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The Thundering Noise of Silence

When Ruth Walked Alone and Reb Leivik Danced Alone

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

    1315 views
  • August 11, 2022
  • |
  • 14 Av 5782
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Class Summary:

The Talmud relates a narrative that occurred on the 20th day of the Hebrew month of Av.

When the Jewish people returned to the Land of Israel, after seventy years of exile in Babylonia, to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash, they faced many hardships. The Temple treasury could not even afford to pay for firewood for the altar. Several families came forth to resolve this crisis. Each donated a large quantity of firewood.

One of the Wood-Offering Days is the 20th of Av, on which a family called “Pachas-Moab,” from the tribe of Judah, brought wood. The Talmud engages in a debate regarding the identity of this family.

Yet this entire discussion seems superfluous. Who cares? The Talmud is addressing an event which occurred hundreds of years earlier when a particular family donated wood to the Temple. Why is it relevant to know whether they traced their lineage to David or to his nephew? Do we have to argue about everything?

Dedicated by Sergey Shevchuk in honor of our daughter’s, Leah Rose bat Avrohom, Bat Mitzvah on Tu B’Av

"He Has a Rich Father"

A poor beggar was soliciting a handout from Baron Rothschild. Displeased with the amount he'd been given, the beggar complained, "Your son gave me twice as much.

"Well, my son can afford to," said Baron Rothschild. "He has a rich father."

Gifts of Wood

This coming week (Wednesday, August 17) is the 20th day of the Hebrew month of Av. The Talmud[1] relates a narrative that occurred on this very day, in the process of re-establishing Jewish life in the Holy Land in the fourth century BCE, following the destruction of the First Temple.

When the Jewish people returned to the Land of Israel, after seventy years of exile in Babylonia, to resettle the land and rebuild the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple), they faced many hardships. The community was small and poor (most Jews chose to remain in exile; only 42,000 Jews made Aliya) and threatened by many enemies. In contrast to the gold-gilded glory of the First Temple (built by King Solomon at the peak of Jewish power and prosperity), the Temple they built was made of simple stone and mortar. The Temple treasury could not even afford to pay for firewood for the altar.

Several families came forth to resolve the problem. Each donated a large quantity of firewood; when the supply brought by one family was exhausted, another family brought its donation. In this way, nine families supplied wood for the first critical year of the Beit Hamikdash’s existence, till the Temple treasury could afford to obtain wood independently.

To reward their generosity, the prophets of the time instituted that the date of when each family began to donate wood, should be fixed in the Temple calendar. Each year, when a particular family’s day came along, the family was granted the privilege to again supply wood for the altar, even if the Temple coffers were full and its wood-room stocked with firewood. These donations were accompanied by a special ceremony and the day celebrated as a festival by the donating family.[2]

One of the wood-offering days is the 20th of Av, on which a family called “Pachas-Moab,” from the tribe of Judah, brought wood to the Temple.

Debate on Genealogy

Now, the Talmud engages in a discussion regarding the identity of the family titled “Pachas-Moab.” Who were they, and where did they come from? The Talmud quotes an argument between two of the greatest sages, Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yosi, two famed Tanaaim (Talmudic scholars) living in Israel in the second century CE, one century after the Roman destruction of the Second Temple.

משנה תענית כו, א: זמן עצי כהנים והעם תשעה... בעשרים בו בני פחת מואב בן יהודה...

גמרא תענית כח, א: תנא בני פחת מואב בן יהודה הן הן בני דוד בן יהודה, דברי ר' מאיר. רבי יוסי אומר הן הן בני יואב בן צרויה.

רש"י: הן הן בני דוד בן יהודה—דוד מלך ישראל, ואהכי קרו ליה פחת מואב שבא מרות המואביה. יואב בן צרויה—שבא מרות המואביה כי צרויה אם יואב אחות דוד היתה שנאמר (דברי הימים א, ב) ואחיותיהם צרויה ואביגיל.

According to the opinion of Rabbi Meir, the family whom the Mishnah titles “Pachas-Moab” traced its lineage to King David, living some five centuries earlier. According to Rabbi Yosi’s view, the family came from David’s nephew—Yoav ben Tzeruyah, who served as the Commander-and-Chief of King David’s armies. (Yoav’s mother Tzeruyah was a sister of King David, so Yoav was David’s nephew.)

Why was the family titled “Pachas-Moab?” Because according to both opinions, the members of these families were descendants of Ruth, a Moabite woman who converted to Judaism, and later became the great-grandmother of David and his sister Tzeruyah. (Ruth married Boaz, and mothered a son named Oved. He was the father of Yishai, the father of King David). “Pachas Moab” means a leader of Moab, and Ruth was a Moabite princess who became Jewish.

Who Cares?

Yet this entire discussion seems superfluous. The Talmud is addressing an event which occurred hundreds of years earlier when a particular family donated wood to the Temple. Why is it relevant to know whether they traced their lineage to David or to his nephew? Do we have to argue about everything?

What is more, the argument takes place among Talmudic sages who lived one century after the destruction of the Temple, in which the entire tradition was a thing of history. To debate at such a moment the exact genealogy of the family who once contributed wood on one specific day (and their descendants carried on the tradition throughout the Second Temple era), seems irrelevant.

There is something else which is disturbing. The Torah prohibits us of reminding converts about their non-Jewish origin in a way that might make them feel uncomfortable.[3] The Torah views this as a great sin and repeats it numerous times. Why, then, does the Mishnah describe this family as “Pachas-Moab,” the descendants of Moab—one of the ancient archenemies of the Jewish people? Especially in this context, when our sages are attempting to praise the family and its generosity, why would we emphasize its complicated origins?

Unless of course, this detail would shed light on the entire story.

True Giving

The cut-off time (pun intended) for wood-cutting in the land of Israel is the 15th of Av, which marks the height of summer; after this date, the heat of day diminishes and the wood that is cut is more moist and prone to worming, and it was forbidden to use worm-infested wood for the altar.[4] Thus, the family which contributed wood on the 20th of Av brought wood to the Temple at a time when their own wood supply could no longer be replenished with wood of good quality; hence their gifts were held in special regard.

What is more, the families who donated the wood were not giving it for their own benefit, but rather for the rest of the community and the benefit of the Holy Temple. This wood would be used also for the many individual Jews who were obligated to bring an offering to the Temple, including many sinners who according to the Torah had to atone for their sins by bringing an offering. These families could have said to themselves: “Why should we give up precious wood to take care of Jewish sinners? Let them bring their own wood!” Yet they gave away their wood so that every single Jew would be able to bring his or her sacrifice on the Temple’s altar.

Standing in a forest in the smelting heat of an Israeli summer to cut wood (for, as mentioned, once the intensity of the heat is diminished, the wood is not “kosher” any longer for Temple use) is an arduous and grueling task. Yet this family stood in the forest for many days, weeks and perhaps months, cutting enormous quantities of wood. And then they took all this wood and gave it away—and in a time when it cannot be replenished—so that every single Jew, even a Jew they never heard of and who has committed many a sin, would be able to enjoy a burning flame in the Temple and offer his/her sacrifices to the Almighty.

Furthermore, the multitudes of Jews who benefited from the contribution of this family, would never know to whom credit is due. There was no “plaque” on the altar reminding every visitor who is responsible for the donated wood. This was a donation given without accolades.

And they did not do this begrudgingly, but with tremendous happiness, to the extent that they would mark this day each year as a day of festivities since they saw this as one of the happiest days in their lives!

Such a family, who gives in such a fashion and with such joy, professes a certain unique moral characteristic running in its “veins.” This is why the Talmud engages in a discussion regarding the genealogy of this family who donated the wood on the 20th of Av. [5] What the Talmud is searching to understand is not just the factual genealogy, but from where did this family inherit this type of generosity? Who educated these children?

And the answer is “Pachas-Moab:” This family came from a woman named Ruth, a Moabite princess who became Jewish. It is her story that explains their story.

The Story of Ruth

The story of Ruth is movingly transcribed in the biblical book of Ruth. It begins in the famine-stricken Land of Israel during the historical period of the Judges, approximately in the Jewish year 2787 (973 BCE). The wealthy and influential Jew, Elimelech, and his pious wife, Naomi, together with their two sons, Machlon and Kilyon, abandon their land and their people in search of a better future. In Judea, Elimelech was besieged by the burdens of Jewish communal life and the onslaught of hungry beggars seeking food and money. He relocates with his family to the pagan land Moab, situated in today’s Jordan, on the Eastern Bank of the Jordan river.

In the land of Moab, the family loses its fortune and Elimelech dies. His sons marry Moabite princesses: Machlon marrying Ruth, and Kilyon marrying Orpah. Ruth and Orpah were the daughters of Eglon, king of Moab. Soon after their marriages, Machlon and then Kilyon suddenly die. The once esteemed Naomi is now a penniless, childless widow, a stranger in a foreign land. Her husband and both of her sons have died. She is left alone with two young daughters-in-law who are widows too. Naomi decides to return home, to the Holy Land.

When the mourning period for her sons ends, Naomi begins her arduous, painful journey back to her land and her people. Ruth and Orpah faithfully begin to accompany her. They travel together forty steps. But then Naomi stops them. She discourages them from continuing the journey, urging them instead to return to their parents’ homes, and to the affluent palace life of their youth.

"Return, my daughters,” Naomi tells them. “Why should you go with me? I am an old, broken widow; life has been cruel to me. You girls have a bright future ahead of you. You are young and beautiful. Go back and open a new chapter in your life. ”

One daughter-in-law, Orpah, is persuaded. The sober logic of her pious mother-in-law sits well with her. She exchanges her frail, elderly mother-in-law for a new and hopeful future, back with her own people and a culture.

But the other daughter-in-law, Ruth, is not persuaded by her mother-in-law’s plea. She is determined to share a common destiny with Naomi whatever the future may hold.

רות א, יד: וַתִּשֶּׂנָה קוֹלָן, וַתִּבְכֶּינָה עוֹד; וַתִּשַּׁק עָרְפָּה לַחֲמוֹתָהּ, וְרוּת דָּבְקָה בָּהּ.

“Orpah,” the Tanach says, “kissed her mother-in-law (goodbye), but Ruth cleaved to her.”

With immortal heroic words, enshrined in the majestic hearts of our people, Ruth declares:

רות א, טז: וַתֹּאמֶר רוּת אַל-תִּפְגְּעִי-בִי, לְעָזְבֵךְ לָשׁוּב מֵאַחֲרָיִךְ:  כִּי אֶל-אֲשֶׁר תֵּלְכִי אֵלֵךְ, וּבַאֲשֶׁר תָּלִינִי אָלִין, עַמֵּךְ עַמִּי, וֵאלֹהַיִךְ אֱלֹהָי. יז בַּאֲשֶׁר תָּמוּתִי אָמוּת, וְשָׁם אֶקָּבֵר; כֹּה יַעֲשֶׂה יְהוָה לִי, וְכֹה יוֹסִיף, כִּי הַמָּוֶת, יַפְרִיד בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵךְ.

“Wherever you will go, I will go. Where you will lodge, I will lodge. Your people are my people. Your G-d is my G-d. Where you die, I will die.”

And so it was. Orpah went back to Moab, where she began a new life for herself. Ruth voluntarily remained with her mother-in-law—I think that such a thing never occurred again in Jewish history[6]—and she became a Jew, though she was now destitute and lonely. From a royal, aristocratic, and wealthy background, Ruth was now isolated and impoverished. She was a convert from a nation that was seen as an archenemy of the Jewish people (to the extent that no male converts of that nation were ever allowed to marry ordinary Jewish women[7]), so she knew that eyebrows will rise when people hear about her origin. This former princess was forced to get on line with the beggars in order to collect left-over grain from field owners, so she would survive.

The Soul of Ruth

Why did Ruth make such a sacrifice? Why did she subject her life to such difficulty, when there was absolutely no obligation on her to follow her mother-in-law, and she could have easily followed her sister-in-law? What motivated her decision?

Her photo and bio were not posted on any websites. She was not a “story,” a sensation, a “woman of valor.” No one sung her praises and marveled at her commitment. At that point, Ruth was no more than a poor wanderer, out of the limelight. What inspired her was one cause only, expressed in her above mentioned proclamation to Naomi: “Wherever you will go, I will go. Where you will lodge, I will lodge. Your people are my people. Your G-d is my G-d. Where you die, I will die.” Her agenda was nothing but the truth. No fanfare, no accolades, no attention, no validation, no reward, no comfort, and no recognition. Ruth was a princess within—she did not need external validation; she did things for G-d, and for G-d alone, and that was enough.

Ultimately, her name was engraved in the annals of our history. Ruth married a judge named Boaz, they gave birth to a boy named Oved, the father of Yishai, who fathered King David. Ruth was David’s great-grandmother. The entire royal Davidic dynasty, including the Moshiach himself, stems from a female Moabite convert to Judaism—Ruth.

Why did she, a Moabite convert, become the mother of Jewish royalty? Because in Judaism, the definition of a true leader is someone who is not in it for any purpose of fame, honor or power; his or her only agenda is serving G-d and His people. This is what Ruth was all about: Years before anyone knew her name, she was committed heart and soul to the cause. “Wherever you will go, I will go. Where you will lodge, I will lodge. Your people are my people. Your G-d is my G-d. Where you die, I will die.”

Impact of a Mother

Some six centuries later, a Jewish family living at the onset of the Second Temple era, demonstrated extraordinary and selfless generosity. They would stand for weeks in a burning-hot forest, engaged in excruciating labor, in order to give a contribution which they could not replenish for the sake of people they do not know, and who will never know them, many of them of a low spiritual caliber, sinners among Israel.

Whence did they obtain this level of commitment? — the Talmud is eager to know.

The answer: They came from either the family of David or from his general Yoav. Yet this does not cut it. David and Yoav were both great men, but at a very young age, they have become popular and influential, their praises were sung among the multitudes. Their fame reached the entire nation. This family, in contrast, possessed the unique quality of utter selfless commitment even without receiving any validation. Where did this come from?

Ah! “Pachas—Moab!” This was the gift of Ruth, the Moabite princess who left everything behind to embark on an unknown journey, one which might bring her nothing but scorn from her new people who disliked Moab. Why? Because “Your people are my people. Your G-d is my G-d. Where you die, I will die.”[8]

Here we have a classic illustration of Epigenetics. Ruth lives some six centuries before this family donating the wood. Yet in Judaism, the behavior of parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, make a deep imprint on their children and descendants, even many centuries later. Ruth inculcated something within her family that did not depart from them even hundreds of years later.[9]

The Rebbe’s Father

I found it moving that the 20th of Av—the day commemorated in the Talmud as the day when the descendants of Ruth contributed their wood to the Temple—is also the yahrzeit of the great leader, sage and Kabbalist, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson (1878-1944), father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the who died in exile in Kazakhstan, after the Communists had imprisoned and exiled him due to his work in teaching and upholding Yiddishkeit in the Ukraine. Like Ruth, there were the years of his life when he was completely under the “radar,” exiled by the Stalinist regime to a remote village in Kazakhstan. From his position as one of the most prominent and influential Rabbis in Ukraine he was plunged into a town with no Jews, and with barely the basic necessities for life.

His wife, Rebbetzin Chanah, who voluntarily went to join him in his exile, describes her husband’s behavior under those insane conditions. One image I can’t get out of my mind. It is Simchas Torah. In the past, Reb Leivik would lead the festive dancing in the grand shul in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, where he served as chief Rabbi. Hundreds and hundreds of Jews would come to dance with him. There was a special joyous melody he would sing each year on Simchas Torah and it was known in the city as “The Rabbis’ Song.” (His son, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, would also sing this song each Simchas Torah).

Now he was in a one-bedroom apartment, infested with mice and many other rodents, filled with mud, the cold penetrating the thin walls of the hut. His landlord was not friendly to Jews and had many pigs roaming the house.

But it was Simchas Torah! Rebbetzin Chanah describes how suddenly she saw the same shine on her husband’s face as in the good years. Alone in the world, without a single student or friend, Reb Leivik began to say “Atah Hareisa” in the same profoundly emotional tone he had always done it. And then he began singing. Which song? His usual Hakafos song which he would sing each year in his own shul. For hours, he danced, his face aglow with a radiance from another world. It was an embodiment of Ruth’s immortal words: “Wherever you will go, I will go. Where you will lodge, I will lodge. Your people are my people. Your G-d is my G-d. Where you die, I will die.”

The Lesson to Us

This entire narrative of 20 Av contains a vital lesson to each of us. Sometimes we think to ourselves: Does it matter what I do in private? If I can get honored by a dinner, fine. If at least my mother-in-law can find out about my good deeds and praise me, wonderful. If everyone in shul will give me “yasher koach,” awesome. But to do something kind for another person and no one will ever find out? To do one mitzvah which does not have a visible impact on the world? To help one Jew come closer to G-d without him or her ever finding out that I get the credit? To forgo one’s immoral temptation in the privacy of my life without anyone ever finding out what a great hero I am? Does it matter if I hold myself back from hollering or insulting my spouse or my child or my employee when no one will ever know what I have just done?

Oscar Wilde once said: “The nicest feeling in the world is to do a good deed anonymously and have somebody find out.” But in Judaism, our paradigm of leadership and inspiration is a woman named Ruth. She taught us that we do not live for other people’s accolades, but for G-d, for truth. G-d knows what I’ve done. Every good deed done anonymously is known and cherished by your Creator. G-d embraces every breath you take, every sacrifice you make, and every Mitzvah you do for His sake.[10]

(Please donate here. In honor of the Yartzeit of Reb Levi Yitzchak, next Tuesday evening, watch a fascinating class by Rabbi YY about a debate between the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his father about the power of thoughts. Click here to watch live or replay).

____________

[1] Taanis 12a; 26a; 28a

[2] See Talmud ibid.

[3] See Talmud Bava Metzia 58b; 59b and all biblical sources referenced there.

[4] Ibid., 31a; Middot 2:5.

[5] The same is true considering the donation on 20 Elul. There too there is an argument about the genealogy of the family (Talmud, Taanis 28a). Indeed, this family too came from Ruth! See Likkutei Sichos, vol. 4, pp. 1103-1107; vol. 9 pp. 86-90.

[6] A similar humorous remark was made by the Lubavitcher Rebbe during the Farbrengen of 20 Av, 5732 (1972).

[7] Even concerning the women of Moab, there was a fierce debate. Hence, Ruth marrying Boaz remained a controversial issue for generations, see Talmud Yevamos 76a-b.

[8] Why the argument if they came from David or Yoav? Why is that relevant and what is the logic behind each opinion? See Likkutei Sichos vol. 4 pp. 1103-1107.

[9]  This also answers a question: How can the sages argue about facts, in which only one opinion can be correct, and the other false? Yet, in reality, both views hold that this family came from both David and Yoav. The argument is, which person in the family is most responsible for their behavior (See Likkutei Sichos ibid.)

[10] This essay is partially based on talks delivered by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on the 20th of Av in the years 5711 and 5732 (August 22, 1951 and July 31, 1972). Parts of them were published in Likkutei Sichos, vol. 4, pp. 1103-1107; ibid., vol. 22 Vayikra. Cf. Likkutei Sichos vol. 9 pp. 86-90. The connection with Ruth I developed based on Sichos Kodesh 5732 Sichas Chaf Av.

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  • DK

    Daniel Kaye -11 months ago

    Profound beautiful and inspiring! Thank you very much!

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  • Z

    zevy -1 year ago

    YAsher Koach

    cant wait for tonight's shiur, what a great article

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

15 Av Essay

Rabbi YY Jacobson
  • August 11, 2022
  • |
  • 14 Av 5782
  • |
  • 1315 views
  • Comment

Dedicated by Sergey Shevchuk in honor of our daughter’s, Leah Rose bat Avrohom, Bat Mitzvah on Tu B’Av

Class Summary:

The Talmud relates a narrative that occurred on the 20th day of the Hebrew month of Av.

When the Jewish people returned to the Land of Israel, after seventy years of exile in Babylonia, to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash, they faced many hardships. The Temple treasury could not even afford to pay for firewood for the altar. Several families came forth to resolve this crisis. Each donated a large quantity of firewood.

One of the Wood-Offering Days is the 20th of Av, on which a family called “Pachas-Moab,” from the tribe of Judah, brought wood. The Talmud engages in a debate regarding the identity of this family.

Yet this entire discussion seems superfluous. Who cares? The Talmud is addressing an event which occurred hundreds of years earlier when a particular family donated wood to the Temple. Why is it relevant to know whether they traced their lineage to David or to his nephew? Do we have to argue about everything?

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