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Thoughts on Ruth Part Five

Transcribed by Daniel Goldman from a lecture recorded 19 April 1999: “And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Machlon and Kilyon, Efratim from Beit Lechem in Judah. And they came into the fields of Moab, and they were there.” (1:2)


They were Efratim; they were prominent people from Beit Lechem in Judah.  Remember what we said before?  When the first verse says that the man left Beit Lechem, it wasn’t because that’s where he lived geographically.  This is a proof!  If that were so, it wouldn’t have to repeat this fact in the second verse.

We also see that  everyone in Elimelech’s family was defined by him. “His name …his wife’s name …his son’s name…” Speaking of his sons, the verse says, “..the name of his two sons Machlon and Kilyon…” Wouldn’t “names” make more sense?  We learn from here that we are not dealing with his sons as two, but as two parts of one.

”And they came into the fields of Moab, and they were there.”

Here the verse is showing that leaving Israel was one thing, but moving to Moab was quite another.  Leaving Israel was a sin in of itself.  The Jewish people are not a people without Israel.  We are defined by living in Israel.  This point is stressed in the Haggadah.  God promised Abraham that he would inherit Israel.  A king must understand this.  It’s not the king who creates the nation, it is the land.  The king exists, the people exist, but the king is the leader in a point in time.  David says, “I happen to be the king, but my commitment is to the land of Israel.  Solomon builds the Temple, but he also builds a far more elaborate palace for himself, preventing himself from rising to the level of his father.

In the first verse, it says that Elimelech and his family went to live in Moab temporarily.  This is similar to what happened to the Jews when they went to sojourn in Egypt while there was a famine in Cana’an.  They went to settle temporarily, but in the end, they remained there for 210 years.  They ended up staying, even though they had mixed feelings about it.  This was Pharaoh’s genius.  He understood that they had qualms, and he homed onto them.  He took advantage of their own ambivalence.

Now, it tells us that “they were there.” That is, they fit in right away.  You can be the world’s greatest davener, and then you have one day that you don’t feel like praying.  OK.  It’s a momentary weakness.  So you stop.  Then you go to a place where people don’t daven and you become one of them.  Right away.  Because if you’re will to break yourself away from who you are, and what you are, and live with people who are the opposite, then you’ve uprooted yourself completely.  Even if you only intend to dwell there temporarily.

For example, I daven in a minyan with three or four retired pulpit rabbis – very prominent ones.  All of them, when they were rabbis of their respective shuls would certainly hush the congregation if there was talking.  Now they go to the hashkama minyan. Guess who are the worst talkers?  Look at what happened: They were never non-talkers.  They just were never able to speak.  But they are the best people to talk to because they have the best stories!  Elimelech gave and gave tzedaka.  But he stopped and moved to Moab.  At that moment, he was there.

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