Thoughts on Ruth Part Four
Transcribed by Daniel Goldman from a lecture recorded 19 April 1999: Another detail we are told in this verse is that this story takes place during a time of famine. People are desperate. When people are desperate, they are apt to challenge, judge, and criticize their leaders more so than in times of prosperity. In fact, in Shoftim, that’s happening all the time. The judge who is able to save the people from invading armies is supposed to be able to prevent famine from sweeping the land.
The verse continues: “…A man went from Beit Lechem in Judah to the fields of Moab.” It doesn’t say who the man was, or why the man went. All its says is that he left. So what’s the idea? – Not that he went to Moab, but that he left from Beit Lechem. That is, he left Israel. This is very interesting because we read Ruth on Shavuot, and Shavuot is very much a celebration of Israel. We bring Bekurim, the new wheat offering.
Secondly, the verse says that “he went.” He took his wife, and two sons with him. It strongly suggests that she and they did not want to go with him. He took them. Otherwise, the verse could have said, This man and his family went.” The verse is clear that his sin was in leaving. And when he left, he went against the will of his wife and children.
There’s more. The name of the place he is leaving is called Beit Lechem, which means ‘House of Bread.’ It’s interesting. It’s a time of famine, and here is this man leaving his home in a ‘house of bread.’ You might argue that this is merely the geographical location. But then, the verse could have simply said, “A man left from Judah.” But the verse is specific. He was leaving a place that had bread. The famine wasn’t everywhere. We will see that this was so. So why is the man leaving? The Midrash explains that during this time of famine, he was brimming with money and supplies. But he was tired of giving Tzedaka. This, however, is a side issue. The main point of the verse is that he was leaving Israel.
Think about it. Here is a time of famine, the populace is criticizing their leaders, and this prominent person is leaving town. The impact is devastating to morale. It’s very unusual for the verse not to identify the main character at the very beginning of the story. This highlights for us that a person of influence has a great impact on the community. This is part of what a king must know. The name of this person leaving Israel doesn’t matter. A king understands what is going on around him. He doesn’t try to define the times. Solomon defined his times. But David understood the people, and that’s what made him a true king.