The Biblical tale of "Ruth" rises in our awareness this week because we are soon to celebrate her special holy-day.
from wikipedia: Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld : "Ruth in Boaz's Field", 1828
This coming Saturday evening, Jews begin celebrating the festival of Shavuot -- "Weeks." It begins seven weeks and one day -- fifty days -- after the second night of Passover, and its observance brings us many lessons. In Christian tradition, followers of Jesus gathered to celebrate this holy day and experienced the in-rush of the Holy Breath-Wind-Spirit in many languages. They named the day Pentecost, from the Greek for "fifty."
Shavuot has many faces. For the Bible, it was the moment to celebrate the success of the spring wheat harvest. For the ancient Rabbis, it was the anniversary of Torah's revelation on Mount Sinai.
And the Rabbis left as legacy to us the annual reading of three extraordinary texts:
- The Book of Ruth, an earthy tale of farming, outcasts, and communal sharing;
- The Prophet Ezekiel's mystical vision of what has come to be called The Chariot: a moving vision of Four Faces moving -- crowned by the iridescent Rainbow.
In the week before Shavuot, I want to explore all these aspects of the festival.
First, "Ruth." In the biblical story, Ruth was a penniless immigrant from a despised pariah people. Yet she was welcomed onto the fields of Boaz, where she gleaned what the regular harvesters had left behind. Boaz made sure that even this despised foreigner had a decent job at decent pay. He forbade his male employees from harassing her. When she went one night to the barn where the barley crop was being threshed, he spent the night with her -- and decided to marry her.
But -- if Ruth came to America today, what would happen?
Would she be admitted at the border?
Or would she be detained for months without a lawyer, ripped from Naomi's arms while Naomi's protest brought her too under suspicion -- detained because she was, after all, a Canaanite who spoke some variety of Arabic, possibly a terrorist, for sure an idolator?
Would she have to show a "green card" before she could get a job gleaning at any farm, restaurant, or hospital?
Would she be sent to "workfare" with no protections for her dignity, her freedom, or her health?