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The Lesson of Elimelech

2996
Dedicated to the memory of
Yaakov Ben Behora
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Despite its happy ending, there is an element of tragedy in the book of Ruth, for in it we find tragic figures living unfulfilled lives. Elimelech, a wealthy and ostensibly happy man, dies. His two sons marry out of the faith. Ultimately, they too are cut off in the prime of their lives leaving no children.

It is never a good policy to question God's will. Yet our Sages tried to understand how it happened that Elimelech and his family encountered such tragedy. How does a noble Jewish family, steeped in the traditions of Torah, disintegrate into nothingness? Rashi makes an insightful comment: It was a time of famine when many were starving and in need. Elimelech was a provider in his generation, a leader in the community both by virtue of his family lineage and his affluence.

But when too many people knocked on his door, he copped out. He abdicated his responsibilities, abandoned his community in Judea and fled. This was his undoing! His children saw this and learned from him how to shirk responsibility. And he couldn't have taught them better. He must have rationalized his behavior to his two sons, and explained to them that it was for THEIR welfare and THEIR benefit that he fled Israel and made the sacrifice of living in Moab. Elimelech must have known all the excuses. But you can't fool your own children. If Elimelech was able to abandon his responsibilities to the Jewish community, then it became kosher for his children to abandon Judaism and to marry Moabite women. If a father can abandon the Land of Israel in its hour of need, then why wonder that his children can abandon the Children of Israel?

Should we not be thinking of ways to make our OWN lives, our love and concern for the Land of Israel and the People of Israel more fully Jewish in both form and content, so that we are fully worthy of respect and emulation from our children?
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