On Shavuot, we read the Book of Ruth, one of the most engaging texts in the Tanakh (and one of two, along with Esther, named for a woman). The story takes place in the barley and wheat fields of Bethlehem (beit lehem, the house of bread), at the time of the all-important grain harvest that coincides with Shavuot.
The tale begins inauspiciously. Leaving famine-ravaged Bethlehem, Elimelech and Naomi and their two sons go east to Moab. Within ten years, all three men in the family are dead. When Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem, her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth joins her, expressing her loyalty in stirring terms: “Entreat me not to leave you…wherever you go, I will go…your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
Naomi and Ruth arrive in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest. Against the background of reaping, gleaning, threshing, and winnowing, a delicately depicted love story emerges. Boaz, the owner of the fields, takes notice of the diligent young woman who is out gleaning (gathering the stalks dropped by the reapers) from morning till night. He is further impressed when he learns of Ruth’s solicitude toward her bereaved mother-in-law. Increasingly, Boaz finds ways to single Ruth out for special attention and to ensure her comfort and safety. He insists she continue working in his field, where he orders the harvesters to treat her with respect. He invites her to drink water and partake of the bread and kali (roasted wheat—see recipe below). He instructs his workers to give Ruth stalks from the sheaves that have already been gathered into bundles. Ruth remains in Boaz’s field “until both the barley harvest and the wheat harvest were finished”—a period of about three months during which their mutual affection and respect had time to grow.
The resulting union between Ruth and Boaz is the progenitor of the line of David: “Boaz begot Oved, and Oved begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David.” Through acts of hessed—loving-kindness—Ruth transforms tragedy into life and the hope for redemption that the House of David traditionally represents.
At Neot Kedumim, we relive this wonderful story through reaping, threshing, winnowing, and of course making kali:
Kali: Roasted Grain from the Book of Ruth
Kali is a biblical fast food: The harvest workers don’t always have time to make bread, but roasted wheat kernels can be prepared in minutes—also much faster than the blintzes and cheesecake that have become traditional Shavuot fare!
1 cup whole wheat kernels
2 tablespoon - olive oil
1 teaspoon - salt (to taste)
Place wheat kernels in dry frying pan over high heat. Cook it, while stirring frequently and keeping the heat high. When kernels start to brown, add olive oil and salt. Continue cooking till kernels are dark brown, slightly charred, and soft enough to eat—about 10-15 minutes (faster over a good campfire!).
* Batya (Beth) Uval passed away after a long illness almost three years ago. She was an outstanding guide at Neot Kedumim and for many years the writer and editor of Neot Kedumim News. She had the superb ability to make the complex understandable, to find the parallels between Jewish and Christian texts, to find the common ground.