The two of them went until they came to Bethlehem.
And it came to pass as they came to Bethlehem
that the whole city was astir over them. And they said, Is this Naomi?
the dangerous roads of Moab,
where Orpah encountered a j~ hundred Philistines on her way home and may have
been raped, the two of them walked alone. They did not even wait for a
protection, they disguised themselves as men, hence the masculine ending of
the word ovh,a instead of ivh,a And miraculously, they encountered no
one until they reached Bethlehem.
were now the two of themequal in purpose and determination. Although Ruth
was moving farther and farther away from her birthplace and approaching a
strange land where she knew people would look strangely at her, she walked with
the same eagerness as Naomi, who was returning home.
sages infer from here how greatly God cherishes the proselyte. Once Ruth had
resolved to convert, the scripture holds her to be equal to the righteous and
Elimelech and Naomi and their two sons had been prominent citizens of Bethlehem, all the people
approached to greet her. To their amazement, the same Naomi who had always gone
out attended by a retinue of servants dressed in finery, was now returning home
alone and in rags, her once radiant face sallow and haggard. It caused a great
commotion, and the people kept saying to one another in wonder, Could this be
tragic figure of Naomi evoking the wonder of Bethlehems
citizens is also symbolic of the fallen Jerusalem
evoking the wonder of the nations. Is this the city that was called the perfection
of beauty, they ask, the joy of the whole earth? (Lamentations 2:15).
Bethlehem was astir over
them, not merely over Naomi, for Ruths striking beauty, contrasting sharply
with Naomis terrible appearance, intensified their amazement. Accordingly, vbrnt,uthe
feminine form conveys that the women drew closer to assure themselves that
they had identified Naomi correctly. Perhaps not the broken old woman, but the
beautiful young one beside her, was really Naomi.
this Naomi? The question may have been addressed to Ruth. Yet they did not ask
Is this your mother-in-law? since they did not know Ruth, or else because
they did not want to embarrass Naomi by reminding her that her son had married
coming out to greet Naomi, the Bethlehemites fulfilled the obligation of a
society to share in the sorrow of the individual. At the same time, from
Naomis present condition they drew the proper lesson for themselves and
repented of their own misdeeds.
R. Yitzchak: Read not hngb ,tzv (Is this Naomi?) but hngb
,tzj (as in ,uzj, seeing)i.e., have you seen Naomi? Look
at what happened to Naomi for leaving the Holy Land!
they said to one another. But then they added: If this is Naomithe one whose
deeds were pleasing to God and to menif it be that same Naomi who is
reduced to such straits, then surely God will deal kindly with her now. For His
mercies are not exhausted (Lamentations 3:22).
to the Jerusalem Talmud, the people had gathered then for the funeral of the
wife of Boaz, who died that day. This is hinted at by the word vayehi, it
came to pass, which expresses woe (see verse 1). This explains how they
all happened to be on hand when Ruth and Naomi arrived.
the huge crowd following the bier saw these two unattended women coming, they
approached them in greeting.
left, the other came, comments the Talmud. As soon as Boaz lost his first
wife, God brought him Ruth.
arrival in Bethlehem is a portent that Esau will
rule over Jacob until the Messiah comes from Bethlehem. For as the prophet says: And you,
Bethlehem, Ephrata, youngest to be among the
thousands of Judah, out of
you shall come forth for Me that is to be the ruler in Israel (Mica
(Esau), and vbtuc is an anagram of vtucb (prophecy).
This implies that the power of Esau will last until the Messianic prophecy
She said to them, Call me not Naomi (pleasant), call me Mara (bitter); for the
Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.
surrounded by the entire population of Bethlehem,
Naomi modestly addressed herself only to the women; hence to them in the
feminine form (ivhkt).
me not Naomi, the pleasant one, she said, but Mara, the bitter one. And to
accent the great bitterness with which the Almighty has dealt with me, the
word mara ends in an unexpected aleph (t) rather than the
letter heh (v). Thus we find, similarly, He left in a great wrath (tnj)
(Daniel 11:44) - tnj, for emphasis, instead of the expected vnj.
this regard, the numerical values of the t (=1) and the v
(=5) are significant. Of the five souls that left the land of IsraelNaomi,
Elimelech, Machlon and Kilyon, and an unborn childonly one returned.
she had been pregnant at the time is conveyed by I went out full (vtkn)
(v. 21), as in, the bones [that grow] in a full (vtkn)
womb (Ecclesiastes 11:5).
Naomi called herself Mara, Aramaic for hoe, as if to say, I have dug graves
for my husband and children.
had dealt bitterly with her by striking down her husband; very bitterly by
striking down her two sons.
is also alluding to the fact that at the same time this was happening in Moab, her daughter, brothers, and sisters had
died of the pestilence in the land
observed that the people were not so much sorrowing over her tragic situation
as bemoaning her fall from good fortune and previous situation in life. So she
said: So great is my suffering that you could well call me Mara even if I had
not been Naomi, but one of the common people. As it is, however, falling from a
great height made my suffering all the more bitter.
was like that recalcitrant cow put up for sale in the marketplace, whose owner
praised her diligence at plowing and making beautiful furrows.
so, queried a prospective buyer, why does she show all those tell-tale signs
of having been beaten!
when Naomi, who had been famous for her good deeds, saw that the Bethlehemites
around her were appalled to see a righteous woman in such straits, she said to
them, Call me not Naomi, she whose deeds are pleasing, but Mara, she whose
deeds are bitter. Had I been truly righteous, God would not have dealt so
bitterly with me.
I went out full, and empty has the Lord returned me. Why should you call me
Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has afflicted
no human being ever feels he has enough material possessions, our sages deduce
that she was actually saying: When I left the land of Israel,
I was pregnant (full) and had sons and daughters, health and wealth.
the word vbg may connote affliction, and also mean answered.
Accordingly she was saying: The Lord had then fulfilled all my wishes and the
name Naomi fit me. But now that the Almighty has afflicted me and I have lost
everything, why should you still call me Naomi?
was like that rich man who came on hard times, had to sell his house and all
his possessions, and was left with only his horse and wagon. Then he was forced
to sell these also, and from then on had to carry heavy loads on his back. An
old acquaintance who remembered him from his days of wealth met him and asked,
Where is all the gold and silver you once had?
and silver? he replied. Would that I had a horse and wagon!
Naomi said: Why remind me of my glorious old days by calling me Naomi? Would
that I had what even the lowliest human being has! But the Almighty has dealt
bitterly with me.
was now empty of family, health, and possessions, and the fact that she
returned at all was only due to divine mercy. The attribute of mercy is denoted
by the Tetragrammaton (n~TI); hence empty has the Lord (niir) returned
The people of Bethlehem knew Naomi to be righteous, and
they ascribed her misfortunes to vcvt ka ohruxh, suffering that God visits
upon the righteous in order to increase their reward. She however objected:
Why do you call me Naomi, she whose deeds are pleasing, when God is afflicting
me for my sins?
is just, and He has punished me measure for measure. Because I went out fullI
left the land of Israel during the famine, although I had
foodGod has returned me empty. Therefore do not call me Naomi as if my actions
the people, however, object that it was her husband who sinned by fleeing from
the responsibility of feeding the poor and hungry, Naomi added: The Lord has
testified against me. She too was guilty for failing to protest.
can mean warned, testified, or humbled. The Lord warned me to repent, but I paid no heed;
whereupon He punished me, thereby testifying that I had sinned; and He humbled
me. Similarly the if prophet says, The glory of Israel shall be humbled (Hosea
punishment was inflicted not by the divine Attribute of Justice (Elohim), but
by the Attribute of Mercy (the Lord) operating on behalf of the poor. For as
the Torah states: If he [a poor man] calls out toMe, I will hear, for I am
merciful (Exodus 22:26).
for afflicting the poor is harsh and long-lasting. Naomi asked that she no
longer be called Naomi, being convinced that her bitter condition would endure.
Naomi said, the Almighty has afflicted me, she realized that what she called
affliction was only to me, that is, according to her human perception. But in
truth, everything God does is good. Thus our sages teach: In this world, for
happy events we recite the blessing chynvu cuyv lurc Exalted is He Who is good
and does good, and on sad occasions we recite, ,nt ihs lurc,
Blessed is the True judge. In the future, however, we will recite only
Exalted is He Who is good and does good, for
we will realize that our suffering was the source of our good fortune, as it is
written: I will rejoice over them to do good for them, and I will plant them
in this land in truth with My whole heart and with My whole soul (Jeremiah
Abraham Ibn Ezra
1:19 ov,u: From the niphal conjugation of a double
THIS NAOMI?: For Elimelech and his wife were of the great ones of Israel.
1:20 DO NOT CALL NE NAOMI, CALL ME MARA: Although
Mara is written with an aleph it
behaves in the same way as a word with silent he an the end. The aleph in
rn is instead of v, and the word xs is like it. In the opinion of R. Judah
and in my opinion, ob is
something pleasant, and bitterness is the opposite of pleasantness. ob
when applied to food is sweetness.
1:21 FULL: With Sons and money.
THE LORD HAS ANSWERED NE: There are some who say that n/i is from the same root as
be humbled before me, but in my opinion it is from the same root as you
shall not answer your neighbour, where the meaning is similar to
you renew your witnesses against me.
THE ALMIGHTY HAS TREATED ME BADLY: It is like saying he afflicted, and a
similar example is creator of evil Either the meaning is he has treated me
badly on account of my rebellion, or the text is to be understood in the way
in which the word is normally used, and this is the correct meaning.
19. They both went on. The Midrash
Ruth Rabbah (3:5) comments, "once she made up her mind to
convert, Scripture equates Ruth with Naomi." (The word ovh,a,
they both, is extraneous and is therefore coming to accentuate a
relationship of equality.) Alternately, one may suggest that the use of the
words they both is to explain the entire city was in turmoil about
them -Naomi was always surrounded by many servants and members of her
household whenever she left her home, and now she came with only herself and
her daughter-in-law; they came like two itinerant beggars.
Questions: When they called her Naomi ("pleasantness"), was it not in
reference to her previous status in which she was successful and
"pleasant"? If so, why did she say, Do not call me Naomi? Was
it not justifiable to refer to her as "pleasantness" in the context
of her previous circumstances? Why did she say, Do not call me Naomi...why
do you call me Naomi... the ETERNAL has borne witness against me... God has
made things bad for me. These all appear to be redundant! Why does verse 22
repeat, Naomi returned... which is unnecessary here?
20. Do not call me Naomi [pleasantness}. By
way of analogy, a man who possessed wealth as great as that of Achashverosh and lost everything except for 1000 golden
coins cannot be described as a "poor person" unless we refer to his
previous fortune. If one had not known of his former prosperity, the man who
has 1000 golden coins would be considered a" rich man". However, if
even such a wealthy man were to lose all his assets to the point where he could
not afford bread and water, it would be unnecessary to mention his
previous affluence in order to call him a "poor man". When the
inhabitants of the city saw Naomi and her daughter-in-law walking (not on
horseback or in a carriage) without anyone to serve them or wait on them, they
knew that she had lost her great wealth. However, they assumed that she still
had a reserve of gold and jewelry that would make even the common man feel
"fortunate". As such they exclaimed that the source of their tumult
and astonishment was, Is this Naomi?, referring to her former affluence
and stature, .relative to which she now appeared lacking.
answered them. She informed them that it was unnecessary to mention her
previous name, Naomi ("pleasantness"), in order to call her Mara
("bitterness") [which would imply that her present state of
poverty was only relative to her previous wealth], for she had lost everything
(behold, Ruth had to go collecting grain for food) and could therefore be
called Mara without any allusion to the name Naomi: Do
not call me Naomi! Call me Mara, for the All-sufficing God had made things
very bitter for me. Even though...
21. I left full [of possessions], and the
ETERNAL brought me back empty-handed. I have nothing! So you can call me Mara,
pauper, and beggar without making reference to my name Naomi which I
was called during the time of my success and fame. Naomi now added a new
insight to her predicament and claimed that the name Naomi was never applicable
-Why do you call me Naomi? That itself is an untruth. We have explained
that there are times when, before God wants to mete out a very severe
punishment, He first advances the individual to the apex of financial success
and fame. Consequently, if God brings him down from there to abject poverty,
the individual will feel the pain and grief more intensely and his downfall
will be greater. As we find in Iyov (20:6,7): If he will raise his
height to the Heaven...like his own excrement will he be destroyed... and
in Ovadiah (1:4): "If he
[Esav] will rise like an eagle and among the stars will make his nest, from
there I will bring you down, " declares God. Likewise, Naomi
sensed that her former success and prominence was a pretext to the augmenting
of her downfall and impoverishment. If her former greatness was merely a
warning that she needed to return to God, and He had elevated her for the
purpose of enhancing her calamity [if she would not take heed], she maintained
that the name Naomi which she had at that time was unjustified. For her glory
was indeed very bitter -" an upward movement for the sake of her
downfall." This is what Naomi meant when she said, I
left full... in order that the ETERNAL brought me back empty-handed. If
so, my original wealth merely increases my present pain and grief. And, if so, Why
do you call me Naomi? Even when you formerly called me Naomi it was
inappropriate for the ETERNAL has borne witness against me: my earlier
accomplishments were His way of warning me to improve my deeds and avoid being
cast down from the pinnacle of my success. And so it was, that by my success, the
All-sufficing God had made things bad for me: My anguish and ruin have been
intensified by the very nature of my former self.
Ruth Rabbah (3:6) says, "Is this Naomi? In the past she would
go with fancy shoes, but now she is barefoot. In the past she would wear
clothes of fine linen, but now she is dressed in rags. Is this Naomi? And
she said to them, Do not call me Naomi! Call me Mara...[this corresponds
to Naomi's claim that any mention of her past was superfluous]. Bar Kapara
compared this situation to a cow put on display by its owners, who declared
that it was a plowing cow. People said, "If it is a plowing cow, where are
the marks (literally: wounds) of the yoke?" So, too, Why do you call me
Naomi, when the ETERNAL has borne
witness against me... [this
corresponds to Naomi's insistence that even her formerly being called Naomi was
inappropriate since it was ultimately to result in suffering and poverty].
(19) The two of them went until they arrived in Bethlehem. And [it
happened) when they arrived in Bethlehem,
the whole city was in uproar about them and they [the women) said, Could this
(20) She replied to them, Do not call me Naomi
[i.e., pleasant) but Morah [i.e., bitter), for the Almighty has dealt very
bitterly with me.
(21) 1 left full but God has returned me
empty-handed: why should you call me Naomi since God has testified against me
and has dealt very bitterly with me?
verse 19 the obvious difficulty is the word ovh,a, two of
them. Why couldnt the prophet write simply, They went? Besides, the word
has a masculine ending; the correct word is ivh,a.
later in the verse, we find the feminine form, ivhkg about them.
difficult is the repetitious formulation of the verse. First we read that they
went to Bethlehem
and then we are further informed that they arrived there. The clause And [it
happened] when they arrived in Bethlehem
could be omitted from the text entirely!
was the town in such an uproar? Were they surprised to see Ruth with Naomi?
They didnt even know who she was!
20 and 21 discuss what Naomis name should or should not have been. How is all
this relevant to us? It is not the way of the Scriptures to repeat the gossip
of local women! Moreover, Naomi repeats that God has dealt bitterly with her.
She bemoans the fact that she left Judah pregnant and returned
empty-handed (cf. Ruth Rabbah 3:7), even though she was stricken by even
greater misfortunes. She lost two grown sons as well as her husband.
final difficulty we have to contend with is an apparent contradiction. In verse
20, Naomi asks the women not to call her Naomi, while in verse 21 her
language is much stronger, as if she were remonstrating against them: What
right do you have to call me Naomi?
A Measure of Their Greatness
clear look at these verses will reveal Naomis and Ruths courage and
enthusiasm in leaving Moab
and how God reciprocated by doing great wonders for them.
embarking on their journey, they did not seek the company of other
people as normal women would do in such circumstances in order to be safe from
attack. God dealt kindly with them and they came to no harm.
two of them went emphasizes that only the two of them traveled no one
else was in their company. This explains the masculine ending of ovh,a.
It indicates that they acted like men who are not afraid to travel alone.
When they arrived in Judah,
however, those who witnessed their arrival recognized them as the women they
were. Thus, the verse reverts to the feminine ivhkg about them. But
the town was in uproar over the fact that two women had traveled all the way
alone. In addition, they were a little surprised to see Naomi back in Judah.
further grammatical peculiarity in verse 19 is the extra v
in the words vbtuc (they arriued) and in vbtucf
(when they arrived). These words should be spelled vbtuc,, ituc
must be made clear that these women were treading an exceedingly
dangerous path. The Talmud (Sotah 42b) relates that Orpah had travelled a
distance of two thousand cubits in order to return to the city, but during that
short time had been repeatedly assaulted until she was beaten like a bruised
corn. Naomi and Ruth had to travel for several days, and it is quite likely
that, as a precaution, they wore mens clothes for the duration of their
journey. This, too, would explain why the word ovh,a has a
masculine ending. Once they reached Bethlehem
they no longer had a need for the clothes and discarded them. Thus, all the
inhabitants saw them dressed as women. The two words vbtuc and vbtucf
each have an extra v, which, when added together, have a numerical
value of ten. This indicates that the two women who left Moab and who were referred to as ovh,a
were now, on their arrival in Bethlehem,
once again ivh,a, for the numerical value of ivh,a
(765) is ten greater than the value of ovh,a (755),as n=40
wonder that the city was in an uproar. They saw two attractive women, arriving
from a faraway place completely on their own, who had survived unharmed.
Naomi Acknowledges Her Guilt
Sages comment (Ruth Rabbah 3:6): Is this Naomi? She has such pleasant ways
but has suffered such great misfortune.
to the Midrash, her address to the people in Bethlehem sounded like this: You
must all be wondering how I, Naomi, who was so named because my ways
are pleasant, should be left now bereft of my husband and sons. You will
no doubt assume that I am indeed righteous and fit to be called
Naomi, and that my troubles have befallen me on account of my husband
and sons who perished because of their sins.
of her piety, she acknowledges Gods judgment and the fact that she is
wholly undeserving. She continues: Dont
call me Naomi as if my ways are pleasant, for the Almighty has made me very
bitter. It is my fault that these troubles
have befallen me, as I do not suspect the Holy One of punishing without
justice (cf. Talmud Berachoth 5b). Proof of this can be seen in my
history. I left here pregnant. If I was indeed meritorious, though my good
deeds may not have been enough to save my husband and sons, surely they
would at least have been enough to save my unborn child, who could not have
been held guilty for leaving Judah.
Yet, he died like my husband and older sons because of my guilt. There
is truly no reason for you to call me Naomi, for my deeds are not
may challenge me with the following: How can you deny it? We know you
are righteous and good-intentioned. How can you declare that God has judged you
for your sins? My reply to you
is: God has testified against me. He searches a mans inner thoughts.
While man has the ability to see only actions, God sees the thought
behind every deed. How is it that I survived and was not smitten along with my
family? For the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.
brings to mind the words in Genesis (43:14), And the Almighty
God shall grant you mercy. Jacob said: May the
Who said to His World (after creation) Enough,*
say to my troubles, Cease, thats enough! (Rashi ad bc., Midrash Tanchuma
ad bc.; Zohar, Volume 3,251b.)
voices a similar notion here. By using Gods name, hsa, which
contains the word hs (enough), she indicates that God
called a halt to the suffering which was afflicting her, since he did
not kill her along with her husband and children.