Lessons of Rus’s Conversion

Ki el asher teileichi eileich u’ba’asher talini alin ameich ami v’Elokayich Elokai ba’asher tamusi amus v’sham ekaver (Rus 1:16–17)

As Rus and Naomi were returning to Eretz Yisrael, Rus insisted that she would never part from Naomi, declaring passionately that she would go wherever Naomi went, she would sleep wherever Naomi slept, Naomi’s G-d would be her G-d, and she would die and be buried together with Naomi.

Rashi explains that each of these promises was Rus’s response to a specific mitzvah or concept that Naomi taught her in order to test her commitment to Judaism. Specifically, Rashi explains that Naomi taught Rus about techum Shabbos, yichud, Taryag mitzvos, idolatry, the four types of the death penalty which are given out by the Sanhedrin and the laws governing the burial of those who are killed for such sins.

Why did Naomi specifically teach these concepts in this order? She went from the most lenient to the most stringent — beginning with the Rabbinical prohibition of techum Shabbos, followed by yichud which in some cases is Biblical in nature, then the 613 mitzvos which are even more stringent, followed by idolatry, the death penalty, and separate burial even after death for severe sins.

The Gemara in Yevamos (47a) derives from here that a potential convert is taught kalos v’chamuros — light mitzvos and stringent ones — which is difficult to understand. If he’s willing to accept the strict fundamentals of Yiddishkeit like idolatry, wouldn’t he automatically accept the less stringent mitzvos? Why do we need to specifically inform him of these areas as well?

The Meiri explains the need for kalos because non-Jews can’t comprehend that Hashem could care about and have laws governing “trivial” activities like the order in which we get dressed and the way in which we go to the bathroom. Judaism, on the other hand, believes that there is no place void of Hashem and spirituality, and we sanctify even seemingly mundane physical activities.

A non-Jew believes in a separation, that our earthly human needs have no connection to kedushah and are intrinsically irreconcilable with it. Their “holy” people take vows of self-restraint and poverty. This is why if a non-Jew brings a korban to the Beis Hamikdash, it has to be completely burned on the Altar, because he’s unable to comprehend that eating could have anything to do with religion. And this is why we therefore emphasize this point to a prospective ger to make sure he understands and accepts this fundamental idea in Judaism.

Still, why did Naomi specifically choose to tell Rus about the prohibition of techum Shabbos, which seems like an odd one to single out? Several commentators explain based on the Midrash that says that Naomi and Rus were violating the prohibition against going outside of the techum on Yom Tov at the time of this conversation. Naomi held it was permissible because it was pikuach nefesh because they were so hungry, but she told Rus not to mistakenly derive from her actions that you’re allowed to do this at other times, because normally it’s forbidden.

Harav Mattisyahu Salomon, shlita, takes this lesson one step further. He suggests that Naomi was subtly teaching Rus another fundamental concept in Yiddishkeitemunas chachamim. Naomi clearly had a calculation for traveling outside of the techum on Yom Tov, but Rus didn’t know anything about it. All she knew was that her mother-in-law was teaching her a new mitzvah and telling her that accepting it is critical in order to become a Jew, yet at that very moment, she herself was violating this halachah! Rav Mattisyahu says that Naomi was testing Rus’s willingness to subordinate herself to the Sages and follow their commands, even if they seem completely contradictory and counterintuitive.

Q: Why was Aharon instructed (Bamidbar 1:3) to assist with the census taken in Parashas Bamidbar but not with the census taken in Parashas Ki Sisa, which was done exclusively by Moshe (Shemos 30:11–12)?

Q: In the Haggadah shel Pesach, we say that if Hashem had brought us before Mount Sinai, but not given us the Torah, it would have been enough for us. What would have been the benefit of coming to Mount Sinai if Hashem did not give us the Torah?

A: The Baal HaTurim explains that the census which was conducted in Parashas Ki Sisa was necessitated by the sin of the golden calf (see Rashi, Shemos 30:16). Because many Jews were killed in the plague which afflicted them as a result of this sin, Hashem commanded Moshe to take a census to determine how many Jews remained. Because Aharon played a major role in the sin of the golden calf, he was therefore excluded from taking part in conducting that census.

At this point, in Bamidbar, Hashem was counting the Jews as He prepared to rest His Divine Presence among them (Rashi 1:1), and it was appropriate for Aharon to assist Moshe in taking the census.

A: The Rashbam and Kol Bo explain that Hashem wouldn’t have given us the 10 Commandments directly, but would have given us the entire Torah through Moshe. The Ksav Sofer suggests that the value would have been the tremendous levels of unity and harmony that they reached when camping at Sinai (Rashi 19:2). The Chai Adam answers that when the Heavens were revealed, the Jewish people saw the Divine chariot, from which they would have been able to intuit the commandments even if they weren’t given, just as Avraham did. The Brisker Rav cites the Gemara in Sanhedrin (59a), which teaches that it is forbidden for a non-Jew to study Torah, which was given exclusively to us. He posits that the intention is if Hashem wouldn’t have only given lanu — to us — the Torah, it still would have been enough.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.