Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 14

May 28, 2020


What's Up with Sivan and Ruth?

Dear Holy Friends,

We hope and pray that this correspondence finds you in good health and managing our difficult circumstances. I want to remind you to feel free to call or email me at any time (contact information below) to share your experiences, theological questions and even, to ask, how we, as your community, can support you! If you know anyone experiencing health issues, please allow us to pray for them. If you know someone who needs our support, please contact me or the dedicated officers of our shul.

This weekend we will celebrate the holiday of Shavuoth, which is considered the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. On Thursday evening, we will participate in a Tikkun Leil Shavuoth, a dedicated Torah study session, which marks our appreciation of the gift of Torah from God. I remember as a child, that the young kids would march in a procession towards the Bimah to bring symbolic first fruits to decorate the sanctuary (I don't know how comfortable I felt schlepping around a basket of flowers when I was five, but nonetheless!).

During the holiday, we chant from the Book of Ruth (Megillat Ruth), which highlights the concept of "coming into the fold"", or in common parlance, "deciding to become Jewish!!!"

The short story revolves around the deep relationship between the heroine and her Bethlehemite mother-in-law, Naomi, forged after the death of the latter's husband and two sons. As she journeys back home, Naomi urges her daughter-in-law to stay in her native Moab, but Ruth refuses, speaking these iconic words: "For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God" Ruth 1:16.

These words can be read in dialogue with the story in Exodus. They certainly show no less commitment than the joint affirmation of the Israelites at Sinai: "All that the Lord has spoken we will do and obey." Exodus 24:7. Indeed, Ruth's declaration is understood as evidence of her taking the covenant upon herself. In the rabbinic imagination, she becomes the prototypical convert. Just as the Jewish people all gathered at the mountain in the desert in the presence of the God of Israel, so too does Ruth cling to Naomi on the road in Moab, invoking the God of Israel.

Ironically, the progeny of Ruth and her soon to be found Jewish husband, Boaz, becomes the bloodline of the messiah; the one that will bring ultimate redemption to the Jewish people and the entire world.

Ruth's relationship to Naomi and to Torah can be a model for our own orientation to the celebration of Shavuot. In Exodus, the Israelites experience an overwhelming display of power, which may leave them shaking in fear and desiring to distance themselves from what may emerge from those clouds around the mountain. In the book of Ruth, Ruth - no less in the dark - bravely and wholeheartedly faces what may come down the road.

Most importantly, I like to reflect on the common nomenclature for people who decide to convert to Judaism: they are often called Jews By Choice.

Today, I like to think that we are all Jews By Choice. We have liberty to identify, to practice, to advocate and to ascend. Whether born into the fold or not, this time of year is a reminder that we all do get to choose. We choose tradition, people-hood, values, and heritage, often in a loving manner and typically with confidence in a brighter future.

In that spirit, let us together reaffirm our choices and our soulfulness. Let us choose life, learning, Torah, ethics, and community. This weekend, join us for services and continue to choose the beauty of our tradition. May the gift of Torah inspire us always.

Don't forget to join our virtual Shavuot services this evening and tomorrow morning and then, please join us again online for Shabbat. We will say Yizkor on Shabbat morning.

Details are on our webpage!


Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD
201 562 5277

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Please join us for our Shavuot services!

Please make sure to check out our online schedule of services posted here.
All the zoom information is provided and hope to “see” you soon.