If Ruth Came to America Today

Rabbi Arthur Waskow


One approach to the celebration of Shavuot is to combine the tradition of an all-night process of Torah-study with the themes of poverty and sharing that appear in the Scroll of Ruth, by creating a public Teach-in on the theme: "If Ruth the Moabite Came to America Today."

The tikkun/teach-in could be open to the public, intended to get some ideas and action going about our society and how to heal it.

Such a Teach-in might start with a dramatic reading of Ruth, with several different people reading the parts of Boaz, Ruth, Naomi, etc.

The reading might proceed with several passages of Torah that are linked to "the Scroll of Ruth":

"When you reap the reapings of your land, you shall not consume the corner of your field by reaping, nor shall you gather the gleaning of your harvest. And you shall not glean your harvest, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the foreigner: I am YHWH your God. " (Lev 19: 9-10)

"When you reap the reapings of your field, and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to gather it; it shall be for the stranger, for the orphan, and for the widow -- so that YHWH your God shall bless you in all the work of your hands. " [It continues with olive trees and with grapes in the same way.] "And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Mitzraiim [Narrow Spaces, Tight Spot, Egypt]; therefore I command you to do this thing." (Deut 24: 19-21).

The point of all this is that any poor person and any foreigner had the right to walk onto anyone's field to glean behind the regular reapers and to glean what grew in the corners of the field. Boaz was obeying a general law of Israelite society, not just responding out of the goodness of his charitable heart to Ruth.

EVERY landholder was obligated to let the poor walk onto his land to glean. Why? BECAUSE IT WASN'T HIS LAND. GOD OWNED ALL LAND.

Landholders (not "owners") temporarily held their land at God's pleasure, and part of the "rent" every landholder owed to God was this open welcome to the poor.

******After the community has heard the central story, a panel of people from a range of disciplines and life-paths (economist, homeless person, Torah-student, immigrant, etc) might comment from their own perspectives on the teachings of Ruth.

IMAGINE Boaz as the Jewish people in America today: well-off, comfortable, suddenly challenged by the poor and outcast.

In this allegory, who is Ruth? What should she be doing? What should WE be doing?

Preparing for this Shavuot study, one might use a quick summary of Rabbinic interpretations and elaborations of these passages -- in the Encyclopedia Judaica under the entry "Leket, Shikhhah, and Pe'ah," in vol 11, col 3.

Furthermore, such study could also look at Lev. 25, generally vss 1-28, esp vss 10-12 about the land returning every 50th year to the family that had originally been allotted it, even if they had in the meantime sold it or lost control of it, for (see also esp vs. 23) : "The land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for ***the land is Mine***; you are but sojourners and visitors with Me [i.e., God]."

And see also Deut 15: 1-10, on the annulment of debts every seventh year.

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