How to Change the World
During challenging times, how do we make meaning of suffering?
The Book of Ruth gets off to a sad start: famine, death, and exile color the experiences of Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi as they attempt to restart their lives.
The midrash is careful to remind us from the outset that in the midst of despair, belief in a better future abounds. Expanding upon Naomi’s declaration of feeling singled out by God for suffering, the midrash evokes an image of happier times ahead.
Check out Source 1 for Ruth Rabbah’s optimistic approach.
Ruth and Naomi’s story indeed takes a happy turn. Ruth rebuilds a life with Boaz, and together they have a child who later becomes the grandfather of King David. (This is also one reason behind the custom to read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot, since rabbinic tradition teaches that Shavuot was the day of King David’s death.)
The loyalty, commitment, and chesed displayed by Ruth, Naomi and Boaz pay off in the establishment of a long-term dynasty, one ultimately destined to bring about redemption. Even well-wishers in the story play a role in the process.
Read what the well-wishers have to say in Source 2
What powers this transition from despair to redemption?
Perhaps, the midrash suggests, it’s the ability to focus wholeheartedly on the good that we do.
Source 3 describes a meal shared between Boaz and Ruth which illustrates this point.
And indeed, Ruth and Boaz’s great-great grandson, King Solomon, internalized the value of wholehearted action. Upon the completion of the Temple building, his blessing to the people centered around this message, which can be found in Source 4.
Investing fully in small acts of kindness may have the ability to change the course of the future. Our actions don’t exist in a void; they have meaning beyond what we see, as redemption hinges on the choices we make.
What good might we be able to focus on in the midst of challenges we experience? How might we be able to ensure that we’re not distracted by external diversions so that we’re able to focus wholeheartedly on the task at hand?