Every year on Shavuot, Jews worldwide study the Book of Ruth. This short but moving Biblical account records how Ruth, the grandmother of King David, originally converted to Judaism from her Moabite roots.
“Wherever you go, I will go…your people shall be my people and your God my God,” declares Ruth, as she pledges to remain by her Jewish mother-in-law’s side. From this passage, we learn two important truths.
First, the Jewish tradition welcomes and treasures Jews-by-choice. Ruth’s story reminds me of how our Toronto Jewish community has been immeasurably strengthened by many remarkable individuals who chose to join the Jewish people and live a Jewish life. Her example reveals a quality that I’ve seen among Jews-by-choice who have joined our community: a unique ability to appreciate the beauty and meaning to be found in Judaism.
Second, we learn from Ruth that what makes Judaism distinct is that it is both a nation of people and a religion of ideas. In just a few words, she has voiced one of the Bible’s most powerful descriptions of what it means to be Jewish. This definition isn’t abstract theology. It has profound meaning for each of us today.
A nation of people has more than just shared roots. It has a shared responsibility to care for the safety and wellbeing of the entire nation. That truth is especially poignant as we witness Israelis, once again, having to endure painful trauma and loss at the hands of terrorism. This week, your people shall be my people is our call to take action—to reach out, speak up, and offer any support we can to the people of Israel in their moment of need. Because being a bystander is not an option when thousands of Jewish children wait in bomb shelters for this nightmare to end.
So too, a religion of ideas reminds us of our responsibility to grapple with those ideas and discover what they have to teach us about how to live a meaningful life. The tradition of overnight Torah study on Shavuot is a wonderful opportunity to reengage with the foundational ideas of Judaism and explore Jewish topics in greater depth. And while in-person study cannot take place as it would in an ordinary year, this shouldn’t prevent us from celebrating the holiday with members of our household.
Last year, I asked our community’s rabbis to share one text that they recommend for community members seeking inspirational reading on Shavuot. As this was well received by our readers, we have compiled a similar list of readings for this year, drawing on suggestions submitted by local rabbis across the denominational spectrum. The full list of recommended readings may be found here.
I wish you and your loved ones a meaningful and happy Shavuot. May each of us have a newfound appreciation for Ruth’s message and the fact that—as Jews—we are bound to one another by the enduring strength of our nation and the ideas that shape who we are.
Chag Shavuot Sameach,
President & CEO
UJA Federation of Greater Toronto