Avraham ben Yaakov


V 1: "And Naomi her mother-in-law said to her." Having seen how God's guiding hand had brought Ruth to reap in Boaz' field and how generously Boaz had responded, Naomi now seized the initiative, priming her widowed daughter-in-law to throw herself before him in the hope that he would marry her. (It is a sad reality that the convert is not generally perceived as having a high value in the marriage market, particularly not a Moabitess for the reason that will be discussed in the commentary on Chapter 4.) The dramatic initiative whereby Ruth at the bidding of her mother-in-law went into Boaz to plead with him directly is somewhat reminiscent of Esther's dramatic appeal to Ahasuerus at the bidding of Mordechai.

V 2: "And now, is not Boaz our relative." Naomi was not merely trying to make a good match for Ruth. From the ensuing narrative we learn that Naomi wanted Boaz to fulfill the Biblically-ordained role of the "redeemer" of an impoverished relative's field, as laid down in Leviticus 25:25. Naomi and Ruth had been reduced to complete poverty, and they were forced to sell the field that had been the ancestral portion of Ruth's late husband Machlon. In order not only to retain the family property but also to keep the name of Machlon alive, Naomi wanted Boaz to buy the field AND marry Ruth so that Machlon's name would live on when people would see her going in and out of the field and say "She was Machlon's wife" (see Rashi on Ruth 3:8).

What Naomi wanted to accomplish was NOT exactly identical with YIBUM, the "levirate" marriage in which the widow of a man who dies childless is married by her dead husband's surviving brother in order that the child she will hopefully bear him will perpetuate the dead brother's name (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). Nevertheless, the mystery of YIBUM lies at the very center of the story of Ruth and Boaz, just as it lies at the heart of that of Boaz' illustrious ancestors, Judah and Tamar (Genesis ch 38). Thus the ceremony described in Ruth ch 4 whereby Boaz in the presence of the elders at the gate "purchased" the field, and Ruth with it, from the other candidate for "redeemer", including the taking off of the shoe as a mark of the transaction, is conceptually bound up with the ceremony of HALITZAH in Deut. 25:7-10.

V 3: "Wash yourself and anoint yourself and put your dress on." - "Wash yourself from the filth of idolatry, and anoint yourself with mitzvoth" (Rashi). Was Ruth naked so that Naomi had to tell her to put a dress on? No! She was telling her to change her clothes and put on her Shabbos dress! (Yalkut Shimoni). Ruth, symbolizing repentant Israel , was about to go to seek out her Redeemer, and she had to prepare herself.

V 6: "And she went down to the threshing floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law had instructed her". In fact Ruth reversed the order, because Naomi had told her to get ready first and then go to the threshing floor. Wisely, Ruth understood that if she were to go through the streets adorned and bedecked people could get a very bad impression, which is why she adorned herself only after arriving at the threshing floor. All of this took place at NIGHT-TIME, signifying the darkness of exile, whereas the redemption of Ruth by Boaz, symbolizing God's redemption of Israel , takes place in the full light of the morning.

V 8: "And it came to pass at midnight." These are exactly the same words as in Exodus 12:29 when Israel was redeemed from Egypt .

".the MAN was startled. and behold there was a WOMAN lying at his feet" - "The MAN alludes to the Holy One blessed be He, while the WOMAN lying at his feet alludes to Israel, as in the Talmudic phrase '[the sign of the 3 rd watch of the night is] a WOMAN talking to her HUSBAND' (Brachos 3a; Bartenurah on Ruth 3:8).

V 9: "And she said. spread your garment over your handmaiden, for you are the redeemer." Rashi (ad loc.) explains that the spreading of his garment over her is a euphemism for marriage. On the esoteric level, Bartenurah explains that Ruth was requesting that God Himself should redeem Israel rather than a mortal hero like one of the ancient judges such as Samson or Gideon, for He is their true Redeemer.

V 10: "And he said, blessed are you to HaShem." - "Reish Lakish said, A man should never hold himself back from going to an elder to bless him, for Ruth was forty years old and she had never had children [the rabbis said she was congenitally barren, Yalkut on Ruth 4:13 'And HaShem GAVE her conception'], but after that Tzaddik prayed for her she was granted a child" (Yalkut Shimoni).

V 12: ".and also there is a redeemer who is closer than me". The other candidate to fulfill the Biblical precept of redeeming Ruth's field was a relative "closer" than Boaz, because, as the rabbis explained, this PLONI ALMONI, "Mister Someone" (Ruth 4:1), who was also called TOV (in our present chapter in the very next verse if we construe the Hebrew text literally) was the surviving BROTHER of Elimelech and Sal'mon (who had also died already), whereas Boaz was Sal'mon's SON and therefore not as close (see Rashi on our present verse).

Bartenurah, discussing the mystery of the other candidate for redeemer, explains that the redemption of Israel can take place in one of two ways. Either Israel repents and they are redeemed immediately, or they fail to repent and have to be redeemed by God Himself. The first way in which redemption takes place is "closer", and indeed there were times in the history of Israel when they merited redemption in virtue of their repentance, as in the time of Hezekiah. (This explains the opinion of R. Hillel in Sanhedrin 99a that Israel will not have any further Mashiach, because they already "ate" him in the days of Hezekiah.) The second way in which redemption takes place is "further off" because it will only happen at the end of days.

Bartenurah explains that esoterically, Boaz' praise of Ruth for "not going after the young men, whether poor or rich" (Ruth 3:10) indicates that even though redeemers like Samson and Gideon etc. had great power and strength, Israel prefers that the redemption should come from God Himself. "You have shown more loyalty at the end than at the beginning" - because Israel wants the final redemption to come from God, as opposed to the earlier redemptions, which came about through human leaders, the earlier redemptions were followed by further exile while God's redemption will be final and everlasting.

V 13: "Stay this night and it shall be in the morning." If Israel waits for God to redeem them, they may have to stay longer in the darkness of exile, but in the end the morning will arrive and then God will redeem them (Bartenurah). The rabbis taught that the oath that Boaz took in this verse was that despite being sorely tempted, he would not lie with Ruth without first formally marrying her (see Rashi ad loc.)

V 15: "And he measured SIX measures of barley." - "He hinted to her that a son would come forth from her who would be blessed with SIX blessings, 'a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and the fear of God' (Isaiah 11:18; Rashi on our verse).


V 1: "Then Boaz went up to the gate." Boaz' intended marriage with Ruth was fraught with halachic complications since Ruth was a convert from Moab , and the Torah clearly states that "an Ammonite and a Moabite shall not enter the assembly of HaShem even in the tenth generation (=forever)" (Deuteronomy 23:4). According to the oral tradition, the use specifically of the masculine form of AMMONI and MOAVI in the verse teaches that the prohibition does NOT apply to Ammonite or Moabite WOMEN. However, this halachah flies in the face of the apparent simple meaning of the text to the point that it was frequently forgotten. This happened in the generation of David after he killed Goliath, when Saul's counselor Do'eg argued that David was not even eligible to enter the assembly, being descended from a Moabitess (see Rashi on I Samuel 17:55 and Yevamos 77b). And according to our commentators, the same forgetfulness was also present in the time of Bo'az, because the even closer relative who was the other candidate for redeeming Ruth thought that the Biblical prohibition applied to Moabite women as well as men, and he was afraid of marrying her for fear of putting an inerasable blemish on his issue.

"And [Bo'az] said, Turn aside, wait here Mister so-and-so [PLONI ALMONI]." The Hebrew word PLONI is from the root PELE meaning something hidden (cf. Deut. 17:8) - Rashi explains that his actual name is not written in the text because he did not want to redeem Ruth. Rashi explains ALMONI (from the root EELEM, "speechless", "dumb") as meaning that he is "without a name", and also that he was dumb and a "widower" (ALMAN), bereft of Torah, because he did not know that the halachah forbids only a MOAVI from entering the assembly but not a MOAVIAH!!!

V 2: "And he took ten men from the elders of the city." Boaz intentionally assembled a MINYAN (quorum) of men of stature in order to publicly teach the correct halachah that a MOAVIAH is indeed PERMITTED to enter the assembly (Kesuvos 7b). We also learn from this verse that the marriage ceremony must be performed in the presence of a MINYAN of ten men (ibid.).

Vv 3ff: When Boaz began to explain to PLONI ALMONI, the other candidate for redeemer, that he was being asked to buy Elimelech's field, initially he was willing to do so (v 4, "I shall redeem it"), until Boaz started to explain that there were some "strings attached" as he would also have to marry Ruth. At this point PLONI ALMONI baulked "lest I harm my own inheritance" (v 6), because he thought Ruth's children would not be Israelites.

V 7: "Now this was the custom in former time." The removal of the shoe is parallel to the present-day custom of formalizing an act of KINYAN, "acquisition", through the parties lifting up a SOODAR ("scarf" or other garment or vessel, often a "gartel") whereby through the law of CHALIFIN the acquisition comes about (KINYAN SOODAR). As discussed in the commentary on the previous chapter, the taking of the shoe also relates to the mystery of YIBUM and HALITZAH. In this way Bo'az formally acquired Ruth.

V 11: "And all the people that were in the gate said with the elders as witnesses, Let HaShem grant that the woman coming to your house shall be like Rachel and like Leah." Boaz and the people of Bethlehem were from the tribe of Judah , Leah's fourth son, yet they gave primacy to Rachel as Jacob's principal wife (Rashi). Judah must respect Joseph and his offspring!!!

V 13: "And Boaz took Ruth and she was his wife." The rabbis taught that on the very night that Boaz came into her, he died (Yalkut Shimoni). This is why the child was raised by Naomi.

Vv 18-21: "And these are the generations of Peretz. and Yishai begat David". The whole purpose of this remarkable story of Ruth is to trace the origins of Melech HaMashiach.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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