Rabbi Zvi Teichman
On Shavuos we all entered an eternal covenant with Hashem. Every single Jew present at Sinai underwent a ‘conversion’, undergoing circumcision, immersion and of course a formal acceptance of all 613 mitzvos.
Throughout history there have been many remarkable individuals from amongst the other nations who have ‘chosen’ to enter this special covenant. It is alleged in the name of the Vilna Gaon that these individuals possess the souls of the many individuals who at the time of the giving of Torah desired to join our ranks but were prevented by their leaders’ resistance to the idea.
Two notable biblical converts were Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe, and Rus, the Mother of Royalty.
They both took two divergent paths.
After Moshe offers Yisro to join the nation in their trek to the Holy Land, Yisro responds, “I shall not go; only to my land and my family shall I go.’
In stark contrast, when Naomi tells Rus to return to her ancestral land, Rus retorts, “I shall not go; only to my land and my family shall I go.’
How are we to make sense of these opposing views? Was Yisro any less determined in his commitment to Judaism than Rus? Why would Yisro even consider not accompanying his people to the Promised Land?
A very stunning story made the rounds several years ago in Israel prior to Shavuos, while my wife and I merited to spend Shavuos there, and the waves of its powerful message provoked extraordinarily strong emotions among the entire community.
Famed journalist, Shimon Breitkopf, retold in the Shavuos edition of Hebrew edition of Mishpacha magazine, the following fascinating and moving tale:
There was once a son who was born to his parents after several daughters. He was doted on by his sisters and was the apple of his parent’s eyes. Blessed with a warm and loving family he developed into a wonderfully happy child who grew in his self-confidence, achieving great success in his Torah learning and mitzva observance. Having been the brother of musically and artistically talented sisters he too mastered his music and artistic skills through their influence.
After his Bar Mitzva he attended Yeshiva Ketana (the Israeli equivalent of High School) where he quickly became a beloved student to his rabbeim after showing great promise in his devotion to learning and his intellectual gifts. His love for art was not lost and in his free moments between sedarim he would do freelance drawings of his peers, rabbeim and inspired surroundings. Though there was absolutely nothing wrong in devoting free time to this talent he kept it secret knowing that in the intense environment of Torah study perhaps others might look unfavorably at his hobby. After his daily limited involvement in his cherished avocation he would quietly put his art filled notebooks under his clothing in his private closet.
There was however a member of the staff of the Yeshiva who clearly had a disliking towards him. He had heard that this staff member had an errant son who went ‘off the derech’, and perhaps from that reality stemmed his angst, taking out his frustration on him as he represented this parent’s lost hope.
One day this staff member initiated a raid on all the personal effects of the students as it had been rumored that many of the boys possessed inappropriate material for a Yeshiva environment. Indeed, they discovered much contraband amongst the students as well the ‘terrible’ notebooks filled with this promising young man’s beautiful artwork.
Summoning all the boys for a ‘shmuz’ to address the problem in the Yeshiva, rather than focusing on the heretical books that were found hidden and the ‘shmutz’ that was discovered, this staff member chose to harass this one poor boy who had been guilty of ‘wasting’ his time by drawing pictures rather than poring over his holy texts. He went on to berate him in front of 150 of his peers deriding him for his arrogant attitudes and distraction from learning.
He was devastated. Deeply embarrassed he buried his head upon his shtender nearly collapsing in shame. After his public lynching was over, he fled home in utter depression, unable to snap out of this unjustified public shaming. As the weeks went by his anger and resentment burgeoned and despite his deep love for his family, at the ripe age of 17, he fled home rejecting all that he had accomplished, seeking refuge among the unconditionally accepting free spirits who lived near the sea in Tel Aviv. Earning his keep by becoming a street artist he collected enough money to support his self and devoted his remaining hours to playing his guitar at the shore as the cymbal-like crashing waves accompanied his soulful musical expressions of lost hope and longing.
Until one fateful day.
One beautiful spring day, four years after forsaking his previous life, while strumming his guitar waiting for someone to request a personal portrait, he was suddenly approached by what appeared to be a rabbi with longish curly hair carrying a guitar. The only difference between the street artist with his long locks and this ‘rabbi’ was the yarmulke atop the rabbi’s head.
The rabbi called out to him as if they had been old friends, “Hey holy brother, how are you doin’?” Although he had never met him, he felt an immediate kinship. The artist responded by inquiring if he would like a portrait. The rabbi tells him, “maybe later but now I am more interested in the artist more than his art”. The rabbi asks him for his name and beckons him to share his story.
Having gazed into the eyes of many people as they sat calmly for their portraits, he realizes that the gaze in the eyes of this rabbi is one of the most genuine ones his eyes have ever locked with. For the next few hours, he suddenly finds himself pouring out his soul to the warm and open heart of this special man, retelling the history of the sad events that led to his current station in life.
After concluding his tale, the rabbi sat in deep silence that seemed to last unto eternity. And then he began to speak.
“No one in the world can forgive what was done to you. You should know my friend that your pain reaches mamesh to the Holy Throne itself. You are a deep soul so you will understand with your whole heart what I am about to share with you. You know we read Megilas Rus on Shavuos. There are many reasons why but let me reveal for you a novel idea.
There are the Jews of Matan Torah, and then there are the Jews of Megilas Rus. Being a Matan Torah Jew is an extremely high level. He learns day and night and is bound to G-d with his whole heart. But with all that dedication he still cannot bring the Moshiach. Moshiach must descend from Rus. It is a whole different type of Torah. Rus taught the Jewish people that only after being rejected can one reach the highest peaks. If one keeps coming back despite being told to leave; after being disgraced and misunderstood, yet remains steadfast to one’s personal convictions, as Rus experienced, only from that strength can Moshiach be born. David was deemed illegitimate from his birth, degraded by his siblings, and never validated for his greatness. It was that beloved descendant of Rus that nevertheless never despaired and eventually rose to his greatness becoming the ‘father’ of the ultimate Moshiach.”
“I have met many scorned souls who unfortunately don’t know how to transform rejection into becoming a Jew of Megilas Rus”, bemoaned the rabbi with a deep and pained sigh.
“I often think of the Moshiach who sits among the gates of Rome waiting to return, never giving up hope despite the myriad of excuses he hears each day telling him to come on the morrow, not today.”
“There are Jews of Matan Torah who are never rejected and aren’t privileged to get the opportunity of being spurned. But there are the holy Jews like you, who despite the disdain tossed their way, believe with all their heart, love with all their heart, without any ulterior motive for recognition or fame. They don’t perform mitzvos out of fear of what people might say or think about them but operate solely from the absolute conviction of truth that rings so clear in the hearts.”
“I’m talking too much”, the rabbi chuckled, “Jews of Megilas Rus sing from their hearts, let me teach you a niggun, lulei Sorascha shaashuoy az avadti b’anyee, the words composed by King David expressing his awareness that if not for the preoccupation with Torah he would have perished in affliction, and let our souls soar on high, burst with yearning to become once again Jews of Megilas Rus.”
The two ‘hippies’ sang their hearts out in the warm and soothing Mediterranean breeze that wafted off the calming sea. The rabbi excused himself as he was already late to a concert engagement. They embraced before parting, with the rabbi then walking off while wishing the young street artist that he should succeed in planting the seeds for Moshiach’s return by transforming his rejection into a ever more powerful and pure connection to the Almighty.
He pondered the encounter over the next several days and began plotting his return to the embrace of his family and his beloved Torah during the upcoming holiday of Shavuos.
Yisro taught a vital lesson. We must be careful to be attuned to those that are inspired never to push them beyond their abilities and unique needs. Yisro felt that he would be more effective in spreading the word of G-d and His values amongst his family and in the surroundings that suited his personal needs. One can become a Jew of Matan Torah in any setting if one remains fully committed to the precepts of Torah in every detail and nuance. Yisro wanted to teach for all of posterity that we must be sensitive to every person’s personal station and give them the space and opportunities they need to grow in their comfort zone.
Rus though wanted us to realize that despite that truth and reality, one must understand that in overcoming personal rejection lays the seeds of greatness. One who aspires to spiritual greatness must undertake to defy the challenge of isolation and being rebuffed by trudging ahead and living by the deep truths that lay within one’s heart.
The legacy of Rus is that one must continue to aspire for more and always resist that sense of dejection we often feel when facing difficulties that G-d places in our path of life. It is instinctive for us to sense distance when facing difficulty in life’s circumstances.
We must aspire to become Jews of Megilas Rus in seeing those trying moments as marvelous privileges for growth, by defying those feelings, rising to the challenge, thus paving the road for Moshiach’s ultimate return.
We must draw an honest and accurate self-portrait and discover who we truly are. If we do, we may indeed become holy Jews of Megilas Rus.