By Rabbi Steven Bayar
This week we read the double portions of Behar/Bechukotai. These are the last two parshas in the book of Leviticus, Vayikra. The content is covenantal: What happens if you keep the Covenant entered into at Sinai, and what happens if you don’t. While the individual blessings and curses may not speak to us in the same way they were received “back then,” it is significant that this portion is read about the time of Shavuot, which commemorates among other things the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
A Covenant is a formal declaration of intent by its signatories: God will do this for us and we will do thus for God. For a Covenant to succeed it must be adhered to. However, for the Covenant to succeed for thousands of years, there must be more than strict adherence to the letter of the law; there must also be an understanding of the spirit with which the contract was written and acknowledgement that the relationship must be deep and meaningful for both parties.
That is where the Book of Ruth comes in. On Shavuot we chant the portion in the Torah that describes the Sinaitic revelation, but we also chant the Book of Ruth which shows how when we care for each other we bring God into our relationships.
Ruth is widowed and returns to Israel with her impoverished mother in law Naomi. She takes care of Naomi by gleaning (picking up stray stalks of wheat left from harvest). In the process she meets Boaz and through a combination of circumstances will marry him. Together they will become the great grandparents of King David.
The Book of Ruth is about Ruth’s caring for Naomi and how she finds Boaz. We are forced to ask; was it just coincidence that Ruth went to glean in the field of Boaz or was it the hand of God? The older I get the less I believe in coincidence. I believe our lives are composed of threads of “coincidence” where we intersect with other lives and circumstances. Each life we touch, each circumstance we encounter gives us the chance to bring about some form of Tikkun Olam. This weaving is a constant in our lives — if we allow ourselves to be sensitive to it.
Our relationship with our tradition must develop into more than just Covenantal responsibility — if we are to succeed as people and Jews we must create a bond with our tradition that transcends obligation.
These are some of the themes we will be studying at our Tikkun Leil Shavuot on Saturday evening, May 23, at 8:30 p.m. — come and learn with us.