While being a potential bestseller and most viewed on Netflix, the story of a Moabite princess who took upon herself poverty and estrangement in following her ex-mother in law into a strange land, would not be your predicted required text for a solemn day marking receiving the Torah at Saini. And yet, it is. Why did the rabbis Institute reading the book of Ruth on Shavuot and how did this once-impoverished-immigrant become the Royal Matriarch of the most powerful bloodline the Jewish people have ever seen–the House of David.
To properly understand this, we zoom out on the journey, which brought Ruth to the land of Israel. Midrashic sources teach that when Elimelekh, Ruth’s father in law, left Israel, he left in a cowardly manner. Hunger and poverty descended on the land of Israel. Elimelekh, a wealthy man, did not want to hear more beggars knocking on his door nor did he want any more hungry neighbors dwindling his supply of food. He packed up and left for Moav. Elimelekh, the philanthropist and community leader, leaves his townsmen at the peak of their most difficult moment. Even as famine and poverty strike, he dives for the exit.
After Elimelekh’s family arrives in Moav and his two sons marry girls from among the Moabite aristocracy, he and his tow sons die in Moav. His two daughters in law, Ruth, and Orpah face a similar, yet far more difficult, choice than the choice Elimelekh faced not long ago. They can leave their old and impoverished ex-mother in law to her own fate of poverty and loneliness, or they can risk joining that very same fate, by joining her. Ruth and Orpah now can either remain with their well-established families in Moav, or they can join an old (former) mother in law who can guarantee only poverty and loneliness.
The right choice seems obvious—leave Naomi. And yet, unlike her sister-in-law Orpah, Ruth decides to stay with Naomi. She accepts Judaism, its commandments, difficulties, and begins traveling with Naomi to an unknown land—the land of Israel.
The importance given to Purim by Rabbinic tradition seems way disproportionate than its observance as a minor holiday would merit. Although the Book of Esther is placed in the Tanach in the section of Ketuvim, the Rabbis assign it a significance comparable to the Torah itself.
All the books of the prophets and all the Ketuvim are destined to become nullified at the time of the Messiah, with the exception of the Scroll of Esther. It will continue to exist as will the five books of the Torah, and as the oral Torah which will never be nullified. Even though memory of the earlier sufferings of the Jewish people will become null . . . the days of Purim will never become null for it says, “these days of Purim will not pass away from the Jews and memory of them will not cease from their progeny.” Megillat Esther, 9:28, Mishneh Torah , Laws of Megilla, 2:18
The Raavad explains that the text of the Prophets and Ketuvim will not really cease to exist, but rather, will no longer be read publically, but Megillat Esther will always be read publically. Raavad ad Locum.
In Jewish tradition, there were two types of rabbis which were given different authorities: those who were ordained; and those who were not. Ordained rabbis were called Smuchin or Mumchin. The institution of ordination was initiated by Moshe Rabbenu when he ordained Yehoshua, and from that time on, each ordained rabbi could ordain others. Later on, during a specific period of the Patriarchate from the Second Century C.E. to the Fifth Century C.E., the Patriarch or Nasi was primarily responsible for the ordinations of rabbis. All ordinations could only occur in the land of Israel , and ordained rabbis could engage in all aspects of Jewish law. An ordained court of three who convened in the land of Israel is what the Torah calls elohimA court which was ordained in Israel could extend its authority to anywhere in the world. See Mishneh Torah, Shoftim, Hilchot Sanhedren Chapt. 4, Halachot 1-4 and 12.
Since ordination could not occur outside the land of Israel, what was the underlying authority of a court which was not ordained? The initial authority for courts outside of Israel was the appointment of rabbis and judges by the Head of the Exiles (Reish Galuta) which occurred in Babylonia after the first exile and ended in the Sixth Century C.E. That authority was also valid all over the world, including Israel. Nevertheless, it was far more limited than the authority given to ordained rabbis or courts. One example, is that those appointed by the Reish Galuta did not have the power to levy fines (Knassot). Ibid, 4:14.
In the absence of a Reish Galuta or his ability to appoint rabbinic courts, an interesting analysis is presented in the Talmud.
What is the nature of the mitzvah of Mishloach Manos and why was it instituted in conjunction with Purim? Allow me to present a new and novel insight into the mitzvah of Mishloach Manos which may provide food for thought beyond the belly fodder of the mitzvah itself.
Many commentators suggest that the mitzvah of sending gifts of food is intended to foster and strengthen unity amongst the Jewish people and repair the divisiveness that characterized Jewish life in Ancient Persia. After all, Haman recounted to Achashverosh “Yeshno Am Echad Mefuzar U’Meforad” – “There is a nation that is scattered and divided.” Factionalism has plagued us as a people through much of our history, rendering us most vulnerable to both spiritual and physical onslaughts from enemies bent on our destruction.
The turning point in the Purim saga came about when Ester instructed Mordechai, “Lech K’nos es Kol HaYehudim” – “Go and gather all of the Jews,” and unify them in common purpose to serve Hashem, to repent, and to resolve to care for each other. When we are together, we are invincible. The ensuing unity saved the Jews and is thus memorialized and celebrated through the mitzvah of Mishloach Manos.
When Mordekhai learned of Bigtan and Teresh’s plot against the king, he did what a good subject would do: he relayed the information to the court. However, Bereshit Rabba (39:12) discussing God’s blessing to Abraham at the beginning of Lekh Lekha, wonders why he did so; why should he go out of his way to save the undeserving Gentile king? R. Yehuda says that Mordekhai followed in the footsteps of earlier role models—Jacob blessing Pharaoh, Joseph working in Pharaoh’s court, Daniel responding to Nebuchadnezzar’s requests. R. Nehemia holds that Mordekhai looked back to the mission God gave Abraham, to be a blessing to the nations: since Jews cannot benefit the world through material wealth (since the Gentiles outstrip us in that regard) we can only help the world through the information we provide when consulted.
At first blush it would seem that Mordekhai’s obligation to report treason is anchored in the prophecy of Jeremiah 29: “Seek out the welfare of the city where you dwell, for in its welfare is yours.” What does the Midrash add to the seemingly straightforward duty of social benevolence?
The Braita quoted in Shabbat 21b describes Chanukah as days of Hallel V’Hoda’ah, interpreted by Rashi as the recital of Hallel and Al Hanisim. The Rambam apparently had a different version of the text describing Chanukah as days of Simcha and Hallel. In both versions however, saying Hallel is an intrinsic part of the observance of Chanukah.
This explains why the Rambam delayed his full discussion of the days when Hallel is recited until the laws of Chanukah, even though he mentioned the obligation of saying Hallel earlier in his code. Since the Rambam understands the obligation to say Hallel to be of rabbinic origin, its recital can’t help to define the biblical holidays, although we say Hallel on each of them. It is clear why lighting the menorah is intrinsic to the definition of Chanukah, but less clear why Hallel should be.
The Rambam introduces his discussion of Chanukah with a historical review of the events that led to the holiday. He describes the anti-religious decrees of the (Syrian) Greeks against the Jews, including their defiling the Temple. The first law concludes with the victory of the Hashmonaim through the mercy of the Almighty, their proclaiming a king from amongst the priests, and the return of Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel for two hundred years.
At the beginning of chapter 8 of the Book of Bamidbar, Moshe informs his brother Aharon that God had commanded Aharon to light and clean the menorah. This section of the Torah follows the description of the gifts that were offered by the leaders of all the tribes at the dedication and sanctification of the altar. Utilizing the Midrash, Rashi asks the following question:
“Why is the section of the Torah which deals with the Menorah juxtaposed with the section that declares the gifts of the tribal leaders (Nesi’im)? Because when Aharon witnessed the dedication of the Nesi’im, he became dejected because he was not included with them, not he and not his tribe. God thus said to him, I swear to you that your offering will be greater than theirs because you will light and clean the menorah.”
The Ramban explains why the lighting of the menorah is the greater gift. It is based upon another Midrash in which God commands Moshe to tell Aharon, “there is another dedication where there is the lighting of candles and it will be given to Israel through your descendants. This is an occasion of miracles salvation and dedication . . .this is the dedication of the sons of the Hasmoneans. Thus there is this juxtaposition between this section of lighting of the menorah and the dedication of the altar. The celebration or observance that we call Chanukah thus has great standing in our tradition. It continues for thousands of years after the destruction of the Temple and is observed and is continued by the Jewish people well into their exile and ultimately their return to the land of Israel. It was ordained by God and directly transmitted to Moshe.