נוהגין לקרות רות בשבועות
It is customary to read Ruth on Shavuot. (Orach Chaim, Rama490:9, Shulchan Aruch HaRav 494:13)

QUESTION: What is the reason for this custom?

ANSWER: There are many reasons, here are a few:

1) In Honor of King David

The prophet Shmuel wrote the Book of Ruth to delineate the lineage of King David. It concludes with verses stating the connection between King David and Ruth. King David died on Shavuot (Jerusalem Talmud, Chagigah, 2:3). The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 11a) says, “Hashem completes the years of the righteous from day to day,” so it follows that David was born on Shavuot. Hence, it is customary to read Megillat Ruth in his honor.

(שערי תשובה סי' תצד, ס"ק ז' בשם זקנו בספר בכור שור דף רכ"א, ועי' לקוטי שיחות ח"ב ע' 568)

2) 606 Additional Mitzvot

On Shavuot we received the Torah, which contains 613 commandments. The entire world had already been given seven of these commandments to observe, so we actually received 606 additional commandments. When Ruth the Moabitess converted to Judaism, she accepted upon herself 606 new commandments as the Jewish people did at Sinai.

To emphasize the fact that we all received 606 new commandments on Shavuot, we read the story of Ruth, whose name (רות) has the numerical value of 606.

(תשואות חן)

According to the Gemara (Bava Batra 15b) she was called Ruth, because her descendant David would ‘saturate’ (רִוָה) Hashem with songs and praises.

Incidentally, this also explains why according to the above reason her name is Ruth (רות) and not taru (תרו) which would have been more in line with the numerical value of 606 (ת=400, ר=200, ו=6).

To allude to David’s saturating (רוה) Hashem with song, her name starts with a reish (ר).

(נחמת צמח ישראל בשם ספר ברית שלום)

3) Value of Affliction and Poverty

Shavuot is the time of the giving of the Torah. A lesson learned from Ruth is that just as she experienced affliction and poverty upon converting the Torah too was given through affliction and poverty (see p. 30).

(שו"ע אדמוה"ז תצ"ד סעי' י"ג)

4) Importance of Oral Torah

Ruth was a Moabitess. Seemingly the Torah forbids her to marry into the Jewish people. However, the Sages (Yevamot 69a) interpreted the verse, “Lo yavo Amoni uMo’avi bikehal Hashem” — “An Amonite or Moabite may not marry into the community of G‑d(Devarim 23:4) — to refer only to the Moabite men but not to the women. Consequently, due to the Rabbinic interpretation of Torah, it was possible for Ruth to marry Boaz and become the ancestor of King David and Mashiach. Therefore, the Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot to emphasize the immense benefit the Jewish people derive from the Oral Torah, which Hashem forced them to accept at the time of the giving of the Torah (see p. 26).

5) No Yichus — Pedigree — Required

Shavuot commemorates the day of the giving of the Torah and our becoming Hashem’s am segulah — chosen people. Ruth is read to dispel the misconception that to excel in Torah study or become venerable among the Jewish community yichus — pedigree — is a prerequisite.

Ruth was a convert. Though she lacked Jewish yichus, she rose to the highest heights and merited to become Ima Shel Malchut — the Mother of Royalty.

A wise person once said, “Yichus is like a zero (0), it has value only when there is a one (1) in front of it.”

6) Every Mitzvah Counts

Ruth was married to Machlon the son of Elimelech. After her husband and father-in-law died, she sought that one of their relatives should marry her and also purchase the family field. Thus, when she would come to the field, people would say, “This is Machlon’s widow,” and his memory would be perpetuated (see 3:9, Rashi). Her closest relatives were an uncle named Tov and a cousin named Boaz. Since she was a Moabitess, Tov refused to marry her out of fear that he would bring a blemish upon his family. Boaz married her and also acquired the field.

At that time Boaz, who was also known as Ivtzan and who was one of the judges in the Jewish community, was three hundred years old, wealthy, and head of a large family (see I Chronicles 2:11; Rashi, Bava Batra 91a). Although he had sufficient reasons to avoid marrying Ruth, nevertheless, due to his conviction that no opportunity to do a good deed should ever be missed, he agreed to marry her

Shavuot is celebrated as the time of the giving of the Torah, in which there are six hundred and thirteen mitzvot. The reading of the story of Ruth on Shavuot emphasizes the importance of every good deed and teaches that a person may never know how performing a single good deed may bring Mashiach and the ultimate redemption of the Jewish people.

(ברשימות כ"ק אדמו"ר, חוברת צ"ו, כתב דמדרשות חלוקות אם אבצן הוא בועז, עיי"ש)

7) Juxtaposition of Shavuot and Gleaning

The wheat harvest reason culminated on Shavuot. To celebrate the Yom Tov the Torah (Vayikra 23:16-21) prescribes that a meal-offering in the form of Shtei Halechem — Two Loaves — be brought together with various animal offerings. Immediately following this the Torah says, “When you will reap the harvest of your land, you shall not remove completely the corner of your field as you reap, and you shall not gather the gleanings of your harvest, for the poor and the proselyte you shall leave them; I am Hashem your G‑d.”

The story of Ruth took place during the wheat harvest season. Megillat Ruth relates Boaz’s superb performance of the mitzvah and his instructions to the harvesters to be polite and generous with Ruth who was poor and a proselyte. Thus, it is appropriate to read this on Shavuot.

(לבוש סי' תצ"ד:ה)

8) It is Never Too Late to Change

There are people who say “Had I started with Yiddishkeit in my youth I would have conducted myself that way throughout my life. Now, however, its too late to change my entrenched lifestyle and start anew.”

Ruth was 40 years old (Midrash Rabbah, Ruth 4:4) when she embraced Torah and Judaism. She started on the elementary level and rose to become one of the most exemplified women in Jewish history.

(It could very well be that she was also Rabbi Akiva’s source of inspiration.)

(ילקוט מעם לועז)

Chabad Custom Re: Ruth

Although Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe and founder of Chabad Chassidut, mentions twice in his Shulchan Aruch the custom of reading Ruth on Shavuot (490:17, 494:13); nevertheless, it is not mentioned in his Nusach Ari Siddur and it is not the prevalent Chabad custom.

The Rebbe, however, said this only applies to the actual reading, but the essence of Megillat Ruth has a connection with Shavuot. Therefore, in the Tikkun Leil Shavuot, the entire book of Ruth is recited, and in Chabad Chassidic writings there are explanations offered for the association of Megillat Ruth with Shavuot.

(שיחת יום ב' דחגה"ש, תשי"ח, תשמ"ח, וראה אוצר מנהגי חב"ד – חג השבועות ע' ש"ה)

"ביום ב' שבועות קורין מגילת רות"
“On the second day of Shavuot Megillat Ruth is read. (Levush 494:5)

QUESTION: King David died in Eretz Yisrael, where Shavuot is celebrated for only one day. Why in the Diaspora is the story of his ancestry read on the second day of Shavuot?

ANSWER: The following are some of the explanations:

1) It Emphasizes Importance of Rabbinic Teaching

Formerly, the fixing of the new month (Rosh Chodesh) was based on the testimony of two witnesses who saw the appearance of the new moon. Then messengers were sent to the Jewish communities informing them of the day designated as Rosh Chodesh, which would also determine the days on which the holidays would occur. Communities which could not be reached before the middle of the month remained in doubt about the calendar and celebrated an extra day of Yom Tov to account for all possibilities. Therefore, in the Diaspora we always celebrated Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot for two days. Nowadays, although our calendar is based on calculation, we continue to observe the custom of two days of Yom Tov in the Diaspora.

Apparently, there is no need to ever celebrate Shavuot for two days since it is always the fiftieth day from the counting of the Omer and by that time it is known already which day Pesach should have been?

The Rambam (Kiddush HaChodesh 3:12) writes that “in order not to differentiate between the holidays, the Rabbis have instructed that any place which the messengers would not reach by the middle of Tishrei or Nissan celebrates two days of Yom Tov, including Shavuot.”

According to the literal meaning of the Torah, it would have been forbidden for Ruth to marry into the Jewish people. However, thanks to Rabbinic interpretation, which explains that the Torah precluded only the males of Moab and not the females, she was able to marry Boaz and their descendants would be King David and Mashiach. Therefore, to emphasize the reverence we have for the teachings of our Rabbis, we read the story of Ruth on a day which is celebrated only because of Rabbinic ordinance.

(ספר נעשה ונשמע)

2) The 2nd Day of Shavuot can be on Shabbat

Alternatively, according to the Gemara (Shabbat 30a) King David passed away on Shabbat. The Jewish people follow a calendar based on the lunar cycle. The new month was established based on the testimony of witness who saw the appearance of the new moon. In those days, Shavuot could occur on any day of the week. Now, however, the calendar is pre-calculated, and the first day of Shavuot can never be on Shabbat.

If we would read Ruth on the first day of Shavuot, which is the day of David’s passing, it would never be on the same day of the week on which he passed away. Therefore, it was postponed to the second day which is part of the Shavuot festival and falls out on Shabbat at least in some years.

(נפש יהונתן ר' יהונתן בנימין הכהן ז"ל מ'סעליש)

3) David Died on Shavuot — 7 Sivan

While it is true that David died in Eretz Yisrael where Shavuot is only celebrated for one day, the particular Shavuot when David died was the seventh day of Sivan. This day is celebrated in the Diaspora as the second day of Shavuot.

The Torah did not give any specific date as to exactly when Shavuot should be celebrated. We were merely told to count 49 days from the morrow after Pesach, the day when the Omer-offering is made, and on the fiftieth day celebrate Shavuot. The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 6b) says that Shavuot may be on the fifth of Sivan if Nissan and Iyar both have 30 days. It will be on the sixth of Sivan, if Nissan was 30 days and Iyar 29 days. If Nissan and Iyar are both only 29 days then Shavuot will be on the seventh of Sivan.

Originally, the Beit Din would declare Rosh Chodesh based on the testimony of two witnesses who saw the appearance of the new moon. Due to complications that arose from this, in later years, a pre-calculated calendar was instituted. Accordingly, Shavuot can never be on Shabbat, and it is always on the sixth of Sivan, which is also the day when the Torah was given.

Consequently, in the particular year when David died the months of Nissan and Iyar were 29 days each and thus Shavuot was the seventh of Sivan. When the Beit Din would declare Rosh Chodesh based on the testimony of two witnesses, it was possible for Shavuot to be on Shabbat also.

Hence, in the Diaspora, Megillat Ruth is read on the second day of Shavuot which is always 7 Sivan, and the yartzeit — anniversary of death — of King David’s passing. In Israel, however, where Shavuot is celebrated on the sixth of Nissan, they read Megillat Ruth on that day to commemorate the passing of David on Shavuot.

(הגהות ר' יהודה בכרך ז"ל על מס' פסחים דף ס"ח ע"ב, ועי' לקוטי שיחות ח"ח ע' 22)

David’s Passing and Daily Portion of Psalms

The Lubavitcher Rebbe made a fascinating observation regarding the date of King David’s passing. The Gemara (Shabbat 30a) relates that David asked “Let me know, O G‑d, my end, and the measure of my days, what it is; may I know when I will cease.” The Gemara explains that he desired to know what the future held for him, how long he would live, and on what day he would expire. Hashem acceded to his last request and told him “You will die on Shabbat.”

David’s statement “Let me know O G‑d my end” is a verse in Psalms, chapter 39. The book of Psalms is divided according to the thirty days of the month. Many have a custom of saying each day’s portion of the month. This particular Psalm happens to be among the Psalms recited on the seventh day of the month.

(לקוטי שיחות ח"ח ע' 22, הערה 8)