By Rabbi Tuly Weisz
Every year, the Jewish people read the Book of Ruth on the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost), which falls out towards the end of May or early June. Shavuot is one of the three central pilgrimage festivals, and is the day when the Jewish people experienced revelation and received the Torah from God on Mount Sinai. But why do we read the Book of Ruth – a book that appears to have no connection to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai – on the day we commemorate the giving of the Torah?
The giving of the Torah was the single most important moment in the history of civilization – not just for Jews, but for all of mankind. The Sages wondered why, if the Bible is so holy, it wasn’t given in the Holy Land? Why was the Bible given in a desert, and not the Land of Israel? They explain that since Israel is the Jewish homeland, had the Bible been given in Jerusalem it would have belonged exclusively to the Jewish people. Therefore, God chose to transmit His moral code on a barren mountain in the ownerless desert, to emphasize that His Word is meant not only for the people of Israel but for all mankind, because His instructions are the key to human happiness and survival.
In the Book of Ruth, the Moabite princess Ruth forges her own path to Mount Sinai through her relationship with her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi. Ruth is associated with the holiday of Shavuot because, with great self-sacrifice, she finds her way to the ultimate truth of the Torah. As she movingly declares to Naomi:
“For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17).
This redemptive experience leads Ruth to join the Jewish people and accept the Bible as her own. In doing so, Ruth paved a path for the whole world to recognize God and the Torah He gave on Mount Sinai on the holiday of Shavuot.