The Story of Ruth begins with
a famine in Eretz Yisrael. Elimelech and his wife Naomi and their
two sons, Machlon and Kilion, leave from Bethlehem in Judah to live in
Elimelech fled from Bethlehem not because he was hungry — he had more
food than he needed. He was very wealthy. He was afraid that the poor
and hungry would come knocking on his door for help. He was more concerned
with his fortune than the plight of his people. Responsibility to his
fellow Jews came last in his list of priorities, and for that he was
punished. Elimelech died in Moab, leaving his righteous wife Naomi a
His two surviving sons, Machlon and Kilion, should have seen the hand
of Hashem, and returned to Bethlehem, but they did not. They
stayed in Moab and married Orpah and Ruth, two Moabite princesses, elevating
their status in their comfortable, self-imposed exile. The two men also
died, and then there were three widows. Having lost her family and her
fortune, the righteous Naomi turned her sights back to Bethlehem where
she had belonged all along.
Both daughters-in-law wanted to accompany her, but Naomi said no.
Why go to a strange land, to a life of loneliness and poverty? Orpah
kissed Naomi good-bye and went back to Moab, but Ruth clung to Naomi
with a fierce loyalty and the immortal words:
Wherever you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your
people are my people and your G-d is my G-d; where you die, I will die,
and there I will be buried (1:16-17).
Naomi and Ruth went back to Bethlehem where they lived as paupers.
Young, vigorous Ruth cared for her aged, broken mother-in-law, begging
and scrounging in the fields. There she met Boaz, who, according to
the Sages (Bava Basra 91a), was the Judge Ivtzan (Judges
12:8), who had just lost his wife. His extensive properties were
managed and run by his many employees.
He saw Ruth gathering neglected sheaves in the field, and he admired
her honesty and modesty, not to mention her devotion to Naomi, his relative.
Boaz recognized his responsibilities, not only to help the two women
but to preserve their self-respect while doing so.
During the harvest, while Ruth spent her time gleaning in Boaz's field
and had at least limited access to him, Naomi hoped that Ruth's 'chance
encounter' with Boaz was providential and that Boaz would 'redeem' Ruth
by marrying her, thus perpetuating Machlon's memory.
But then the harvest was over and Boaz made no such move. The prospect
that Ruth might meet Boaz again was remote, and Naomi feared that since
Boaz had not taken the initiative when Ruth was near, he could hardly
be expected to respond to more conventional suggestions of marriage
when she was out of sight. For all they knew, Boaz might even be offended
at the mere suggestion of a marriage to Ruth. After all, Naomi was destitute,
Ruth was of Moabite stock, and Boaz was a man of substance, the Judge
and leader of the generation. Could Naomi expect simply to ask him to
redeem and marry this girl?
Naomi realized that she had to take a bold initiative. She therefore
decided that the best course - however daring and unconventional — was
for Ruth herself to approach Boaz very privately and remind him of his
responsibility to the family of his dead uncle, Elimelech. In a personal
confrontation - convinced that her motives were sincere his compassion
for her bitter plight might be evoked. It was.