She was a former princess, left widowed with her mother-in-law, destined to abandon her royal past to join the Nation of G-D and become the mother of Kingship…RUTH!
In the time when the land of Israel was ruled by judges, the territory of Judah was struck with a great drought. Elimelech, one of the leading citizens of the city of Bethlehem, watched as the people around him grew gaunt from want of food.
Indifferent to the people’s needs, concerned only about preserving his family’s wealth, Elimelech gathered his wife Naomi, his two sons, Machlon and Khilyon, and all their transportable wealth, and left. Not only did he leave the city and the land of Israel, he chose to settle in the land of Moab, a not-so-friendly neighbor with whom Israel had a history of ill-will. When the Nation of Israel sought food, water and safe passage on their journey from Egypt to Canaan, the Moabites refused to help, sending them back into the harsh wilderness.
Time passed and Elimelech’s sons brought home two nice, young Moabite ladies, Orpah and Ruth. They were not just any young women, but daughters of the royal house who had been raised in a home dedicated to the Moabite traditions and beliefs! Time passed and the family did not return to Bethlehem, Elimelech and both of his sons died, and Naomi was left in the land of Moab with her two foreign daughters-in-law.
However, the Jewish mother is a force to always be reckoned with! The beginning of the Book of Ruth, which describes their flight to Moab, does not record any of Naomi’s feelings or reactions. Her silence confirms her unhappiness in leaving Israel and dwelling in Moab. After the death of her husband and two sons, Naomi resolutely packed her bags to head back to her home in Bethlehem. Remarkably, both Orpah and Ruth desire to go with her, demonstrating that while living under Naomi’s roof they had indeed been influenced by her, renouncing their previous idolatrous lives.
At the border of Israel, Naomi decided that the Holy Land would not be the appropriate place for her two daughters-in-law. Her return to Bethlehem would not be glorious, in fact, it would be filled with shame knowing that her husband fled rather than share his wealth, and that her two sons took Moabite wives. The time had come to send her daughters-in-law back to their father’s home. When pressed, Orpah returned to Moab. Ruth, however, refused. She listened to no arguments. “Where you go, I shall go, your people will be my people, your land will be my land, and your G-d will be my G-d.” In this most famous of statements, Ruth confirmed not only her complete identification with the Jewish people, but also her acceptance of G-d’s laws in her life.
And so Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem.
In Israel, the lives of Naomi and Ruth were difficult. The community did not welcome Naomi with open arms. They remembered that she had abandoned them, and Naomi was too meek to try to force her presence upon her former relatives and neighbors. Furthermore, when it became known that Ruth was a Moabite princess…you can imagine.
Ruth and Naomi lived a lonely and threadbare existence. To keep from starving, Ruth went out into the fields to collect the excess harvest during the gathering of the barely. The field to which she went was owned by a wealthy man named Boaz…a relative of Elimelech. Seeing her in the field, distanced from the usual group of women and humbled in her state, Boaz had mercy on Ruth and insisted that she continue to come to his field. He also made certain to assure her that she would not be molested by those who saw her as only a Moabite princess, and not the daughter–in-law of Naomi who had accepted the Torah.
Ruth’s presence in the community caused much commotion. The elders in the town debated her status, whether she was a true convert and whether they were obligated to find her a husband.
Naomi, however, knew the right path to follow. Her daughter-in-law was a devout, sincere, young woman. It was time for her to establish a home.
Naomi understood that Boaz’s kindness in the field was a sign of favor upon Ruth. He was a man of integrity who would not only fulfill his familial obligation to redeem the family land, keeping it in the tribe of Judah, but would also take care of Ruth. She directed her daughter-in-law, therefore, to go to him at the threshing ceremony and to present herself to him as a potential mate.
Ruth, the former princess, took herself to the festival of the threshing and, in the darkness of the night, lay herself at the feet of Boaz, signaling to him her desire for him to recognize their relationship. Boaz was not a young man. He was an established landowner and a leader in the community. While he had seen Ruth and knew that she was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, his relative’s widow, he had not thought of himself as one to take her hand or redeem Elimelech’s land. On the night of the threshing, Boaz realized that he had a mitzvah to perform.
There was one remaining stumbling block. Boaz was Ruth’s second closest relative, and there was yet a closer relative whose obligation preceded his to redeem the family land. In the middle of the day, Boaz waited in the public square for his relative to pass by and told him that Naomi’s land needed to be redeemed and that he, the nearest kinsman, had the first responsibility and opportunity to purchase it. The relative expressed interest. With the purchase of the land, however, Boaz added, comes the obligation of taking care of Ruth. The cousin hesitated and then declined, proving that his intention was not the Biblical design for the family’s continuation, but rather his own monetary gain.
And so, Boaz and Ruth were married. And Ruth bore a son named Oved, whose own son, Jesse, was the father of David, the greatest King of Israel.
Summation and illustrations by Sarah Rochel Reid.