Ruth Chapters 2.16 to 3.18

Supplement to discussion in class July 6, 2011
Chapter 2
  • As a reminder, in verse one of  chapter 2, we are introduced to Boaz, who is identified in as kin to Naomi and as ish gibor chayil, a mighty man of valor.   When he finds that Ruth is gleaning in his field, he offers her extra gleanings and food, and protection from the young men who might otherwise humiliate her.   He offers this paltry help, even though he states that he has heard about how she has followed Naomi to this land and taken care of her.  We should ponder what is wrong with this picture?
  • Ruth gleans in Boaz’s field and takes food to Naomi.  Because of Ruth’s generous loving-kindness towards her mother-in-law, Naomi’s spirit is revived.  She blesses the man who took notice of Ruth.  How did she know it was a man?  Ruth did not say so.
  • The key to Chapter 2 is the revitalization of Naomi.  Naomi is brought out of her bitterness and despair through Ruth’s acts of loving-kindness, although she does not yet take action.  
  • 2:20 – Naomi offers up a blessing when she discovers that it is Boaz who owns the field where Ruth was gleaning.     “Blessed be he of the Lord, who has not failed in his kindness to the living or to the dead!”  The text is a bit ambiguous (is Naomi blessing Boaz or God?), but certainly Naomi understands that Ruth has been fortunate to light upon the field of her kinsman, Boaz.  While Boaz has not offered much help, he has at least protected Ruth in the field and provided her with extra gleanings.
o   Tikva Frymer-Kensky has pointed out that this may be a formulaic blessing of God, as it is very similar to the words of Abraham’s steward (Reading the Women of the Bible, p 246), who said in Gen 24:27: “Blessed be YHWH the God of my lord Abraham who has not left off his acting benevolently (hesed) and faithfully with my master.”   Note that this episode begins with the steward asking for a micreh – Gen 24.12.  See blog commentary on Ruth 2.3.
Chapter 3
  • 3:2-4 Naomi takes action because Ruth’s hesed has redeemed her. She instructs Naomi how to attract Boaz.  The scheme is not without risk.
  • 3:7 –  Ruth comes “stealthily” = ba’lat בלט=  This causes us remember Lot  לוט  – and to think about whether Ruth’s actions in attracting Boaz are similar to or different  from  the actions of Lot’s daughters.  They tricked their father into sleeping with them (to save humanity).   (Judith Kates, oral teaching).  Ruth is descended from Moab, the son of Lot and his oldest daughter.   See “Line of Descent” in list of documents on this blog.
  • 3:11  –  Boaz recognizes and blesses Ruth.  He calls her ishat  chayil, sometimes translated as woman of valor.  In the JPS Tanach it is misleadingly translated as “fine woman.”  Remember that in v 2.1.  Boaz is called ish gibor chayil, a mighty man of valor.    Boaz would appear to think Ruth is a very strong woman.
o   BDB definition of chayil – strength, efficiency, wealth, army;  when used of men = mighty man of valor or hero of strength.
o   To understand more about what Boaz may mean in calling Ruth ishat chayil,  look at Proverbs 31:10-31.  The wife in Proverbs, the ishat chayil,  labors by her own command and owns the fruits of her labor.  She oversees the management of the household, distributes charity, weaves linens and is a merchant for her goods.  With the profits she acquires land and plants a vineyard.   (See Miriam Peskowitz, Spinning Fantasies, for further discussion of these verses from Proverbs.)
  • When Ruth returns from visiting Boaz, Naomi is uncertain about what might have occurred between them.  She asks, “Who are you?”  mi at?  She then tells Ruth to wait and see what Boaz will do.  Naomi seems to display significant wisdom, as well as confidence that Boaz will now fulfill his duties.

Ruth Chapters 1.1 to 2.16

Supplement to discussion in class June 13, 2011
Overview of Chapters 1.1 to 2.16

For those who want to go in depth,  following  the overview is a detailed verse by verse exegesis, with many helpful quotes from other sources. 
Chapter 1
  • Naomi is bereft of husband and children and feels the hand of God has been lifted against her.    Much like Job, she does not understand why her misfortunes have befallen her, but she is clear that God has emptied her out and made her lot a bitter one.  When she returns to her village of origin, her (presumably decrepit) appearance sets the village women in a panic.  The question to be pondered is why does Naomi appear to be abandoned, even afflicted , by God?
  • Ruth clings to Naomi and will follow her through thick and thin.  The chapter does not state why, but as the book progresses, we will see the importance of Ruth’s hesed (loving-kindness) in restoring her mother-in-law’s spirit and in obtaining the help from Boaz which he should have offered immediately.
Chapter 2.1 – 2.16
  • We are introduced to Boaz, who is identified in verse 1 as kin to Naomi and as a gibor chayil, a mighty man of valor.   When he finds that Ruth is gleaning in his field, he offers her extra gleanings and food, and protection from the young men who might otherwise humiliate her.   He offers this paltry help, even though he states that he has heard about how she has followed Naomi to this land and taken care of her.  We should ponder what is wrong with this picture?
  • We are reminded more than once that Ruth is a Moabite, a foreigner.
Detailed Commentary

1.1  Naomi and her husband Elimelech travel from Beth Lechem, to escape famine,  to the land of Moab, initially to sojourn [the root is ger], not as permanent residents.
  • stranger = ger = sojourner or newcomer or temporary dweller – one without original rights
  • Gen 15:13 [God] said to Abraham, “Know now that your descendents shall be strangers [ger] in a land not theirs.”  [lo lahem]  (parashat lech l’cha)
1.2-4  Elimelech dies and Naomi is left with her two sons, who marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. 
1.5 Then her sons also die and “the woman was left.”   Naomi is bereft of personhood – she becomes “a woman” with no name or personality.  She without yeladeyha.  This word for children means those whom she bore in childbearing.  So she is left empty wombed and truly empty (from a teaching by Judith Kates)
1.6-7  Naomi sets out to return to Beth Lechem because she hears the famine is over – her daughters-in-law set out with her.
1.8-12 Naomi urges the daughters-in-law to return – each to her mother’s house.
  • Naomi urges both daughters in law to return to live their normal/normative lives in Moab – don’t be strange/queer – stay with your own kind.
  • “The appearance of ‘mothers’ house’ is striking in view of the overriding importance of ‘father’s house’ (bet ‘ab) as the biblical term for the family household…”  pg 179 (Discovering Eve, Carol Myers).   Apart from Ruth 1.8 it is found only here:
o   Gen 24:28 “The maiden [Rebekah] ran and told all this to her mother’s household.”
o   Song 3:4 “I held him fast, I would not let him go/ Till I brought him to my mother’s house”
o   Song 8:2: “I would lead you, I would bring you / To the house of my mother, / Of her who taught me
1.13 Here Naomi  begins to appear to us as a character very much like Job.
  • She is embittered and feels that the hand of God has gone against her.    “My lot is far more bitter than yours (mar li meod), for the hand of YHWH has struck out against me.”
1.14 Ruth clung to Naomi (davkah). 
  • davkah – emphasizes the permanence of the attachment (Judith Kates teaches that in modern Hebrew  davaq is the word for glue, also used to describe how scales cling to crocodile;   in Bible how Israel clings to God.)  Other instances in Bible
o   Adam shall leave father and mother and cleave to his wife (Gen 2:24) (JK – oral = denotes leaving parental and becoming mature)
o   Israel to God (Deut 4:4 et al; Ps 63:9)
o   God for Israel (Jer 13:11)
o   Shechem to Dinah (Gen 34:3-5)
1.13-17 – Orpah returns home.  Ruth follows Naomi.
1.18 – When Naomi sees that Ruth is strongly determined to follow her, she leaves off speaking to her.
  • What causes the speechlessness?  Is Naomi overwhelmed by Ruth’s kindness, or is she so enveloped in bitterness and depression that she cannot take it in?
1.19 – Upon Naomi’s return, the village women are all astir, murmuring,  maybe in a panic (tehom). 
  • The women ask “Is this Naomi?”  It appears they do not recognize her.  Ruth is invisible at this moment.  Perhaps Naomi herself is too depressed to acknowledge Ruth at her side.
  • The community does  not take them in, offer them food or shelter.  No kinsman steps up.
  • Even God seems to have abandoned them – having left Naomi bereft of husband and two sons and Ruth without a husband or family.
  • “Do not call me Naomi,” she replied.  “Call me Mara, for Shaddai has made my lot very bitter.  I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty.  How can you call me Naomi, when the Lord has dealt harshly with me (Adonai ana vi), when Shaddai has brought misfortune upon me?”
o   “With excruciating irony she used the divine name, Shaddai, associated throughout Genesis with God’s promises of fertility, progeny, prosperity, to refer to a God who has deprived her, turned her fullness into emptiness.”  (Reading Ruth, Judith Kates, pg 193)
o   “Naomi uses this strange expression: Hashem ana vi, God afflicted me.  What exactly does ‘afflict’ mean?  Rashi says, ‘He testified against me, that I had been guilty in his presence.’   I had been guilty of something.  He testified against me, that I am incriminated of some unknown crime.  Then Rashi quotes another reading.  Ana vi: midat hadin, God’s faculty of judgment has afflicted me.  God in his role as judge, as punisher, has come out and afflicted me.  So ana vi can mean to afflict, to produce pain, to impose pain upon me, or it can mean to testify against me.”  (Reading Ruth, Aviva Zornberg, pg 68.
  • Again we see the connection drawn between Naomi and Job.
o   “Shaddai has embittered my life”  (v’shadei heymar nafshi)  (Job 27:2)
o   “Naomi’s rhythmic lament reverberates with Jobian echoes, and her plight is endowed with a colossal significance.”  “This woman’s personal complaint against a wrathful God places her in the biblical tradition of men challenging God for great undeserved suffering.”  (Reading Ruth,  Aschkenasy,  pg 114)
o   Job, through God’s agency, loses his animals, his dwelling, and his children, and his skin is inflamed from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.  Narrator is explicit that Job is afflicted by God, and Job challenges God on God’s treatment of him.  Job calls out to God in the bitterness of his soul.  Naomi feels  that she is afflicted, although the narrator does not specifically state that it is so.  Naomi does not directly confront God with her agony, but she proclaims it in her speeches to other women.  
Judith Kates asks (oral communication): Where is God for Naomi?
2.1 – Boaz is introduced as a gibor chayil, (we will see the significance of this in 3.11) but does not offer to help when his kin return, nor does anyone else.
2.1-2 – Ruth goes to glean
  • See Lev 23:22 for the law regarding gleaning
2.3 – By coincidence, when Ruth goes to glean, she happens on the field of Boaz.  vayiker mikreyah.
  • Note: Abraham’s steward prayed for a mikreh when he asked that the girl who would give his camels water would be the one destined for Abraham’s son.  This turned  out to be Rivka.  Gen 24:12
  • Some interpret this as showing the finger or hand of God at work.
2.4-5 – Boaz asks “Whose damsel is this?” – not who is she, but whose is she?
2.6-9 – Boaz permits Ruth to glean, having found out she is a maiden who came back with Naomi
  • Boaz offers her his protection, telling her the young men shall not touch her
  • a woman adrift in this society is in a place of danger with no protector
2.10 – Ruth points out that she is a nakriyah
  • foreign/er from nkr  = pay attention to, regard, recognize
  • As in something intently regarded (BDB Hebrew dictionary), a foreign object.  As if she is someone to stare at for her foreignness. This is a reminder that she is always a Moabite.  
  • Perhaps Ruth teaches acceptance of the foreign, of the nonnormative, into the very folds of Judaism.  Or perhaps it teaches that the foreignness never quite disappears. 
  • We will come back to this in 4.11.
2.11-12 – Boaz offers Ruth extra gleanings and a place to sit and eat.
  • Boaz explains that he does so because of what he has heard regarding her taking care of Naomi and following Naomi to this foreign land.
2:13 – Ruth notes that Boaz has spoken to her heart.
  • speak to the heart – dibber ‘el libbeh – appears only 8 times in the bible – one speaking their heart is always in superior position.  “The superior offers loving assurance to his upset, insecure or alienated partner that he will rectify the other’s insecure or alienated status.  Eight times, the passages imply that ‘speaking to the heart’ is successful;  the positive response of the other party is not even recorded.” (Reading the Women of the Bible, Tikva Frymer-Kensky, p188-189)
o   Joseph as ruler to brothers (Gen 50:21)
o   Shechem to Dinah (Gen 34:3-5)
o   Levite to concubine (Judg. 19:3)
o   Boaz to Ruth (Ruth 2:13)
o   God the husband to Israel as wife (Hos 2:16)
o   kings to their people (2 Sam and Chron)
o   people to Jerusalem (Isa 40:2)
2:14-16 – Boaz offers Ruth food to eat on the field and a place to sit and eat without being humiliated/put to shame.
  • Boaz does not offer to do very much – only gleanings.  Given that in 2.1 we learned that Boaz is kin to Naomi’s husband, and a gibor chayil, this is pretty paltry.  This gets to the heart of what is wrong in Beth Lechem.  Ruth had to be extremely full of hesed, as well as clever, to get Boaz to fulfill his obligations.  The village is out of whack.

Uncovering Biblical Myths

Join us during the summer at Congregation Eitz Chayim, 136 Magazine Street in Cambridge,  for evening Torah classes, every 1st and 3rd Wednesday from 7:30pm to 9:00pm.
Penina Weinberg, biblical scholor with a Master of Jewish Liberal Studies from Hebrew College and 6 years teaching Torah to adult Jewish learners,  will lead us on an exploration of the truth behind many commonly held biblical notions. Through a close reading of selected biblical texts, we will study, discuss, argue – in short, learn to interpret for ourselves.
The first class on June 15, will study the Book of Ruth.  A common view is that the Book is an enchanting, sweet pastoral idyll (The Five Megilloth, Soncino Press).  While the Book does not contain the bloodshed and violence depicted in the Book of Judges, (it takes place in the time that “the judges judged”), it nevertheless poses hard questions about the relationship between humanity and God, and between one human and another.  Like Job, Naomi agonizes over being abandoned by God, even afflicted by God.  How can this be?  What does it mean that God can afflict human beings?  Why should it be so? 
Subsequent classes (exact order of study TBD) will explore other commonly held assumptions about the biblical text, including:
  • What was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19)?  The common answer is homosexuality.  But how do you know that?  Did someone interpret that for you, or did you study the text yourself?  Along with Genesis 19, we will study texts from Joshua and Judges (the stories of Rahav and the Levite’s concubine) to help get to the root of the sin of Sodom.
  • If humanity is made in the image of God, what can we learn from the story of Creation (Genesis 1-3) about the gender of God and the gender of the first human?   Is God a He, a She, an androgyne?  Is the question relevant?  The concept of a gendered God is integral to many interpretations of the bible, and the concept of God as a He has troubled many modern religious people, but what does the text actually say? 

Bring your tanachs, a snack, a bottle of wine, your independent thinking.   All study will be in English.  No prior bible study is required, but our study will challenge even the knowledgeable.    Our close reading will include getting to the root of the meaning of key Hebrew words (pun intended).  Texts will be available for those who cannot bring their own.