The Meaning of Shavuot: Are You Up to the Challenge?

The Meaning of Shavuot: Are You Up to the Challenge?

Let us take a look at the story of Ruth and see what Shavuot holiday inspiration we can “glean” (no pun intended, for those who know the story) from it. 

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week, we will be celebrating the holiday of Shavuot, the day on which we commemorate the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. While the reading of the Ten Commandments is the climax of the holiday celebrations, the Book of Ruth is also read and features prominently.

The Book of Ruth opens with two women, Ruth and Orpah, who were sisters and Moabite princesses. Although they loved one another and were close, they went off in two very different directions. Ruth joined the Jewish people and became one of its matriarchs, but more specifically, she was the great-grandmother of King David, and by extension, the matriarch of the messianic dynasty.

That’s right. The Jewish messiah will descend from a Moabite princess. Orpah, however, disappeared into histor,y leaving not even a trace.

Why didn’t Orpah join Ruth on her journey to the land of Israel?

It is explained that Orpah felt that the path on which Ruth was embarking was too difficult, too challenging, and required too many sacrifices. Orpah wanted the easy life. She was happy with “no pain no gain.” Ruth, however was up to the challenge. She was ready to put in the “pain” because she realized all the “gain.” Joining the Jewish people was not the easiest decision, but it was the most meaningful choice she could have made.

And so it is with us. Being Jewish isn’t always easy and it isn’t always fun. The fast days are difficult, our many days of mourning are the pits, and some of our restrictions may be seen as burdensome. However, that being said, the Jewish lifestyle is without a doubt the most meaningful lifestyle. And it is these ups and downs on the calendar, these “challenges,” that make Judaism all the more meaningful.

Sadly, many people shy away from a Torah lifestyle, thinking that it is difficult. This is clearly false. A Torah lifestyle is not difficult at all…it’s just that: a lifestyle. Any adjustments we make as observant Jews become natural and are ultimately appreciated and enjoyed. Judaism gives us meaning and inspiration in our lives.

Shavuot, the day we received the Torah and entered into a covenant with God, is the perfect holiday to ask ourselves: Are we Ruths or are we Orpahs? Are we up for the challenge? Can we sweat a bit? Or do we disappear from the ranks of the Jewish people?

Shavuot is the annual opportunity to rededicate ourselves to Torah observance. It’s never too late to start. Be sure to attend services in your local synagogue on Shavuot morning to hear the Ten Commandments (and most synagogues offer a lavish dairy Kiddush/refreshment reception after services on Shavuot!).

And when you hear the reading of the Book of Ruth, note the disappearance of Orpha and the perseverance of Ruth. Make sure you are a part of the Jewish people no less than this Moabite princess who left it all behind for a Jewish future.

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