On Shavuos we read the Megilla of Ruth, the story of one of the most famous Jewish women in history. Ruth was a daughter of the royal family of Moab, a country neighboring Israel. After a series of events, including what many explain was a mixed marriage to a Jewish man and his subsequent death, she chose to convert to Judaism and follow her former mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Israel. There she lived a life of an absolute pauper, far from the comfort level of royal nobility she had when she lived in Moab. Eventually, Ruth married a relative of Naomi’s, the leader of their generation named Boaz. They had a son who was the Great Grandfather of King David.
Why do we read the megilla of Ruth on Shavuos? Various reasons are given, all of them important:
1) From the story of Ruth we learn many of the laws of conversion. Indeed the famous idea that we try to discourage a potential convert three times is taken from this story, as Naomi tries to dissuade Ruth from converting three times. At the time of Shavuos, we as a nation were all considered to be undergoing a form of conversion as we became the Jewish people. Therefore we read this megilla on Shavuos.
2) Tradition teaches us that the yartziet of King David was on Shavuos. Therefore we read this megilla on Shavuos, which discusses the roots of King David.
3) Our Sages teach us “Torah begins with kindness, and ends with kindness”. The Torah begins with the kindness of Hashem providing clothes for Adam and Eve, and ends with the kindness of Hashem burying Moses. This Megilla is a story built totally on kindness: The kindness of Ruth to stay with her former mother in law; The kindness of Boaz to make sure they had food to eat; The kindness of Ruth to not look for a husband her age but to look for someone from her husbands family so that she could help perpetuate her husbands memory…
4) As we accept the Torah, we have to realize that Torah is not given to observe only when things are easy. The Torah was given in a desert, to teach us that in all surroundings and situations, we must keep the Torah. Ruth symbolizes someone who faced the greatest of hardships and didn’t waver in her commitment. Her husband died, she went from a life of riches to the life of a pauper, and she found herself in a totally strange and foreign land. None the less, she stayed the course and did everything that she was supposed to. As we receive the Torah, we learn from Ruth that our commitment to Torah is not conditional; it’s not just when society praises us, when money comes easy, or when we feel on a ‘high’. Hashem gave us instructions for life that must be followed 365 days a year, regardless of what is going on in our personal life. If we can absorb that idea, we have truly followed in the great steps of the famous Ruth.