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Ruth: A Shavuot Story from Treasures of the Heart

Treasures of the Heart is a unique rendition of stories in the Hebrew Bible that are part of the foundation of Judaism and Western literature. Structured according to the Jewish calendar, Diane Wolkstein retells various stories that are traditionally read on each holliday.  Below is the story of Ruth, which is read on Shavuot as an example of committment and devotion.

Treasures of the HeartWhere You Go, I Will Go
When the judges ruled Israel, there was chaos and terrible corruption in the land. There was no king and the people did as they wished. During this time, there was a famine, and a wealthy man named Elimelech left Bethlehem with his wife, Naomi and their two sons. They might have stayed to help their own people, but the husband, Elimelech, chose to go to the land of Moab, even though the Moabites had been enemies of Israel.

Soon after they settled in Moab, Elimelech died, and his wife, Naomi, was left alone with her two sons. The sons married Ruth and Orpah, daughters of Eglon, the king of Moab. Naomi welcomed her daughters-in-law. She rejoiced and danced at their weddings, but then misfortune struck the family--ten years of misfortune. Their horses died; their donkeys died; their camels died. They had no children. Then Naomi's sons both died, and she was left poor and bereft, a widow in a foreign land.

One day when Naomi was working in the fields, she overheard a wandering peddler telling the workers that God had remembered Judah. There was bread again in Bethlehem, and the famine was over. At once, Naomi left the fields where she had been working and the place where she had been living and set out barefoot for Judah. Her two daughters-in-law accompanied her.

After they had gone a short distance, Naomi stopped. She turned to her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. She embraced them and said, "Thank you for accompanying me on my way, but now, each of you return to your own mother's house. How can I thank you? When your husbands died, you might have run after other men, but you stayed and comforted me, you fed and supported me. May God care for you with as much hesed, kindness, as you have shown to me. And may you be blessed with comfort and peace in the homes of new husbands."

Again Naomi kissed them. Standing on the road, the three women raised their voices and wept loudly, realizing that if Naomi went on to Judah and the younger women went back to Moab, they would never see one another again. Suddenly, the two younger women protested, saying, "No. We will go with you to your people."

"Go with me?" Naomi exclaimed. "My daughters, why would you go with me? Have I more sons in my womb for you to marry? Return--go home! I'm too old to attract a man, and, even if tonight, this very night, I were to marry and bear sons, would you wait until they were grown? Would you wait fifteen years, depriving yourselves of marriage and children? No, no, my daughters, you don't want to be with me. I'm too bitter. God has taken all that is dear to me."

Again, the women raised their voices and wept loudly. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and turned back toward Moab. But Ruth clung to this woman who had been a mother to her. She would not leave her. Naomi said to her, "Look at your sister-in-law. She's going back to her people and her gods. Go! Follow her. Return with her."

Ruth did not move. Naomi said to her, "After our people wandered forty years in the desert and crossed the Red Sea and were hungry and thirsty and asked your people for bread and water, your people refused, so the Moabites are not allowed to live with my people. But, even if they allowed you to stay with me, I do not know if any man would marry you. Then, how would you live?"

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To read more about Diane Wolkstein, author of Treasures of the Heart, click here