YomTov, Vol. II, # 12
Shavu'os and Megillas Rus
by Rabbi Yehudah Prero
The Megilla of Rus (Ruth) is read on the holiday of Shavu'os. The author of
the Megilla, our sages tell us, was Shmuel HaNavi, the prophet Samuel. There
are many commentators who have given reasons explaining the connection
between Shavu'os and Megillas Rus. (For some reasons, see vol. I, 26.)
However, an answer to a question posed in the Medrash gives us a particularly
important understanding of the connection between Shavu'os and Megillas Rus.
In the Medrash Rabbah on Rus (2:14), we find the following question: Rav
Zaeira said 'This Megilla (of Rus) does not tells of the laws of purity and
impurity...Why was it written?" The question, however, does not have to end
here. We can question further. Even once we know a reason for why it was
written, why was it necessary to include it among the Scriptures?
In order to understand the answers, a little background about an issue of
Halacha that was of concern at the time of Rus is needed. Generally,
according to Halacha, gentiles are allowed to join the nation of Israel
through conversion. However, there are certain nations that the Torah
explicitly lists whose members may not join the nation of Israel. The Torah
states "Lo yavo Amoni U'Moavi b'kahal Hashem," "An Ammonite or a Moavite
shall not enter into the assembly of G-d." As Rus was from the nation of
Moav, how could it happen that not only was she permitted to convert, but
she also married one of the most respected, distinguished, and wisest men of
her generation, Boaz ?
The answer lies in the verse cited above. The verse says that a "Moavi," a
male Moavite, can not enter into the nation of Israel. However, the verse does
not say that a "Moavis," a female Moavite, can not enter into the nation of
Israel. Boaz understood that the law was a female Moavite was indeed allowed
to convert, and therefore Rus' conversion and marriage to a Jew presented no
problems. This Halachik ruling about the status of a female Moavis, however,
was not widely known amongst the nation of Israel. Many thought that no
person, male or female, from the nation of Moav was allowed to convert to
Judaism. This understanding of the law not only presented problems in the
time of Rus, but also in the time of King David, Rus' great-grandson. In the
time immediately proceeding the crowning of David as king and right
afterwards, there were those who began to publicly raise doubts as to whether
David was of proper, "kosher," lineage, because of his great-grandmother Rus.
Shmuel HaNavi, the author of the Megillas Rus, was the one who anointed David
and proclaimed him king. Shmuel saw first hand how weak the knowledge of the
nation of Israel was regarding the laws surrounding the conversion of Moavite
women. Therefore, Shmuel decided he had to educate the masses in this area.
It could even be that Shmuel felt he was obligated to do such, because he
was the one who anointed David as king over the nation of Israel. Therefore,
he was the one who had to "defend" what he had done and publicize the fact
that David was of proper lineage, according to Jewish law, and more than fit
to be king of Israel. The Megilla of Rus accomplished this task. It cleared
the air of any doubts as to the lineage of David, from who Moshiach, the
Messiah, will descend. It proclaims that a Moavite woman, like Rus, may join
the nation of Israel.
It is because of the importance of the underlying message of Rus that not
only was it included in Scriptures, but it is read on Shavu'os on well. When
Boaz married Rus, there were those that were amazed - the Torah says that a
Moavite cannot enter the nation of Israel! Boaz, a leader of the generation,
is blatantly violating a law of the Torah! When we read the Megilla, we could
ask the same questions, and add to them: How could Moshiach, who will come to
redeem the entire nation of Israel, come from such blemished lineage, from a
union prohibited by the Torah? The answer is that there are two components of
the Torah that was given to us on Sinai by G-d: The Written Torah, and the
Oral Torah. It is true that the Written Torah seems to say that Rus'
conversion and marriage was forbidden. However, the Oral Torah clarifies the
issue for us. It lets us know that the verse only forbade male Moavites from
converting. The Oral Torah contains the laws of the Torah and their
explanations. Both the Oral and Written Torah were given to the nation of
Israel at Sinai. Both need to be followed.
The Megilla of Rus stands for the proposition that the Oral Law was given to
us at Sinai, and that the Oral and Wriiten Torah are truly one intertwined
gift from G-d. Boaz acted properly based on that which he knew from his study
of the Oral Torah. His willingness to act on that which he knew to be the law
should send us a message: we must show that we truly believe in the Oral
Torah, that we recognize that the Oral Torah was given to us at Sinai. Becasue
of the importance of this message, the Megilla was included in Scriptures.
This message also makes the reading of the Megilla on Shavu'os appropriate. On
Shavu'os, the day on which we celebrate the fact that we were given the Torah,
we demonstrate our belief that the Written and Oral Torah were both given to
us on this day by reading the Megilla. By reading the Megilla, we reaffirm our
belief in the authenticity of the Oral Torah. On Shavu'os, we affirm and
celebrate our acceptance of the Torah, and therefore the Megilla, which tells
of this affirmation, is read on Shavu'os.
(from Hegyonai Halacha)
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For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.
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