Taking the Spiritual Advantage Rather than the Material -- Lesson from Megilas Ruth

"Business is business"is the saying incurred, usually when people are acting in a manner that does not quite measure up to to standards other than "business" ones. So considerations kindness, and sometimes even basic decency, go out the window if such would appear advantageous to the business. That is the way many think, as we see illustrated by the Everyman of the Megillah, Ploni Almoni (who was actually named Tov, according to some commentators, but failed to live up to his name). When Boaz presented a business proposition -- the purchase of a field -- Ploni Almoni was ready to deal. But when Boaz added that Ruth was part of the deal, Ploni Almoni backed out. "Business is business," he was in effect saying when declining on the basis of "pen ashchit es nachalasi." Ploni Almoni's only object was securing his material advantage; all he could see in the deal was a risk to his estate. Boaz, on the other hand, saw the opportunity to gain a spiritual advantage in contracting to acquire the field and take Ruth as a wife.

Ruth, of course, was also someone who opted for spiritual over material advantage. Yes, what Ruth did is called chesed, but it is far more than the conventional use of the term. Some schools impose programs of chesed to devote a number of hours to free babysitting or hospital visits. That is all fine and good, but such acts of chessed are not tantamount to the complete devotion exhibited by Ruth. She was not just giving up some hours of her time; she devoted her entire life -- up to the point of accepting the death penalties, according to the Midrash -- to an existence defined by Torah above all else. Ruth clung to Naomi with only poverty and deprivation before her. She could have returned to her family and enjoyed a more secure position (she could have just sat back and had her nails done while servants cleaned and cooked for her). From the perspective of "business is business," who could blame her for abandoning the poor prospect offered by Naomi?

But Ruth sought the life of truth rather than material comfort. She came into a land strange to her and worked all day to glean just a small measure of grain to sustain herself and her mother-in-law. Then she went even beyond this level of sacrifice to offer herself altogether for the sake of perpetuating the line of Naomi's family. She risked a great deal in putting herself into the situation in which she approached Boaz. One wrong move, and she may have been outcast from society as a woman of loose morals. So it didn't make sense from the calculated risk perspective adopted in business. But Ruth saw it from the perspective of spiritual advantage and seized the opportunity Naomi directed her to take. Each year we pay tribute to the courage of the hero and heroine of this megillah who did not take the conventional route of "business is business."


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