Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Choosing to Connect: Thoughts on Shavuot and the Book of Ruth

Note: Much of this information and teaching came from the wonderful rabbis I had the pleasure of learning from last night--Rabbis Andrea London, Michael Balinsky, and Rachel Weiss, so thank you to them for their wisdom insight and source sheets that I drew on to write this blog post.

From what I can tell, the holiday of Shavuot is all about connection, connection to God and connection to the Jewish people, to one another. There's the basics of the holiday: we are connected to the commandments that were said to have been handed down from Sinai on this day, but I think there's a deeper aspect as well.

On Shavuot, we traditionally read the book of Ruth. The book of Ruth has something to teach us about connection to others and about "chosen family." If you're unfamiliar with the story, you can read it here, but for this point, the important part is that Ruth chooses Naomi, her mother and law. When both of Naomi's sons have died, Naomi tells her daughters in law, Ruth and Orpah, to turn back and go back to her people, the Moabites, but Ruth refuses. Ruth "clings to" Naomi and says, "Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, your God, my God." This seems like a love confession, not necessarily a romantic one, as some scholars would say. Ruth and Naomi are mother in law and daughter in law. They have no blood connection between them and yet, Ruth chooses to stay with Naomi, to adopt herself into Naomi's family.

So many of ourselves have found ourselves feeling alone either because of a part of our identity that has not been shared or because or because we are a minority or because we are struggling with something that no-one can see. Ruth and Naomi were isolated too. It was quite unusual in Ancient Israel for a family to just be two women, and yet, as Ruth did, we must take the risk of connecting with others and choosing them for our family. We must choose carefully, but choose lovingly. And at the end of the day, the connections between members of a chosen family can be just as deep or deeper than the ones between a family by blood.

Also, we are the connection between God and the earth, just as the mountain is the physical connection between the earth and the sky. Shavuot is all about receiving the Torah from Mount Sinai, but what does that really mean in the modern day world where we receive things all the time and we live in a world where we can receive information in seconds from devices we keep in our pockets? It means we still have to obligation to study Torah because Torah is what connects the heavens and the earth. When we stand tall, with our hands open, we are ready to be the messengers of Torah; we are ready to receive the Torah we need and if we are open to God's teachings, our help will also come from God, maker of heaven and earth, often in the form of Torah and love from other Jews.

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