Thoughts on Ruth Part Twelve
Transcribed by Daniel Goldman from a shiur delivered on 27 April 1999: “Each woman to her mother’s home.”
What does this mean, each woman to her mother’s home? They’re sisters! They have the same mother! In other words, go back independently. Don’t go back as one unit. What was the last thing that they did as one? They left together to marry these two Jewish nobodies. If they would come back to their mother together it would appear like their little experiment failed. But if they return separately, then each is returning on their own terms. Naomi is sensitive to even the most inner feelings of the heart.
“God should do with you chesed as you did with the dead and with me.”
We said that there are many elements to the chesed. One is to their late husbands (“We’re not going to leave your mother alone.”) and two, “yes, you made a mistake, you cut yourself off from your people in Israel, therefore, we will cut ourselves from our people in Moab. The third element is two Naomi. Naomi acknowledges all this. Listen to what she says: “God should do with you chesed as you did with the dead…” What point is Naomi making here? What is she teaching them? — You get back what you give.
“So right now we are trekking along, and I want you to leave. But before you do, I want to give you one last lesson in theology. And that is, if you do chesed, God will do chesed for you.” Huh? This, from Naomi? How did she get to Moab in the first place? – Because her family was unwilling to do chesed! (“Suddenly you’re an expert on chesed?”) So what is she really telling them? If she is able to sense this now, what is she suggesting? Either that she was never part of the original decision by Elimelech to move to Moab, or that she recognizes that she made a mistake. Why is it important for them to know that she made a mistake? Remember that one of the acts of chesed they want to do is fix the mistake of their husbands. Naomi says, “I understand that, but I want you to know that I acknowledge my mistake. I need to go back to fix things myself.” She’s telling them that this process has already begun.
“God should give to you…”
What should God give them? We already said that God should give them chesed. What chesed? – “As you did with the dead.” What was the chesed that they did? It’s not that she wants God to give them anything, because she outlines that in the next verse. So what chesed are we talking about here?
Question: The chesed of giving without expecting anything in return?
RSW: OK, so?
Question: Being generous, rather than…
RSW: That God should be generous with you, rather than asking for anything in return? The verse says, “…and with me.” There has to be a correlation.
Figure it out. What was the chesed they did with the dead? – They were willing to cut themselves off from Moab. So what chesed would God do for them?
Question: That they would be accepted back into Moab.
The truth is, that Naomi understands. She’s homeless. In Israel, Ruth and Orpah would be treated like dirt. Moreover, they can’t go home. They broke away. Therefore, the chesed God should do for them is that they be accepted back into Moab. Or, in other words, that the commitments they made be permanent. Naomi understands this. She is giving them a bracha that she can’t say for herself. She can’t say, “God should chesed for me,” because she ran away from doing chesed. She now asks for something else.
“God should give you, each of you should find peace in the house of her husband.”
What does “each in the house of her husband” mean? – Your relationships with Machlon and Kilyon are over. You will have new husbands. She finishes her speech and doesn’t wait for a response.
“And she kisses them.”
What kind of kiss is this? – Farewell.
“And they lifted up their voices,”
Who lifted up their voices? Ruth and Orpah, or all three?
Question: All three.
RSW: Are you sure?
“And they cried.”
What’s going on? Why don’t they respond? Why doesn’t Naomi wait for a response? She makes her speech, she kisses them, and that’s it. They are heartbroken. They can’t respond. Otherwise, they would have argued back. Why cry at this point if they’re not going to leave?
Question: They didn’t expect this to happen.
RSW: Why not say, “No, we’re going to stick with you.”
Her words are making them cry. They are crying from pain. Otherwise, the verse would have said, “they cried.” Why does she go though this whole ordeal?
Question: They want to give chesed.
RSW: They are crying over the loss of the opportunity to do chesed.
Question: They are attached to her.
RSW: She is pushing them away only because she loves them.
Go through the verse. Does it say, “they cried?” No. The verse says, “they lifted up their voices, and they cried.” What does this mean? Two things are happening. One, they acknowledge the truth in what Naomi is saying. (If you come with me, you’re losing the chance you will have if you stay. If you stay here in Moab, you will have a chance to find a husband. If you come with me, you won’t.”) On the other hand, they want to stay with her.
Are we talking about two women with a firm understanding of what they have to do, or are we looking at two women who are torn? Go back in history to their grandfather, Balak. What did he do to merit such grand-daughters? He brought 42 sacrifices to God. Why did he do this? – Because he wanted the curses of Bila’am to be effected. Let me ask you a question. If you’re going to curse the nation of God, and you understand that you have to give sacrifices to God, and you understand that everything comes from God, why do bother to curse them at all? I imagine that Balak wasn’t a total idiot. He understood that if you want to curse the Jews, then you need a miracle.
Balak is a torn man. He understands that the only way the curses will take effect is with God’s help. Yet he doesn’t want them to succeed. This is a man trying to reach out to God, but he is so conflicted within. It is the same with their great-grandfather, Lot. When Lot runs away from Abraham, he runs to Sodom. Even so, he is willing to risk his life to harbor guests. In doing so, he is following in Abraham’s footsteps. Lot’s daughter is killed because she gave tzedaka. The Sodomites cover her body with honey, and they put her on the roof until she is stung to death.
Was Lot conflicted? – Yes! Then we have Lot’s two other daughters. After the destruction of Sodom, they want to get their father drunk so that they can repopulate the world. They thought the world had been destroyed. They get their father bombed, so he doesn’t know what is happening. Otherwise, he wouldn’t go along with it. Then they each have a baby, one of which they name ‘Moab, meaning, ‘from my father.’ If you want it to be private, that probably wouldn’t be the best name for a kid!
Finally, we come to Balak. Balak has a very deep appreciation for God, and understands that God has the capacity to help him. Yet, he wants to fight against God’s people. And Eglon! Do you remember that story? Here he is fighting to crush the Jews, yet when Ehud ben Gerah comes to him and says that he’s got a prophecy from God, Eglon lifts up his massive, obese hulk of flesh, and stands up from his throne out of respect for God. He says, “how can I remain seated while receiving a message from God?” Conflicted?
So the family of Ruth and Orpah are people who are very, very conflicted. By the way, Orpah means ‘neck.’ A neck usually suggests something flexible. Orpah is the one who is flexible, who is really conflicted. It’s important to understand how conflicted she is. It’s not that she is this rotten woman.