On Shavuot morning on May 15, 2013, I gave a presentation to the Temple Beth-El of Las Cruces Wednesday breakfast on “The Book of Ruth and what it teaches us about being welcoming.” Yes, it was a long title, but it was an important topic. This scroll assigned to Shavuot told the story of a family leaving a community, going to another, and then, due to unforeseen tragic circumstances, moving again, this time with a new family member who would become a focal point of commitment…and kindness.
We began our discussion by enumerating how many different places we had lived. I had counted 15 for myself (moving from one dormitory room to another was still a move because it was a change in living quarters). Some people in the group had lived in as few as five places, while others had lived in over 20 different residences over their lifetime. We linked our own movement to that of Naomi and, eventually, her daughter-in-law Ruth. I then asked about what it takes to be welcoming. What should our attitude be to newcomers and guests? What should we do for them? Here is our list:
· Be open to people.
· Ask what you can do for them.
· Offer assistance.
· Invite guest/newcomers to your home.
· Offer them food and drink.
· Provide information about the congregation/community.
· Be friendly.
· Show compassion/be a good listener.
· Be open-minded, inclusive and non-judgmental.
· Treat them with kindness.
· Show an interest in them: their lives, their stories, and their hopes for living in this new community.
As we discussed the main elements of the story of Ruth, we noted how Boaz, who had “gotten wind” of Ruth’s commitment to her mother-in-law, had formed an “assessment” of Ruth as someone who was loyal, kind, thoughtful, selfless, strong, and committed to family. We discussed how Naomi had said, when her situation was at its worst, “call me Mara/bitter one,” a reflection of the stresses of moving from one place, where she had experienced the deaths of family members, back to her home community, with no reassurance that her life would improve. Yet, Naomi exuded a rekindled spirit when she learned that Ruth had gone to glean in the field her husband’s relative, Boaz. During the course of our discussion, we specifically recognized Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi (because she did not leave her side) and to Boaz (because she paid back his kindness to her, a “foreigner”--in her own words—with what was essentially a marriage proposal).
We concluded our discussion by reviewing our “recipe for welcoming” in relation to the book of Ruth. One character or another in the story had offered an example of every item on our list. Between Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, there was much to learn about opening our hearts and even our homes to someone new to our community.
In the book of Ruth, acts of kindness and openness led to the marriage between Ruth and Boaz that, in turn, made possible the birth of King David several generations in the future. That passage reminds us that every person who walks through the doors of our congregation to visit, to learn about the community or to join is important. We never know where a conversation with a newcomer might lead, or how our hand extended in a warm welcome could make a difference. Pirkei Avot teaches us, “there is no one who doesn’t have his or her time, and there is no thing that doesn’t have its place.” May this story, and the values it teaches, lead us to see the significance of every human being, both those who are living among us now and those who are yet to come.