Megillas Ruth is customarily read – in many communities, publicly – on Shavuos. Outside of Israel, where the festival is two days, Ruth is usually read on the second day.
This megillah tells the story of Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi who find a way to reunite with the people of Israel after being abroad in Moav. Ruth, a Moabite woman who could have rejoined her people after the death of her husband, does all she can to care for Naomi: she returns with her and then seeks to marry Naomi’s relative Boaz in order to redeem a piece of land for her. Ruth’s innate kindness (chesed) is the focus of her character and the driving force of the narrative. Said R. Zeira: This scroll has neither impurity nor purity, nor neither prohibition nor permission, so why was it written? To teach you how great is the reward for those who perform acts of kindness. Still, the question should be asked: Why is Ruth, a book containing no Torah laws, read on Shavuos, the Festival of the Giving of the Torah?
However, upon closer examination, we find quite a few connections in Ruth to Torah laws:
Conversion: And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return, each one to her mother’s house …” And Naomi said, “Return, my daughters. Why would you go with me? … Return, my daughters, go …” And Ruth said, “Do not implore me to leave you, to return from behind you.
Rather, where you will go I will go, and wherever you lodge I will lodge. Your nation is my nation and your G-d is my G-d. Wherever you will die I will die, and there will I be buried. Let Hashem do thus to me, and more, for only death, will separate between us.” And she saw that she insisted on going with her, so she ceased speaking to her. On the basis of this passage, we learn that we discourage a candidate for conversion three times; we expect full commitment to all the laws of Judaism from the candidate once accepted; and we teach the basics of Jewish law to him or her.
Using Hashem’s Name in greeting: And behold, Boaz came from Bet-lechem and he said to the reapers, “May Hashem be with you”. And they said to him, “May Hashem bless you!” The Talmud says that Boaz and his court instituted the use of Hashem’s Name in a greeting. This decree was approved by the Men of the Great Assembly and the Heavenly Court gave its assent to this human decree.
Gleanings for the poor: And she arose to glean. And Boaz commanded his young men, saying, “Let her even glean among the sheaves and do not humiliate her. Also, let drop for her some of the small sheaves; leave them for her to glean and do not rebuke her.” The Torah teaches that gleanings (stalks of grain that have fallen to the ground, called leket) and forgotten sheaves (shich’cha) must be left for the poor and the stranger, as well as for the widow. Ruth qualifies as a poor person, a stranger, and a widow.
Shabbos clothing: Since Naomi tells Ruth to change her clothes for her meeting with Boaz, the Sages learn that one should have a special set of clothes for Shabbos.
Derech eretz: Boaz invites the other relative, the redeemer, to sit. The Sages learn from this that a younger person must not sit until an elder gives him permission.
Weddings: Boaz assembles ten elders, which is the basis of the requirement of ten men at a wedding ceremony.
Redemption of property: The Torah requires a relative to buy back the property sold by a poor person, to keep the property in the tribe. This is the opportunity offered to the unnamed relative but taken by Boaz.
Levirate Marriage (Yibum): The Torah requires the brother of a man who has died childless to marry his widow so as to continue the name of the dead in Israel (Yibum). Although Ruth’s husband Machlon left no surviving brothers, it seems that the ancient custom was for another relative to perform this marriage as an act of kindness. In Chapter 4:5,1O Boaz undertakes Yibum when the relative refuses.”