually catch up with you, and give you what you deserve. There was absolutely no hiding from Him. You can’t get away with anything. Even death doesn’t solve or end all problems. There are special cemeteries for those who are killed by the court. You can’t even be buried near your loved ones. This is a scary situation. No, it’s not easy to be a Jew! And for what?
Every nation hates the Jews. You are looked down upon by everyone. You are downtrodden and despised. You want to join a nice fancy health club and they turn you down because you’re a Jew. Who needs it? Who wants it? Go home and live it up! Who needs this entire mess? Why look for problems?
Yet she is stubborn. Unbending. Unyielding. Nothing in the world can stop her. All Nomi’s arguments fall on deaf ears. She doesn’t want honor. She doesn’t want glory. She doesn’t want luxury. She doesn’t even want to be a queen. All she wants is to be a Jew. She’d rather live a life of poverty and misery and serve the real G-d. Queen? King? Palace? She’s just not interested. She wants the truth. She wants to live her life the way the Torah teaches it. Worldly pleasures are profane. She wants the real thing! She is very persistent, so she finally makes it. The Bais Din, in a violent session rules in her favor. zia`en `le ia`n. She’s exhilarated. She won! The ruling would still be under attack many years later. After all, if we follow their reasoning then Edomi women should also be included. Why not zinec` `le inec`
And then miracle upon miracle. She does find favor in someone’s eyes. The great and famous Jewish leader, Boaz, suddenly becomes a widower. He decides that it is obligatory for him to marry this poor convert because of his own family ties to Nomi. Evidently he must see in her something nobody else takes notice of. He had watched her picking up some grain from the ground, and had taken notice of her great tznius, in the way she bent down. Just a little clue, but for Boaz it says enough. Her other relatives (Ploni Almoni,) refuse to marry her. They’d rather not get involved. Not everybody accepts the court’s arguments. There are underground rumors that the verdict was given improperly.
The grand wedding is celebrated, despite much whispering and undercurrents of disapproval. The medrash tells us that on their wedding night Boaz was 300 years old, certainly no spring chicken. The medrash adds that Rus had no womb, and therefore her chances of bearing children were nil! No wonder people saw the wedding as an outrageous nonsense and an exercise in silliness. Little could they have imagined how wrong they were. It was purely L’shem shomayim. There was no ulterior motive! That very same night, as soon as the wedding was over, Boaz mysteriously dies. Many see in this a clear message. They see it as a vindication of their charges. It must be the Heavenly retribution for having married Rus. After all, G-d is very harsh. Little did he or she realize that it was on this night she conceived, and Boaz’s task on this world was accomplished.
Malchus Bais Dovid is born!
Rus’s dreams are now totally shattered! What had she done wrong to deserve this terrible harsh punishment? She had gone through enough tragedy. Her first husband, Machlon, had died a young man. Now her second husband dies on her wedding night. What greater tragedy can there be? Is there really a G-d? If so, then where is He? How broken Rus must have felt. Enough! Go home! Why be a Jew? Nobody wanted her anyway! Even G-d seemed to reject her! But she persists. Her love for the truth has still not faltered. Her faith and trust in G-d remain unshattered. She still believes. Nothing can dampen her love. Nothing can destroy her belief. She remains forever faithful to Hashem. She abandons nothing. She strengthens herself more than ever. She passed Hashem’s test with flying colors! Do you know of another person that would convert under similar conditions? Someone willing to give up all worldly pleasures in exchange for degradation and suffering? Can you possibly find a more noble woman than her?
Chazal tell us that Hashem never withholds a reward due any creature. Even fish, animals and birds get their due reward. The donkey was duly rewarded for carrying out our heavy loads from Mitzrayim. The bird in Noach’s ark was blessed with eternal life for not wanting to trouble Noach to feed it. How much more so are humans rewarded for their good deeds. Nevuchadnetzar harosho, received three generations of kings for a mere three steps that he took for kovod shomayim. For just four tears that Orpoh shed as she left her mother-in-law Nomi, she was rewarded with four great giant warriors. Even the evil Achov was given 22 years of kingdom because he showed honor to the Torah, which is written with 22 letters.
Actually, Rus too, was zoche to be guided in the right path in return for her own father’s single act in G-d’s honor. All he did was stand up when Eihud told him that he wished to read him a message from Hashem. Even this simple one little action could not go unrewarded. Absolutely nothing goes unrewarded. Bolok, from whom she descended, also had to get his reward for the 42 korbonos which he was makriv to Hashem. Certainly Rus’s own willingness to give up a life of royalty and become a Jew, accepting all that came along with it, could not go unrewarded.
When Hashem rewards, He rewards midah k’neged midah. Whatever you are willing to give up for Hashem’s honor you receive back in return. Nobody ever loses out when dealing with Hashem. Hashem is the best banker in the world. His bank can never run out of currency. He can never declare bankruptcy. His currency only goes up, never down. His reward continues on for 1,000 generations for those that serve Him with fear. It extends 2,000 generations for those that serve Him with love. (Sotah:3l) .
Rus not only received kings, something she rightfully deserved for having given up the throne back home, but she would be rewarded with that greatest of all prizes. She would be the progenitor of the Malkoh Meshicho-the Melech Hamoshiach. Chazal, by the way, tell us that she actually lived long enough to see her great-grandson Shlomo on his throne. She must have lived at least 400 years. Yes! Hashem’s treasuries never run short. You’ll never be shortchanged for what you do for Hashem.
And all this, by the way, is only in this world. The reward given in olom haboh is beyond description. Even the neviim made no mention of it. It’s far beyond our wildest dreams and imagination. It defies human understanding. The joy of spending only one short hour in olam haboh outweighs all possible joy and pleasure one can experience an entire lifetime. Yes! Ha’Shem can surely be trusted and relied upon. He pays the highest dividends.
And so, it’s certainly most appropriate to read the story of Rus on the holy Yom Tov of Shvuous, z’man matan Torah. Where else do we find a person with so much love for Torah? So much self -sacrifice to enter Klall Yisroel against the greatest of odds? And this story teaches us the great reward coming to those who embrace the Torah with both hands. For those who are willing to suffer poverty and pain for it. All the riches in the world cannot repay even the s’char of doing one mitzvah properly.
Let’s hope that the story of Rus’ struggle and mesiras nefesh for Torah will rub off on us. It’s celainly something to think ahout. How many sacrifices are we willing to make? What luxuries are we willing to pass up for kovod shomayim? It’s a frightening thought to think about. We’re not even fit to tie Rus’s shoelaces. The greatest part of our day is occupied in amassing greater and greater wealth for our own entertainment and pleasure. Here and there we grab a couple of minutes for Hashem, maybe just to clear our conscience. It’s hard to say it’s all lishmoh. One must be willing to accept far less than we do today. We must set our goals of earthly pleasures aside for a while. Cut down on all our other commitments. Make only one commitment. A total commitment to Torah, the way Rus did. Otherwise you’ll find yourself distracted with a thousand other distractions. There can be only one desire. Only one goal. But it’s going to take Rus’s stubborness to succeed. Rus’s obstinacy to achieve our goal! No wonder then, that we read the story of Rus on the Shvuous day. When we accept the Torah on Shvuous, we must be willing to make Rus’s commitment! We must be willing to give up all worldly pleasures in exchange for the greatest treasure of all - the holy Torah.

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