On the holiday of Shavuos, it is customary to read the Book of Ruth, a story set in the harvest season with a vivid depiction of one woman’s unwavering commitment to Judaism, thematically echoing our own renewed dedication to our faith during this period.
The story is about a family’s unrelenting stream of adversity and setbacks and Naomi and Ruth’s attempts at navigating them. Ruth faces a series of formidable challenges: she must reconcile her Moabite roots with her newfound Jewish identity, depart from her homeland with no intention of return, cope with the death of her husband, grapple with the loss of her fortune, establish herself in a foreign land, struggle with poverty while seeking food and provisions, and finally, present herself to Boaz.
Each of these challenges would have been independently formidable. Yet, Ruth faced them all in succession, compounding their severity and making success not just improbable but nearly impossible. Some of these were especially hard because widowed women are a vulnerable class, especially in that era.
We experience only one outcome, but risk means many other potential future outcomes could have come to pass. We ought to recognize the essential nature of challenges; not every person can overcome every hurdle they face. Everyone’s journey is unique, colored by their personal circumstances, resources, and strengths, and we ought not to judge when people cannot surmount the difficult obstacles in their lives. Far better to hope that life never rolls the dice against you than to believe everything will just work out.
Despite her significant loss and her daunting transitions, Ruth did not surrender to despair or choose the easier path. She consciously decided to persist, adapt, and carve her path forward. Remarkably, amidst all the uncertainty and hardship, Ruth’s journey ultimately led her to a place of security and belonging, and everything sort of worked out in the end.
R’ Shlomo Freifeld teaches that this is the most important lesson the Book of Ruth has to offer; to never give up hope, to believe that there is some kind of order or plan to the universe, and that everything will work out in the end.
The notion that one must never give up is an empowering message, a testament to human resilience, hope, and the transformative potential of perseverance. Ruth’s story speaks of an individual who, against all odds, chose not to give up. She held on steadfastly, not just to her own survival, but to her commitment to her mother-in-law, Naomi, her new faith, and her new people. Her persistence eventually led her to Boaz, establishing her as an important figure in Jewish history and a founder of the House of King David.
But never giving up doesn’t mean what you think.
Ruth gives up a lot, nearly everything in fact.
Ruth gives up her identity as a Moabite woman, a princess, her ancestral beliefs, her safety and comfort, and the person she was and might have been. She gives up these aspects from a place of freedom and power; she doesn’t stubbornly stick to an old path that no longer serves her. Rather, she undergoes a transformative journey, embracing new alignments and beliefs that reflect her authentic self more accurately; she forges a new path with courage and determination. Her resilience is nuanced; it’s not about resisting change but embracing it.
In other words, she gives up on plenty; but she never gives up on herself.
People rigidly stick to jobs, places, and relationships that don’t work because they don’t want to give up. But as one writer put it, you can never cure structural defects; the system corrects itself by collapsing. Failure is not a dead-end; it is a necessary precursor to building something stronger and more aligned that can ultimately survive.
There are moments the universe calls us to venture into the unknown, endure the trials that come our way, and persist until we reach our own growth and transformation.
Like Ruth, there are some things you should be happy to give up and let go of, but like Ruth, never give up on yourself or your values.