Don’t Be Bitter

If you find yourself suffering from muscle cramps and unusual tiredness, you may have a potassium deficiency, but a doctor would need to determine this with blood tests. It is possible that you have not eaten enough potassium, but your symptoms may well have other causes. Nothing in our bodies tells us that it’s time to eat more potassium. If you don’t drink enough water, your body will send you an urgent message, “Hey you! I’m thirsty. Get me some water.” Pangs of hunger will tell you that you haven’t eaten since breakfast. But nothing says “Quick, get me some potassium.” Yet our bodies need potassium along with many other elements.

Our beings have other equally important needs, yet no urgent message gets telegraphed to you when they are in short supply.

One of these important needs is a spiritual connection to time; to the past and to the unarrived future. If you were undergoing a general anesthetic for some mild procedure, you would naturally feel a little disoriented when you regained consciousness. Seeing a familiar nurse and perhaps the comforting environment of the recovery room, you’d quickly return to normal. Now, imagine you woke in an utterly alien place. People you didn’t know were speaking a strange language. You probably would feel decidedly uneasy even though all your physical needs were being taken care of. You are in no danger; you just want some geographical reference points. “Where am I and how did I get here” are the questions you want answered.

In the same way that most of us feel more tranquil knowing where we are in space, we also need to know where we are in time. To avoid being an orphan in time, we need to know something about the past and something about the future, most notably that there is a future. It is not hard to see how disquieting it would be to our subconscious souls were there to be no visible future.

This is one of the reasons that people find genuine happiness in wedding celebrations and perhaps even more in the arrival of a new baby. Few things signal the future more potently than a wedding or a new baby. Just as individuals need to have reference points in time, so does a nation.

The coronation of King Charles of England catapulted monarchy to the forefront of the news. Despite America being founded on breaking away from England and choosing not to establish a dynastic monarchy, many Americans, as well as viewers around the world, watched transfixed as the ceremony unfolded. Monarchy also recently featured in the Jewish year as we celebrated the Festival of Shavuot, Pentecost. Not only is the date of that holy day the birthday of King David, but the book of Ruth, culminating in King David’s birth, is publicly read.

What is one of the main attractions of a monarchical structure? Continuity. While many kings and queens have been sorely flawed, including the kings of ancient Israel, there is something reassuring and stable about having a king. It is ludicrous to suggest to the prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, that his predecessor, Stephen Harper would be disappointed in him. Joe Biden would be scornful at being told that Donald Trump did things differently – after all, he was elected because he wasn’t Donald Trump. Yet, if at some point in the future people criticize the newly crowned King Charles for betraying his mother’s legacy, the critique would sting. Monarchies are supposed to connect the past to the present as well as being a link to the future.

The book of Ruth seems to fixate on reproduction. It largely revolves around the dilemma caused by Naomi’s two sons dying childless. Opening with a disintegrating societal structure and resulting family breakdown, the encouraging ending relates generation after generation of connection.

When, after the deaths of her husband and two sons, Naomi arrives back in Beit Lechem (Bethlehem), she says to the women who greet her, “Call me MaraH,” in English, bitter. (Ruth 1:20*) There are many reasons that Naomi could be bitter. Her husband took the family from their homeland thereby fracturing her social connections. Their sons married Moabite women, and he and the sons then died, leaving Naomi destitute. Yet, to understand which aspect of her life was most bitter, we need to look at other times that the word is used in Scripture.

Genesis 26:35 describes Rebecca’s reaction to the women that her son, Esau, married. They caused her ‘MoRat ruach,” a spirit of bitterness. Only one chapter later (Genesis 27:34), Esau is the one bursting out with a bitter cry – MaRaH – upon hearing that his brother, Jacob, received the coveted blessing. What connects these two incidents?

Both Rebecca and then Esau are realizing that he will not carry on the family’s legacy. By choosing the wives he did, Esau closed the path to his past. His mother recognized that early on. He, however, only understood the ramifications of his actions when Jacob secured the mantle of his grandfather Abraham, and that of his father.

We explore a number of other places that this word, MaRaH, appears in Scripture in our online course, The Book of Ruth: Chorus of Connection. Each reflects a bitterness at not being part of a chain of continuity. In our topsy-turvy world, many young people today celebrate choosing not to establish families and have children. We, on the other hand, nearly always delightedly accept invitations to join our friends in celebrating their children’s weddings. And a new baby’s arrival in our community serves as a heartwarming reminder that there really is a tomorrow and that we are part of it just as we are a continuation of our past.

In our recommended Bible:

1) *Ruth 1:20: P. 2114, 4th line from the top, 4th word from the right: מ ר א , M-R-A
2) *Genesis 26:35: P. 76, 8th line from the top, 2nd word from the right: מ ר ת , M-R-T
3) Genesis 27:34: P. 78, 3rd line from the bottom, 4th word from the left: מ ר ה , M-R-A

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The Book of Ruth: Chorus of Connection

Our newest unit, The Book of Ruth: Chorus of Connection, presents a compelling story of love, family, and redemption. Yet, it is so much more. Rather than being a story from the past, Ruth is a roadmap for the present. Starting as it does with famine and dysfunctional government and family, we gain hope and optimism as we follow the tale through its redemptive ending with the birth of David, future king of Israel.

Take advantage of a $10 off coupon for The Book of Ruth: Chorus of Connection by using the code: RUTHCOURSE10 at checkout before June 19th to receive this discount.

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