Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Almost Shavuot - A Mother's Day perspective

Shavuot tradition is the reading of the Book of Ruth.  The story begins with Elimelech, a man of the tribe of Judah and his wife Naomi, as the to to the land of Moab in search of food during a drought.  While there, the man and his two sons die, leaving Naomi and two daughters-in-law.   Naomi set about to return to Bethlehem, and instructed the young Moabite widows, Orpah and Ruth, to return to their families.  Neither wishes to leave their mother-in-law, but Orpah eventually relents and bids her farewell.  Ruth, on the other hand, refuses, and utters the sentence which is seen as the model for Jewish conversion:

טז  וַתֹּאמֶר רוּת אַל-תִּפְגְּעִי-בִי, לְעָזְבֵךְ לָשׁוּב מֵאַחֲרָיִךְ:  כִּי אֶל-אֲשֶׁר תֵּלְכִי אֵלֵךְ, וּבַאֲשֶׁר תָּלִינִי אָלִין--עַמֵּךְ עַמִּי, וֵאלֹהַיִךְ אֱלֹהָי.16 And Ruth said: 'Entreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God;
יז  בַּאֲשֶׁר תָּמוּתִי אָמוּת, וְשָׁם אֶקָּבֵר; כֹּה יַעֲשֶׂה יְהוָה לִי, וְכֹה יוֹסִיף--כִּי הַמָּוֶת, יַפְרִיד בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵךְ.17 where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried; the LORD do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.'

(Ruth is also the model for a Jewish convert insofar as Naomi pushes her away several times before agreeing to take her back to Israel with her.  Unlike proselytizing religions, Judaism does not see conversion as a goal in itself.  The convert must initiate the process and pursue it in spite of opposition.)

At this point, Naomi relents:

יח  וַתֵּרֶא, כִּי-מִתְאַמֶּצֶת הִיא לָלֶכֶת אִתָּהּ; וַתֶּחְדַּל, לְדַבֵּר אֵלֶיהָ.18 And when she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, she left off speaking unto her.

The verb used, מִתְאַמֶּצֶת, shares a root with אֹמֶץ (courage), מַאֲמָץ (effort) and אִמוּץ (adoption).  Judaism places a great emphasis on the shared familial heritage (patriarchs and matriarchs), and in a real sense, all Jews are felt to be an extended family.  Conversion into Judaism, then, is a form of adoption into this family.  Where Christianity sees religious conversion (being "born-again") as a model for adoption, Judaism sees adoption as a model for conversion.  Judaism also recognizes the courage and effort that are intrinsic to this process.

The story of Ruth continues with her encounter with Boaz, a kinsman of Elimelech.  Again, we see the balance between his sense of family obligation, honor, and charity as Boaz facilitates Ruth and Naomi to glean in his fields without being harassed by the regular laborers.  Also, when Ruth entreats him to take her as a wife, he hesitates, pointing out that there is a "closer kinsman" who would take precedence to marry Elimelech's son's widow.  Only when this other man begs off does Boaz in fact marry Ruth, who then bears Obed, who will be the grandfather of King David.  Naomi helps take care of this child as her own, giving her comfort to ease the pain of her two lost sons.  Naomi the mother has come full circle.

Twice, then, we see keeping blood lines together as the "Plan A" -- Naomi urges Orpah and Ruth to return to their families, and Boaz seeks a "closer kinsman" as husband for Ruth.  It is recognized that adoption is not the ideal - the ideal would have been for the original families to have stayed together.  So much pain was caused for the individuals involved!  So much brokenness!

However, it is out of this brokenness - with much courage and effort - that the lineage of King David was established.

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