Thursday, June 8, 2006

The "Mini-Shiur" I gave on Shavuot

It's traditonal for Jews to study Torah the night of the Shavuot Holiday, which celebrates our receiving the Torah from G-d.

There's all night learning in English by one of my neighbors on Shavuot. This year I was asked to give a shiur (Torah lesson) for a few minutes. At least I understood that it would be a very short one, so considering that I had little notice and no time to prepare, I agreed. I "opened for" the Rav, that's the Shiloh Rabbi Elchanan Bin Nun, who is not a native English speaker, though the past few years he began giving English shiurim on special occassions, since some neighbors don't understand much Hebrew. Some of us, who have sufficient Hebrew to also go to make sure there's enough turn-out and help translating if he gets stuck. Also, it's always interesting and why not take advantage?

I'll try to write what I had said, including the introduction.

When I was growing up, in the New York City school system, it was required that someone recite a "Biblical passage" at every "assembly." Never being shy about speaking in public, I frequently volunteered. It was in either or both P.S. 46 or J.H. S. 74. We were given a sheet of paper with suggested passages to choose from. Being that we were in a New York City Public School, not all of the passgages were from the Jewish Bible. There was one I always chose, it was Ruth's pledge to Naomi.

Ruth Chapter 1
1:16 And Ruth said: 'Entreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after
thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God;

A few years later, when I was already an Orthodox Jew and a student in Stern College, where a student always gave a Parshat Shavua Dvar Torah (short talk based on the Torah Portion of the Week) at the Shabbat meals, I always volunteered the week of Lech Lecha.

Genesis Chapter 12
12:1 Now the Lord said unto Abram: 'Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto the land that I will show thee.

Decades later, here in Shiloh, suddenly at a shiur which was about one of the two, I suddenly saw a connection and asked whichever rabbi was giving it: "Please give a shiur connecting Ruth's pledge and Lech Lecha." I repeated that request to a variety of rabbis every few months, twice a year, on Shavuot and Parshat Lech Lecha, but nobody did it. I even blogged about it.

And then when I was given the opportunity I behaved like my favorite fairy tale character, The Little Red Hen, and "I did it myself."

And here it is:

Here are the complete quotations I distributed; read them very carefully and see the intrinsic similarities and differences.

Jewish Publication Society: Genesis Chapter 12
12:1 Now the Lord said unto Abram: 'Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto the land that I will show thee.
12:2 and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing.
12:3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.'

Jewish Publication Society: Ruth Chapter 1
1:15 And she said: 'Behold, thy sister-in-law is gone back unto her people, and unto her god; return thou after thy sister-in-law.'
1:16 And Ruth said: 'Entreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God;
1:17 where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.'
1:18 And when she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, she left off speaking unto her.


Remember that Abraham, who was still Abram at the time, was given these orders by G-d, and Ruth, a young widow, made these decisions on her own. That's one of the important differences between men and women. That's why in the morning blessings we thank G-d for "making us according to His wish." We're more "connected to G-d."

Naomi and her husband Elimelech were among the wealthiest in Beit Lechem and fled it during time of hardship and poverty, in order not to have to give their possessions away. They took everything to Moav with their two sons, who then married local women. In the end, Naomi was widowed, childless, poverty-sticken, left with just her two daughters-in-law.

There's an interesting Rashi to the second Lech Lecha verse:

Verse 2: I will make you into a great nation.4
Since traveling causes three things: It inhibits the birth of children, and decreases one's wealth and lessens one's fame, therefore, these three blessings were necessary. He [G-d], promised him children, wealth and fame.5

Elimelech and Naomi traveled, they left the Land of Israel, and they subsequentally lost their children, wealth and good name. And that's the message to all. We will not save ourselves by leaving our precious Land.

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