“Ruth,” “Boaz,” & Our Money The Biblical tale of “Ruth” rises in our awareness this week because we are soon to celebrate her special holy-day, Shavuot.
Shavuot has many faces. For the Bible, it was the moment to celebrate the success of the spring wheat harvest. For the ancient Rabbis, it was the anniversary of Torah’s revelation on Mount Sinai.
And the Rabbis left as legacy to us the annual reading of the Book of Ruth, an earthy tale of farming, outcasts, and communal sharing;
In the biblical story, Ruth was a penniless immigrant from a despised pariah people. Yet she was welcomed onto the fields of Boaz, where she gleaned what the regular harvesters had left behind. Boaz made sure that even this despised foreigner had a decent job at decent pay. He forbade his male employees from harassing her. When she went one night to the barn where the barley crop was being threshed, he spent the night with her — and decided to marry her.
But — if Ruth came to America today, what would happen?
Would she be admitted at the border?
Or would she be detained for months without a lawyer, ripped from Naomi’s arms while Naomi’s protest brought her too under suspicion — detained because she was, after all, a Canaanite who spoke some variety of Arabic, possibly a terrorist, for sure an idolator?
Would she be deported as merely an “economic refugee,” not a worthy candidate for asylum?
Would she have to show a “green card” before she could get a job gleaning at any farm, restaurant, or hospital?
Would she be sent to “workfare” with no protections for her dignity, her freedom, or her health?
Would she face contempt because she and her mother-in-law Naomi, traveling without a man, might be a lesbian couple?
When she boldly “uncovers the feet” of Boaz during the night they spend together on the threshing floor, has she violated the “family values” that some religious folk now proclaim?
Or has she affirmed that love engages the body as well as the heart, the mind, and the spirit, and that sometimes a loving body comes before a wedding?
Today in America, some 99% of us are powerless, like Ruth; only 1% hold great property, prosperity and power, like Boaz. He was a good-hearted, generous-spirited man. But his society did not leave justice to the whims of the wealthy. Its laws and business regulations made sure that everyone was entitled to decent work for a decent income.
Everyone. A disemployment rate of 14%, or 8.5%, or even 2% were made by law impossible. Everyone had the right simply to walk onto a field and begin to work, begin to use the means-of-production of that era.
And Boaz could not order his regular workers to be economically “efficient.” They could not harvest everything: not what grew in the corners of the field, not what they missed on the first go-round. Social compassion was more important than efficiency. No “downsizing” allowed.
Although Boaz was generous-hearted, Ruth’s right to glean did not depend upon his generosity. It was the law.
Ruth was entitled not only to a job, but to respect. No name-calling, no sexual harassment. And she, as well as Boaz, was entitled to Shabbat: time off for rest, reflection, celebration, love. She was entitled to “be” — as well as to “do.”
Because Ruth and Boaz, the outcast and the wealthy property-owner, got together, they could become the ancestors of King David. According to legend, they could thus help bring Messiah into the world. Help bring the world of peace and justice.
What do we learn from their story today?
In America today, our society is dismantling many of the legal commitments to the poor that ancient Israelite society affirmed. Our government subsidizes not the middle class, the workers, and the poor — but the super-wealthy like Big Oil companies that make tens of billions of dollars a year, pay few or no taxes, and take in whopping billions of subsidies because they invest mere millions of their profits in buying Members of Congress. The real disemployment rate is 14%, including those who in despair have given up on searching for a job. So — what are our religious obligations?
And we — those of us with as little money as Ruth or as much as Boaz — what can we do to help bring the world of peace and justice?
First of all, for Shavuot and for Pentecost, synagogues and churches could be reading “Ruth.” It’s a delicious tale, as well as a powerful teaching on how the spiritual, the political, and the economic intertwine. Please help your friends, colleagues, congregants do this. Forward this article to them. Invite them to subscribe to the free weekly email Shalom Report by clicking on the green “Signup” banner in the left-hand margin of this page.
Secondly: where was your money last night, and what was it doing?
Four actions we could take: With our personal money, our communal and institutional money, our tax money, and our political-contribution money.
First: Is our personal money in checking and savings accounts in the Bank of America, with its sleazy practice of foreclosures, or the PNC Bank, with its destructive investments in mining companies that are destroying the mountains of West Virginia in order to rip more coal from the innards of Mother Earth and to shatter the age-old climate patterns that have nourished human civilization? Or in some other Super-Bank?
It would make a great difference to the Ruths of today to shift your own money to your local credit union or community-based bank. And safer, too. (Compare the two-billion-dollars-and-counting losses of voracious, disastrous JPMorganChase.)
Second: Where is the endowment money of your synagogue, your pension fund, your university, your rabbinical seminary? Take the effort to Protect Our Planet, MoveOur Money – shift our investments from the world-destructive Exxon and its cousins to a financially stable, ethically worthy wind-energy company.
Third: How can we shift our tax money from paying Suicidal Subsidies to Big Oil — suicidal subsidies that help Big Oil destroy ourselves and our Earth?
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has introduced a bill to do this. It’s called the End Polluter Welfare Act. To sign up to support it, please click here: http://www.sanders.senate.gov/end-polluter-welfare/ Fourth: We can use our election-campaign money to support candidates who will work for full — really full — employment. The right to glean.
On our Website, there is a treasury of essays about celebrating Shavuot. Click to https://theshalomcenter.org/treasury/111 May our Shavuot reach up to the heights of Sinai, down to the roots of wheat and barley, and into the hearts of Ruth and Boaz.
Make a recurring donation and receive Freedom Journeys as our token of appreciation. Click here for more info about the book. Freedom Journeys is a deep meditation on the timeless—and timely—relevance of the Exodus narrative. In the grand tradition of mystical exegesis, Waskow and Berman reflect upon Exodus not only as an event that happened “then” and “there”, but a paradigm of movement that is happening here and in the now, for all of us, Jew and Muslim, Black and White, male and female. —Omid Safi, professor of Islamic studies, University of North Carolina.