Ruth was the Moabite wife of Machlon, one of the two sons of Elimelech and Naomi, a wealthy Hebrew couple who had fled Bethlehem during a bitter famine. Elimelech’s family had settled in Moab, a neighboring country with which Israel had a history of conflict.

When Elimelech and his two sons died in Moab, Naomi chose to return to her homeland, Israel. Her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, decided to go with her. As they set out on the road to return, Naomi urged both women to go back to their mothers’ homes. Orpah left, but Ruth refused, declaring: “Where you [Naomi] go, I shall go, your people will be my people…your land will be my land, and your God will be my God.” (Ruth 1:16)

Upon their return to Bethlehem, Ruth and Naomi lived a lonely and impoverished life. People resented that Naomi’s wealthy family had fled during the famine, and were suspicious of her Moabite daughter-in-law. To keep from starving, Ruth gathered the few kernels of barley that fell during the harvest in the field of Boaz, a relative of Elimelech. Boaz noticed Ruth’s unique qualities of modesty, loyalty and humility and encouraged her to continue gleaning in his field until the end of the harvest.

Naomi knew that Ruth was devout and sincere and was concerned for her future. She directed Ruth to go to the celebration at the close of the harvest and to seek out Boaz, who had been so kind to them. She told Ruth to present herself to him as a prospective mate and assured Ruth that Boaz would take care of her.

That night, Ruth demurely waited at Boaz’s feet, signaling her intentions. Boaz, who was much older, an established landowner and a leader in the community, had not thought of himself as a possible suitor until that night.

Boaz and Ruth married and their son, Oved, was the grandfather of King David.

The Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot, which, according to tradition, is the anniversary of David’s birth and death.

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