The Book of Ruth – Timeless Lessons for Today

In this article, we explore Rabbi Sacks' concept of Covenant, based on mutual responsibility and destiny, and its impact on creating a kinder world. We will examine how these ideas align with the values expressed in the Book of Ruth, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the principles of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG).

Jeffrey Levine

6/4/20245 min read

In this article, we explore Rabbi Sacks' concept of Covenant, based on mutual responsibility and destiny, and its impact on creating a kinder world. We will examine how these ideas align with the values expressed in the Book of Ruth, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the principles of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG).

The inspiration for this article came from a book – The Harvest of Kindness – Megilas Rus and the Power of Chesed. by Rabbi Yehuda Y. Steinberg. On the book cover, it is written, “ On the surface, the story of Rus is a subtle one. No remarkable acts of heroism and astounding miracles. Just the simple account of a lone Moabite convert struggling to find sustenance during the seasonal wheat harvest. Take a closer look, though, and the picture changes. The magnificent tale of the establishment of the Jewish people's royal lineage unfolds. The self-sacrifice and awe-inspiring kindness that led to it is this book's message.. Rabbi Yehuda Steinberg takes us deep into the underlying lessons of Megilas Rus. He reveals its central lessons so that we come away not only with a much clearer picture of what things were like over two thousand years ago, but also with the guidance we need to apply them in our own lives.”

Rabbi Sacks’ Covenant and a Kinder World

Mutual Responsibility and Destiny:

  • Rabbi Sacks emphasizes that Jews are bound together by shared history and a collective mission. This mission involves striving for justice, compassion, and righteousness, extending to creating a kinder, more just world.

  • Mutual responsibility means individuals are accountable not only for their own actions but also for the welfare of the community, fostering a society where kindness and ethical behaviour are paramount.

The Book of Ruth: A Book of Kindness

Themes of Kindness and Loyalty:

  • The Book of Ruth exemplifies kindness (chesed) and loyalty. Ruth’s dedication to Naomi and her willingness to leave her homeland to support her mother-in-law highlight the profound impact of personal acts of kindness.

  • Boaz’s treatment of Ruth, offering her protection and sustenance, underscores the importance of community support and generosity.

Implications for Modern Ethical Standards:

  • The values demonstrated in the Book of Ruth can be mapped onto contemporary frameworks like the UN SDGs and ESG criteria. These frameworks aim to create a sustainable and equitable world, much like the vision of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) in Jewish tradition.

UN SDGs and Tikkun Olam

Alignment with Tikkun Olam:

  • The UN SDGs are a global call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure peace and prosperity for all. These goals resonate with the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, which is about repairing and improving the world.

  • Specific goals such as reducing inequalities, promoting sustainable economic growth, and ensuring access to justice are directly aligned with the ethical teachings found in the Torah and the principles of the Covenant.

The Book of Ruth as a Framework:

  • Ruth’s story provides a model for SDG implementation: it illustrates how individuals and communities can act with kindness and responsibility to create a supportive and just society.

    • For example, Goal 2 (Zero Hunger) and Goal 10 (Reduced Inequalities) are reflected in Boaz’s actions to provide for Ruth and Naomi, ensuring they are not marginalized or left in poverty.

ESG and Ethical Governance

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG):

  • ESG criteria measure the ethical impact and sustainability of actions within a society. These principles encourage responsible behaviour towards the environment, society, and governance practices.

  • Rabbi Sacks' vision of the Covenant complements ESG principles by promoting a culture grounded in mutual responsibility and ethical behaviour.

Implementing Kindness in Corporate Practices:

  • Inspired by the Book of Ruth, companies can incorporate kindness into their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. This can include fair labour practices, community engagement, and sustainable environmental practices.

  • By adopting these values, businesses contribute to a more equitable and sustainable world, aligning with both the spirit of the Covenant and modern ESG standards.


Rabbi Sacks' concept of Covenant, emphasising mutual responsibility and destiny, offers a profound ethical foundation for creating a kinder world. The Book of Ruth is a timeless illustration of kindness and loyalty, providing valuable lessons for contemporary ethical frameworks such as the UN SDGs and ESG principles. Together, these elements guide us toward a vision of Tikkun Olam, where individual and collective actions contribute to a more just, compassionate, and sustainable world.

The Book of Ruth – Timeless Lessons for Today

The Book of Ruth offers numerous insights when examined through the lens of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) principles. We can uncover deep connections to environmental stewardship, social responsibility, and governance by analysing its narrative and themes.

Environmental Stewardship:

  • The story begins with a famine in Judah, prompting Elimelech and his family to move to Moab, highlighting environmental challenges such as food scarcity. The return to Bethlehem during the barley harvest emphasizes the importance of the agricultural cycle and the connection between the people and their land.

  • The practice of gleaning, as Ruth does in the fields of Boaz, demonstrates an ancient form of sustainable agriculture and social welfare, ensuring efficient land use and support for the less fortunate.

Social Responsibility:

  • Upon returning to Bethlehem with Naomi, Ruth's actions reflect social responsibility and community support systems. Ruth, a Moabite and thus a foreigner, is allowed to glean in the fields, underscoring inclusivity and compassion.

  • Boaz’s kindness to Ruth, ensuring her safety and providing her with extra grain, exemplifies social responsibility rooted in communal obligations to care for the vulnerable, including widows, foreigners, and the poor.


  • Governance in the Book of Ruth is seen through leadership and property rights. Elimelech’s decision to leave Bethlehem might reflect a personal failure to support his community, suggesting a critique of leadership that prioritizes personal well-being over communal responsibility.

  • Boaz, in contrast, represents good governance. He follows the laws concerning gleaning and the redemption of property, ensuring that property remains within the family and that vulnerable individuals are cared for. This reflects a system designed to prevent extreme poverty and ensure equitable distribution of resources.

Comparative Insights

Comparing the Treatment of Women and Property Rights:

  • The treatment of women and property rights in the Book of Ruth contrasts significantly with those in other ancient cultures, such as the Greeks or feudal systems. In Ruth, women like Naomi and Ruth are active participants in their fate, and their well-being is a communal concern.

  • Boaz’s respectful treatment of Ruth contrasts sharply with women's often subordinate and property-like status in many ancient cultures. Similarly, the ability to redeem the property and ensure it stays within the family starkly contrasts the feudal system, where peasants had minimal property rights and were tied to the land, they worked on without hope of ownership.

Concluding Thoughts

The Book of Ruth, viewed through the ESG framework, reveals a society deeply connected to its land, committed to social responsibility and governed by principles ensuring fairness and compassion. The narrative highlights the importance of kindness, communal support, and the protection of the vulnerable, offering timeless lessons on how societies can thrive through ethical and sustainable practices. The story’s relevance extends beyond its historical and cultural context, providing a blueprint for contemporary discussions on environmental stewardship, social equity, and good governance.