Thoughts on Ruth Part One
Transcribed by Daniel Goldman from a lecture recorded 19 April 1999 I want to go over some quick ideas to keep in mind when studying Megillat Ruth. We read Megillat Ruth on Shavuot, the most common reason being that Ruth is the mother of Malchut, that is, the ancestor of King David. Also, David was born on Shavuot and died on Shavuot.
All the fundamental ideas regarding kingship are included in the Book of Ruth. Generally, when we speak of a king , we are speaking of someone who is the leader of a nation, or someone who is imposed on a nation, such as in an absolute monarchy. In Judaism, a king is seen as someone who incorporates in himself every part of the nation. If a person would speak to Gentile king and say, “I am a Holocaust survivor,” he would only be able to relate on a theoretical level. But with a Jewish king, he would know exactly how that person felt, whether he experienced that event or not, because of the high development of his personality. A person would know in their heart that the king was talking to him, or her.
That’s why in the mitzva of Chesed, there’s a difference between visiting someone who is ill, and visiting someone who is ill having experienced that very illness. The Gemara says that when you visit someone having suffered the same illness you can heal 1/60th of his illness, this can only be done if you’ve suffered the same illness. When I would go with the ‘Chaz,’ (Cantor Sherwood Goffin) to a shiva call for someone who had unfortunately lost a child, even if that person had never met the ‘Chaz,’ that person immediately felt like they could relate to him. (Cantor Goffin had also lost a child.)
A Jewish king incorporates that within himself. That’s why Mashiach is also called “The Great Incorporator.” All human existance is somehow expressed in Mashiach. That’s how the vision of suffering for the pain of all people was misconstrued into being someone else. The Jewish king would be able to empathize with anyone. But this just doesn’t happen when a child is born. It takes a great deal of development on the part of the individual. It also helps if that child is born to parents who have attained a certain level of development themselves.
Question: This is an ideal for a king, isn’t it? So many kings of Israel fell so short in their personal midot.
RSW: The only one who is really called a king is David. And of course, David fell short of his midot at times. This made him the human being he was. In fact, the Gemara asks, why was David so successful? – Because he knew how to sin. Saul never sinned. But then, he wasn’t a good king. Seriously! He couldn’t relate to anybody.
Do you remember the famous story about the two women who come before Solomon arguing about a living and dead baby? Solomon said, “I will decide this! Bring me a sword and I will cut the living baby in half!” Can I ask you something? Can you imagine a king who has to say to bring a sword to him? What does this mean? There are no swords in the room! What kind of king doesn’t have a few swords around? Or doesn’t have guards?
When Mashiach comes, and you have a question to ask Mashiach, you won’t need an appointment. You’re going to ring the doorbell, walk in, and you’re not going to get frisked. There won’t be security gates, or even an X-ray machine. You’ll sit down and talk with him. He’ll know you.
In fact, the Gemara asks why Ruth’s name is called Ruth. The name is always an indication on the personality of that person. Her real name was Gillit. So why is she called Ruth? – Because her grandson David was able to praise God with the book of Tehillim. Tehillim was not only written by David, but by many other authors. There are, in fact, ten composers of Tehillim, but David is the one who put them together, refined them, and restructured them. Tehillim incorporates in it every human expression, need, love, desire, passion, depression, etc. the fact that you have one person who can express so many different things at once so majestically reflects on his being a king. David derives some of his ability to write Tehillim from Ruth. Therefore, when we read the book of Ruth, we must keep in mind each one of the stages that is necessary for kingship, and the characteristics of David developed by Ruth.