The biblical scroll (book) of Ruth is the scroll of women, the scroll of kindness, the scroll of redemption.
It is also the story of how Ruth and Boaz met and married. They were the great-grandmother and great-grandfather of King David.
The story of Ruth is one of the best-known and best-loved in the Hebrew scriptures. However, the woman who sets up the plot and events is actually Naomi, without whom the whole story would not have happened. Naomi is Ruth’s mother-in-law.
Naomi had migrated with her husband and sons from Bethlehem to the fields of Moab, and there her husband and sons all died. Naomi returned destitute to the land of Judah, condemned to live as a beggar. Yet, she managed to change her fate and the fate of her daughter-in-law Ruth, and even the fate of the entire Jewish people.
Naomi didn’t know all that at first. When she returned to Israel with a broken heart and a “broken pocket,” she was accompanied by her daughter-in-law Ruth, although she had urged Ruth to remain in Moab. Why? Because she felt sure that both she and Ruth would be doomed to a life of poverty.
Upon returning, Noami met the astonished women of her hometown of Bethlehem and told them:
“Do not call me Naomi [pleasant]. Call me Mara [bitter], for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me. I went out full, and the LORD has returned me empty.”
Naomi told the women of her town that her name Naomi (the pleasant one) no longer suited her. She asked to be called Mara, because her fate had been bitter. The Naomi her friends had once known, “full” of possessions and family members, was no more. Now an empty woman stood before them. Naomi saw the emptiness as a punishment. It made her life bitter and hard, a life of merely trying to survive.
However, from this emptiness, as the story continues, creativity and boldness grew. Naomi managed to redeem her lands and continued the family line.
At the end of the scroll, the women of the city congratulate Naomi on the birth of her grandson through Ruth and tell her:
“‘…He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.’
“Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, ‘Naomi has a son!’ And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.” (Ruth 4:15-17 NIV)
Naomi’s arms were now “filled” with a baby. Her heart was filled with joy. Her soul had returned to life. What was formerly emptied, was now filled back up.
This year I am learning from the book of Ruth about emptiness and its importance. Emptiness can be so intimidating. We think of it as lack, as a problem, as a place of nothingness. We rush to fill it with various things. And then along comes the scroll of Ruth and reveals to us that emptiness is a prerequisite for being filled.
Emptiness is part of the mechanism of growth. It is impossible to exist without becoming familiar with emptiness.
Emptiness is the silence between words, the pause between thoughts.
Emptiness is the waiting between doing, the calm between activities.
In this emptiness there are infinite possibilities.
In this emptiness lies potential.
In this emptiness, the new place we don’t yet know is “sprouting.” This emptiness can be a real treasure, but will I allow myself to go there?
Do I know how to value it, understand it?
Do I allow the emptiness in me to take a new form, to open another door for me?
Do I know how to give thanks for the empty and the full?
My husband Aviel has developed an amazing habit. He always gives thanks for what he has and for what he doesn’t have. And I’m trying to learn this habit from him, but to tell the truth – I know that I don’t always like emptiness in my life. Sometimes I try, by force, to find something to fill it. But inside I already know that emptiness is a wonderful place for gratitude.
So on this Shavuot high holy day, I give thanks for the space that allows us room to grow. And I give thanks for the opportunity to learn about “emptying” in order to be filled.
[Editor’s note: By Jewish tradition the Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot due in part to its romantic climax taking place at the spring harvest time, in the wheat fields, during the time of Shavuot/Pentecost.]
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