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The Million Dollar Question

By Tzvi Fishman
5/18/2010, 12:00 AM

One of the major themes of the book of Ruth, which we read on Shavuot, is the great value of kindness. When Elimelech abandons the Land of Israel with his wife, Naomi, and their two grown sons, Machlon and Kilyon, during a famine, he is slain in Divine punishment. While the halacha allows a person to leave the Land of Israel during a severe famine, it is not a saintly manner of behavior. Since Elimelech was the leader of the Jewish People at the time, his behavior was particularly reprehensive. After marrying women from Moav, his sons were also Divinely stricken for their actions. Instead of resuming her life with her people in Moav, Naomi’s daughter-in-law, Ruth, vows her unflinching loyalty to Naomi, to the Jewish People, and to G-d. Her great kindness to Naomi is one of the great lessons of the story. Boaz, too, demonstrates great kindness in helping them when they return to Israel, and in taking Ruth for his wife. It is out of this great foundation of kindness that the seeds of King David were planted.

One of the pillars of the Jewish holidays is to make sure that poor people have what they need to celebrate at the festival meals. Yesterday, Rabbi Leon Levi, distributed tzedakah and 5 chickens per family to dozens of Torah scholars who learn in kollels, and who are financially hard pressed to meet the expenses of the holiday.

Caring about others


Another type of kindness is to teach a person something that can benefit him in his life. While a school child may not want to learn arithmetic or a foreign language, this knowledge can prove to be important tools in his life. Similarly, a child may resent being told that playing in the street can be dangerous, but the warning is for his benefit.

This brings us to the question: why was the Torah given in the wilderness of Sinai?  One answer, favored by Diasporites, is that the Torah was given in the wilderness of Sinai to demonstrate that the Torah can be kept anywhere, not only in the Land of Israel. This reasoning ignores the teaching of “The Kuzari” and the Torah itself, that the Sinai Peninsula is a part of the Land of Israel, which extends southward until the Nile River. According to this understanding, the Torah was indeed given to the Jewish People in Israel, to show that this is where the Torah is supposed to be kept.

But even if we want to grant credibility to the “anywhere in the world” point of view, the Torah itself soon teaches us otherwise, when Hashem tells the Jewish People that they have lingered in Sinai long enough, and that it is time to go up and take possession of all of the Land of Israel (Devarim, 1:5-8).

Thus the Torah was given in Sinai precisely to teach us that the Torah and the commandments aren’t meant to be performed there, but rather in the Land of Israel.

Happy Shavuot!