Thoughts on Ruth Part Ten
Transcribed by Daniel Goldman from a shiur delivered on 27 April 1999: We’ll begin with a review as an introduction. Do you remember when Naomi gets back home after living in Moab? The people gasp, “Is this Naomi?” Naomi means, ‘the sweet one.’ Naomi says, “Oh no, don’t call me Naomi, call me Mara (God has made me bitter).” Do you ever find her being called ‘the bitter one’ after that? No. Why is that ? Ruth was able to restore sweetness to her.
There was another Mara in Jewish history and that was Miriam, the sister of Moses. Her name was Miriam because on the same day she was born, the servitude began. Remember, the servitude didn’t begin when the Jews first went down to Egypt. In fact, it wasn’t so bad in the beginning. It was only when Moses went down to speak to Pharaoh.
We find verses in Chronicles II which describe Miriam (or Mara) as meaning sick or ill. By the way, what are the names of Elimelech’s two sons? – Machlon, which comes from the word machalah, meaning illness, and Kilyon, meaning destruction. Miriam was sick until she was healed by her husband, Caleb. Caleb, of course, is one of the fathers of kingship.
So the idea of bitterness is also important in the story of Ruth, and hence important in the development of David. Ruth’s capacity to touch the inner realities of a person is such that even though Naomi had become a bitter person externally, Ruth was able to see her inner sweetness. Ruth was influenced by it enough to convert. Not because of God, but because of Naomi. We’ll see that clearly. Ruth was inspired by the sweetness of Naomi. At the same time, Naomi’s two children were not! An outsider was able to see her sweetness, but her children were not able to because they remained in Moab.
At this point, we explained that Naomi decided to leave not only because there was food in Beit Lechem, but because she understood that she had to uproot herself from Moab. She could not do so as long as her children were alive, because they insisted that she stay.
Again, the story began with an anonymous man from the perspective of an anonymous person. The focus moved to Elimelech, with Naomi being described as secondary to him. Now all of a sudden, Naomi is the protagonist. Her two daughters-in-law get up with her. Remember when the verse says that they both went with her? – that’s Naomi’s uprooting from Moab. Naomi made a conscious decision not to live there anymore. That means that when her two daughters-in-law go along, they too want to uproot themselves. Both Ruth and Orpah.
You have to have to picture it. Here you have two princesses – Ruth and Orpah – the daughters of Eglon. Eglon was the king of Moab. Eglon was one of the most famous kings of Moab for two reasons. One, he was obese beyond obesity. Two, when Ehud ben Gerah came to speak to Eglon he said, “Your majesty, I have a message for you from God,” and Eglon pulled his massive body up from his chair because he would not remain seated while receiving a message from God. He had tremendous respect for God. At that point Ehud kills him. The knife sinks inside his belly so deep that no one notices there’s a knife there. It’s a long story. Not for now. Moreover, Eglon is the son of Balak, the same Balak who hired Bila’am to curse the Jews in the desert. Balak also had tremendous merit because he brought 42 sacrifices to God. Because this family had such respect for God, they merited to have Ruth and Orpah, two magnificent women. Now Naomi begins to speak to them because she is suspicious of their motives. Why do they want to return with her to Israel?
“Noami said to her two daughters-in-law, go! Return, each one to the house of her mother.” (Ruth 1:6)
The verse says two things – go and return. ‘Go’ means leave me. ‘Return’ means return to your people. ‘…To the house of your mother’ means two things. Often in Tanach it is used to mean going back to your gods. Another meaning is that a daughter will usually return to her mother’s house. Picture the situation. You have two princesses married to two sons who are foreigners and destitute. They have already agreed to leave Moab. They’re not going back to their father, they will go back to their mother.
If you recall from last week, there are a number of ideas about relationships brought about in the book of Ruth. For example, when a man dies, the person who experiences it most is his wife. Or, when the children die, the woman re-experiences the death of her husband. We asked why it is important to mention these things in regard to the development of a king. A king has to relate to his people. He has to be aware of all the subtle emotional details that go on in people’s lives. He can’t just sit on his throne removed from his people’s concerns. (“You know, from my perspective this is what you need to do.” Or, “This is what I learned in Royal Psychology 101. Therefore, I know exactly what you must work on.”) That’s not a king. A king can experience and understand whatever a person is dealing with himself. Therefore, you’re going to find incredible details in the book of Ruth about relationships.