Shavuot, Megilat Ruth & The 10 Sefirot Part Eight
Transcribed by Daniel Goldman from a lecture recorded on 4 May 1999: Boaz comes into his field and says to the young men working there, “Who is that girl?” What about Ruth caught Boaz’s attention? Remember, all these women are collecting the gleanings, the leftovers. All of them are poor. They don’t have enough food to put together two meals. These girls are desperate to get married. The best thing for them to do is to attract the attention of someone working in the field, and hopefully get hitched. So when most of the girls pick up the gleanings from the field, they would bend down is such a way that certain parts of their bodies would show, or be more prominent, and catch the attention of the male workers. (Because in those days, men looked at women and were attracted by such things. I know it’s hard to believe.) So they’d bend down like this, put their chests out, and their bottoms up. When Ruth came into the field, she’d bend down in such a way that no part of her would show. What is tziniut? What is that type of personal modesty? It is that “my physical beauty and greatness are inside.” What midah is that? Hod – glory. Whatever you see in me is not only on the outside but also on the inside. Whatever you see is even more.
Let’s see this in the text. Naomi addresses Ruth and Orpah twice in an attempt to convince them not to return with her to Israel. It’s a very strange conversation. We spoke of the first part of it. The second time she convinces Orpah to leave. Naomi says, “Why are you coming with me? I’m not going to have anymore children. You’d have to wait another 13 years, and my life is so bitter…God has struck his hand out against me.” So Orpah leaves.
What did Naomi say that convinced Orpah to leave? That she’s an old woman? She knew. That she wouldn’t have more children right away? She knew. Even if she had a child right then and there, she wasn’t going to wait 13 years so she could marry him in her 40’s. Of course, they knew. So what’s the idea? Both Ruth and Orpah were committed to helping Naomi and that’s why they were coming with her. But it’s one thing to help someone who wants to be helped. It’s another to help someone who’s bitter. If you try to help someone who is bitter, it’s not going to help – it’s just going to create more bitterness.
Naomi is really into being bitter. When she gets back to Beit Lechem, people ask, “Is this Naomi?” Naomi says, “Don’t call me Naomi (which means sweet), call me Mara (which means bitter).” She perceives herself as bitter. Yet, in the text, she is never called Mara. She is never called this name of bitterness. She is always called Naomi. Who was it that gave her this name? – Ruth. Ruth saw underneath all this bitterness, underneath the pain and suffering, and said, “You’re the one I want to be with.” Ruth saw the Hod, the glory, of Naomi. The mother of the child who is going to establish the kingdom has to have the capacity to see the inner beauty of the person, even when the person is trying to hide it themselves. Because when someone will come to the king with a problem, the king can’t just dismiss it as a pain in the tush. He must be able to say, “No, come here, you’re such a great guy…I love you.”
This is exactly what Aaron would do. If someone were in a lousy way, Aaron would put his arm around him. The guy would think, “Boy, if Aaron the High Priest puts his hand around me, I must be really important.” A king must also have this capacity. Ruth gives it to David as she gave it to Naomi. Just as she gave unbelievable Chesed, she gave unbelievable Yesod, loyalty. “Where you will go, I will go. Your nation is my nation. Where you will live, I will live. Where you will die, I will die. My loyalty to you is absolute and complete.” Similarly, a Jewish king has to be loyal to his subjects.
Ruth restores the influence of Gevurah. Ruth goes down to the tent of Boaz in the middle of the night. She lies down at his feet. This old man becomes physically excited for the first time in years. He knows this ain’t the natural thing. (“I’m excited…she’s here…It’s a miracle that I’m excited. I’m an old man. What’s the logical thing to do?”) They both decide to wait. She sleeps on his legs the whole night. This poor guy has what the verse calls a cucumber. The whole night. They don’t do anything. In the Midrash, Boaz is called a hero.