Friday, November 11, 2005

The 71st Face

According to Jewish Tradition there are "shivim panim l'Torah," "70 faces, facets, sides, opinions to the Torah." Now I'm no great rabbi or sage; I'm just a housewife who teaches English and blogs, so I don't consider myself one of the seventy. Call me the 71st.

For quite a few years, twice a year I find myself asking the same question and getting no answer. Every Parshat Lech Lecha, (Genesis, Chapter 12-17, 27) Torah Portion Lech Lecha or "Go," and every Shavuot when we read Megillat Rut, the Scroll of Ruth, I want to compare G-d's order to Avraham and Ruth's pledge to Naomi. They seem to cover very similar ground.

Avraham is considered our first convert and is called the father of all of all converts to Judaism, and even modern conversion is modeled on Ruth's commitment to Naomi.

א וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-אַבְרָם, לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ.
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. Lech Lecha

טז וַתֹּאמֶר רוּת אַל-תִּפְגְּעִי-בִי, לְעָזְבֵךְ לָשׁוּב מֵאַחֲרָיִךְ: כִּי
אֶל-אֲשֶׁר תֵּלְכִי אֵלֵךְ, וּבַאֲשֶׁר תָּלִינִי אָלִין--עַמֵּךְ עַמִּי,
וֵאלֹהַיִךְ אֱלֹהָי.
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;
יז בַּאֲשֶׁר תָּמוּתִי אָמוּת, וְשָׁם אֶקָּבֵר; כֹּה יַעֲשֶׂה
יְהוָה לִי, וְכֹה יוֹסִיף--כִּי הַמָּוֶת, יַפְרִיד בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵךְ.
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.'

Abram, in his pre-Avraham days, was first ordered by G-d to leave his country. Naomi had instructed her widowed daughters-in-law to stay in their country, birthplace, since she was planning on leaving and returning to her own.

In the verses leading up to the one quoted here from Megilat Rut, Naomi beseeches them to return to their mother's home and find new husbands.

G-d instructs Avram to go gradually, first from his country, then his relatives, clan and lastly from his father, who apparently, contrary to the famous medrash (legend about the idols that he made and young Abram destroyed) was on a higher level than the others. Lastly, Avraham is instructed to follow G-d's directions to a "mysterious place," "the place I will show you."

That last instruction is more like Ruth's first pledge. "Wherever you go I will go." She didn't care where, she would follow blindly, just like Avraham had been instructed. "Where you live I will live." She substitutes Naomi for her own mother. And the second last instruction from Avraham was to leave his father.

"Your people will be my people." That could parallel the "kinsmen" Avraham was supposed to leave.

"Your G-d will be my G-d." The verse in Bereishit, Genesis, begins with: "And G-d said to Abram."

All of the same topics, stages are covered. The greatest difference is that Ruth comes to this on her own, while our great Avraham Avinu needed to be ordered by G-d.

Whenever I talk to friends who have converted to Judaism about religion, I'm in awe not only of the great step they had taken, but just to think that they, like Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, are on a level an ordinary Jew can never reach.

Shabbat Shalom,


Esther said...

I hope someone answers your question some day. To say this is over my head...well... like an airplane. :)

I do know that everyone I know who has converted is far more religious than I am. They constantly impress me with all they know about our religion.

Batya said...

We've inherited it, while they have to learn it. It does take a commitment. I wasn't raised religious, so I remember how and when I was taught things that others learn by osmosis.