Ruth and the Holocaust

The Book of Ruth takes on new significance in modern times.

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Perhaps an even more profound question is posed: You are released from the previous covenant--acceptance--for how can God bind you to it if God will not protect you? What say you now, people of Israel?

Quietly, gently--for one can make no demands on survivors--the story of Ruth is told. The pain is not in vain. The tale is not told by an idiot; it is not full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Out of the barren, blood-drenched rocks there grows a flower. A flower from the stock of Jesse. One can dream that:

            "A shoot shall grow out of the stump of Jesse,

  a twig shall branch off from his stock…

The spirit of the Lord shall alight upon him--a spirit of wisdom and insight…

He shall sense the truth…

He shall judge the poor with equity and decide with justice

  for the lowly of the land…

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid…

With a little boy to herd them…

They shall not hurt nor destroy in My holy mountain

For the earth shall be full of devotion to the Lord…" (Isaiah 11).

The answer to the question of whether there is a limit to the covenant commitment has been given by the Jewish people in its post-Holocaust behavior. Since life is infinite, the commitment is infinite. No setback, no loss has proven strong enough to destroy the covenant. By living on as Jews, Jews dare to affirm the final realization and to bring perfection closer.

If we understand and accept the story of Ruth, we understand that we can accept the covenant--again. We understand that suffering is connected to redemption by a love more powerful than death. We understand that messianic possibility is born in the generation in which all is destroyed.

Can there be any question but that Ruth lives in our own time? Or that this generation's response to the creation of Israel means that we stand before Sinai again--all of us: those who died, those who live, those who are as yet unborn?

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Rabbi Irving Greenberg

Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg was the president of Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation and founding president of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He also is the author of For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity (2004, Jewish Publication Society).