As temperatures rise and flowers bloom, we can feel the holiday of Shavuot approaching – perhaps our sweetest holiday – when the Book of Ruth is read in the synagogue. For a unique and even paradigm-shifting reading of Ruth, I highly recommend Rising Moon, by Rabbi Moshe Miller of Jerusalem. It is one of the most fascinating books of modern biblical interpretation I have come across. Rising Moon is structured like a drama in four acts, reflecting Ruth’s four chapters. It weaves together Biblical, midrashic and Kabbalistic sources, along with a wide range of insights from outside Jewish tradition – Adam Smith, Charles Darwin and the novel Dune all make key appearances. This eclectic mix of sources is employed to make a provocative claim about about the Book of Ruth in particular and about the history and destiny of the Jewish nation more broadly.
Amid the later books of the Bible’s prophecies of destruction and accounts of divine retribution, the book of Ruth stands out. The midrash in Ruth Rabbah (2:14) states: “This megillah has no laws of purity or impurity, no transgressions and no mitzvot. So why was it written? It is just to teach how much reward comes to those who act with loving-kindness (chesed).”
In the context of the Bible, Ruth is unusually sweet. Sin, if present at all, remains in the background. Its characters must choose between the merely permissible and the exceptionally virtuous.