Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Shavuot and Ruth

When I was little, I loved the stories from the Old Testament. My favorites were Daniel and Joseph, but I could recount the basic stories of others too. Noah and the flood, Sarah's barren woes, Moses leading people to freedom. But I couldn't tell you anything about Ruth. I learned most of my Biblical knowledge as a child from a book called My Little Bible, which told Bible stories from the Old and New Testaments in 10 sentences or less. The stories were meant to summarize complex Biblical people and events into lessons for toddlers. As you can imagine, summarizing the Bible in language for little kids can be hit or miss, but I think most of the stories did a decent job of getting to the general point. For example, here is the story of Esther:
Brave Queen Esther
Haman hated God's people, the Jews. He tricked King Xerxes into making a law to kill all the Jews. Esther was the queen, and King Xerxes loved her. But Esther was a Jew. She bravely told the king about Haman's trick. The king became angry and had Haman killed. Brave Esther had saved God's people.
Point to Esther's crown.
This story, and most of the others, explains who the main characters are, how they are related, and the motives for their actions. Haman is hateful and somehow connected to the king. Esther is Jewish and brave. Knowing these facts is essential to understanding what happens in the rest of the story. This, on the other hand, is the book's summary of Ruth:
Ruth and Naomi
Ruth married Naomi's son. But the son died. Then Ruth and Naomi moved to a country called Judah. Naomi's cousin Boaz lived there. He had a big wheat field. Boaz let Ruth pick up grain from his field to feed Naomi. Boaz soon married Ruth. And they had a son named Obed. Naomi took care of Obed.Do you know any babies?
I read these nine sentences over and over, but the story just didn't make sense to me. I wanted to know why Ruth lived with her mother-in-law instead of her own family and why they moved to Judah. I didn't understand why Naomi took care of Obed instead of Ruth and Boaz. Besides all that, I couldn't find a point to the story and every other Biblical story I knew seemed to have some kind of lesson. So I gave up on Ruth. I didn't come across her again until years later when I was planning to convert to Judaism and then suddenly Ruth had a point. The story of Ruth is a conversion story.
"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
Today is Shavuot, when we read the story of Ruth (the whole story of Ruth), and thus it is a time to talk about Jews by Choice. Over the past week or two, your local Jewish paper likely featured an interview with a convert or an opinion peace about welcoming the "other" into our communities. You will probably also find a story entitled "Shavuot: The Neglected Holiday" or "What is Shavuot?"

Shavuot is a learning holiday. It is an all-night Torah fest. You come together with others to pray, read and discuss texts, eat cheesecake, and then learn some more. These are all things that I love. I also love Shavuot because it allows me to connect to the Jewish people in a way that is often difficult. Much of Jewish life is generational, but Shavuot highlights the idea that there is a Jewish soul within every Jew, whether they were born Jewish or chose Judaism, and that we were all at Sinai. It is also the favorite holiday of many converts to Judaism, because of its connection to Ruth. Since my conversion, I have come to understand and appreciate Ruth in a way that I never would have otherwise. So this Shavuot, I celebrate the Torah and Ruth.