December 8, 2023
December 8, 2023

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Sephardic Social Justice: Emulating Boaz

A Sephardic Jew who receives an aliyah to the Torah first recites “Hashem Imachem” (“May God be with you”). The congregation then responds, “Yevarechecha Hashem” (“May Hashem bless you”), at which point the one receiving the aliyah proceeds to recite the bracha over the Torah reading.

The origin of this exchange (“Hashem Imachem”—“Yevarechecha Hashem”) is the story told in Megillat Rut (2:4) of Boaz’s arrival at his fields. He greeted his workers with the wish “Hashem Imachem,” and they responded “Yevarechecha Hashem.” The question, however, arises as to why it became customary to introduce the bracha over the Torah reading with this exchange.

The question naturally arises as to why Megillat Rut found it necessary to add this brief account. Everything that appears in Tanach teaches a vital lesson relevant for each generation (Megilla 14a). What lesson is imparted by recording how Boaz greeted his workers and how they replied?

Ibn Ezra to Rut 2:4 simply explains that it was a friendly greeting. While this may hardly seem to teach a profound lesson, indeed it does! This friendly exchange the wealthy landowner Boaz had with his workers shows Boaz’s abhorrence of pretentiousness and feeling superior to one in a lower socioeconomic class. This led to Boaz making a connection with Rut despite the very wide economic gap between them. This is turn led to their eventual marriage and the birth of a child that would be the grandfather of David HaMelech and eventually the Melech HaMashiach. All this is accomplished by Boaz snubbing snobbery!

It is important to convey this lesson during kriat haTorah. Some people sadly view the Torah aliyot as an opportunity for social climbing—who receives the most and least prestigious aliyah, etc. Perhaps the exchange of Boaz and his workers are recalled at this time to remind us to zealously avoid such destructive behavior, especially in connection with kriat haTorah.

The Malbim notes that Chazal (Brachot 54a and 63a) teach that Boaz, the gadol hador according to Chazal (Bava Batra 91a), issued an edict that people should greet each other with Hashem’s Name. Although it is generally forbidden to use Hashem’s Name when exchanging friendly greetings, Boaz made a special enactment that this should be done. This was a time of very poor behavior (Bava Batra 15b). Boaz instructed everybody to greet each other using Hashem’s Name. He wanted people to remind each other that Hashem is watching them. Moreover, when people speak to each other with respect and honor, to make other people feel that they are even worthy of having Hashem’s Name associated with them, it changes the culture beginning with simple and basic exchanges of greetings. Once people begin to speak to each other with respect, they treat each other with respect. The way one talks becomes the way one thinks and becomes the way one acts.

Sephardic Jews accomplish this goal by regularly calling into mind Boaz’s enactment. It teaches the vital lesson of bearing in mind that Hashem watches each and every action of ours. It also changes our lives for the better by reminding us to speak, think and act respectfully.

Finally, Dr. Yael Ziegler argues that “the exchange between Boaz and his harvesters may not be a simple exchange of pleasantries. It is possible instead to read it as a conversation in which Boaz inquires about the reapers’ adherence to Jewish law. In this reading, Boaz’s inquiry, “Is God with you?” is an actual question directed to his workers: “Are you keeping the laws as you pick in my fields?” This reading is supported by the reapers’ response to Boaz s query: “God shall bless you.” Their response recalls a verse that delineates the reward for observing the laws related to poor people in the fields: When you harvest the harvest in your field, and you forget a sheaf in the field, do not return to retrieve it, it shall be for the stranger, orphan and widow, so that God shall bless you in all of your endeavors (Devarim 24:19). The reapers’ response assures Boaz that the laws of his fields are being meticulously observed and the attending blessings will certainly be bestowed upon him.

When a man receives an aliyah he pledges allegiance to Hashem and His Torah. This is a perfect time for a brief checkup—is Hashem with you? The kehillah responds that Hashem will indeed bless you if one always bears in mind that Hashem is with us.

Thus, by echoing Boaz’ exchange with his workers, Sephardic Jews have the opportunity to vividly recall the manifold vital lessons imparted by this conversation. Spurning snobbery, recalling Hashem’s constant surveillance and periodic examination as to whether we are living up to the Torah’s ideals are all captured by reliving and maintaining Boaz’s enactment to greet each other with Hashem’s name.

By Rabbi Haim Jachter

 Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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