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Volume 2, ISSUE 2

05/05/2020 06:33:29 PM


Jordan Hiller

Bye Anonymous

There was a time not too long ago when, a few weeks before Shavuot, Rabbi Jeff Miller would assemble a ragtag crew of speakers to help us burn the midnight oil. The shiurim – while lively and interesting – were sparsely attended; beginning with about thirty people spread out all over the main sanctuary, and thinning out over the course of the night. Amos never left his seat and was known to nod off. Minyan in the morning usually needed some help from early birds.

Now, Shavuot night is defined by packed houses, mass student migrations, and traveling rabbis, rotating their engagements between North Woodmere's numerous shuls. That became the new normal and it is quite remarkable. It speaks to an exceptional interconnectedness and the singular, vibrant heartbeat of our community. Maybe due to Coronavirus the new normal will have to look a lot like the old normal. Which would not be terrible. Those were good days too.

And speaking of Shavuot preparation, around this time every year I start reviewing my favorite commentary on The Book of Ruth. That would be Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the book and purchase it in our very own shul after Lisa Septimus brought its author (and her teacher), Dr. Yael Ziegler, to North Woodmere. 

This past Shabbat, I flipped to the back of the book and began with Chapter Four of the megillah. By far, this final chapter of the story is its least dramatic, but in the hands of Ziegler, it comes to life. 

With only one quarter left in the game, Boaz gets the ball and runs point. Up until then it was Naomi and Ruth moving the action along. We find Boaz attempting to shore up his position as Elimelech's heir and Ruth's husband. In order to do so he must secure both from a nearer kinsman; the kinsman known to us and for all time as Peloni Almoni. Great name. Or great non-name, as it were. 

Forget for now the laws of yerushot (inheritance), yibum (levirate marriage), and halitza (getting out of a levirate marriage) as we understand them. At the same time disregard how those intricate halachot related to whatever customs were being observed in ancient Israel b'zman shfot ha'shoftim (back then). (Though rest assured, Ziegler deals with all that). I want to talk about Peloni Almoni. 

For someone whose very name suggests that his identity was purposefully expunged, Peloni Almoni's presence as a character is quite memorable. His figure serves to symbolize the disgrace of his deeds, and for that he stands out in our biblical canon. The compelling question of course is why him? We have so many villains, creeps, and ne'er-do-wells with their titles intact. How did this poor guy earn such an ignominious distinction? Why is he so emphatically recorded as unrecorded?

The answer is that there is something particularly shameful about failing to step up when the opportunity to do so is laid out at your feet. Mr. Almoni was supposed to be a goel, a redeemer – it was his duty by custom (as well as morally and ethically) to help Naomi and Ruth – but, when presented the chance, he was unwilling. Although he committed no overt evil; he instigated no dastardly scheme – he said "no, thank you" when asked to do the right thing. And because of that his name – essentially his purposeful-existence-hood – was erased. He is indelibly stamped a waste of space. 

In the words of Ziegler:

Indeed, the goel does not become part of the lineage of kingship and is instead relegated to the obscurity of history, uncelebrated and unidentified.  

As we go into this next stage – one in which recovery is paramount – we have to make sure that we do not fade into the background. That, if in fact we are in such a position, we view ourselves as shouldering distinct obligations. Many of us – despite our hardships – have the ability to act the goel; the redeemer of humanity, society, community, or just our own families. And, as seen in the Book of Ruth, sometimes ability means opportunity, and opportunity means obligation. Even if we don’t have a Boaz summoning us to the public square and spelling it out, our goel status remains in full force and effect.  

It is not easy to be a goel. It's taxing, and, as Ziegler noted in her commentary, it is often against self-interest. In order for us to be recorded as redeemers in the narrative of this virus, we will have to be proactive in our charity and commercial activity; aggressive in assisting, spending, and rebuilding. The rebound does not happen around us, it happens because of us. Each person does his part. With no one remaining an anonymous bystander.

By: Jordan Hiller

Mon, April 15 2024 7 Nisan 5784