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The Book of Ruth Teaches the Importance of Accepting the Kindness of Others

According to one ancient rabbinic commentary, the book of Ruth—read in many synagogues on the holiday of Shavuot, which begins Saturday night—was written only because it tells of deeds of lovingkindness being rewarded. A Moabite by birth, the book’s titular heroine is a descendant of Abraham’s nephew Lot, who, in the book of Genesis, parts ways with his illustrious uncle to dwell in the sinful city of Sodom. Miriam Kosman, contrasting the selfishness for which rabbinic tradition condemns the Sodomites with the selflessness exhibited by Ruth, suggests a novel reading of the book:

“What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours” sounds like a perfectly reasonable life philosophy. This vacuum cleaner is mine. I’m happy to lend it to you, but please return it in good shape, and when I borrow your drill, I’ll do the same. The talmudic tractate of Pirkei Avot seems to agree that this is normal—“average behavior.” Yet it goes on to tell us that “some say that this [perfectly reasonable approach] is the characteristic of Sodom.” . . .

In Sodom’s worldview, lovingkindness is the cruelest thing you can do to a person, because giving to someone makes him needy and dependent. . . . Perhaps Lot was suffering from the . . . “thanks-but-no-thanks” syndrome. . . . Whether one gets one’s wealth because of another person, the way Lot did from Abraham, or . . . directly from God, there’s a reflexive reaction to wrench away from whoever is giving to you, to assert one’s independence, to say, “thanks for thinking of me, but it’s okay, I’ve got it. No, thanks. I can manage on my own.” . . .

Circumstances had thrust Ruth, a former princess [according to the midrash], into an incredibly humiliating situation. She was a convert in a strange land whose people looked askance at Moabites in general and at her in particular. Her only relative was [her mother-in-law Naomi], a destitute, fallen-from-grace widow, and their sustenance had to come from scavenging in a stranger’s field. And yet Ruth does not seem to recognize this, nor does she seem to grasp how pathetic her situation is.

Eventually it is the kindness of Boaz, who is first Ruth’s benefactor and then her suitor, that saves her and Naomi from their plight. Yet in the end it is Boaz who thanks Ruth for her kindness toward himself, while praising her for her selfless devotion to her mother-in-law, which is the book’s central example of lovingkindness. Kosman argues that a fundamental link connects Ruth’s ability to accept the kindness of others nobly and gracefully with her ability to deal kindly with others. Together, these two attributes constitute a rejection of the Sodomite attitude of asking nothing and giving nothing.

Read more at Mishpacha

More about: Book of Ruth, Jewish ethics, Religion & Holidays, Shavuot, Sodom

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen