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‘The Light of the Ben Ish Chai on Megillas Rus’


Recently a new translation of the  ‘’Ben Ish Chai on Megillas Rus’’ by Rabbi Yerachmiel Bratt was published in Israel. The hallmark of this commentary on Ruth, according to the translator, is that this book cannot be understood in a superficial manner. The commentator brings out in his writing this megilla’s beautiful themes of modesty, tzni’ut, loyalty, and kindness and chesed, all of which clearly defines the ethos of the Jewish people.

In the introduction, Rabbi Bratt informs us of the following:

“I have chosen to name this sefer, ‘The Light of the Ben Ish Chai on Megillas Rus,’ because light is one of the defining motifs of Judaism. And it is the secret to our survival after existing in the dark during so many periods of our history. As Rav Mordechai Schwab, zt’’l, writes in his monumental opus, ‘Maamar Mordechai,” during so many periods of darkness in one’s life, one must look back and connect it to a time in the past when there was light. Thus, the darkness of present when connected to the light of the past also offers hope and even optimism.’’

In this volume we have the honor to read a special introduction themed to this work by one of America’s leading interpreters of our religious tradition, Rabbi Yisroel Reisman of Brooklyn, New York. I have chosen to include this entire essay as my presentment of review this week dedicating this to the upcoming festival of Shavu’ot commemorating the giving of the Aseret Hadibrot, the Ten Commandments, and the public reading of the Book of Ruth. I trust that after reading Rabbi Reisman’s essay you will come to further appreciate the multiple themes associated with this special holiday observance.

Introduction By Rabbi Yisroel Reisman

It was a particularly stormy day, and a couple was scheduled to be married. The Chasan, Kallah and Mesader Kiddushin (officiating Rabbi) waited for a minyan of men to assemble, so that the Chupah ceremony could take place.

The Mesader Kiddushin explained, Ein davar sh’bkdushah b’pachus m’asara — Holy actions cannot take place without the quorum of ten Later, after the wedding, one of the guests returned to his home in Yerushalayim and related this incident to the Pnei Menachem (the previous Gerrer Rebbe). He became irate. A Rabbi such as this should not be allowed to officiate at weddings!

He explained that there is indeed a rule in the Gemara, that Ein davar sh’bkdushah b’pachus m’asara – Holy actions cannot take place without the quorum of ten . However, that rule applies to certain specific acts and not to the Chupah ceremony. Kesuvos 7b learns the requirement for a minyan of ten men at a Chupah, but does not base it on this rule. Rather, it is derived from Megillas Rus, in Chapter four, where Boaz prepares for his own Chupah. We read, And he (Boaz) took ten men, the elders of the city

The son of the Rebbe was puzzled. He asked his father why this was so severe an error, so as to invalidate the Mesader Kiddu shin. After all, his ruling was correct. Is his error in explaining the source, such a serious mistake?

The Pnei Menachem explained that it was a serious error. The rule that Ein davar sh’bkdushah b’pachus m’asara is derived in the Gemara in Meseches.Megillah from the ten meraglim (spies) and the Adas Korach (assembly of Korach). A Yiddisheh Chasanah cannot have its roots in such sinister events. It is significant that the source for the Jewish Chupah is the marriage of Boaz and Rus, a Holy Union from which came the Kingdom of David and the seeds of Mashiach.

Indeed, Chazal teach that the Book of Rus was written and transmitted, specifically to teach the roots of the royal dynasty and how intertwined it is, with actions of chesed (kindness). The selflessness of Naomi and Rus, their loyalty to each other and the kindness and generosity of Boaz to an immigrant woman and her elderly mother-in-law, are the roots of royalty.

There is so much to be learned from the Book of Rus. Bava Basra 14a teaches that the book was authored by the prophet Shmuel. The Bach, in his introduction to Rus, questions this. Shmuel was the prophet who anointed Shaul and, later, Dovid as Kings of Israel. But Dovid was the great grandson of Boaz and Rus. Thus, the Book of Rus was not written until the fourth generation after it took place, during Dovid s lifetime. Why the delay in writing this Holy Book?

Bach answers that we find in Navi that after Dovid slew Goliath, King Saul inquired as to Dovid’s ancestry. Specifically, he asked whether Dovid was a candidate to succeed him as king. The Torah permits only Jews with a complete yichus (genealogy) to serve as king of the Jewish people. Doeg, the head of the Sanhedrin replied that Dovid was not eligible because he descended from Rus, a Moabite convert, who was not even eligible to marry someone born Jewish. The Torah (in Parshas Ki Seitzei) forbids a Moabite convert from entering into the Jewish family. Certainly, then, Dovid’s lack of yichus invalidated him from royalty!

Others disagreed. The Gemara relates that a Torah scholar named Amasah took strong exception and insisted, “So I have received from the Court of the Prophet Shmuel, a Moabite male convert (is ineligible) but not a Moabite woman!”

Bach explains that messengers were immediately dispatched to the prophet Shmuel for a definitive ruling on the topic. His written response took the form of the Megillah which we know as Rus – the story of Boaz, the great man of his generation, who ruled that Rus was indeed eligible to enter into the Jewish People in the most complete manner. Thus, Shmuel ruled that Dovid is indeed eligible to serve as king. His descendants could follow him on the throne and ultimately the King Mashiach would come from Boaz and Rus. We wonder. Wouldn’t a short letter by Shmuel have sufficed to render his ruling. Why the long story? More importantly, why was it written in a form which would enter the canon of the Jewish Tanach? This is certainly a most unusual source for a Holy Book! The Gerrer Rebbe understood. Shmuel was not looking to render a simple ruling. He was looking to expand his explanation to a fuller understanding of the ancestors of the family of Dovid. They were not simply eligible to be royalty because they were of kosher stock. They were chosen for royalty because of the extraordinary deeds that led to the marriage of Boaz and Rus.

Thus, Megillas Rus is not only a history of the roots of the Davidic family, it is a lesson in behavior which is worthy to give rise to the Davidic dynasty. It is a lesson in the greatness of a Jewish home. It is the source for all we hold dear, namely, the holy aura which should permeate the husband-wife relationship in the midst of the Jewish people.

The origin of the Megillah you hold before you is perhaps the most extraordinary of any of the Books of Nach. The insights of the Holy Ben Ish Chai allow us to peek into the depth of the book, to reveal a small amount of the hidden messages that the prophet, Shmuel, sowed into his work.

Some commentators explain pshat, the simple meaning of the text. Others expound drush, the deeper message. Others use kabbalistic teachings to find the hidden meaning of the book. The Ben Ish Chai was unique. His writings cover all the bases touching on all the nuances of the scripture.

We thank our dear friend, Rabbi Yerachmiel Bratt, for making this sefer available to the English speaking public. Rav Yerachmiel is a true Torah scholar who knows that hasmadah is the key to Torah scholarship. I have had the privilege of watching his diligence and devotion to limud HaTorah. I have watched him and his dear wife and partner raise a beautiful family based on these values. And I am proud to call him a friend. Let us hope and pray that the life and teachings of the Ben Ish Chai will inspire us, as I know they have inspired him.