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Turning Bitterness into Joy

Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son.” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.” — Ruth 4:16–17

We begin a new year of devotional teachings from Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein with a focus on joy, simcha — the joy found in the grateful acceptance and celebration of each day God has given to us. Join us as we explore Rabbi Eckstein’s teachings on the joy found in connecting with God and with others.

We invite you to dig deeper into the Jewish roots of Christianity with Rabbi Eckstein’s monthly teaching series, Limmud. Check it out here.

Sometimes the events of life can feel nothing short of soul-crushing. We feel devastated by the loss of a loved one, or some other life-event, and it seems like life will never be the same. Our hope is gone. All that fills the emptiness of our hearts is despair. Hopefully, times like that only last for a season, but in the midst of them, it feels as if the despair will last forever. Life seems hopeless.

When Naomi returned to Bethlehem after years of famine and the loss of her husband and both sons, she told her friends not to call her Naomi, which means “pleasantness,” but to call her Mara, which means “bitterness.” Naomi’s misfortune had made her empty and bitter (Ruth 1:20–21).

As Ruth cared for her mother-in-law, however, Naomi’s heart began to open back up. Naomi watched the budding relationship between Ruth and Boaz and gradually her own despair turned to hope and joy. Her season of despair and bitterness had begun to change.

Ruth’s marriage to Boaz resulted in one of God’s greatest blessings as she became the great-grandmother of King David, placing her in the lineage to the Messiah. Of course, none of them knew that at the time, but the birth of a child, a son, was certainly worthy of celebration!

Naomi’s friends celebrated with her at the birth of her grandson: “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth” (Ruth 4:14–15). Did you notice? Ruth’s gentle and loving care for Naomi was considered better than seven sons – the highest praise and honor that could be given!

Family and friends play an important role in turning our despair into joy, but, above all, our hope comes from the Lord. He is able to lift us out of despair and renew our hope and joy. Our transformation and renewal will likely take time, as it did with Naomi, but we can see signs of change if we ask God to renew our hearts.

Whatever kind of hurt or hopelessness you might be feeling, turn to God and ask him to heal your bitterness and restore your joy.

Check out Rabbi Eckstein’s study on Abraham, the father of our faiths, Abraham, in his Limmud (“study” in Hebrew) teaching, “Abraham: The Patriarch of Loving-kindness.”

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