Book of Ruth - The Torah of Ruth and Naomi

The year after my Bat Mitzvah at age 36, I longed to study as much about Judaism as I could. In those days, there were no "Introduction to Judaism" classes in almost every synagogue, as there are now. The only class that met my needs was one offered to prospective converts— "The Conversion Class," it was called. In that class, no question was too simple, or too naïve. All questions were welcomed. I felt at home.

It was there that I met Kerry McDevitt. Kerry was a professor of voice at Columbia University, and, as his name implied, from a large and warm Irish Catholic family. Kerry, too, was large, and a person of immense heart and magnificent voice. Eleven years earlier, he had married Batya, an opera singer from a large and warm Jewish Orthodox family.

Fortunately for him, and for us, her family had welcomed him with open arms, drawing him in to their lively Shabbat dinners and Seders as if he were the son-in-law they had always wanted. Kerry and Batya in time become the proud parents of a boy and a girl, who were being raised as Jews. Kerry became even more drawn to Jewish rituals and celebrations, and now was seeking to officially become a member of the tribe. The class concluded, and Kerry officially changed his name from McDevitt to ben David, the Hebrew equivalent of McDevitt.

Soon after, the president of the Sisterhood asked me if I would lead their annual service. I happily said yes, and immediately thought of asking Kerry to be our lay cantor. That year Kerry and I delighted in preparing a special service for the Sisterhood. I learned how to lead the congregation in prayer, and Kerry learned the music of the Shabbat service. That service changed both of our lives.

Shortly after, Kerry decided to go to Cantorial School, and I decided to become a rabbi. Kerry has been serving as the Cantor at the Scarsdale-Tremont synagogue in Westchester ever since his graduation. What a gift he is to the Jewish people!

All because his wife’s family welcomed him so warmly!

This is the Torah, the story of Naomi and Ruth, and it is a Torah more compelling now than ever.

Naomi was the mother-in-law of Ruth. Naomi’s husband and two sons had migrated to Moab during a famine, and there found Moabite wives. The Midrash, rabbinic legend, says they were daughters of the Moabite King. The story is all the more remarkable because the Moabites of that time were regarded as we regard the descendents of the Nazis.

Not long after, Naomi’s husband and two sons died, leaving her a widow with no means of support. Naomi heard that the famine in Judah had ended, and decided to return to her homeland. She begged her daughter-in-laws to remain behind.

Orpah agreed, but Ruth said the words that have changed Jewish history, "Entreat me not to leave you, to go back and not follow you. Wherever you go will I go, and wherever you stay will I stay. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Wherever you die will I die, and beside you will I be buried. I vow that only death will separate me from you."

Ruth followed Naomi back to Judah, and, with Naomi’s guidance, remarried a much older man who was a wealthy relative. They had a son, Obed, whom Ruth gave to Naomi as her own child. Obed married and fathered Jesse, who married and fathered David, the King of Israel, and symbol of the Messiah.

The power of love, of family, of welcoming the stranger as our own. When we do so, we give honor to God’s name.

Shavuot is the holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah, and the holiday when we read the Torah of Naomi and Ruth. It says that each one of us is living a life of Torah when we show love and devotion to our Jewish family and to the Others who have chosen to live among us.