It’s customary to read the Book of Ruth on the holiday of Shavuot, a holiday which commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is not an obvious selection. In fact, it’s not initially obvious why it was canonized in the Bible in the first place. The Talmudist Rabbi Zeira asked, “This scroll does not contain the laws of impurity or purity, prohibitions or permissions. So why was it written?”1

The book tells the story of Ruth, a Moabite princess, and the struggles she faced on the path to conversion to Judaism. The 11th-century Biblical scholar Rabbi Tuviah ben Eliezer compiled a commentary, Midrash Lekach Tov (also known as Pesikta Zutarta), which includes a section focusing on this story. The following are the inferences I have drawn from that work, with valuable lessons the Book of Ruth can teach us.

1. Before a new undertaking, let go of the old one

“She left the place where she had been living … to the land of Judah” (Ruth 1:7). Is the fact that she left not obvious? It wasn’t just the land of the Jews that she was advancing to, but to the traditions of Judaism. In order to do that, she first needed to cast aside her previous set of beliefs, leaving “the place where she had been living.”2

2. Sacrifices need to be made

“And they set out on the road” (Ruth 1:7). Taking this verse literally, the sages3 understand that after losing their husbands (and their source of livelihood), Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, walked barefoot. Following the right path does not always come easy. Ruth was willing to make sacrifices and endure inconveniences to pursue what she believed in.

3. You are not defined by how you are perceived

At first, Ruth was undoubtedly an outsider, but she did not let that define her and carried on with her plan to join the Jewish nation. With Naomi at her side, “… the two went on until they reached Bethlehem” (Ruth 1:19), implying that Naomi and Ruth were eventually seen as equals in their faith.4

4. Accomplish as much as you can, while you can

“So may the L‑rd do to me and so may He continue” (Ruth 1:17). Ruth committed to doing whichever mitzvot she could during her life, stating that “whenever I can adapt from the mitzvot in this world, I will adapt.” In eternity, we reap the rewards for the mitzvot we observe in our lives — but only in our lifetime can we perform them.5

5. Seek and heed the advice of the righteous

“I would like to go to the fields …” (Ruth 2:2). The Midrash points out that Ruth would only go to the fields with the permission of her mother-in-law.6 Naomi was a pious and charitable woman “whose ways were nice and pleasant.”7 Ruth considered her a spiritual guide whose advice should not only be heard but also followed.

6. Taking action is paramount

“She got up again to glean” (Ruth 2:15). Ruth wasn’t idle and she worked hard to survive and prosper.8 As important as knowledge and understanding may be, our fates are influenced by our actions. What we do shapes our futures.

7. Let kindness lead the way

In answer to his question of why Ruth was written, Rav Zeira tells us that the entire book is a lesson in kindness and its long-lasting effects. Ruth bestowed boundless kindness on Naomi and others and she was rewarded by becoming the great-grandmother of King David and the ancestress of the Kingdom of Judah.

The Torah is a gift that must be cultivated to be of value. The story of Ruth is the story of a woman who gathers the grains of her faith with devotion and kindness. In the words of Ruth’s descendant, King Solomon, the Torah’s ways “are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peaceful.”9