Torat Chessed

We read the Book of Ruth on Chag HaShavuot.  At first glance it seems like a strange choice.  The storyline of Rut has little or nothing to do with Revelation and standing at Sinia, the main theme of the holiday.  What is the reason why the Rabbis chose Sefer Rut to be read on the holiday on which we receive the Torah?

The Midrash (Shmot Raba 28:1) teaches us that when Moshe stood at Sinia the angels present resisted the giving of the Torah to him.  At that moment the “Master of the World” altered Moshe’s face to appear as the face of Avraham Avinu.  Hashem said to the angels, “Are you not ashamed?  Was he not the one that opened up his home for you to eat?”  Hashem then turned to Moshe and said, you are only be given the Torah in the merit of Avraham, a giant among men.

This Midrash is shocking!  Was Moshe Rabbenu not elevated enough to receive the Torah on behalf of the Jewish People?  We know that our great leader attained closeness to God that no other man, including Avraham Avinu, ever attained.  That was not a strong enough basis for him to receive the Torah?  What’s the message being expressed by this midrash?

Rav Eliyahu Dessler ZT”L in his famous work Michtav M”eliyahu explains that with regards to the all-important attribute of humility Moshe indeed was unsurpassed.  No man in the history of the world would ever be more humble than Moshe Rabbenu.  Humility enables a person to study Torah and perform mitzvot Lishmah, for the sake of Heaven.   However, the angels sensed that there still existed within Moshe a level of self awareness, an “ego,” as subtle as it was, which inhibited a true transfer of the Divine Code to human beings.  For this reason the angels halted the giving of Torah.

At that moment God altered the face of Moshe to appear like Avraham Avinu.  Why did the chessed of Avraham surpass the humility of Moshe in terms of a better justification to receive the Torah?

Acts of righteous kindness elevate a person to a level of connection with Hashem that cannot be done through the attribute of humility.  Chessed creates a likeness or a dvakut between human and God; the world was created for this purpose.  Rav Dessler explains that the meaning of Avraham’s face being transposed onto that of Moshe’s tells us that Moshe Rabbenu incorporated the chessed of Avraham into his own personality.  He did acts of chessed numerous times throughout his life, but most specifically Rav Dessler points to the forty years in the desert when Moshe selflessly taught the Jewish People Torah.  That was Moshe Rabbenu’s greatest act of chessed and for that he merited to receive the Torah.

Chaza”l teach us that the Book of Rut is a book filled with chessed from start to finish.  Rut’s commitment to stay with Noami as she returned to Eretz Yisrael after losing her entire family is a most unselfish and companionate act.  Boaz taking the time to notice, help and support the new arrival, Rut, is a benevolent act of goodness.  Noami’s love and guidance for Rut as they attempt to rebuild a life for themselves is without bounds.  The mitzvah of yibum (levirate marriage), bringing the soul of the deceased back to this world, and the redemption of Noami’s family estate, ultimately fulfilled by Boaz and Rut are considered to be a supreme acts of altruism.  It is not only the acts themselves which teach us about the righteousness of the individuals in the story.  The loving and delicate manner in which they speak is also reflective of the great stature of personalities in Sefer Rut.

If the Torah was given in the merit of Avraham Avinu and acts of chessed, the Book of Rut serves as a perfect reflection of simple Jews, generations later, who absorbed this message and lived lives of loving kindness.  Rut more than any other book in Tana”ch highlights the centrality and importance of chessed in a world with a spiritual mission and destiny.

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