They were both strong women who were outsiders in an unkind and cruel world.
They lived centuries and worlds apart.
Biblical Ruth was a Moabite, married to an Israelite and widowed without children. She suffered great poverty and hunger.
Maya Angelou grew up in the deep South during the era of Jim Crow laws.
She was sent away from her parents and raised by an aunt, sexually abused and suffered much distress at an early age.
Both Ruth and Maya learned how to survive in a hostile environment, how to thrive and fend for themselves. Both figured out how to provide for their families in the best way possible. Both shared an unshakeable faith and the values of family, community and culture.
Maya Angelou was able to overcome her difficult life circumstances and build a life of purpose and meaning through her work in the civil rights movement, art, writing, and theater world. She accomplished so much in so many different areas that she truly was a “Renaissance Woman.” She touched the lives of so many others and helped give expression to what is in our hearts and minds.
We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty. (Maya Angelou)
Biblical Ruth also overcame her circumstances as a widow – without status – living in a foreign country to achieve great heights. She took it upon herself to care for her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, to provide for her and to watch over her. She adopted Naomi’s faith and people as her own.
“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1: 16-17)
Ruth’s reward for her devotion, faithfulness and loyalty is that she too, achieves one of the ultimate accomplishments for our Biblical women – she gives birth to Obed, who becomes the father of Jesse, the father of King David. Ruth – the Moabite, the foreigner, is the great-grandmother of King David, from whom the Messiah is supposed to descend.
Both Ruth and Maya Angelou are two strong women who overcame difficult beginnings to achieve great accomplishments.
Maya Angelou was a woman of deep and abiding faith. She once said: “In a world of confusion and noise I look for the moments that help me understand who I am, where I come from and what I want to be. The Bible brings to life the stories that have shaped our world and shaped my life. Stories that have helped me to forgive. Helped me to love. Helped me to overcome. Helped me to survive, and even do better than that, helped me to thrive.”
We read the Book of Ruth next week during Shavuot, the time we celebrate the receiving of Torah. Ruth was the first non-Israelite who chose to link herself to the God of the Israelites. She is known as the first “Jew-by-Choice.” Her deep-rooted faith gives her and Naomi the strength to endure and overcome the hardships that have burdened their lives.
Let us be inspired by the faith of our Biblical Ruth and the faith of Maya Angelou, two extra-ordinary women of faith. As we prepare to celebrate the gift of receiving of Torah next week, let us renew our own commitment to our values of faith, family and our tradition.