Rabbi Arthur Waskow
First, “Ruth.” In the biblical story, Ruth was a penniless immigrant from a despised pariah people. Yet she was welcomed onto the fields of Boaz, where she gleaned what the regular harvesters had left behind. Boaz made sure that even this despised foreigner had a decent job at decent pay. He forbade his male employees from harassing her. When she went one night to the barn where the barley crop was being threshed, he spent the night with her — and decided to marry her.But — if Ruth came to America today, what would happen? Would she be admitted at the border? Or would she be detained for months without a lawyer, ripped from Naomi’s arms while Naomi’s protest brought her too under suspicion — detained because she was, after all, a Canaanite who spoke some variety of Arabic, possibly a terrorist, for sure an idolator? Would she be deported as merely an “economic refugee,” not a worthy candidate for asylum? Would she have to show a “green card” before she could get a job cleaning at any farm, restaurant, or hospital?
Would she be sent to “workfare” with no protections for her dignity, her freedom, or her health? Would she face contempt because she and her mother-in-law Naomi, traveling without a man, might be a lesbian couple?
When she boldly “uncovers the feet” of Boaz during the night they spend together on the threshing floor, has she violated the “family values” that some religious folk now proclaim? Or has she affirmed that love engages the body as well as the heart, the mind, and the spirit, and that sometimes a loving body comes before a wedding?
Today in America, some 99% of us are powerless, like Ruth; only 1% hold great property, prosperity and power, like Boaz. He was a good-hearted, generous-spirited man. But his society did not leave justice to the whims of the wealthy. Its laws and business regulations made sure that everyone was entitled to decent work for a decent income.
Everyone. A disemployment rate of 14%, or 8.5%, or even 2% were made by law impossible. Everyone had the right simply to walk onto a field and begin to work, begin to use the means-of-production of that era. And Boaz could not order his regular workers to be economically “efficient.” They could not harvest everything: not what grew in the corners of the field, not what they missed on the first go-round. Social compassion was more important than efficiency. No “downsizing” allowed.
Although Boaz was generous-hearted, Ruth’s right to glean did not depend upon his generosity. It was the law.
Ruth was entitled not only to a job, but to respect. No name-calling, no sexual harassment.
And she, as well as Boaz, was entitled to Shabbat: time off for rest, reflection, celebration, love. She was entitled to “be” — as well as to “do.” Because Ruth and Boaz, the outcast and the wealthy property-owner, got together, they could become the ancestors of King David. According to legend, they could thus help bring Messiah into the world. Help bring the world of peace and justice.
What do we learn from their story today?
In America today, our society is dismantling many of the legal commitments to the poor that ancient Israelite society affirmed. Our government subsidizes not the middle class, the workers, and the poor — but the super-wealthy like Big Oil companies that make tens of billions of dollars a year, pay few or no taxes, and take in whopping billions of subsidies because they invest mere millions of their profits in buying Members of Congress. So — what are our religious obligations . And we — those of us with as little money as Ruth or as much as Boaz — what can we do to help bring the world of peace and justice?
First of all, for Shavuot and for Pentecost, synagogues and churches could be reading “Ruth” to see how the spiritual, the political, and the economic intertwine. Please help your friends, colleagues, congregants do this by forwarding them this Email letter. Invite them to subscribe to the free weekly Shalom Report by clicking to [ https://theshalomcenter.org/sites/all/modules/civicrm/extern/url.php?u=131&qid=16643 ]Http://www.theshalomcenter.org and then clicking on the green “Signup” banner.
Secondly: where was your money last night, and what was it doing?
Two actions we could take: With our personal money, and our tax money.
Is our personal money in checking and savings accounts in the Bank of America, with its sleazy practice of foreclosures, or the PNC Bank, with its destructive investments in mining companies that are destroying the mountains of West Virginia in order to rip more coal from the innards of Mother Earth and to shatter the age-old climate patterns that have nourished human civilization? Or in some other Super-Bank?
It would make a great difference to the Ruths of today to shift your own money to your local credit union or community-based bank. And safer, too. (Compare the two-billion-dollars-and-counting losses of voracious, disastrous JPMorgan Chase.) . And how can we shift our tax money from paying Suicidal Subsidies to Big Oil — suicidal subsidies that help Big Oil destroy ourselves and our Earth?
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has introduced a bill to do this. It’s called the End Polluter Welfare Act. To sign up to support it, please click here:
Blessings of caring and sharing, of shalom and salaam, of healing and wholeness —