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| BS”D KNOW YOUR BIBLE: Ruth 1-2|
Study Notes by Avraham ben Yaakov
RUTH CHAPTER 1
The book of Ruth – an enchanting agricultural allegory replete with some of the deepest Torah mysteries – centers on the theme of embrace of the Torah itself through conversion and the practice of the Kindness it teaches, which is the very pillar of the Universe. It is the union of Torah and Kindness that leads to redemption. Ruth is the archetypal convert who accepts the Torah. Her need to benefit from the agricultural gifts to the poor, an integral part of the pathway of kindness it teaches, leads her to the field of Boaz. And out of their encounter springs the line that leads to David, the Messianic king and redeemer of Israel (Ruth 4:13-22).
It is customary to read the book of Ruth in the synagogue on the morning of the festival of Shavuos, the summertime harvest festival celebrating the Receiving of the Torah at Sinai. Ruth is read prior to the Torah reading, which describes the revelation at Sinai, where all those who accepted the yoke of the Torah were “converts”. Shavuos is also by tradition the anniversary of the birth and death of King David.
“Why was she called Ruth? Because she merited that out of her came David, who delighted (REEVAH) the Holy One blessed be He with songs and praises” (Berachos 7b). Ruth herself was a royal princess, daughter of Eglon king of Moab, who merited such a righteous descendant as David because he rose from his throne in honor of God when Ehud called him (Judges 3:20). Yet Ruth gave up her royal status and its luxuries in order to follow Naomi into a life of abject poverty. She was willing to do this in order to attain the greatest wealth of all, the life of Torah. She was prepared to descend to the very bottom of the social ladder and play the role of ‘ANI, the poor man, who is needed by the BAAL HABAYIS, the rich householder, in order to fulfill the mitzvos involved in the practice of kindness and charity. First and foremost among these in a simple agricultural society are the gifts to the poor of PE’AH, the unharvested corner of the field, LEKET, the gleanings of fallen ears of corn, and SHICH’HAH, the forgotten sheaf.
Ruth starts off as the receiver of kindness, but “More than the rich householder does for the poor man, the poor man does for the rich householder” (Midrash Ruth 4), because in the merit of the householder’s kindness to the poor man, he receives a blessing that he could not have attained without the poor man serving as the recipient of his gift. In the merit of Boaz’ kindness to Ruth, she becomes attached to him and bears him a son who fathers the father of Mashiach.
V 1: “And it was in the days when the judges judged…” This was prior to Samuel, some say in the time of Barak and Deborah, others say in the time of Shamgar and Ehud (Yalkut Shimoni). The Hebrew phrase “the judges judged” can also be construed as meaning that people used to judge the judges. “Woe to the generation that judged their judges and whose judges needed to be judged!” (Introduction to Midrash Ruth). VAYEHI, “and it was”, is an expression of woe (Megillah 10b).
“And there was a famine in the land.” Targum on this verse enumerates ten major famines – in the times of Adam, Lemech, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Boaz, David, Elijah and Elisha, “…and the tenth famine will be in time to come, not a famine to eat bread and not a thirst to drink water, but to hear words of prophecy from HaShem.”
R. Ovadiah of Bartenurah (author of the standard commentary on the Mishneh) wrote a kabbalistic commentary on Ruth. He states that “in the days when the judges judged” means it was a time when the Attribute of Judgment was judging Israel, and the blessing was taken from her. “There was a famine in the land” means that the Shechinah left the throne and ascended on high, and correspondingly down below, the kings of Israel (Elimelech and family) left their “thrones” and went out into exile.
“…and a man (ISH) went out from Bethlehem…” The word ISH teaches that he was very wealthy and the leader of the generation (Rashi). “ISH alludes to the Holy One blessed be He, cf. Exodus 15:3” (Bartenurah).
“…to dwell in the fields of Moab, he and his wife…” – “The Holy One blessed be He is the ‘man’, Israel are His wife, and when the wife is among the nations of the world, represented by the fields of Moab, the “man” is also with them, as the Rabbis taught: wherever Israel were exiled, the Shechinah went with them” (Bartenurah).
V 2: “And the name of the man was Elimelech…” – ELI is the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, and to Him alone is the kingship (MELECH) fitting” (Bartenurah).
The ten Hebrew letters of the names of Elimelech’s two sons, MACHLON and CHILYON (which have the connotations of Forgiveness and Destruction respectively), correspond to the Ten Sefiros.
V 4: “And they took for themselves Moabite wives…” Bartenurah explains: MACHLON and CHILYON are the places from which influence flows into the world, and now, because of our sins, they send blessing to the wicked, while Israel receive troubles and evils through them because they are weak in performance of the commandments and turn the back (OREPH) of their heads to God instead of their faces, and for this reason they are saturated (RAVVIM) with troubles and evils, and this is alluded to in the names of ORPAH and RUTH.
V 5: “And the two of them died also, Machlon and Chilyon…” Bartenurah explains: “The text says ‘also’ to suggest that this was not literal death but rather it is a metaphor for the absence of the Shechinah, so that even though there is blessing in the world, it cannot be compared to the blessing that flows when Israel are meritorious, and the blessing that comes down to Israel is not as it was in the days of old when they received it from the hand of the Holy One blessed be He. But when they are in exile they receive it through the angels, who are alluded to in the “lads of Boaz”. For Boaz alludes to the Holy One blessed by He, who is destined to rule over Israel with might (‘OZ) and power when He will be aroused from His “sleep”, but in the meantime He hides His power and might from them and does not fight their wars.
V 8: “Let HaShem perform kindness to you just as you have done kindness with the dead and with me.” The “kindness” of the two daughters-in-law to the dead was that they made them shrouds (Yalkut Shimoni). Giving honor to the dead is CHESSED SHEL EMES, T R U E Kindness since one can expect no recompense whatever from the recipient. The theme of the practice of Kindness recurs repeatedly in Ruth because this is one of the three pillars on which the universe stands (Avot 1:2).
Vv 7ff: Orpah and Ruth accompany Naomi on her way home to the Land of Israel, but Naomi seeks to dissuade them from going with her. Three times she tells them, “Return!” (vv 8, 11 & 12) teaching that the would-be convert is rejected three times, and only if he makes an exceptional effort is he received (Yalkut Shimoni).
V 14: Orpah eventually turned her back on Naomi and ended up giving birth to four sons who became formidable adversaries of David, including Goliath (II Samuel 21:22).
However, Ruth persisted. Her beautiful words to Naomi in vv 16-17, “wherever you go I will go”, were darshened by the rabbis as stating her complete acceptance of the Torah (her “conversion”). “Wherever you go, I will go” – I will only walk within the Sabbath limits. “Wherever you lie down to rest, I will lie down to rest” – I will not go into forbidden seclusion with a male. “Your people is my people” – I accept the 613 commandments by which your people are distinguished from all others. “And your God is my God” – I will not worship idols. “Where you die, I will die” – I accept on myself the Four Death Penalties of the Court (stoning, burning, decapitation and strangulation). “…and there I will be buried” – I accept that there are separate areas in the cemetery for executed sinners (see Rashi on vv 16-17).
V 21: “I went out full but HaShem has brought me back empty…” Having returned to Israel, Naomi is now the very epitome of poverty, lowliness and humility, and with her is Ruth, the former princess, who must now go out into the field to gather fallen gleanings in order to survive. Poverty and humility are the attributes that God chose as the most fitting vessel through which to receive His Torah!
V 1: “Now there was a relative of Naomi’s husband…” The rabbis taught that Elimelech and Sal’mon (the father of Boaz, Ruth 4:21), Peloni Almoni (Ruth 4:1) and Naomi’s father were all brothers, the sons of Nachshon ben Aminadav, Prince of Judah.
“And his name was Boaz…” Bartenurah explains: “The allusive meaning is that the name of the Holy One blessed be He has the power and might to restore the captivity of Israel.
V 3: “…and she happened to come.” A higher Hand was guiding Ruth to her destiny. Of the Hebrew words, VA-YEEKER MEEKRE-HA, Rabbi Yochanan said, “Everyone who saw her had a KERI” (Yalkut Shimoni) – Ruth was exceptionally beautiful.
V 4: “…and he said to the reapers, HaShem be with you”. From here we learn that HaShem’s name may be invoked in blessing others (Berachos).
V 5: “And Boaz said… Whose maiden is this?” – “Could it be that Boaz was in the habit of asking after women? No! Rather, he saw in her the ways of modesty and wisdom. Two fallen ears she would take, but if three had fallen together, she would not take them [as prescribed by the halachah]. Ears that were standing up she picked while standing; those lying on the ground she sat down to pick in order not to bend over…” (Rashi).
Vv 8-9: “And Boaz said to Ruth…” The deep allegory contained in this verse is darshened at length by Rabbi Nachman (Likutey Moharan I, 65, see “Rabbi Nachman on Suffering” translated by R. Avraham Greenbaum, pub. Breslov Research Institute).
Vv 10-11: Why did Boaz show Ruth exceptional kindness going beyond the letter of his obligations under the laws of LEKET? Because of Ruth’s exceptional kindness to Naomi and her having left her parents, homeland and native culture in order to join a people she had not known before. Kindness begets kindness.
A complete archive of Avraham ben Yaakov’s KNOW YOUR BIBLE commentaries on all of the Prophets and Holy Writings (NaKh) except Psalms is available at http://www.azamra.org/spirit/nakh.php
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