Pride in Getting the Job Done (not only the star role is beloved by G-d)

This week’s Torah Portion, Parshas Naso, has a continuation of the count of the Levite families and the jobs assigned in the carrying of the Tabernacle.  In Chapter 4, verse 22, it says, “Count the sons of Gershon, also them.”  The words “also them” is only written in relation to this family.  Why?  Because other families carried seemingly more important things, such as the actual vessels of the Tabernacle.  The Gershoni family carried the outside curtains.  It didn’t look all that glamorous their assignment.  However, they did their job perfectly, with enthusiasm, realizing they were not to aspire for someone else’s job, but to do their G-dly mission.  Therefore, G-d added in the verse the words, “also them” to give them acknowledgment – to, so to speak, say “also they are very important”.  (as explained by HaRav Moshe Feinstein, ZT”L).

Many moons ago, my dramatic flare finally got rewarded with one of the main parts in the school play.  Ah, that was to have arrived in the petty world of teen-hood and high school politics (why schools allow it is beyond my ken).  Like all good high school drama productions, this one had more drama before the production ever got underway.  There were those who deeply resented my having been assigned a star role.  There were others who felt slighted they hadn’t received it.  At a certain point, though young in years, I made a mature decision.  I opted out.  I had no interest in the animosity.  It wasn’t worth it.  If my career were to be heading to Hollywood, a high school play wouldn’t make a difference on my CV.  And if my career led elsewhere, then surely the high school play wouldn’t make a whit of a difference.  In other words, in the general scheme of life, it wasn’t important to star in the play (though it would have felt mighty good for one night).  I don’t know what conferences were held about me behind closed doors and how many teachers (and the principal) tried to get me to reconsider.  Yup, my stubbornness which was legendary stayed in place.  I had made my choice, and I would stick to it.

I ended up doing the lighting (which was a blast) and after the play was over was helping haul props and scenery offstage when I bumped into our legendary principal.  She was so shocked to see me she did a literal stand-in-one-place-mouth-agape moment.  I had no clue what she wanted of me, when she asked me, “What are you doing?!”  “Uh oh,” thought I, as I dropped one end of a heavy scenery I was lugging, “what did I do wrong now?”  I explained I was just helping load the van outside and she looked very bewildered.  It took some time, but then she looked amused.  The next day a friend let me know the principal had a chat with her thereafter.  I s’pose she had to unload her thought process to someone.  She told my classmate she had thought I was being a spoilsport by dropping out of the play.  However, now she saw I really meant no harm, but just wanted to have a more peaceful existence.  It might have been my principal’s roundabout way to tell me, “you did good, girl,” by telling those words to my friend, knowing it would come around to me.

That one decision has allowed me to see life a bit differently as I travel it.  Whereas four years before that had happened, while singing in a choir, I had let my voice soar way above any other voice, beyond the range of even the harmony, to a point where it didn’t blend seamlessly into the choir, I had matured now to understand the concept of teamwork and was able to drop the starring role and drag scenery instead.

It is a crucial skill, in work, in life, in family dynamics, to understand how to put one’s full effort, heart and soul to pick up the work needed to be done by you and only you…precisely you… because no one else is doing it.  It is ever more crucial to remember G-d values each time we pick up the task needed to be done and do it with love and care.

My father (yup, I was blessed with the best teacher!) would tell us whatever we would do in life, we must do it fully, with pride, and for G-d.  He cited Chanoch as being the role model to emulate.  Chanoch, we are taught, was a cobbler, a shoemaker.  Each stitch he stitched was done to perfection.  My father would tell us, if we were to be sanitation collectors, he wanted the blocks we’d be assigned to be the cleanest and neatest.  If life were to make us shoemakers, he wanted our end product shined and tip-top.  He wanted us to know how to give our all to doing our job fully, with all thoughts toward G-d.

Ants, by the way, get this.  If ever you want to study efficient teamwork, go observe the ants.

Going back to my drama moments, I quote Dan Goldstein in his manifesto on how to do successful improv, where he says, “GET BEHIND THE STORY.  Try not to think about yourself in longform. Instead, always ask yourself “how can I contribute to the larger picture?” and “what is my function in this piece?”

Isn’t that our role in life, to “get behind the story”, figure out G-d’s story in the world, and then ask ourselves “What is my function in that story?”

I think that is what we are learning from the Gershoni family described in this week’s Parsah.  So be it that someone else got the glory of carrying the Ark.  For them what was glorious was doing the job that needed to be done (for no one else was doing it) to the perfect dimension.  Next time you need to grab a rag and wipe up the spill that no one else will, remember G-d loves you for doing it, so long as you do it with your whole heart and soul.

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A postscript for teachers or youth leaders:  As a teacher, it is not just about texts you should be teaching, but also about middos.  A very fun way of getting social skills clear to many would be to use improv exercises.  There are fundamentals in improv which have huge impact on middos and interacting with peers.  For example, you must always watch the cues of others.  You cannot “deny” the scene someone else sets.  The entire improv workshop really hones some very basic mentschlikeit themes.  If you are a teacher and interested in more info about what an improv workshop is all about and how its fundamentals teach middos, just let me know.  I’ll be happy to share.

 

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Birrkas Kohanim said by married kohanim

In this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Naso, there is the commandment for the Kohanim to bless the Jewish nation.  When they bless as they are commanded, their blessing comes true.  In fact, the beginning of the commandment for the blessing says “Koh Tivarchu” — the word Koh is the same word used at the beginning of prophecies.

But what I want to hone in on today is a startling paragraph in Rabbeinu Bachya’s commentary.  He quotes Rabbi Yitzchok Hazakan, one of the Baalei Tosfos, as outlining that unmarried Kohanim are not supposed to bless the people.  Only married Kohaim are proper conduits for Bracha.  

The explanation then veers off to a past inyan (subject) of the deaths of Nadav and Aveehu, the two holy sons of Aharon.  According to commentary, the two had multiple reasons for meriting the death sentence — one of which was that they remained unmarried.  They were the catch of their times and no one was good enough for them.  Rabbeinu Bachya then brings a verse in Tehillim “Bachoorav Achla Aysh” — the unmarried men were consumed by fire; “oo’besoolohsav loh hoo’lahloo” — and the unmarried girls did not give praise.  Rabbeinu Bachya surmises this verse in Tehillim is talking about the Shidduch crisis problem — the men not getting married gives so much grief to gals they could and should have married that it silences the Hallel the girls would say…which, in turn, brings punishment to the guys.

Yes, I know, there are many who claim there are two sides to the shidduch crisis.  Yet, according to many dayot, a woman does not have bechira and the guys do because of the klal of “hakol biy’day shamayim chutz mee’yiras shamayim” – all is in Divine Providence except for the matters of our choices whether or not to do the commandments.  Since the commandment of marriage and procreation is aimed at the guys, according to many, they are the ones who control the destiny of marriage for what could have been their partnership with the right gal.

There was a time in Yerushalayim, when it was noted to be Yershalayim “shel ma’alah” as a fully, spiritual place, when it was decreed that any guy not married by 20 was not allowed to stay within the walls of the city overnight.  Methinks many a man got married properly in those times.   Methinks that “besoolos Yerushalayim” gave praise and thanks.  If only the ever-searching-for-better-prospects bachurim of our times realized the destruction they are wreaking, on themselves, on the girls waiting for shidduchim and on our nation!

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Mount Sinai’s Modesty Crowned it With Blossoms

There is a custom to put up greenery and have flowers all over our house in anticipation for Shavuos, for we are taught that G-d made Mount Sinai blossom with beautiful blooms at the giving of the Torah.

There once was a hill, petite and unadorned

Completely brown, and totally scorned

Within the competition it stood no chance

So plain, it merited no second glance

Yet, deep within its bowels it was content

Knowing that its contours were Heaven sent

Who needs breadth, who needs height

As long as one knows one is doing one’s task right

So little Har Sinai sat there snug in a desert spot

Saying to itself, G-d never wanted me to be a big shot

Up in Heavens, tape measures are not the same as on Earth

So this little hillock had no idea of its proper worth

You see height is beautiful, so is bountiful vegetation

But humbleness has Heavenly approval beyond equation

Came time for G-d to give the Torah to the Jews

And what was needed was a mountain with celestial views

Upon which the Torah would be showcased and G-d’s presence would alight

And thereupon erupted a worldwide mountain fight

Each mountain, each hill, each austere earth projection

Thought they would be ideal for such designation

Hah, think what you will, o’ mountain tops

You flowering, well-dressed, forested fops

Beauty is as beauty does goes the adage

and boasting and fighting don’t make for a good visage

Hence the Torah was given on Sinai, small in stature, great in refinement

And G-d made sure to give Sinai a full-scale cosmetic enhancement

Taller than tall, matching Har Sinai’s beauty that was internal

G-d enhanced and beautified this mountain’s external

In a blast of color, exotic blooms suddenly sprouted along the hill

And every bare spot was filled with green, plush grass fill

The glory will forever go to those who seek it not

Blessings from G-d are the modest one’s lot.

So this Shavuos, as we pretty up our homes with green things that flower

We must realize that inner beauty is the one with lasting power!

May we all merit to be “mountains” that G-d beautifies and glorifies this Shavuos.

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Fingers Squarely on the Keyboard

It was my most prolific of writing days.  I had woken up early morning to write.  Though I usually go to sleep early with intentions of waking ere dawn, most mornings finds me safely wrapped in my quilt, way after the sun has put light into the world.  This morning was different.  I managed to rouse myself just as the morning star cracked the night.

I made coffee and promptly sat down, which was another outstanding breakthrough for me.  Usually I find something to read, some chore to finish, some dishes to wash…anything to get me from working.  But on that fateful day, I was motivated enough to head straight to my task.

I turned on the computer.  Placed my fingers on the keyboard.   My muse roared to life.  My fingers did their dance on the keyboard as thought after thought poured out of my brain cells and found their way to my keyboard.  I stared out the window at the gradually lightening world, as I allowed my brain to roam horizons of its own just as my eyes roamed that pastel-hued sky.

Now you have to understand that I’m a prolific typist—over 100 words per minute.  It’s a blessing to be able to feel the dance of my fingers keeping up with the flow of my thoughts.   In fact, I type faster than I write and as fast as I speak – and speak fast is something I’m good at doing.  That’s why on that day, as my thoughts whorled like eddies in a stream, my fingers were flying all over the keyboard.

When the sun had come up with its full brilliance, my eyes blinked and I turned away from the vast expanse of sky-view and looked down at my computer.  That is when I saw my prolific writing.  It read:  “in yhr motninh ehrn yhr dun id vominh up, yhrn yhr eholr eotllf id gillrf eiyh yhr joy og yhr momrny.”

That was just for the first line of awe-inspiring text.  It went on and on, pages of such nonsense.   I had placed the fingers of my left hand one key over on the keyboard.  I had pages and pages of utter drivel interspersed with occasional actual words.  The words which made sense were those requiring the typing of only the right hand, words such as joy.  However, although those words made sense on their own, within the mass of drivel on each side of them, they had no context whatsoever.

Ah, life, with its lessons.  How many times did I forge ahead with life, thinking I was putting forth brilliance, only to find out I was typing on the wrong keyboard, or even worse, on an unplugged one.

Many years ago, Ruth the convert came to Israel.  With no food for her or her mother-in-law, Ruth knew action was required.  She promptly headed out to the fields in the countryside, intent on collecting the “poor man’s share” of crop Jewish law required each field owner to set aside.  Ruth ended up in the field of the Jewish leader, Boaz.

With refinement and with careful consideration to Jewish law, Ruth gathered food to feed herself and her mother-in-law.  Boaz happened to see her and was impressed.  He walked over, introduced himself, and then said to her, “my daughter, don’t collect in other fields.”  Boaz was being literal, but was also conveying a more profound coded message for Ruth.  If she was going to put effort into her life, he wanted her to “collect in the right fields.”   Boaz would have had to tell me to put my fingers on the right keys for me to get it.

Life is not an easy street for anyone.  Living, loving (and even laughing) requires effort.  If we are going to go through the efforts of living, may as well make sure we have our fingers on the right keys as we do so.  One key off, and all we have lived might be mere drivel.

I’ve learned to glance down every now and then at my keyboard, look up every now and then at my computer screen, to make sure my fingers are squarely where they should be when I type.  I’ve learned to do the same with my life, every now and then take quick stock to make sure all my efforts are in the right places.  I’ve found out that being even one key off turns effort into waste.  Fingers squarely on the right keys, that’s the only way to type with meaning.   Days anchored in truth, that’s the only way to live life with meaning.

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Megilas Rus Explained

There are 70 interpretations on every word of Torah. Clearly, to go through that many is not feasible.  I try to stick with Rashi here and sometimes with other commentators.

CHAPTER I

Verse 1: And it was in the day of the judge’s judgment and there was a famine in the land and a man (ish) from Bais Lechem from the tribe of Yehuda went to live in the fields of Moav, him, his wife and his two sons.

“And it was”:  Any time Scripture uses this phrase of “Vayehi” you know tragedy is going to unfold.

Judge’s judgment:  either refers to the time period this happened, which was before the kings, during the reign of the judges or

Judge’s judgment: it was time when every Tom, Dick and Harry thought they could judge the leaders – the people sat around schmoozing and being critical of their leaders; and/or

Judge’s judgment, G-d was judging the leaders since they were not doing a good job of leading us, which brought upon us the famine

A man:  Ish denotes stature.  He was extremely wealthy and was stingy, worried that all the poor would be knocking on his door to ask for food (Rashi)

So this Megilla opens up with selfishness.  There was a rich man who didn’t want to give Tzedaka – he wanted to live for his family only, and therefore, he left his people, the Jews, when they needed him.  His children continue his selfishness – they get married to advance their careers and to just have a good time, not to build a family.

And that is the problem that began the story – self-centered non-giving behavior.  That is why the ending of the story, the “rectification” of it, has to be extreme acts of giving by Rus –an example how to completely get rid of her own needs and wants to give to others, and to ultimately bring new life to the Jewish nation by having a Jewish baby.

Verse 2:  And the name of this man was Elimelech and the name of his wife was Na’ami and the name of his two sons Machlon and Kilyon, from Efrat, Bais Lechem, Yehuda, and they arrived to the fields of Moav and they were there.

And they were there:  Malbim – at first (see first verse) they wanted to just live temporarily in Moav, but once there, they decided to settle in.

Verse 3:  And Elimelech died, the husband of Na’ami and she remained and her two sons.

Rashi:  Why does it have to describe him as the husband of Na’ami as he dies?  2 things:  first, a man dies mostly for his wife – his loss is felt more keenly by her than by his children or by others.  And secondly, why didn’t she get punished and die for leavingIsrael?  Because she had a husband who took the lead before he died and brought her here – it was not her initiative, therefore, not her fault.

Verse 4:  And they married wives, Moaviot, one was named Orpah and the second one’s name was Rus, and they lived there like ten years.

Verse 5:  And they also died the two of them Machlon and Kilyon and the woman was left alone without her two sons and without her husband.

And they also:  why is it necessary the word “also”, Rashi:  G-d first hit their money and made them paupers to try to wake them.  They didn’t repent.  Then, they also died.

G-d always hits us first financially to get our attention.  If we ignore when He hits with money problems, then G-d is so-to-speak  “forced” to hit us with sickness.  “Kee Lo Tachpotz B’mos Hamays” – we are taught that G-d really doesn’t want the dying [for their sins] to die.  “Ad Yom Moso Achakeh Lo”  – until a man is stone-cold dead, G-d waits for man to repent.

Verse 6:  And she got up and her two daughter-in-laws and returned from the fields of Moav because she heard that G-d had pity (remembered) his nation to give them bread. Verse 7:  And she went out of the place where she was and her two daughter-in-laws with her, and they went on the way to return to the land of Yehuda.

First they moved away from her hometown because she decided the luck there was bad (Shoneh Mekomo, Shoneh Mazalo – which means switching one’s residence switches one’s luck).  Then she decided to depart completely from Moav and go back to Israel.

She went out:  Rashi.  When a Tzaddik leaves a place, the place is affected because the holiness goes out of the place– that is why it says, “she went out” instead of she left.  The same language is used by Yaakov Avinu

Verse 8:  And Na’ami said to her two daughter-in-laws, go, return each woman to her mother’s home, G-d should do with you Chesed-kindness like you did with the dead ones and with me.  Verse 9:  G-d should give you and you should find tranquility each woman in her husband’s home, and she kissed them and they raised their voices and cried. Verse 10:  And they said to her, but with you we are returning to your nation.

They tell her they want to convert for the sake of fitting into her nation.  This is the 1st indication they want to convert, but they are not yet saying they are doing so because of G-d.  Conversion to Judaism MUST be only done for the sake of G-d.

 Verse 11:  And Na’ami said, return my daughters, why should you go with me, do I still have sons in my womb so that you might end up marrying them? Verse 12:  Return my daughters, go, because I am too old to get married and even if I had a [wild] hope that tonight I would find a guy and I would have more children.  Verse 13:  Will you wait for the children until they grow up?  Would you tie yourself down to them?  No my daughters, because it is very bitter for me more than for you because G-d’s hand went out against me.  Verse 14:  They raised their voices and cried more and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and Rus stuck to her. 

The word stuck is DEVEK (which incidentally also means glue).  It is a very close connection – we are told to stick to G-d – how can you do so, by sticking close to holy people.

Why did Orpah leave at this point?  She was willing to convert, but only if she could see benefits in life from her conversion.  If, however, what Na’ami said was true, that she might convert and no one would marry her and she would have to be a spinster, then she wasn’t willing to convert.  She wasn’t willing to sign on for the truthful life, the Torah life, if it included heartache.  Rus, on the other hand, was willing to do whatever it takes to change.  In the end, Rus is the one with lasting generations.  Sometimes we see the sacrifices we make for Torah and think we don’t see reward.  Wait a few generations, and you will see those who don’t make the sacrifices end up losing out big-time, while those who did make the sacrifices end up having generations of grandchildren they can get credit for.

 Verse 15:  And she [Na’ami] said [to Rus], see here your sister-in-law returned to her nation and to her god, return after your sister-in-law

Note she did not say, “return to your god – she wanted Rus to return home but still be a righteous gentile

Verse 16:  And Rus said, don’t pressure me to leave you to return from following after you because wherever you go, I will go, wherever you sleep, I will sleep, your nation is my nation and your G-d is my G-d  Verse 17:  And how you die, I will die and there I will be buried, so G-d shall do to me if anything other than death will separate us.

 Rashi:  from here we learn that when a converts comes to join our nation, we let them know some of the punishments that would befall them if they took on the Mitzvos and didn’t keep it – you can see it from what Rus is responding to Na’ami (which indicates that Na’ami said something to prompt this monologue).  Na’ami explained T’chum Shabbos – so Rus said “where you go, I’ll go – I’ll learn the borders of where I can go by observing you and follow suit. “ Na’ami told her the Halachos of Yichud, and so Rus said, I’ll make the same sleeping arrangements as you, never alone with an unrelated man.  Na’ami said, but we Jews have so many laws, minute details – 613 categories of them.  So Rus said, your nation if my nation – I am signing up for this by converting.  Na’ami tried another tack – we Jews only have 1 G-d and you can’t worship anything else – so Rus responds, your G-d is mine.  Na’ami tries now the real scare tactic:  if you do mess up on all these 613 you said you want to take on, for some of them, if you violate them you get yourself killed by Bais Din.  To which Rus responds, I accept that I will be killed “how you die…” if I transgress.  Na’ami said, but even after Bais Din kills you, they sometimes punish you further by how and where they bury you, and Rus responds, “I accept that a consequence might be that ‘there I will be buried.’”

Verse 18:  and she [Na’ami] saw that she is strengthened [in her will] to go with her, and she stopped speaking to her.

From here you learn, once you have ascertained the sincerity of the potential convert, you stop trying to push him/her away but also don’t persuade him/her into the conversion.

Verse 19:  And the two of them went until they came to Bais Lechem and it was when they came to Beis Lechem and the city was in an uproar about them and they all said, is this Na’ami

 And the two of them…Rashi:  see how beloved are converts – as soon as Rus had the intentions of converting she becomes on equal footing as Na’ami

[Remember the va’yehi codeword –] and it was…there was a funeral that day which is why the whole town saw Na’ami enter town – they were all outside.  Who died?  The wife of Boaz.

Verse 20:  And she said to them, don’t call me Na’ami, call me Marah because G-d caused bitterness to me

Don’t call  me – don’t think I was a Na’ami a person of pleasant deeds and that this happened for no reason –call me Marah – I was the one whocaused this bitterness by doing the wrong thing.  Na’ami wanted to make sure that no Jew thought that things that happen for the bad are random – so she confessed that she deserved what she had gotten, stressing it so that no one should be angry/bitter against G-d.

Verse 21:  I left full , and empty G-d returned me, why should you call me Na’ami and G-d answered against me and punished me.  Verse 22:  And so it was that Na’ami returned and her daughter-in-law, Ruth the Moaviyah along with her, returned from the fields of Moav and they came to Bais Lechem at the beginning of the barley harvest season [the time of the Omer, which is Pesach time].

 CHAPTER II

  Verse 1:  And Na’ami had a relative of her late husband, an important rich man from the family of Elimelech and his name was Boaz.

How was Boaz related?  He was Elimelech’s nephew –the son of his brother. Elimelech was actually also Na’ami’s uncle.  Nachshon ben Aminadav had three sons:  Elimelech; Shalmon the father of Boaz and of Ploni Almoni; &  an unidentified man who was the father of Na’ami.  Why didn’t Na’ami ask Boaz for help?  She was too embarrassed that her husband had left his town in dire need, while Boaz stayed on and supported the poor.  Please note, in those days, relatives all lived together in the same towns, hence Elimelech was not just abandoning Jewish people when he didn’t want to share his wealth – he was walking out on his family.  Boaz, on the other hand, stayed behind and gave generously to those who were starving.

Verse 2:   And Ruth the Moaviyah said to Na’ami I will go to the field and will gather Leket in the fields of someone who will favor me [who won’t mind that I’m doing it]

In Israel, the poor people have instant rights to certain parts of the field.  The corners of the field are not to be harvested by the owners, but are left for the poor people to gather food from there.  Similarly, as they bundle the wheat t ocut them down, if two stalks are notcaught up in the bundle, the bundle cannot be retied and those two stalks belong to the poor people.  Lastly, as the bundles that are cut are beingcarried across the field, any two stalks that fall are the domain of the poor people.  Hence, Ruth had the right to those goods.  However, she was going to ask permission of the owner if she could do this in his field.  A very beautiful middah that G-d loves is when a person doesn’t demand his/her full rights.  Not insisting on our rights – Ruth had a right to gather –but did it where she wouldn’t be resented.

Verse 3: And she went and she came and she gathered in the fields after the reapers, and it “happened” that she ended in the fields of Boaz who was family to Elimelech.

Weird wording, she went and came and then gathered.  It seems out of order.  But Rus was a thought-out person.  She went and came – made sure she knew the way home before settling in for work.

See how circumstances “happen” – all leading to the mother of Moshiach having her child.  Ruth “happened” to arrive in Bais Lechem when Boaz lost his wife.  She “happened” to chance upon his field…and you will see the rest below…

Verse 4:  And behold Boaz came from Bais Lechem to his fields and he said to the reapers, G-d be with you and they said to him, G-d should bless you.

Boaz is the one who instituted the custom of Jews of greeting with G-d’s name to keep G-ds presence in everyone’s mind.

And he “happened” to come by the field on the precise day that Rus was there and “happened” to speak to his workers in the area of the field where she was at work.

Verse 5:  And Boaz said to his overseer, who is that girl?

 Rashi:  Boaz noticed Rus right away.  Why?  She stood out because of her strictness with Halacha and for her modesty.  Most of the poor women hitched up their skirts to work easily among the grains – they also flirted with the reapers.  Rus did neither. She knelt for each gathering she took.  Furthermore, she only took two stalks, never three, and always made sure what she was taking was Halachically able to be taken.  Therefore, it is no wonder she stood out.

Verse 6:  And the overseer said, a Moaviyah girl, the one who returned with Na’ami from the fields of Moav. Verse 7:  (con’t) and she asked, please let me gather after the reapers, and she came and stood from then in the morning until now except for a short rest in the hut

 Some people don’t know how to hear or say positive things.  Boaz notices the girl and her positive traits and asks about her, and the worker had to stick in a bit of Lashon Harah – oh, that girl, she’s the Moaviya – she’s the convert.  We have to make sure we don’t stick in bad every time we talk about someone.

 Verse 8:  And Boaz said to Rus, listen carefully, my daughter, don’t go gather in another field, and don’t leave this one, and here you shall stick to my maidservants.

 Allegorically, Boaz was saying, Yasher Koach, kudos to you for converting to belief in G-d and Judaism – and stay here, don’t try to go outside to secularism.

Verse 9:  Keep your eyes peeled on the field where they are harvesting and go after them and I told my male workers not to touch/bother/molest you – when you are thirsty, go to the drinking vessel and drink what the workers draw up from the well.  Verse 10:  And she fell on her face and she bowed to the earth and said to him, why have I found favor in your eyes that you recognize me and I am a stranger. Verse 11:  And Boaz answered and told her, I was told already all you did for your mother-in-law after the death of you husband and that you left your father and mother and your homeland and you came to a nation you didn’t know at all at any time.

 Even though Boaz’s worker said the part about the conversion as lashon Harah, Boaz saw the good in it and praised her for it.  Even when someone says something derogatory about someone to us, we should flip those words and see how what was said is a credit to the person.

 Verse 12:  G-d should pay you for your efforts and your reward should be fully from G-d of Israel because you came to rely/rest beneath His wings. Verse 13:  And she said, let me continue to find favor in your eyes because you have comforted me and you spoke to the heart of your servant and I am not even worthy of being like one of your servants.

It is important to realize what a good word can do for someone.  Don’t be stingy with your nice words and compliments – it can change a person’s whole day to hear a nice word.

Verse 14:  And Boaz said to her at mealtime, come close hear and eat from the bread and dip your bread into vinegar and she sat aside from the reapers and he gave her some parched/roasted grain and she ate and was full and had leftovers from her meal. Vinegar is good for the heat.

Midrash:  If Boaz would have known that the Torah would record he gave her this bit of barley, he would have run out and slaughtered a calf and roasted it and given her succulent steak.  If we only knew how precious what we do, even the small things, are to Hashem – and that it might be recorded in future scrolls to be unveiled in the times of Moshiach, how much more effort and heart and soul would we put into our deeds!

Verse 15&16:  And she got up to gather and Boaz commanded his workers saying, let her gather among the stalks and don’t embarrass her, and on purpose leave stalks that she will think you forgot so that she has what to gather and don’t rebuke her.  Verse 17:  And she gathered in the field until evening and she beat out what she had gathered and it was a measure of an Epha of barley. Verse 18:  And she carried it and came to the city and her mother-in-law saw what she had gathered and she took out and gave to her what was left of her lunch.

 Rus made sure to save some of the ready-made food she had eaten during lunch so that her mother-in-law shouldn’t have to go hungry for one second longer than it took her to get home.

 Verse 19:  And her mother-in-law said to her, where did you gather today and where did you do this – may he who recognized you be blessed, and she told her mother-in-law what she did with him and she said, the name of the man who I did for today is Boaz.

Wait a moment, didn’t Boaz do something for her and not her for him, so what is she talking about?  Rus understood that more than the taker takes, the taker also gives, the opportunity for Chesed is a giving too.

Verse 20:  And Na’ami said to her daughter-in-law, blessed be he by G-d that he did not leave his kindness to the living and to the dead, and Na’ami told her, he is a relative to us, he is one of our redeemers. Verse 21:  And Rus the Moaviya said, he also told me, “to my [male] workers you should stick until they finish the harvest for me”.

When Rus was recounting what Boaz said, she erroneously said that he told her to stick with his male workers, which is why this Posuk stresses her Moaviya status (as opposed to next Posuk) – that she still was learning modesty.

Verse 22:  And Na’ami said to Rus her daughter-in-law, it is good, my daughter that you go out with his [female] workers and won’t get harmed in another field.

 Na’ami was softly telling her what to do to stay modest – she said, if Boaz told you it is okay to hang around his male workers, they are probably G-d fearing and okay to be around, but I suggest you to rather stick with his female workers.

Verse 23:  And she stuck to Boaz’s female workers to gather until the end of the harvest of the barley and the harvest of the wheat and she returned to her mother-in-law

 It was 90 days until this point – which is how much time a convert must wait from conversion until when they can Halachically marry into the Jewish nation.

 CHAPTER III

Verse 1:  And Na’ami, her mother-in-law, said to her, my daughter, shall I not seek for you a security/read GUY so that it should be good for you. Verse 2:  And now, Boaz is our relative, and you were with his servants, and he is now winnowing his barley tonight.

 What is the point of the introduction of Boaz and about the “you were with his servants” part – Na’ami was redting a Shidduch and had to do it properly, introduce the best aspects of the guy.

Verse 3:  And you should wash yourself, anoint yourself, put on your dress, and you should go down the winnowing place and don’t let man see you until he finishes to eat and drink.

Put on your dress:  Rashi – get dressed in Shabbos clothing.

Verse 4:  And when he lies down, note the place that he is laying and you should go and uncover his foot and lie down and he will tell you what to do.

Please note:  nothing wrong was being instructed since Yichud for an unmarried woman only came about in the times of Dovid (who was a grandson of Rus)

Verse 5:   And she said to her, whatever you said {to me is read but not written} I will do

Why this weird reading out of a word that is not written?  To show the greatness of Rus, she left herself out of the equation.

Verse 6:  And she went down to the winnowing place, and she did as her mother-in-law commanded

Rashi:  she reversed part of the order – she got dressed and perfumed only once she was down there so that while she was walking on her way there she should not attract undue attention

Verse 7:  And Boaz ate, drank and his heart was good, and he came to sleep on the edge of the grain pile and she came quietly and uncovered his feet and and she lie down.

His heart was good:  he was learning Torah

Verse 8:  and it was midnight and the man was startled because there was a woman lying by his feet.

Midnight:  He got up to learn Torah.  His grandson Dovid wrote in Psalm “Chatzos Layla Akum…”MidnightI wake up to thank/acknowledge You Hashem.

Verse 9:  And he said, who are you and she said, I am Rus your servant and please spread your wings over your servant because you are a redeemer.  Verse 10:  And he said, you should be blessed by Hashem, my daughter, you have extended your latest kindness from the first because you did not chase after the young guys, poor or rich.  Verse 11:  And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid, I will do whatever you want of me, because all know you to be a woman of valor. Verse 12:  and now, I am a redeemer, but there is a closer redeemer than me. Verse 13:  Stay the night and when it is morning, if the other guy redeems you, great, and if he doesn’t want to redeem you, I will redeem you, Chai Hashem, lay until morning.

 Why did he swear?  Rashi:  to put his Yetzar Harah  under his control, by promising that until he married her, he would not have a relationship with her.

Verse 14:  And she lay there by his feet until morning and he got up before it was time when one person could recognize his friend and he said let it not be known that the woman came to the winnowing place.

He davened all night, please G-d don’t let her reputation be ruined, let no one know she was here so that no one casts aspersions against her, spreading false rumors about why she was here.

Verse 15:  And he said, give me your shawl and grasp the other end, and he put six measures of barley and put it on her back and then he went to the city.

 He alluded in prophecy to six of the great descendants they would have together or (Rashi) alluded to the fact that a descendant would have six measures of praises/wisdom.  Why did he go to the city?  Rashi to walk her back so she would get home safe.

Verse 16:  And she came to her mother-in-law and she asked, who are you, my daughter,  and she told her all he had done.

Who are you – married yet or not?

Verse 17:  And she told her, he gave me these six measures of barley because he said I should not come empty-handed to my mother-in-law.  Verse 18:  and she said to her, stay put, my daughter, until we know how the matter will fall, he will not be silent, this man, until this matter is concluded today.

A righteous person always follows through on his commitment, so Na’ami was no longer worried once she knew Boaz had committed himself to helping make sure Rus got married.

CHAPTER IV

Verse 1:  And Boaz went up to the gate and sat there, and behold, the redeemer who he spoke about passed by, and he said, turn aside and sit here, Ploni-Almoni, and he turned aside and sat there.

 Why was he called Ploni-Almoni, because it was an indignity that he didn’t want to do this Chesed, so he gets named ANON.

Verse 2:  And he took ten men from the leaders of the city and said, sit here and they sat there.  Verse 3:  The field of Avimelech is being sold by Na’ami who came back from the fields of Moav.  Verse 4:  And I said, I will let you know you can buy the field in front of those who sit here, in front of these Elders, and if you redeem it, redeem it, and if not, tell me because other than you, I am next in line for redeemer and I told myself I will redeem it.  Verse 5:  And Boaz said, on the day you buy the field from Na’ami and from Rus the Moaviyah, the wife of the dead, you must establish a name for the dead on his inheritance/his land portion.  Verse 6:  And the redeemer said, I cannot redeem in case I destroy my own inheritance – you redeem my redemption-obligation – I cannot redeem.  Verse 7:  and this used to be the redemption method or exchange contract by the Jews to fulfill it, a man would draw off the shoe and would give it to his friend and this was the way of ratificationVerse 8:  And the Redeemer said to Boaz, buy it for yourself, and he removed his shoe.  Verse 9:  And Boaz said to the Elders and to all the people, you are witnesses today that I bought all that belonged to Elimelech and all that was to Kilyon and Machlon from the hands of Na’ami  Verse 10:  and also Rus the Maoviyah the wife of Machlon I purchased as a wife to establish the name of the dead on his inheritance and the name of the dead man shall not be cut off from his brother and from the gates of his place, you are all witnesses today.  Verse 11:  And all the nation who was by the gate and all the elders said we are witnesses, May G-d give you the woman who comes into your home like Rachel and like Laya that both built the house of Yisroel, may you prosper in Efrat and be renowned in Bais Lechem Verse 12:  And may your house be like the house of Peretz that was born to Tamar and Yehuda from the children that G-d will give you from this girl

The people told Boaz that it should be just as Yehuda – who it was the right thing to have a child with Tamar because it too was a redemption.

Verse 13:  And Boaz took Rus and married her and she became pregnant and she gave birth to a son.

 Boaz died that night – Rus had the baby alone

Verse 14:  And the women said to Na’ami Blessed is G-d who did not withhold a redeemer and his name should be called in Israel. Verse 15:  And he will be for you a restorer of your spirit and to fill your days of elderliness because your daughter-in-law who you love gave birth and she is better to you than seven sons.  Verse 16:And Na’ami took the boy and held him and was his nanny. Verse 17:  And the neighbors (the wags) said a son was born to Na’ami and she called his name Oved, he is the father of Yishai, the father of Dovid.  Verse 18:  And these are the descendants of Peretz:  Peretz had Chetzron  Verse 19:  And Chetzron had Ram, and Ram had Aminadav  Verse 20:  And Aminadav had Nachshon and Nachson had Shalmah Verse 21:  And Shalmon had Boaz and Boaz had Ovaid Verse 22:  And Ovaid had Yishai and Yisha gave birth to Dovid.

Dovid is the Melech HaMashiach – -the forefather of our future redeemer – -here starts our redemption – by a woman who taught us how to be giving, how to go above and beyond ourselves to build a solid Jewish home.  My blessing to us all is that each of us learn how to be unselfish so that we merit to see generations of amazing children.  Rus lived to see Shlomo HaMelech, who installed a throne in his palace for her and had her sit with him so that she could see, firsthand, the amazing results and rewards of her hard work.  Life can be hard when we do the right thing, but the reward for doing the right thing, the impact on the whole face of history, is beyond our wildest calculations.  Go, do, give and build.

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Mitzvos Can Taste Sweet

TASTE THE SWEETNESS

Rav Shimon Schwab, ZT”L described a visit he had merited with the Chofetz Chaim.  At the time of the visit, the Chofetz Chaim kept posing challenging questions, leading Rav Schwab to make some life-altering decisions.  One of the questions posed was as follows:

We know the Manna tasted like whatever the person eating it thought about.  If the thought was of double-scoop pistachio ice cream, the manna tasted like that cooling dessert.  If the thought was of a juicy medium-rare steak, the manna tasted succulent and meaty.  What, however, was the taste of the manna, if the person eating it had no thought in mind whatsoever?

That was the question the Chofetz Chaim posed to the young Rav Schwab.  After not getting a response, the Chofetz Chaim answered his own question with these words, “Az Men Tracht Nisht, Hut Is Nisht Kayn Ta’Am If one does not think, there is no taste!”

Mitzvos have a beautiful Ta’am, a delicious oomph and flavor.  But that takes Kavannah, concentration, and knowing what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

We have to put thought into what we do.  No mindless Judaism.  Think.  Know.  Focus.  Taste the Ta’am.

Now what happens if someone, unfortunately, can’t taste.  There’s something wrong with his taste buds or with his sinuses.  What if you’re the doctor and are treating such a patient? Would you tell your poor tasteless patient not to eat because he can’t taste things?  Probably not.  You’re more likely to tell him to keep on eating nutritious foods.  You might try curing his sinus infection or healing his taste buds so he can get the enjoyment out of his food once again.  Yet, even when he can’t taste food, he must eat or starve.

Many within our generation, myself included, have severely infected ourselves with materialism, lust, jealousy, laziness, ignorance, to the point we cannot always taste the sweetness of the Mitzvos.  Occasionally I find myself feeling the sweetness.  Yet, I do admit, sometimes I don’t.  Does that mean we should not continue doing?  Hashem forbid, no.  That would mean death to our spiritual selves, and even to our physical selves in some ways.  Continue doing, even when you can’t taste.  Yet, know if you’re not tasting the sweetness of the Mitzvos, you have an infection somewhere in your spiritual self.  Concentrate.  Clean up your act.  Then, and only then, will you be able to get the full enjoyment out of the Mitzvos.

 

For a description of another aspect of Rabbi Schwab’s visit with the Chofetz Chaim, check out http://www.torah.org/learning/ravfrand/5757/kisisa.html?print=1#

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Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Master of Kabbala – Lag B’Omer

Today is Lag Ba’omer, the 33rd day of the count of the Omer and the rules of mourning we keep during Sefirah do not apply.  We listen to music, cut hair, and light this big bonfire.  Why?

  1. The students of Rabbi Akiva stopped dying on this day, hence the cessation of mourning.
  2. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai passed away on this day, hence the bonfire.

CUSTOMS:

Hillulah – to make a bonfire in honor of the Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.  He taught us the Zohar (Kabbalah)  — bringing light to the world through his Torah teachings.  So we light up a big fire to symbolize the brightness of Torah he brought to us.

To play with bows and arrows.  Why?  Because during the times of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai no rainbow was seen (rainbows are the sign that the world deserves a flood and when there is a very righteous person living in the world, there is never a rainbow because that person’s merit means G-d thinks the world is worth it just for that righteous person).

Who was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai?  He was one of the premier students of Rabbi Akiva who expounded on the mystical Kabbalistic aspect of Torah.

At one point someone in a conversation said the Roman conquerors were good people because they built roads in Eretz Yisroel.  Rabbi Shimon retorted, “They only do good for their own good; they don’t mean us.”  An informer overheard and went to tell the Romans, which brought a price on Rabbi Shimon’s head.  The Romans would sorely have loved to kill him.   However, Rabbi Shimon had more to do in life and wasn’t out to oblige the Romans by being caught.  He fled town with his son.  They found a cave in the hills, and what was good for King David was good for them…the cave became a place of refuge.

A carob tree grew right outside of the cave and a river ran through it and for years Rabbi Shimon and his son sat and learned Torah, the highest mystical parts of it, there in the cave.  Eventually  a messenger came and told them the decree against them was taken away; the Romans had lifted the death warrant.  At that welcome news, Rabbi Shimon and his son left the cave and reentered the world population.

As they were walking around outside for the first time, they saw a man busy with plowing his field.  The many years Rabbi Shimon and his son had been wrapped up in only spirituality made it hard for them to understand how people could waste their time on physical needs.  They, therefore, looked askance at the world, their gaze accusing.  From that look, they set fire to the field.  A voice came out from Heavens saying, “Did you come out of the cave to destroy My world – turn around and go back to the cave.”

Pronto – the two great mystics returned to the cave and learned for another few years.  After a few more years immersed in Torah study non-stop, they decided to emerge again from the cave.  This time it was Erev Shabbos when they re-entered civilization.  The first thing they saw was a man with two sprigs of sweet smelling flowers.  They asked him what it was for – and he said he was taking those sprigs home L’Kavod Shabbos.  Ah, that was the key, physicality was there to serve spirituality.  Now they could look at the world, with all its inherent physicality and still find favor in it, for all that physicality is just latent spirituality.

And as my holy father taught us, “If you can’t look at the world in the right light and find favor with it…or if you are too farfrumt to the point that you don’t have a handle on being a normal person in a functioning, physical world, get ye’self into a cave until you learn how to work that issue out.”

Light up the bonfires, sing and dance, and find favor in this wonderful world of ours which is full of physical blessings which we can use for the worship of our Creator.

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