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Thoughts on Ruth Part Three

Transcribed by Daniel Goldman from a lecture recorded 19 April 1999: “And it was in the days that the judges judged, that there was a famine in the land.  And a certain man from Beit Lechem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, his wife, and two sons.” (Ruth 1:1)


The verse does not give a clear date as to when this event took place.  It could have said “in so-and-so’s reign, or something to that effect.  Moreover, why does the verse have to tell us, “in the days that  the judges judged?” The Midrash says that this event occurred when the people were judging the Judges.  It gives you a context, the tenor of the times.  The people had leaders, but they were dissatisfied and questioned every move they made.  (“I don’t like this foreign policy,” or “I don’t like this relationship he’s having with that 18-year old.”)  This also sheds light on how thing will be different when there is a true king.  By definition, a king will not be judged.  People will feel such a close connection with him, they won’t want to.

Question: Is that similar to the relationship to a Chasidic Rebbe?

RSW: No, it’s different.  The Rebbe stands above, telling you what to do.  Your attachment to him is through that.  Certain Mekubalim, Sephardic rabbis, tell you what to do.  A real Rebbe, a real Mekubal, is a king.  He can tell you what your strengths are.  He can tell you what you were created to do.  He can tell you what you were created to work on:

“This is where you are at.  This is where you need to go.  First you need to become who you are.  I can give you exercises in one lump sum, or I can give you them piece by piece so that you slowly develop on track.  Once you are on track discovering yourself, you are going to have to use those strengths to work on you areas of weakness.  All human beings were created not only to develop certain good, but to fight against certain evil.

“These are your vulnerabilities.  You can’t fight them directly.  That is a basic rule about fighting your Yetzer Ha’ra.  If you say to yourself that you won’t speak Lashon Ha’ra anymore – Boom! You’ll be speaking it again in no time.”

The authentic Rebbe will say to you once you have those strengths that there are strategies you can develop to fight that innate weakness that you have. (“This is how you are going to get started, but first understand where you need to be at this place in time.”)  When this Rebbe speaks to you, there’s no question that this person knows you inside out.  You won’t be taking it on faith.  When he speaks to you, it is so clear that he understands you.  Even things that you thought about but were never able to articulate.  When the king talks to you, you’ll know in your heart that it’s true.  He’ll know that when you’re davening, there is a part of you that is somewhere else.

There will be no need to judge the king because there will be such a strong sense of trust.  You won’t feel that he will use his power against you.  You’ll be safe.  This, of course, is different from the classical conception of a ‘Rebbe.’  But the truly great Rebbes could do this.  There were very few of the great ones.  If you read any of the legends of the Baal Shem Tov, those describe what a ‘real’ Rebbe is.  But there is a similarity, in a certain sense, because a Rebbe represents Malchut.

To return to our discussion, what was it during this time that the judges were being judged?  Since the book of Ruth opens with this scene, it must very well be the defining aspect of the times.  Similarly, the book of Esther begins with the phrase, “And it was in the days of Achashverosh…” You have to picture it: Boaz goes out into his field and says to one of the boys overseeing the workers, “Who is that girl?”  What’s the boy going to think?  Everyone is looking at their leaders and what they say.  It’s like if a rabbi of a Shul goes up to someone at the end of davening and says, “Who is that woman?”  Everyone is going to know about it.  Imagine Boaz doing that.  That is what Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi are fighting against.

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