If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?
This week, Cantor Gershon Silins of Liberal Judaism’s outreach team selects: Megillat Ruth
“1:16 And Ruth said, do not ask me to leave you, or to return from following after you: for wherever you go, I will go; and where you lodge, I will lodge: your people shall be my people, and your God my God: 1:17. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried: and may the Eternal do so to me, and more, if anything but death should part you and me.”
This well-known text from Megillat Ruth has a special place for me; every time I read, study or sing it, I find that it strikes a direct emotional chord: it brings me to tears. One of my favourite musical settings of this text is by my teacher at the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, Cantor Lawrence Avery.
In his setting, the text “Amech ami, velohayich elohai,” – “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” – is sung twice, the first time strongly, and the second time reflectively, as Ruth realises the immensity of the change to her life that her devotion to Naomi will bring about.
For ancient people at least as much as for us today, this would have been an awesome transformation. We often think of this text in regard to those who convert to Judaism, and it is indeed appropriate in that connection.
But it also speaks to the commitments we make to those people in our lives who are so central to us that we change our own lives because of them.
What makes this text particularly moving is that the person to whom Ruth is determined to follow is not (as one might expect) a partner, husband, or lover; Naomi is her mother-in-law.
The devotion between these two women is as pure an evocation of love as I can imagine.