Each year on the holiday of Shavuot (Pentacost), I love reading the Book of Ruth. Like so many of the narratives that fill Jewish history, the Book of Ruth is poignant, filled with drama, emotional honesty and risk-taking. I love the fact that on the holiday where Jews commemorate receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai and become a nation defined by a covenant with God, we read the saga about a convert. As my rabbi once said so aptly, it’s not enough for Jews to consider themselves the “Chosen people;” we also need to be the choosing people. Reading the Book of Ruth affirms this idea for me. Each day, I have the opportunity to choose my Jewishness anew in any number of ways: through honest prayer, study, giving charity, looking for an additional mitzvah to do. The most famous convert in history, Ruth, reminds me that I am not defined as much by where I have been as much as where I am going.
Dura Europos synagogue wall painting depicting Jews leaving Egypt. The work of art is in the public domain
More than 3,300 years ago, God swept the Jewish people out from slavery in Egypt, where we had toiled for 210 years. He did not wait for a United Nations resolution on the matter – the Almighty acted unilaterally, and for this, we are forever grateful. Remembering the Exodus from Egypt is so central to Jewish life that we mention it in our prayers every day.
My husband and I found a gem of a little book while browsing the gift shop at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. It’s called George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation, (Applewood Books) and in 30 miniature pages it contains a wealth of wisdom. The language may seem quaint but the ideas are timeless. Our first president found the time to record these 110 rules at age 14, not being distracted by maintaining Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts.
In honor of our nation’s 237th birthday on July 4th, I dedicate this post to Philadelphia. I recently visited Philly, where I hadn’t been since I was a child, so this trip was like seeing it for the first time. I had traveled to this historically and culturally rich city for business but carved out a little time for some whirlwind sightseeing. Taking that extra time was one of the best things I had done for myself in a long time.