Tonight we celebrate the holiday of Shavuos, as we mark the day on which the Jewish people received the Torah. On Shavuos, we read the story of Ruth, the Moabite woman who converted to Judaism and subsequently became the matriarch of the Davidic dynasty. Indeed, the Messiah will be a descendant of Ruth. Various explanations are given why we read this particular book on Shavuos. One idea is since Shavuos is the yartziet of King David we read the story of his ancestry. Another idea is since Shavuos is the day the Torah was given to the Jewish people, we want to read a book that properly describes the Torah. Torah, our Sages tell us, begins with Chesed – Loving-kindness, and ends with Chesed – Loving-kindness. In the beginning of the Torah, the Torah describes how Hashem clothed Adam and Eve. At the end of the Torah, the Torah describes how Hashem buried Moses. Thus, conclude the Sages, Torah is all about kindness. The story of Ruth is also full of kindness – the kindness of Ruth to give up her family and royalty to care for her mother in law; the kindness of Ruth to her deceased husband to only marry a relative of his, even if he was an older man; the kindness of Boaz to care for Ruth and her mother in law… Thus, this story is fitting to be read on Shavuos.

The commentaries point out two things that are most important to notice as we read this story of Ruth: 1) Just giving to someone else is not enough to earn someone the title of being a true baal-chesed – one who truly does kindness. It is possible that even if one gives to others, his or her intentions are really just self-serving. Perhaps he or she wants to get honor and glory for their praiseworthy actions. Perhaps one wants to simply build up a relationship so they will be able to later take back from those they have given to. The only time that one can truly be called a baal-chesed – one who truly does kindness, is if they give up on their own desires to help others. When kindness is done by sacrificing ones own desires, that is true chesed – true kindness. This was the kindness shown by Ruth, as she gave everything she had in this world – honor, wealth, and prestige – to help her mother in law.

The second lesson is, how firm one must be in standing their ground when it comes to serving Hashem. Both Ruth and Arpah (Naomi’s other daughter in law) said they wanted to accompany Naomi and convert to Judaism. Yet, Ruth stood firm even when she was challenged and Naomi tried to dissuade her. The end result is that to this very day her descendants are the lineage of King David and the Messiah. Arpah, on the other hand, gave in and buckled under. She has no memory whatsoever amongst the Jewish people. The lesson is clear: When we have a challenge, we have to make sure to stand firm, without compromising. That way, we too will merit eternal reward that will never be forgotten.