On Shavuos, Jews have the custom to read the Book of Ruth. The subtext of the book is how crucial it is to pursue a stake in Torah and to want to be a part of the Jews. The conclusion of the story is the genealogy of Ruth’s descendants, culminating in David drawing from her lineage – and Moshiach too.
It is pertinent to note that the story is not a happy one. Boaz died the morning after he redeemed her, leaving her a pregnant widow. She never saw the happy ending, nor did Boaz or Naomi see the vindication of their actions. David’s rise was generations after they had passed.
This clearly indicates that God’s justice is not simple or immediate, but calculated over centuries and generations.
The Chasam Sofer notes that the story of Cain and Abel is included in the Torah, right at the beginning, to teach precisely this lesson. God favoured Abel, and Cain murdered him out of jealousy. Yet Cain is recorded to have lived for 1,600 years, with countless descendants. Where is the justice? The Chasam Sofer notes that every single one of them died in the Flood, long afterward.
Justice is complicated. It is curious to note that the end of the book – the ostensibly happy ending that paints her struggle as having been worthwhile – the genealogy of Moshiach is consistently from apparently odd couplings.
Ruth was descended from Moav, borne of incest between Lot and his daughters. The other child born of this was Amon, of whom Shlomo’s wife Naama was a member.
The line of Yehuda was descended from Peretz, borne of the bizarre story of Yehuda and Tamar. The Gemara says that he lost his free will when he approached the crossroads and spotted her.
Boaz himself fainted at the sight of Ruth in his bed chambers. Everyone castigated him, supporting Ploni Almoni’s arguments. The day after adjudicating Ruth’s case, he died. Certainly the simpletons labelled his death as divine justice, wrath and retribution.
The story of David and Batsheva is equally odd. The Gemara says whoever says David sinned is making a mistake. But whoever says he didn’t sin is also making a mistake!
Moshiach appears through bizarre circumstances. Incest, prostitution, adultery, and promiscuity only track the origin of the house of David!
The reason Moshiach is needed is compelling. Although life is geared towards earning Olam Haba, the World to Come, that alone is not enough. If it were, an individual could take care of themselves, and leave the world to its damned fate, to burn and unravel. Clearly we do not believe this. This world needs repair. We have to do what we can to make it a better place – and Moshiach will finish the job. His origin reflects the nature of his task. Emerging from the ashes of a broken world to fix it.
Shavuos is the moment we were chosen; through which the entire universe was perpetuated. Perhaps Ruth is read to remind ourselves that the responsibilities entailed are hard, laborious, and seem fruitless. They may even be genuinely fruitless for us. But we must persevere and endure, fortified with the knowledge that’s what right isn’t always what’s easy.