Your people shall be my people
One reason why Ruth is read on Shavuot has to do with Ruth’s courageous decision to voluntarily enter into the nation of Israel. Refusing to allow her mother-in-law Naomi to return alone to the land of Judah, Ruth utters words which are among the most famous in the Bible:
“Do not urge me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried. May the LORD do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” (Ruth 1:16-17).
וַתֹּאמֶר רוּת אַל-תִּפְגְּעִי-בִי, לְעָזְבֵךְ לָשׁוּב מֵאַחֲרָיִךְ: כִּי אֶל-אֲשֶׁר תֵּלְכִי אֵלֵךְ, וּבַאֲשֶׁר תָּלִינִי אָלִין–עַמֵּךְ עַמִּי, וֵאלֹהַיִךְ אֱלֹהָי. בַּאֲשֶׁר תָּמוּתִי אָמוּת, וְשָׁם אֶקָּבֵר; כֹּה יַעֲשֶׂה יְהוָה לִי, וְכֹה יוֹסִיף–כִּי הַמָּוֶת, יַפְרִיד בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵךְ.
This famous passage is full of interesting verbs, but the first verb (“urge”) is perhaps the most remarkable. In Hebrew the word is tifgei which comes from a root (פגע) that does not merely mean to urge, but something much more physical. It is to aggressively press up against someone, even afflicting them. Indeed in the following chapter of the same book, Naomi warns Ruth: “It is better, my daughter, that you go out with Boaz’s young women, otherwise you might be hassled in another field.” (2:22). The word hassled in Hebrew is ifgeu, from the same root.
The fact that Ruth rejects Naomi’s offer to stay in Moab using the Hebrew verb “to afflict” demonstrates how truly willing she was to join the Jewish people. She had to endure physical rejection by Naomi even going so far as to “cling to her” (1:14). This must have been very difficult. Ruth’s co-sister-in-law Orpah was not able to overcome the affliction and eventually returns home, kissing Naomi goodbye (1:14). But not Ruth! She “struggles steadfastly” to prove her devotion to Naomi (1:18). Although she does not undergo a formal conversion process, she has effectively bound herself to the people of Israel by overcoming Naomi’s physical dismissal. This is thematically linked with the rabbinic idea that Shavuot is the date of the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19). Like the Israelites who actively accepted the Torah, uttering “all that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8), so too Ruth willingly joined the Jewish people. Ruth’s decision to become Jewish had far-reaching implications: her son would go on to become the grandfather of none other than King David!
Ruth teaches us that sometimes small decisions can have influential consequences. Ruth did not know that following Naomi into the Land of Israel would make her the progenitor of the greatest King of Israel. But she followed her heart. (by Jonathan A Lipnick)