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L3k#nh1kt Ah±!t7v o±2Aşu c
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And it came to pass
And it came to pass,
in the days of
and it came to pass
that there was
in the land
ejn th'/ gh'/
in the land
in the fields
in the land
and his wife
kai; hJ gunh; aujto
and his wife
u' kai; oi
And the name
of the man
and the name
th'/ gunaiki; aujtou'
of his wife
kai; o[noma toi'"
and the names of
two his sons
his two sons
and they came
and they went
fields of Moab
eij" ajgro;n Mwab
into the land of Moab
and stayed there
kai; h\san ejkei
and stayed there.
1:1 Now it came to pass in the days when the judges
ruled, there was a famine in the land. And a certain man from Beth-lehem of Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab,
he and his wife and his two sons.
1:2 And the name of the man was Elimeleck, and the
name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons Malion and Calion,
Ephrathites from Beth-lehem of Judah.
And they came to the land
of Moab to sojourn there.
1:1 And it happened in the days when the judges
judged, that there was a famine in the land, and a man went from Beth-lehem in
Judah to sojourn in the fields of Moab, he, his wife, and his two sons.
1:2 The name of the man was Elimelech, the name
of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites
of Beth-lehem in Judah.
They came to the field of Moab
and there they remained.
1:2 Now it came to pass in
the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a
certain man of Beth-lehem-Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and
his wife, and his two sons.
1:2 And the name of the man
[was] Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons
Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Beth-lehem-Judah. And they came into the
country of Moab,
and continued there.
It happened in the days of the judge of judges (Ibzan - judge par excellence)
that there was a severe famine in the land of Israel.
Ten severe famines (cf. Targum Shir Ha-Shirim 1:1 has a list of ten songs, and
Targum Esther II 1:1 a list of ten kings) were ordained by Heaven to be in the
world, from the day that the world was created until the time that the king
Messiah should come, by which to reprove the inhabitants of the earth. The
first famine was in the days of Adam, the second famine was in the days of
Lamech, the third famine was in the days of Avraham. The fourth famine was in
the days of Isaac, the fifth famine was in the days of Jacob, the sixth famine
was in the days of Boaz, who is called Ibzan the Righteous (cf. Baba Bathra
91a, Judges 12:8,10), who was from Bethlehem, Judah. The seventh famine was in
the days of David, King of Israel, the eighth famine was in the days of Elijah
the prophet, the ninth famine was in the days of Elisha in Samaria. The tenth famine is to be in the
future, not a famine of eating bread, nor a drought of drinking water, but of
hearing the word of prophecy from before the L-rd (Amos 8:11). And when that
famine was severe in the land of Israel, a great man went out from Bethlehem
Judah, and went to live in
the country of Moab,
he and his wife and his two sons.
The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife was Naomi, and the
names of his two sons were Machlon and Kilion, Ephrathites, noblemen, of Beth
Lehem of Judah;
and they came unto the field of Moav, and there they were military tribunes.
And it came to pass in the days when the judges judged. (This period was) before the reign of
King Saul, for the generations were then administered by judges. And in the days
of (the judge) Ibzan it (i.e., the episode of Ruth) occurred, for our Rabbis
said (Baba Bathra 91a), “Ibzan is Boaz” (cf., Ruth 2:1),
And a (certain) man went (aht denotes that) he was
a very wealthy man and the leader of the generation. And he went forth from the
land of Israel abroad (lit., to outside the
land) because of niggardliness (lit., narrowness of the eye) for he was miserly
towards the poor who would come to press him (during the famine); therefore, he
1:2 Ephrathites (oh,rpa denotes)
important people, and similarly (1 Samuel 1:1), “the son of Tohu the son of
Zuph, an Ephrathite” – an aristocrat. See their importance, for Eglon, the king
gave his daughter in marriage to Mahlon, as the Master said (Sanhedrin 105b),
“Ruth was the daughter of Eglon.” Another interpretation of oh,rpt
(is hailing from Bethlehem, since) Bethlehem is called
Yevamoth 77a Rava expounded (Ibid, 8): “Then I said:
‘Behold, I have come in the scroll of the book written about me’” – David said:
“I said I have come now [into royalty], but I did not know that it [my
ascension to royalty] had already been written of [i.e., foreshadowed] in the
scroll of the book [the Torah].” There [in respect to the daughters of Lot (the mothers of Amon and Moav)], it is written
(Beresheet 19:15): “who are found” [(ultimately, for the purpose of making
David, the descendant of Ruth the Moavitess, king)]; with My holy oil have I
Nazir 23b R. Hiyya b. Abba, citing R. Johanan. said:
How do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, does not withhold the reward
even for a decorous expression? The elder daughter [of Lot]
called her son Moav and so the All-Merciful One said [to Moses]: Be not at
enmity with Moav, neither contend with them in battle. Only war was forbidden,
but they might be harassed. The younger daughter, on the other hand, called
[her son's] name Ben-Ammi and so it says, Harass them not, nor contend with
them. They were not to be harassed at all.
Yevamoth 76b – 77a MISHNAH. AN AMMONITE
AND A MOAVITE ARE FORBIDDEN AND THEIR PROHIBITION IS FOR EVER , THEIR WOMEN,
HOWEVER, ARE PERMITTED AT ONCE. AN EGYPTIAN AND AN EDOMITE ARE FORBIDDEN ONLY
UNTIL THE THIRD GENERATION. WHETHER THEY ARE MALES OR FEMALES. R. SIMEON,
HOWEVER, PERMITS THEIR WOMEN FORTHWITH. SAID R. SIMEON: THIS LAW MIGHT BE
INFERRED A MINORI AD MAJUS: IF WHERE THE MALES ARE FORBIDDEN FOR ALL TIME THE
FEMALES ARE PERMITTED FORTHWITH, HOW MUCH MORE SHOULD THE FEMALES BE PERMITTED
FORTHWITH WHERE THE MALES ARE FORBIDDEN UNTIL THE THIRD GENERATION ONLY. THEY
REPLIED: IF THIS IS AN HALACHAH, WE SHALL ACCEPT IT; BUT IF IT IS ONLY AN
INFERENCE, AN OBJECTION CAN BE POINTED OUT. HE REPLIED: NOT SO. [BUT IN FACT]
IT IS AN HALACHAH THAT I AM REPORTING.
Whence are these laws inferred? — R. Johanan replied: Scripture stated, And
when Sail saw David go forth against the Philistine, he said into Abner, the
captain of the host: ‘Abner, whose son is this youth’? And Abner said: ‘As thy
soul liveth, O King, I cannot tell’. But did he not know him? Surely it is
written, And he loved him greatly; and he became his armour bearer! — He rather
made the inquiry concerning his father. But did he not know his father? Surely
it is written, And the man was an old man in the days of Saul, stricken in
years among them; and Rab or, it might be said, R. Abba, stated that this
referred to the father of David, Jesse. who came in with an army and went out
with an army! — It is this that Saul meant: Whether he descended from Perez, or
from Zerah. If he descended from Perez he would be king, for a king breaks for
himself a way and no one can hinder him. If, however, he is descended from
Zerah he would only be an important man. What is the reason why he gave
instructions that enquiry be made concerning him? — Because it is written, And
Saul clad David with his apparel. being of the same size as his, and about Saul
it is written, From his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the
people. Doeg the Edomite then said to him, ‘Instead of enquiring whether he is
fit to be king or not, enquire rather whether he is permitted to enter the
assembly or not’! ‘What is the reason’? ‘Because he is descended from Ruth the
Moavitess’. Said Abner to him, ‘We learned: An Ammonite, but not an Ammonitess;
A Moavite, but not a Moavitess! But in that case a bastard would’ imply: But
not a female bastard?’ — ‘It is written mamzer [Which implies] anyone
objectionable’. ‘Does then Egyptian exclude the Egyptian woman’? — ‘Here it is
different, since the reason for the Scriptural text is explicitly stated:
Because they met you not with bread and with water; it is customary for a man
to meet [wayfarers]; It is not, however, customary for a woman to meet [them]’.
men should have met the men and the women the women!’
remained silent, Thereupon. the King said.’ ‘Inquire thou whose son the
stripling is’. Elsewhere he calls him youth; and here he calls him, stripling!
— It is this that he implied, ‘You have overlooked an halachah,’ go and enquire
at the college!’ On enquiry, he was told: An Ammonite, but not an Ammonitess; A
Moavite, but not a Moavitess.
however, Doeg submitted to them all those objections and they eventually
remained silent, he desired to make a public announcement against him.
Presently [an incident occurred]: Now Amasa was the son of a man, whose name
was Ithna the Israelite, that went in to Abigal the daughter of Nahash, but
elsewhere it is written, Jether the Ishmaelite! This teaches, Raba explained,
that he girded on his sword like an Ishmaelite and exclaimed, ‘Whosoever will
not obey the following halachah will be stabbed with the sword; I have this
tradition from the Beth din of Samuel the Ramathite: An Ammonite but not an
Ammonitess; A Moavite, but not a Moavitess’! Could he, however, be trusted?
Surely R. Abba stated in the name of Rab: Whenever a learned man gives
directions on a point of law, and such a point comes up [for a practical
decision], he is obeyed if his statement was made before the event; but if it
was not so made he is not obeyed! Here the case was different, since Samuel and
his Beth din were still living.
difficulty, however, still remains! — The following interpretation was given:
All glorious is the king's daughter within. In the West it was explained.
others quote it in the name of R. Isaac: Scripture said, And they said unto
him: ‘Where is Sarah thy wife?’ etc.
question is a matter in dispute between Tannaim: An Ammonite, but not an
Ammonitess; A Moavite, but not a Moavitess. So R. Judah. R. Simeon, however,
said: Because they met you not with bread and with water; it is customary for a
man to meet etc.
made the following exposition: What was meant by, Thou hast loosed my bonds!
David said to the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘O Master of the world! Two bonds
were fastened on me, and you loosed them: Ruth the Moavitess and Naamah the
made the following exposition: What was meant by the Scriptural text, Many
things hast Thou done, O Lord my God, even Thy wondrous works, and Thy thoughts
toward us? It is not written, ‘toward me’, but toward us. This teaches that
Rehoboam sat on the lap of David when the latter said to him. ‘Those two
Scriptural verses were said concerning me and you.’
Megillah 10b R. Levi, or some say R. Jonathan
said: The following remark is a tradition handed down to us from the Men of the
Great Assembly: wherever in the Scripture we find the term wa-yehi[and it was,
and it came to pass], it indicates [the approach of] trouble. Thus, and it came
to pass in the days of Ahasuerus — there was Haman. And it came to pass in the
days when the Judges judged — ‘there was a famine’.
Sanhedrin 3b Whence do we deduce that
three are needed [for the composition of a court]? — From what our Rabbis
taught: ‘It is written: The master of the house shall come near unto the judge.
here you have one; and again: the cause of both parties shall come before the
judge, here you have two; and again: whom the judge shall condemn, so you have
Baba Bathra 15b R. Johanan further said: What is the import
of the words, And it came to pass in the days of the judging of the judges? It
was a generation which judged its judges. If the judge said to a man, ‘Take the
splinter from between your teeth,’ he would retort, ‘Take the beam from between
your eyes.’ If the judge said, ‘Your silver is dross,’ he would retort, ‘Your
liquor is mixed with water.’
Baba Bathra 91a And so said R. Simeon
b. Yohai: Elimelech, Machlon and Chilion were [of the] great men of their
generation, and they were [also] leaders of their generation. Why, then, were
they punished? Because they left Palestine
for a foreign country; for it is written , And all the city was astir
concerning them, and the women said: ‘Is this Naomi?’ What [is meant by] ‘Is
this Naomi?’ — R. Isaac said: They said, ‘Did you see what befell Naomi who
for a foreign country?’
Baba Bathra 91b [Why] has it been written, Machlon and Chilion
[Ruth 1:2], and Joash and Saraph [I Chronicles 4: 22] in another? — Rab and
Samuel [explained]. One said: Their names were Machlon and Chilion, but they
were called Joash and Saraph [for this reason]: Joash (‘To give up hope’),
because they lost hope in the [messianic] redemption [of Israel;] [and] Saraph (‘To burn’),
because they were condemned by the Omnipresent to be burned. And the other
says: Their names were Joash and Saraph, but they were called Machlon and
Chilion [for this reason]: Machlon (‘Profane’), because they profaned their
bodies; and Chilion (‘Destruction’), because they were condemned by the
Omnipresent to destruction.
We also need to quote here the
Talmudic Law that a woman is not forced to move residence even if her husband
wants her to.
110b MISHNAH. [THE FOLLOWING REGIONS ARE REGARDED AS] THREE
COUNTRIES IN RESPECT OF MATRIMONY: JUDAEA, TRANSJORDAN AND GALILEE.
[A MAN] MAY NOT TAKE OUT [HIS WIFE WITH HIM]66 FROM ONE
TOWN TO ANOTHER OR FROM ONE CITY
TO AN OTHER. WITHIN THE SAME COUNTRY, HOWEVER, HE MAY TAKE HER OUT WITH HIM
FROM ONE TOWN
INTO ANOTHER OR FROM ONE
CITY INTO AN OTHER BUT
NOT FROM A TOWN TO A CITY NOR FROM A CITY TO A TOWN. [A MAN] MAY TAKE OUT [HIS
WIFE WITH HIM] FROM AN INFERIOR TO A SUPERIOR DWELLING, BUT NOT FROM A SUPERIOR TO AN INFERIOR
DWELLING. R. SIMEON B. GAMALIEL RULED: NOT EVEN FROM AN INFERIOR DWELLING TO A
SUPERIOR DWELLING, BECAUSE THE [CHANGE TO A] SUPERIOR
DWELLING PUTS [THE HUMAN BODY] TO A [SEVERE] TEST.
One may readily grant [the justice of the ruling that a wife may not be
compelled to move] FROM A CITY TO A TOWN, since everything [necessary] is
obtainable in a city while not everything is obtainable in a town. On what
grounds, however, [can she not be compelled to move] FROM A TOWN TO A CITY? —
[This ruling] provides support for R. Jose b. Hanina who stated, ‘Whence is it deduced
that city5 life is difficult? [From Scripture] where it is said, And the people
blessed all men that willingly offered themselves to dwell in Jerusalem.
[A MAN] MAY COMPEL ALL [HIS HOUSEHOLD] TO GO UP [WITH HIM] TO THE LAND OF ISRAEL., BUT NONE MAY BE COMPELLED TO
LEAVE IT. ALL [ONE'S HOUSEHOLD] MAY BE COMPELLED TO GO UP TO JERUSALEM, BUT NONE MAY BE COMPELLED TO LEAVE
IT. [THIS APPLIES TO] BOTH MEN AND WOMEN. IF A MAN MARRIED A WOMAN IN THE LAND OF ISRAEL
AND DIVORCED HER IN THE LAND OF ISRAEL, HE MUST PAY HER [HER KETHUBAH] IN THE
CURRENCY OF THE LAND
OF ISRAEL. IF HE MARRIED
A WOMAN IN THE LAND OF ISRAEL AND DIVORCED HER IN CAPPADOCIA HE MUST PAY HER
[HER KETHUBAH] IN THE CURRENCY OF THE LAND OF ISRAEL.
IF HE MARRIED A WOMAN IN CAPPADOCIA AND DIVORCED HER IN THE LAND OF ISRAEL,
HE MUST A GAIN PAY [HER KETHUBAH] IN THE CURRENCY OF THE LAND OF ISRAEL.
R. SIMEON B. GAMALIEL, HOWEVER, RULED THAT HE MUST PAY HER IN THE CAPPADOCIAN
GEMARA. What [was the expression,] ‘MAY
COMPEL ALL’ intended to include? — To include slaves. What, however, [was the
expression intended] to include according to him who specifically mentioned
‘slaves’ [in our Mishnah]? — To include [removal] from a superior dwelling to
an inferior one. What [was the expression,] ‘BUT NONE MAY BE COMPELLED TO LEAVE
IT’ intended to include? — To include a slave who fled from outside the Land
[of Israel] into the Land in
which case his master is told, ‘Sell him here, and go’, in order to [encourage]
settlement in the Land
of Israel. What [was the
expression] ‘ALL . . . MAY BE COMPELLED TO GO UP TO JERUSALEM’ intended to
include? — To include [removal] from a superior dwelling to an inferior one.
What [was the expression,] ‘BUT NONE MAY BE COMPELLED TO LEAVE IT’ intended to
include? — To include even [removal] from an inferior dwelling to a superior
one; only since as it was stated in the earlier clause, ‘NONE MAY BE COMPELLED
TO LEAVE IT it was also stated in the latter clause, ‘NONE MAY BE COMPELLED TO
Rabbis taught: If [the husband] desires to go up and his wife refuses she must
be pressed to go up; and if [she does] not [consent] she may be divorced
without a kethubah. If she desires to go up and be refuses, he must be pressed
to go up; and if [he does] not [consent] he must divorce her and pay her
kethubah. If she desires to leave and he refuses to leave, she must be pressed
not to leave, and if [pressure is of] no [avail] she may be divorced without a
kethubah. If he desires to leave and she refuses he must be pressed not to
leave, and if [coercion is of] no [avail] he must divorce her and pay her
Rabbis taught: One should always live in the Land of Israel, even in a town
most of whose inhabitants are idolaters, but let no one live outside the Land,
even in a town most of whose inhabitants are Israelites; for whoever lives in
the Land of Israel may be considered to have a God, but whoever lives outside
the Land may be regarded as one who has no God. For it is said in Scripture, To
give you the Land
of Canaan, to be your
God. Has he, then, who does not live in the Land, no God? But [this is what the
text intended] to tell you, that whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded
as one who worships idols. Similarly it was said in Scripture in [the story of]
David, For they have driven me out this day that I should not cleave to the
inheritance of the Lord, saying: Go, serve other gods. Now, whoever said to
David, ‘Serve other gods’? But [the text intended] to tell you that whoever
lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who worships idols.
The Wife's Rights
SUSTENANCE CLOTHING AND LODGING
includes the right to household utensils and furniture and to a home of a
reasonable standard in accordance with local custom (Yad, Ishut 13:3, 6; Sh.
Ar., EH 73:1, 7). The scope of this right is governed by the rules
pertaining to the law of maintenance, since, for the purpose of the legal
rights of the wife, the concept of maintenance—in its wider meaning—embraces
also the above-mentioned right (Tur, EH 73). By the same token the wife loses
her right to claim raiment from her husband whenever she forfeits her right to
maintenance (Rema, EH 69:4).
place of residence (town or village) is determined by the husband, since it is
presumed that they so agreed in advance and the wife cannot object to her
husband changing their residence unless there was an agreement, express or
implied, that they would not move to another place without her consent (Sh.
Ar., EH 75:1; PDR 2:233, 3:161, 163, 5:20, 22, 57). However, the
husband must have reasonable grounds for deciding on a change against the will
of his wife, e.g., for reasons of health, or his livelihood, or the fact that
the matrimonial peace at their existing home is disturbed by his or her
relatives (Resp. Ribash nos. 81, 88; PDR 1:271, 274–5; 2:233, 237; 5:36,
54, 57). The wife is not obliged to agree to a change of residence if this
should be detrimental to her position, e.g., because her relationship with her
husband is such that she has reasonable grounds for her reluctance to move
beyond the proximity of her relatives, or because the new home will be inferior
to the old home, or if she can justify her refusal on the grounds that she does
not wish to move from a town to a village or vice versa (Sh. Ar., EH 75:2; PDR
1, 2, loc. cit. 3:161, 163).
rules do not apply in their entirety to Erez Israel vis-B-vis
other countries, nor to Jerusalem vis-B-vis other places in Erez Israel. In such cases the rule is
that a spouse who genuinely prefers as his place of residence Erez Israel
to any other country, or Jerusalem to any other
place in Erez Israel, need not bow to the wishes
of the other spouse. In effect, therefore, the law favors the party genuinely
seeking to settle in Erez Israel
or Jerusalem, or refusing to depart therefrom, even if, for example, this
should entail the loss of better economic opportunities elsewhere, unless there
is reason to fear that in Erez
Israel or in Jerusalem they might become in need of charity (Sh. Ar., EH
75:3, 4; Pithei
Teshuvah, ibid., 6; PDR, 5:20, 36, 66). However, if settling in Israel involves
any danger for the parties, neither spouse may compel the other to do so (Tos.
to Ket. 110b, s.v. "hu Omer la'alot: Sh. Ar., EH
75:5; for a contrary opinion, cf Tur, EH 75; see also PDR 5:20).
husband likewise determines the place of the dwelling—within the town or
village, but each of the parties must comply with the other's request to move
to another dwelling and cannot refuse to do so on the ground that he or she is
not particular about the matters complained of by the other spouse, provided
only that the request is genuine and justified in the circumstances, e.g., on
the grounds that neighbors are habitually insulting, or that they are given to
prostitution, or to desecration of the Sabbath, and the like (Yad, Ishut 13:15;
Sh. Ar., EH 74:11–12). If the wife refuses, in defiance of these rules,
to accede to her husband's just demands concerning their place of residence,
she is liable to forfeit her right to maintenance since she is only entitled
thereto as long as she lives with him; moreover she is likely to be considered
a moredet (see below) and may eventually be obliged to accept a bill of
divorce (Sh. Ar., EH 75:4, PDR, 3:161, 163, 164; 5:20, 23–28; 6:5, 9).
Similarly, upon the husband's unreasonable refusal to accede to his wife's just
demand to continue living in Erez
Israel, he may be ordered to provide maintenance for her—even though they
live apart—and eventually to grant her a divorce with payment of her ketubbah;
and if necessary, she may also demand an injunction restraining him from going
abroad (PDR 5:20, 24, 29, 36, 57–59, 66).
Bereshit Rabbah 41:4 The Midrash
states: "R. Yitzhak says: I have found (Matza'ti) David my servant - where
did I find him? In Sodom"
Moav was conceived in Sodom, through Lot and his
eldest daughter, and Moav was the progenitor of Ruth, and Ruth was the
progenitor of King David, so we would say that King David began with Lot and
his daughters in Sodom.]
In here please quote (scan) the whole of Middrash Rabba from
p. 1-29 (Soncino Ed.)
Rabbah - Ruth I:1 AND IT CAME TO PASS, IN THE DAYS OF THE JUDGING OF THE
JUDGES Woe unto that generation which
judges its judges, and woe unto the generation whose judges are in need of
being judged! As it is said, And yet they hearkened not unto their judges
(Judges II, I7). Who were [the judges referred to?] Rab said: They were Barak
and Deborah; R. Joshua b. Levi said: They were Shamgar and Ehud; R. Huna said:
They were Deborah, Barak, and Jael. The word ’judge’ implies one, ’judges’
implies two, the judges’ three.
Rabbah - Ruth I:2 Rabbi [Judah
Ha-nasi] asked R. Bezalel: What is the meaning of the verse, For their mother
hath played the harlot (Hos. II, 7)? Is it conceivable that our matriarch Sarah
was a harlot? He answered: God forbid! But [the meaning is], when are the words
of the Torah despised by the common people? When those who are versed in the
Torah themselves despise it. R. Jacob b. Abdimi came and made an exposition of
it. When are the words of the Torah regarded as harlots by the ignorant? When
its own possessors despise it. R. Johanan deduced it from the following verse:
The poor man's wisdom is despised
(Ecclesiastes IX, 16). Was then the wisdom of R. Akiba, who was a poor
man, despised? What then is the meaning of ' a poor man ‘? One who is despised
on account of his own words. For instance, a sage sits and expounds, Thou shalt
not wrest judgment (Deuteronomy XVI,
19), and yet he wrests judgment; Thou shalt not respect persons (ib.), and yet
he is a respecter of persons. Neither shalt thou take a gift, and he accepts
bribes Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child (Exodus XXII, 21), and he does afflict them.
Samson followed the desire of his eyes, as it is said, Get her for me; for she
pleaseth me well (Judges XIV, 3). Gideon worshipped idols, as it is said, And
Gideon made an ephod thereof (ib. VIII, 27). There is no greater ‘poor man’
than this. Woe unto the judge who respects persons in judgment! R. Hiyya
taught: Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment (Leviticus XIX, I5). This
teaches that the judge who perverts justice is called by five names,
unrighteous, hated, repulsive, accursed, and an abomination. And the Holy One,
blessed be He, also calls him five [names], viz. evil, despiser, a breaker of
the covenant, an incenser, and a rebel against God. And he is the cause of five
evils to the world, in that he pollutes the land, profanes the name of God,
causes the Shechinah to depart, makes Israel fall by the sword, and is
the cause of their exile from their land. Woe unto the generation which is
corrupt in this respect! R. Hiyya taught: Ye shall do no unrighteousness in
judgment (ib. 35), that is, in law. But if it refers to law, this has already
been mentioned. If so, why is it stated: in judgment, in meteyard (ib.)? To
teach that a man who measures is called a judge, and if he falsifies [his
measures], he is called by these five names and is the cause of these five
evils. Woe unto the generation which has false measures; for R. Banya said in
the name of R. Huna: If thou hast seen a generation whose measures are false
the government comes and launches an attack against that generation. Whence do
we know? [Since it is written], A false balance is an abomination to the Lord,
which is followed by, When presumption cometh, then cometh shame (Proverbs XI,
I f.).7 R. Berekiah said in the name of R. Abba: It is written, Shall I be pure
with wicked balances (Micah VI, 11)? Is it possible for a generation whose
measures are false to be meritorious? l No! [For the verse continues] And with
a bag of deceitful weights. R. Levi said: Moses also hinted at this fact to Israel in the
Torah. [It is written] Thou shalt not have in thy bag diverse weights... thou
shalt not have in thy house diverse measures (Deuteronomy XXV, 13f.). But if
you do, the result will be that the government will come and attack you, as it
is written, For all that do such things, even all that do unrighteously, are an
abomination unto the Lord thy God, and there immediately follows Remember what
Amalek did unto thee by the way as ye came forth out of Egypt (ib. 16 f.).3
Rabbah - Ruth I:3 Rabba said: Blessings bless those who deserve them, and
curses curse those who deserve them. Blessings bless those who deserve them,
since it is written, A perfect and just weight there shall be; and if thou hast
acted so, there shall be to thee [i.e. thou shalt have]; curses curse those who
deserve them, as it is written, Thou shalt not have in thy bag diverse weights.
But if thou hast acted so, the Holy One, blessed be He, says: ‘Thou hast sought
to make both large and small. By thy life! That wicked man will not manage to
have even small,’ as it is written, ’ Thou shalt not have in thy bag.’
Similarly [with the verse] Ye shall not make with Me-gods of silver, or gods of
gold (Exodus XX, 20). The Holy One, blessed be He, said: ‘Thou hast sought to
make with Me gods of silver and gods of gold. By thy life! That wicked man will
not even manage to have gods of wood,’ as it goes on, Ye shall not make [aught]
THAT THERE WAS A FAMINE IN THE LAND. Ten famines have come upon the world. One
in the days of Adam, one in the days of Lamech, one in the days of Abraham, one
in the days of Isaac, one in the days of Jacob, one in the days of Elijah, one
in the days of Elisha, one in the days of David, one in the days when the
judges judged, and one which is destined still to come upon the world. One in
the days of Adam, as it is said, Cursed is the ground for thy sake (Genesis III, 17); one in the days of Lamech,
as it is said, From the ground which the Lord hath cursed (ib. V, 29); one in
the days of Abraham, as it is said, And there was a famine in the land; and
Abram went down into Egypt (ib. XII, 10); one in the days of Isaac, as it is
said, And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine (ib. XXVI,
1); one in the days of Jacob, as it is said, For these two years hath the
famine been in the land (ib. XLV, 6); one in the days of Elijah, as it is said,
There shall not be dew nor rain these years (I Kings XVII, 1); one in the days
of Elisha, as it is said, And there was a great famine in Samaria (II Kings VI,
25); one in the days of David, as it is said, And there was a famine in the
days of David three years (II Sam. XXI,
1); one in the days of the judges, as it is said, THERE WAS A FAMINE IN THE
LAND; and one which is destined to come to the world, as it is said, That I
will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord
(Amos VIII, 11). R. Huna said in the name of Samuel: The real famine
ought to have come in the days of Saul, and not in the days of David, but since
Saul was but the stump of a sycamore tree and would have been unable to
withstand it, the Holy One, blessed be He, deferred it and brought it in the
time of David who, since he was a scion of an olive tree, was able to withstand
it. As the proverb expresses it, ‘Shela hath sinned, but John must pay.’ So all
these [famines] did not come upon feeble people, but upon strong ones, who
could withstand them. R. Hiyya Rabbah said in the name of R. Simeon b. Eleazar:
It is as if a dealer in glassware has in his hand a basket of cut glass, and,
wanting to hang the basket up, he brings a peg and hammers it into the wall,
upon which he suspends the basket; so all these famines came, not upon
[spiritually] enfeebled men, but upon mighty men. R. Berekiah applied to them
the verse, He giveth power to the faint (Isaiah XL, 29). R. Berekiah said in
the name of R. Helbo: Two [famines] came in the days of Adam. R. Huna said in
the name of R. Aha: One in the days of Abraham, and one in the days of Lamech.
The famine which came in the days of Elijah was a famine of dearth, a year of
produce followed by a year of no produce, but the famine which came in the days
of Elisha was a famine due to war, as it is said, Until an ass's head was sold
for fourscore pieces of silver (II Kings VI, 25). Of the famine which came in
the days when the judges judged, however, R. Huna said in the name of R. Dosa
that instead of the normal produce of forty-two se'ahs, there were only
forty-one. But we have learnt: A man should not leave Palestine unless two se'ahs [of wheat] cost a
shekel? And Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel said: When is this? When even then it is
difficult to obtain, but if it is possible to obtain even one se'ah for a
shekel, a Jew should not leave Palestine?
But it has been taught: In time of pestilence and in time of war, gather in thy
feet, and in time of famine, spread out thy feet. Why then was Elimelech
punished? Because he struck despair into the hearts of Israel. He was like a prominent man
who dwelt in a certain country, and the people of that country depended upon
him and said that if a dearth should come he could supply the whole country
with food for ten years. When a dearth came, however, his maidservant went out
and stood in the market place with her basket in her hand. And the people of
the country said, ‘This is the man upon whom we depended that if a dearth
should come he would supply our wants for ten years, and here his maidservant
stands in the market-place with her basket in her hand!’ So with Elimelech! He
was one of the notables of his place and one of the leaders of his generation.
But when the famine came he said, ‘Now all Israel will come knocking at my
door [for help,] each one with his basket.’ He therefore arose and fled from
them. This is the meaning of the verse AND A CERTAIN MAN OF BETH-LEHEM IN JUDAH
Rabbah - Ruth I:5 AND A CERTAIN MAN... WENT-like a mere stump!3 See now how
the Holy One, blessed be He, favours the entry into Eretz Israel over the departure
therefrom! In the former case it is written, Their horses... their mules...
their camels, etc. (Ezra II, 66), but in this case it is written AND A CERTAIN
MAN WENT-like a mere stump. The reason is that in the latter case, since they
were leaving the country for another land, Scripture makes no mention of their
property, [but states simply] AND A CERTAIN MAN WENT--as though empty-handed.
TO SOJOURN IN THE FIELDS OF MOAB
(I, 1). R. Levi said: Whenever the word ‘field’ occurs, it refers to the city;
the word ‘city’ refers to the province. Where ' province ' occurs, it refers to
the whole administrative district. The word ‘field’ refers to the city, [as it
is said] Get thee to Anathoth, unto thine own fields (I Kings II, 26). ‘City’ means ‘province’,
[as in the verse] Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem (Ezek. IX, 4). ‘Province’ means
administrative district, [as in the verse] Over a hundred and seven and twenty
provinces (Est. I,1) HE AND HIS WIFE AND HIS TWO SONS. He was the prime mover,
and his wife secondary to him, and his two sons secondary to both of them.
Rabbah - Ruth II:1 R. Simon said in the name of R. Joshua b. Levi, and R.
Hama, the father of R. Hosea, in the name of Rabbi: The book of Chronicles was
given only for purposes of [Midrashic] interpretation. [For instance] that which
is written, The sons of Shelah, the son of Judah: Er the father of Lecah, and
Ladah the father of Mareshah, and the families of the house of them that
wrought fine linen, of the house of Ashbea; and Jokim, and the men of Coseba,
and Joash, and Saraph, who had dominion in Moab, and Jashubi-lehem. And the
records are ancient. These were the potters, and those that dwelt among
plantations and hedges; there they dwelt, occupied in the king's work (I Chron.
IV, 2I-3). ’ The father of Lecah’ means the Ab Beth Din of Lecah; ’ the father
of Mareshah’ means the Ab Beth Din of Mareshah.’ And the families of the house
of them that wrought fine linen,’ refers to Rahab the harlot who concealed the
spies in flax, as it is said, And she hid them with the stalks of flax (Josh.
II 6). R. Judah b. Simon said: Her occupation was with perfumes. ’Of the house
of Ashbea,’ since the spies swore to her, as it is said, Now therefore, I pray
you, swear unto me by the Lord (Josh. II. 12). ’And Jokim,’ since they kept
their oath, as it is said, And the young men the spies went in, and brought out
Rahab, etc. (Josh. Vl, 23). And what is the meaning of the words, And all her
families also they brought out (ib.)? R. Simeon b. Yohai taught: That even if
her family consisted of two hundred individuals, and they attached themselves
to two hundred other families, all were delivered by her merit, since it does
not say ‘all her family’, but ’all her families’. ‘And the men of Cozeba,’
since she deceived (kozebah) the king of Jericho,
as it is said, Yea, the men came unto me
(Josh. II, 4). ’And Joash,’ since she despaired (nith-ya'ashah) of her
life: ’ And Saraph,’ in that she was prepared to be burnt (saraph) to death. ’
Who had dominion in Moab,’
for she came and attached herself to Israel, and her deeds went up to
her Father in Heaven. ’And Jashubi-lehem,’ in that she clove to Israel
who accepted the Torah in which it is written, Fight (lahmu) against them that
fight against me--lahami (Psalm XXXV, 1). ’And the records are ancient’: R.
Aibo and R. Judah b. Simon said: The meaning of these words is cryptic here,
but they are explained elsewhere. ’ These were the potters.’ These were the
spies, as it is said, And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two spies
secretly (heresh), saying (Josh. II, 1). R. Judah and R. Nehemiah: One said
they had carpenters’ tools in their hands, [since it says] ‘spies, saying:
" [we are] carpenters"’ (harash). R. Nehemiah said: They had
earthenware vessels in their hands, pretending to be potters, [since it says],
’saying, " we are potters " (heres).’ R. Simeon b. Yohai taught: The
word ’ heresh’ is to be taken literally. Joshua said to them, ' Make yourselves
as mutes and you will discover their secrets.’ R. Simeon b. Eleazar said: By
pretending to be mutes, you will find out all about their affairs. ’ And those
that dwelt among plantations’, means that they were experts with plants, as it
is said, And they cut down from thence a branch
(Numbers XIII, 23). ’ And hedges,’ since she hid them behind a hedge and
said to them, Go up into the mountain (ib. 17). Some say that the meaning is
that the Divine Spirit rested upon her, before Israel entered the land. For how
did she know that [the pursuers] would return in three days? Hence [we must say
that] the Divine Spirit [of prophecy] rested upon her. There they dwelt,
‘occupied in the king's work.’ It was on the strength of this verse that they
said: Ten priests who were also prophets descended from Rahab the harlot,
[viz.] Jeremiah, Hilkiah, Seraiah, Mahasyah, Hanameel, Shallum, Baruch, Neriah,
Ezekiel, and Buzzi; while some add that Huldah the prophetess was also a
descendant of Rahab the harlot.
Rabbah - Ruth II:2 R. Samuel b. Nahmani interpreted this passage to refer
to David: ’ The sons of Shelah the son of Judah: Er the father of Lecah,’
i.e. the Ab Beth Din of Lecah; ’And Ladah the father of Mareshah,’ i.e. the Ab
Beth Din of Mareshah. ' And the families of the house of them that wrought fine
linen,’ refers to David who busied himself with the curtain [of the Ark]. That is the
meaning of the verse, And Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim the Bethlehemite slew
Goliath (II Sam. XXI, I9). [He was called] Elhanan since the Holy One, blessed
be He, was gracious (el hanan) to him. ' The son of Jaare,’ the son who grew up
in the forest (ja'ar). ' Oregim,’ since he wove (oreg) the curtain. Another
interpretation of ’oregim’ is that they brought him the law, and he wove it.
Another interpretation is that it refers to the Sanhedrin who wove with him the
words of the Torah. Of the house of Ashbea,’ since the Holy One, blessed be He,
swore to him, as it is said, I have made a covenant with My chosen (Psalm
LXXXIX, 4). ‘And Jakim,’since he kept that oath, as it is said, The Lord swore
unto David in truth; He will not turn back from it (ib. CXXXII, II). ’And the
men of Cozeba.’ R. ‘Azariah and R. Jonathan and R. Isaac b. Meryon (some say R.
Jose b. Hanina) said: The main part of the Sanhedrin came from the tribe of Judah. What is
the proof? The verse, His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with
milk (Genesis XLIX, I2). [This refers to the Sanhedrin who] arranged the
halachah with their teeth, and caused it to emerge pure as milk. ’And Joash,’
in that he despaired of life, [as it is said] Let Thy hand, I pray thee, O
Lord, be against me (I Chronicles XXI,
17). ‘And Saraph,’ since he made mention of the deeds of those that were
willing to be burnt [saying], O Lord, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel,
our fathers (I Chronicles XXIX, 18).
’Who had dominion in Moab,’
in that he was descended from Ruth the Moabitess. ’And Jashubi-lehem,’ since he
came from Beth-lehem in Judah.
‘And the records are ancient.’ R. Aibo said: This refers to David and Solomon
who combined before the Holy One, blessed be He, in the building of the Temple. R. Judah b. Simon
said: It refers to Benaiah the son of Jehoiada who devoted his efforts with
King Solomon to the erection of the Temple.
R. Judah said: It refers to Jehoiada the High Priest who was engaged with Joash
in the repair of the Temple.
R. Nehemiah said: It refers to Jeremiah and Ezekiel who prayed before the Holy
One, blessed be He, not to destroy the Temple.
’These were the potters’ refers to Ruth and Boaz. ’And those that dwelt among
plantations’ refers to Solomon who was like a plant in his kingship. ’And
hedges’: these are the Sanhedrin who with him made a hedge round the words of
the Torah. ' There they dwelt, occupied in the king's work.’ On the strength of
this verse they said that Ruth the Moabitess did not die until she saw her
descendant Solomon sitting and judging the case of the harlots. That is the
meaning of the verse, And caused a throne to be set for the king's mother, i.e.
Bath Sheba, And she sat at his right
hand (I Kings II, 19), referring to Ruth the Moabitess.
Rabbah - Ruth II:3. R. Menahem b. Abin interpreted the verse to refer to
Moses. ’And Jokim,’ in reference to Rise up, (kumah) O Lord, and let Thine
enemies be scattered (Numbers X, 35).
’And the men of Cozeba,’ since he made the word of the Holy One, blessed be He,
to appear like a lie, as it is said, Lord, why doth Thy wrath wax hot against
Thy people? (Exodus XXXII, 11). ‘Joash,’
in that he despaired of his life, as it is said, And if not, blot me, I pray
Thee, out of thy book which Thou hast written (ib. 32).’And Saraph,’ since he
made mention of the deeds of those that were willing to be burnt, as it is
said, Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel thy servants (ib. 13). ’ Who
had dominion in Moab,’
in that his worthy deeds came and ascended before His Father in heaven. ’And
Jashubi-lehem,’ since he ascended on high and captured (shabah) the Torah, as
it is said, Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led captivity captive (Psalms
LXVIII, 19). ‘And the records are ancient
(attikim).’ R. Aibu and R. Judah b. Simon. R. Aibu said: Even the things
of which they [the Israelites] had been deprived (nithateku) he restored to
them, as it is said, Hew thee two tables of stone (Exodus XXXIV, 1). These
words were said of Him who moves (ma'atik) the world, as it is said, And he
removed (wayya'atek) from thence
(Genesis XII, 8).4 R. Judah b. Simon tenor of these words, etc. (Exodus XXXIV,
27). ’ These are the potters,’ or ‘formers’ as in the verse, And the Lord
formed (wayyizer) man (Genesis II, 7).2
Another interpretation is, ’ These are the formers,’ these are the souls of the
righteous with whom the Holy One, blessed be He, decided to create the world.
’And those that dwelt among plants,’ with reference to, And the Lord God
planted a garden (Genesis II, 8). ‘And
hedges,’ with reference to that which is said, Who have placed the sand for the
bound of the sea (Jeremiah v, 22).
'There they dwelt, occupied in the king's work.’ With the Almighty King of
kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, dwelt the souls of the righteous with whom
He decided to create the world.
Rabbah - Ruth II:4 Another interpretation is that ’Jokim’ refers to
Elimelech. ’And the men of Cozeba’ are his sons, who were lost (me-kazabim).
’Joash’ in that they despaired of the land of Israel,
’And Saraph’ in that they burned (saraf) the Torah. R. Menahema said in the
name of R. Aha: Did they then burn it? In fact this is meant to teach that he
who annuls one word of the Torah is regarded as though he had burnt it. ’ Who
had dominion in Moab’: since
they married Moabitish women and left Israel
and settled in the fields of Moab.
‘And Jashabi-lehem‘ refers to Naomi, as it is said, So Naomi returned, and Ruth
the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, with her, who returned out of the field of
Moab- -and they came to Beth-lehem (Ruth I, 22). ‘And the records are ancient.’
Each one of these points has already been fully explained separately.
AND THE NAME OF THE MAN WAS ELIMELECH (I, 2). R. Meir was wont to interpret
names and R. Joshua b. Karhah was wont to interpret names. AND THE NAME OF THE
MAN WAS ELIMELECH, since he used to say, ‘To me shall the kingdom come’. AND
THE NAME OF HIS WIFE WAS NAOMI, for her actions were pleasant and sweet. AND
THE NAME OF HIS TWO SONS MAHLON AND CHILION, MAHLON, in that they were blotted
out (nimhu) from the world, and CHILION. in that they perished (kalu) from the
world. EPHRATHITES. R. Joshua b. Levi [interpreted it to mean] courtiers; and
Rabbi b. R. Nehemiah said: Aristocrats. Another interpretation of EPHRATHITES
is, R. Phinehas said, [possessing] all that crown with which Ephraim was
crowned by our patriarch Jacob at the time of his departure from the world. He
said to him: ' Ephraim, leader of the tribe, leader of the college, all that is
exalted and praiseworthy in my children shall be called by thy name.’ For
example, The son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite (I Samuel I, 1), And
Jeroboam the son of Nebat, an Ephraimite (I Kings XI, 26). Now David was the
son of an Ephrathite (I Samuel XVII, 12). SO MAHLON AND CHILION, EPHRATHITES.
Rabbah - Ruth II:6 AND THEY CAME INTO THE FIELD OF MOAB AND CONTINUED THERE
(I, 2). At first they came to the cities, but they found the inhabitants
steeped in transgression. They then went to the large cities and found a dearth
of water. They thereupon returned to the cities, AND THEY CAME TO THE FIELDS OF
MOAB AND CONTINUED THERE.
Petichta to Ruth
Rabba 2. At the time after the division of the land by Joshua), the land
became precious to them. This one busied himself with his field and this one
with his vineyard, this one with his doorpost… they refrained from dealing
kindness to Joshua (at his burial) and the Holy One Blessed Be He thought to
shake up the entire world (i.e. was angered), as it says, "the earth was shaken
up and disturbed (Psalms 18)".
Woe is to the generation that judges its judges! When the
judge said: "remove a splinter from between your teeth, the accused said,
"you remove a panel from between your eyes" (Bava Basra 15b, see Ruth
In here quote (Scan Sections 1-5) of the Middrah HaNe’elam of
the Zohar to the Book of Ruth.
Middrah HaNe’elam of the Zohar to the Book of Ruth
Aspects of the Soul
“IN THE DAYS WHEN THE JUDGES RULED”
(Ruth 1:1). The Rabbis interpreted this in light of the following verse: “When
the Morning Stars sang together, and all the Divine Beings blasted the trumpet”
(Job 38:7). Who are the “Morning Stars”? These are the holy angels who rule by
day. Who are the “Divine Beingst1? These are the holy angels who
rule by night.
Come and see — everything that the Holy Blessed One created in His world, He created
only for His glory. As Scripture states, “Every one that is called by My name,
and whom I have created for My glory — I have formed him,
indeed, I have made him” (Isaiah 43:7). The Holy Blessed One created humanity in the
world and imparted to them His name YHVH. Hey is the Nefesh-Soul. Vav is the Ruach-Soul. Hey is called the Neshamah Soul. Yad is the Soul of Souls. He called these [souls]: yod hey, father and mother; vav hey, son and daughter.
In the same fashion that He created the
Ruach-Soul and Nefesh-Soul of the holy, He also created the Ruach-Soul and
Nefesh-Soul of the left side. Just as wine rests above its dregs, so do the intellectual Ruach-Soul
and Nefesh-Soul rest above the animal Ruach-Soul and Nefesh-Soul. Why are they
called “animal’? — because they are from the side of Samael and
the serpent, which are masculine and feminine. Concerning this, King Solomon, in
his wisdom, said, “Who knows the human soul [ruach] that rises upward, and the soul of animals
that sinks down into the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:2 1).
To the side of impurity the Holy Blessed One
does not impart His name [YHVH]. As Scripture states, “I [ani] am YHVH, that is My name; and My glory I will
not give to another, nor My praise to graven images” (Isaiah 42:3). “Ani”
alludes to the verse, “For ani
will chastise you” (Leviticus
26:28). “YHVH” alludes to the Attribute of Mercy. “I will not give to another”
alludes to “another god”, as Scripture states, “Do not worship any
other god” (Exodus 34:14) — for this belongs to the side of impurity.
Rabbi [Judah HaNasi] opened his discourse
concerning the mystery of the beloved Name [the Tetragrammaton]. Yad is personified by Elimelech, and hey
by Naomi. And why is she named
Naomi? — since Scripture states, “Let the delight [noam]
of YHVH our God be upon us, etc.”
(Psalm 90:17) Vav hey are
personified by Ruth and her husband.
The [letters of the] name Ruth, when
reversed, spell <75b> “turtledove” [tar], as Scripture says, “a turtledove and a young
bird” (Genesis 15:9). “0 my dove, in the cranny of the rocks, hidden
by the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is
sweet and your face is comely” (Song of Songs 2:14)
He continued his discourse: What is the
meaning of the verse, “Prosper for us the deeds of our hands” (Psalm 90:17)?
This refers to deeds accomplished by humanity. If the deeds are good, the
Tetragrammaton will rest over them; but if not, it will depart from them. As
Scripture states, “Woman’s wisdom builds her house; but folly plucks it down
with her own hands” (Proverbs 14:1). “Woman’s wisdom” refers to the Ruach-Soul
and the Nefesh-Soul of the holy. “Folly” refers to the Nefesh-Soul
of the left, which is personified by Orpah.
He continued further: What does Scripture
mean in the verse [above], “Let me see your face” (Song of Songs
2:14)? Once a human being is conceived from a drop in his mother’s placenta, as
the embryo develops the Holy Blessed One infuses into it, little by little, the Ruach-Soul
and Nefesh-Soul. A lamp is placed over its head by night, as Scripture states,
“When His lamp shone above my head” (Job 29:3); and a pillar of light by day,
as Scripture states, “The pillar of cloud, etc.” (Exodus 14:19); and a pillar
of fire by night, as Scripture states, “and in a pillar of fire by night. that
they might travel day and night” (Exodus 13:21). Scripture also states, “For
the commandment is a lamp and Torah a light” (Proverbs 6:23).
It is taught the entire Torah and all the
commandments. It is told, “See, this is the crooked way
which is called Night; and in this place will arise all human souls, as
Scripture states, ‘The small and the great are there, and the servant is free
from his master’ (Job 3:19).
It is shown, through the pillar of fire which
is above its head, many bears and tigers, lions and angels of destruction who
sit there. A dog is there, concerning which David said, “Deliver my soul from
the sword, my only one from the power of the dog” (Psalm 22:21). This place is
called Darkness, and the angels of destruction are called Nights. Concerning
this it states, “Because of dread of the Nights” (Song of Songs 3:8) — they
truly bear the name “Nights”!’
is told, “If you are worthy to perform the commandments, each and every one of
them <75c> will become for you a good angel.
At the time when you enter this place [the afterlife at death], having
the merit of the commandments, they will say, ‘Cast up, cast up, clear the way,
remove the obstacle from the way of So-and-so’ (from Isaiah 57:14).
And the angels of destruction will have no power over you.”
Similarly, they will say in the day, “If you
have observed the Torah, each letter will become an angel to help you in this
place. And the Torah, which is called ‘the way,’ will come to this place so
that no one will have power over you.” Concerning this, Scripture
states, “To guide them along the way” (Exodus 13:21). Afterwards they show it
the Garden of Eden — each section which a righteous person has
allotted to him alone. “ They make it swear
that it will fulfill the entire Torah.
Afterwards they say to it, “‘The Eternal said
to Abram: Go forth . . and I will make of you a great nation’ (Genesis
12: l-2). ‘The Eternal said to Abram [avram]’
— this refers to the Neshamah-Soul which is
father [av] to the
Ruach-Soul and superior [ram] to the body. ‘Go forth from your land’ — this refers to the Garden of Eden. ‘And from your birthplace’ — this refers to the mother’s womb, of flesh and blood. ‘From the house’ — this
refers to the Shekhinah. ‘Of your father’ — this refers to the
Holy Blessed One; for ‘father’ could be only the Holy Blessed One, and ‘mother’
could be only the Assembly of Israel. ‘To the land’ — this refers to the lower world.” They bestow
upon him seven blessings from the aforementioned passage, from “I will make of” (Genesis 12:2) until “all the families of the earth shall bless
themselves by you” (Genesis 12:3).
If one is worthy and righteous, and if he
knows the name of the Holy Blessed One, what will they say to him when he
departs from the world? “You shall not be afraid of the terror by Night” (Psalm
9 1:5). “They shall bear
you upon their hands, lest you dash [your foot] against a stone” (Psalm 91:12) — that is to say, lest you stumble on the crooked path. “I will set him
on high, because he has known My name” (Psalm 91:14).
But if one has not merited to observe the
Torah and to perform good deeds, when he departs from the world he will enter
the dark way which I have mentioned. Every being in that place will tremble and
say, “‘Hey is Naomi’ (Ruth 1:19), who went to that place full
with all goodness and Torah. For the pillar of cloud gave light for her in that
place to go by day, and the pillar of fire gave light for her in that place to
go by night — with her husband, the Soul of Souls.”
She [the Neshamah-Soul] answers and says,
“‘Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has made my lot very
bitter’ (Ruth 1:20). For He enclosed me in this disgraceful body. ‘I went away
full’ (Ruth 1:21) — into this place; and the Eternal has brought me back empty’ (ibid.).”
At that moment she says, “Turn back, my
daughters.” As Scripture states, “Naomi replied to her daughters-in-law, ‘Turn
back, my daughters’” (Ruth 1:12). Ruth, the holy Nefesh-Soul, speaks up in
reply, “Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For
wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge” (Ruth 1:16).
But Orpah, the Nefesh-Soul of the left side,
goes to the body and mourns over it. As Scripture states, “But his flesh
grieves for him and his soul mourns over him” (Job 14:22). All the while that
she mourns over it, the body says to the animal Nefesh-Soul, “Because of the food
and drink which you gave me, the Neshamah-Soul is in great distress, being
deprived of Torah and commandments. Take what you have given me!” And the body becomes separated.
Rabbi said: Scripture states, “Happy is the
one who takes an interest in the poor” (Psalm 41:2). Who is “the poor”? — the forsaken man. He says, “What have You given to me; am I
the most wicked person in the world?” And he provokes a fight with the Holy
Blessed One. Happy is the one who takes interest in such a one, as Scripture
states, “Let him take hold of My refuge, that he may make peace with Me; yes,
let him make peace with Me” (Isaiah 27:5).
As Rabbi Nehorai said: What is the meaning of
the verse, “Let him take
hold of My refuge, etc.?” Does the Holy Blessed One need someone else to make
peace on His behalf, He who is the Master of Peace, who establishes peace in
His heights? Is not peace His?
Rather, the poor, when he sees himself in
distress, provokes a fight against heaven. So, if one takes hold of the poor
and acts charitably toward him, he is, as it were, making peace with the Holy
Blessed One; for he causes the poor person to beg forgiveness from before the
Holy Blessed One for hurling accusations against heaven. And thus he makes
peace between him and his Maker. Who caused him to make peace? the one who
gives charity <75d> to the poor and who takes hold of him, as Scripture
states, “Let him take hold of My refuge, etc.” — this is the poor man. As for the Holy Blessed One, what does He say? A
person cannot be condemned for what he says in distress.
Likewise it was with Job. As Rabbi Tanchum
said: Job said to the Holy Blessed One, “0 that I knew where I might find Him . . . I would lay my case before Him” (Job 23:3-4). Job begins to hurl
accusations against heaven.
But is this all? For in several instances he
denied the resurrection of the dead, hurled accusations against heaven and
stoned the image of the King!
Rather, said R. Nehorai, at that moment the
Accuser [Satan] said to the Holy Blessed One, “Job, whom you claim to be
‘wholly upright, a reverer of God who eschews evil’ (Job 1:1) —behold,
he denies the resurrection of the dead, hurls accusations and stones the image
of the King!” The Holy Blessed One replied, “Job is not speaking in his right
the time that Job argued with the Holy Blessed One, what did he say? “Is it
good to You that You should oppress, that You should despise the work of Your
hands?” (Job 10:3). He meant, “Is this good, this oppression which You make for
me? My father and mother made my body, and You worked in partnership with them
and gave me my soul. But You said to the Accuser, ‘Only spare his soul’ (Job
2:6). What is Yours, You have spared; what is my father’s and mother’s, You
have said, ‘Behold, he is in your power’ (ibid.). Is this good, this oppression
which You make for me, ‘that You should despise the work of Your hands?’ For
the soul is sullied as a result of the body’s sufferings; and You have appeared
on the side of the wicked!” He thereby stoned the image of the King.
And the Accuser reported all these charges
before the Holy Blessed One. The Holy Blessed One said to him, “Job is not
speaking in his right mind; therefore he should not be taken to account for
what he speaks in his distress.” When the Holy Blessed One came to argue with Job, he retracted and
said, “Once have I spoken, but I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no
further” (Job 40:5) — he sealed his lips before the Judge.
Rabbi Pedat said: It is not written, “Because
you have not spoken correctly of My servant Job,” but rather, “Because you have
not spoken correctly of Me” (Job 42:7) — of Me you have not spoken correctly. Job stood up
to vindicate the judgment, and requested a verdict upon himself for what he had
said. But Job’s companions did not request this upon themselves for misguiding
him with the answers of their tongues.
Rabbi Joshua of Sikhnin said in the name of
Rabbi Yudai: Anyone who harbours suspicions about the worthy deserves to be
smitten with leprosy. As Scripture states, “Wherein we have done
foolishly, and wherein we have sinned” (Numbers 12:11). It also states, “Let
her [Miriam] not be as one dead” (Numbers 12: 12). Job’s companions had suspected him
groundlessly without subsequently begging forgiveness from him; nor did they
plead for themselves until Job begged for mercy on their behalf. The Holy
Blessed One informed them that they had sinned in suspecting him. Therefore,
“My servant Job shall pray for you” (Job 42:8).
Rabbi Yose ben Qisma said: What is the
meaning of the verse, “For him I will accept, that I not deal with you after
your withered carcass” (Job 42:8)? What is “withered carcass”? This is leprosy,
as Scripture states, “If her father spat in her face” (Numbers 12:14); R. Yose
translated, “If her father made her face withered.”
Come and see — when the Holy Blessed One came to Jobs what does Scripture state? “Then
the Eternal answered Job out of the whirlwind and said” (Job 38:1). R. Yose bar
Chalafta said: God responded to Job’s accusation, “For He breaks me with a
whirlwind” (Job 9: 17). Job said, “Master of the Universe, perhaps a
whirlwind passed before You and interchanged the letters of my name ‘Job’ to
‘enemy’! This is the meaning of the verse, “and considers me as Your enemy” (Job
13:24). Therefore God answered him from the whirlwind.
The Rabbis say: It was a whirlwind [Se‘arah]
made by Satan. who afflicted [his‘ir]
Job’s body. What Scriptural proof
do we have that “whirlwind” alludes to Satan? Scripture states, “Stormy wind [ruach
se‘arah] fulfilling His
word” (Psalm 148:8). For he [Satan] is not permitted to do anything except by
the word of the Holy Blessed One.
But R. Bun said: Sometimes this word is
written with the letter sin, as Scripture states, “For He breaks me with a whirlwind” (Job 9:17). At
other times it is written with the letter samekh: “Out of the whirlwind” (Job 38:1). Here it
states, “with a whirlwind [with a sin],” and elsewhere it states, “to the demons [se’irim]
after whom they stray” (Leviticus
17:7). In this latter verse, too, the word is written with a sin.
R. Rachumai said: Sometimes this word is
masculine, and at other times feminine. Sometimes masculine, as Scripture
states, “The goat [sa‘ir] shall carry [their sins] <76a> on himself” (Leviticus 16 22), and
Scripture elsewhere states, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man [sa’ir]”
(Genesis 27:11). And at other times
feminine, as Scripture states, “So Esau started back that day on his way to Se’ir”
We noted above that the word is also written
with a samekh: “Out of
the whirlwind.” For what reason? — because it afflicts
a person’s body. This is the case in the verse: “When Elijah went up by a whirlwind
[with a samekh] into
heaven” (II Kings 2:11). R. Nehemiab and R. Judah said: When the Holy Blessed
One brought Elijah up to the firmament, the Angel of Death confronted Him. The
Holy Blessed One said to him, “I created heaven so that Elijah might ascend
there.” The Angel of Death replied, “Master of the
Universe, now the other creatures will have a pretext [to escape me].” The Holy
Blessed One replied, “This man is not like the other creatures. He could remove
you from the world, yet you do not realize his power.” The Angel of Death said,
“Master of the Universe, permit me to descend to him.” The Holy Blessed One
said, “Go down,” and thereupon he descended. When Elijah saw him, he forced the
Angel beneath his feet and sought to remove him from the world, but the Holy
Blessed One did not permit him. So he bent the Angel under him and thereby
ascended to heaven [riding upon him], as Scripture states, “Elijah went up by a
whirlwind into heaven” (II Kings 2:11)
When the Holy Blessed One revealed Himself to
Job, He did so through this same whirlwind, as Scripture states, “Out of [mm]
the whirlwind” (Job 38:1). The
letter nun is the bent
one, not the straight one. The Holy Blessed One bent Job like the serpent which “crawls on its
belly” [from Genesis 3:14] and spoke with him. What did He say to Job? “Where
were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (Job 38:4). Immediately he was silenced, unable to stand
in the face of the rebuke. This is to teach that the works of the Holy Blessed
One are done in truth.
The Light Which Sustains Creation
Rabbi Alexandrai opened his discourse with
the verse: “When the Morning Stars sang together” (Job 38:7). Stars in the
heavenly abode rule by night, except for those which rule at morning. All of
them praise, exalt and affirm the unity of the name of the Holy Blessed One. This
is expressed by the verse, “When the Morning Stars sang together” — and not the Stars of Night, even though the rule [of the Morning Stars]
lasts but a brief moment.
“And all the Divine Beings” (ibid.). Why does
it state, “blasted the trumpet”? R. Alexandri said: When dawn breaks, those
Divine Beings sound the horn blast, and all those angels and stars appointed
over the night are removed from their place; and other angels, appointed over
the day, rule in their stead.
R. Chasdai says: There is one star on high
which the Holy Blessed One brings forth from its place; its name is Vilon
[Curtain]. It is appointed to bring the other stars in and out, and it serves the
entire night. When the Morning Stars rule, it is tucked away into its storage
R. Samuel said: Scripture states, “Who shakes
the earth out of its set place, and its pillars disperse” (Job 9:6). When the
Holy Blessed One wishes to shake the entire world, to make its pillars quake,
He disturbs it only “from its set place.” What is this place? It is the point
R. Rachumai says: From Zion the world was
founded, as Scripture states, “A Psalm of Asaph. God, God the Eternal has
spoken, and called forth the earth from the rising of the sun unto its setting”
(Psalm 50:1). The next
verse states, “Out of Zion,
the perfection of beauty, God has appeared” (Psalm 50:2).
And R. Simlai said: When the Holy Blessed One
created he universe He inserted light within light, clothed one with the other, and created the heavens. As Scripture states, “Who covers light as with
a garment [of light], stretching out the heavens like curtain” (Psalm 104:2).
This light is called “light of His raiment,”
for it is the primordial light with which the Holy Blessed One clothed Himself.
This light expanded into majesty [hod] and glory [hadar], and the universe was created. As Scripture
states, “You are clothed with majesty and glory . . . stretching out the
heavens like a curtain” (Psalm 104:1-2).
R. Hezekiah said: When the Holy Blessed One
took the now from under His Throne of Glory and cast it into the midst of he
waters, He took as a measure the hollow of His hand, as Scripture states, “Who
has measured the waters in the hollow of Us hand” (Isaiah 40:12).
R. Yudai said: He took the measure of a third
of a span rid cast it into the midst of the waters. As Scripture states, “And
measured out a third for the dust of the earth” (Isaiah 40:12). It is also
written, “For He says to the snow: Be earth” (Job 37:6).
From under the waters one place congealed at
first in the middle of the Deep; from there it became one stone ensconced in he
midst of the Deep. It rose to the surface and appeared <76b> at Zion. This is the central
point of the universe.
R. Yose says: The sphere and its waves
radiate from a ingle central point. This is the focal point of the universe,
and from it the earth expanded in all directions. R. Hezekiah said: It is like
the creation of a person.
When the earth congealed from under the
waters, what does Scripture state? “Let the waters below the sky be gathered
into one area, that the dry land may appear” (Genesis 1:9). When the waters saw
the dry land, they rose aloft to cover it as they had done originally, until
the Holy Blessed One rebuked them and they fled, as Scripture states, “At Your
rebuke they fled” (Psalm 104:7).
But even though they fled, they did not calm
themselves. What does this mean? Originally they had covered it [the dry land],
and now they were fleeing from it! What did the Holy Blessed One do? He took
something like a clump of clay, engraved on it His name of seventy-two letters
and cast it into the waters. They immediately stood still and were calmed.
At which place did they stand still? — at Zion, as Scripture states, “Out of Zion, the perfection of
beauty” (Psalm 50:2). This is the name of the Holy Blessed One. Thus
when the earth quakes, it does so only from this place, for it is the focal
point of the universe.
R. Pedat says: When one swears truthfully by
the name of the Holy Blessed One, this clump, upon which His name is sealed,
rises joyously upward and is preserved; and thus the world is preserved. But if
one swears falsely, this clump rises upward and departs, seeing that the oath
is false. Then the world totters and threatens to revert to chaos; for the
world can endure only through His name which is sealed with Truth. Concerning
this, Scripture states, “You shall not swear falsely by the name of the Eternal
your God” (Exodus 20:7).
R. Hezekiah says: The focus of the entire
world is one point upon which everything depends. The Glory is praised only
from this place, as Scripture states, “Praised by the glory of the Eternal from
His place” (Ezek. 3:12).
What is the meaning of the phrase, “and its
pillars disperse” (Job 9:6)? R. Perachiah says: These pillars support the
foundation, and the endurance of the world depends on them. How many pillars
are there? There are seven, as Scripture states, “She has hewn out her seven
pillars” (Proverbs 9:11). The foundation of these pillars is a single righteous
one, as Scripture states, “The righteous is an everlasting foundation”
(Proverbs 10:25) “Pillar” is not written, but rather
“foundation”; it is the foundation upon which everything depends.
Corresponding to these are seven heavens. And
seven stars go to and fro. There are seven Earths, seven seas, seven depths — and all hang upon
this word: “He who builds His upper chambers in the heaven [and founded His
vault on the earth]” (Amos 9:6). These are the seven sefirot, great upper chambers, pillars engraved with
His great name. And they all hang upon one word, and this is the lofty heaven.
There are seven holy Earths which are joined
with them, and there is no separation among them, as Scripture states, “It was
evening and morning, one day” (Genesis 1:5), “a second day” (1:8), “a third day” (1:13),
“a fourth day” (1:19), “a fifth day” (1:23), ~ sixth day” (1:31) — until the seventh day. “For in six days the Eternal made . . .“ (Exodus 20:11).
Correspondingly there are seven divinely
engraved pillars suspended in the upper heavens. These are like the twelve
tribes suspended from the attribute of Jacob, who is called “heaven”. As
Scripture states, “Then hear in heaven” (I Kings 8:32), and also “Hear, 0 Israel”
R. Rachumai said: These seven heavenly
pillars are the name of the Holy Blessed One. “His vault” (Amos 9:6) — what
is His vault? There are seven inferior degrees which stand over the world and
conduct it. “Upon the earth” (ibid.) — this is the lower
earth. “Founded” (ibid.) — this is the upper earth which is called
Understanding [binah]; it is suspended from Wisdom [Chokhmah]. And what is it called? — Tevel, as Scripture states, “He who has founded the world [tevel]
through His Wisdom” (Jeremiah 10:
“He who calls for the waters of the sea”
(Amos 9:6) — one sea is mentioned, but here there are
seven! R. Krospedai says: Is there not only one sea in the world? R. Rachumai
said: <76c> “Seas” [plural] is elsewhere written, as Scripture states,
“The gathering of waters He called Seas” (Genesis 1:10).
All seven of them enter the Great Sea.
These seven enter, one below the other, toward the Deep, until the Great Sea
becomes seven one above the other. All these hang upon one word.
R. Simlai said: When does the world quake? — at the time the Holy
Blessed One looks out and searches through it, as Scripture states, “The
Eternal looks out from heaven upon humankind [searching for a person of
understanding, a person mindful of God]” (Psalm 14:2).
R. Nehorai and R. Isaac arose at the light of daybreak to set out on a journey.
Before they had yet departed, R. Nehorai looked up and saw that the morning
stars were shimmering. R. Isaac said, “See those stars which tremble in awe of
their Master; for now their time has come to sing.
“This is because of those Divine Beings who
supervise them. When the other hosts, who praise by night, have finished, these
Divine Beings blow a trumpet blast; then all those angelic camps who rule by
night retire to their places.
“Then the stars which rule by day, in the
morning, tremble with awe and break forth in song; for now their time has come
to praise their Master, when they hear this trumpet blast. As Scripture states,
‘When the Morning Stars sang together, and all the Divine Beings blasted the
trumpet’ (Job 38:7).”
They set out early, and the day dawned. When
the sun emerged and shone upon the world, R. Isaac said to R. Nehorai, “As I
look at the sun, I am astonished that it emerges red, but afterward it becomes
white. Why is this so?
“I am certainly reminded of the teaching which
R. Yose ben Shalom quoted in the name of R. Isaac ben Judah: When the
sun emerges, it emerges in strength like a mighty man, and it cleaves open the
thirteen window-frames of the firmament.
“None among the stars of heaven or the
constellations is called mighty, except for the sun. What mighty deeds does it
do? When the day is done and night sets in, all the window-frames of the
firmament are shut. When daytime comes, the sun emerges crowned and engraved
with the letters of the secret holy Name. With its mighty power, it enters all
those firmaments and parts open all the windows which are burned by its flames.
It opens them and emerges outside.
“What Scriptural proof do we have that the
sun is called mighty? ‘He rejoices as a mighty man to run his course’ (Psalm
19:6). It is also written, ‘As the sun when it goes forth in its might’ (Judges
5:31). When a mighty man is victorious in war, he is red. After his victory, he
reverts to his former colour. Thus the sun’s flames are kindled when it set
out, and it is red from the abundance of its might; afterward, it reverts to
its former colour.”
They journeyed onward. When they arrived at a
field, R. Isaac said, ‘tLet the master say some words concerning the
benefits of the recital of the Sh’ma.” He [R. Nehorai] opened his discourse with
the verse: ‘“Hear, 0 Israel,
the Eternal is our God, the Eternal is One’ (Deuteronomy 6:4). This verse was
appropriate at the time that the sons of Jacob said it to their father or when Moses said it to Israel. But now, when everyone
says, ‘Hear 0 Israel,’ which
have we learned: Jacob our Patriarch has not died; the Holy Blessed One
engraved him upon His Throne of Glory so that he may constantly testify that his
children affirm the unity of His name twice daily as required. When they affirm
the unity of the Holy Blessed One’s name, they say, ‘Hear 0 Israel [father
Jacob] — be our witness that we affirm the Holy
Blessed One’s name in proper manner.’
“At that moment Jacob is taken upon four
wings spread out to the four directions of the world, and he is taken up to the
presence of the Holy Supernal One who bestows seven blessings upon him. The
Holy Blessed One begins: ‘Worthy is this father who has given birth to such
seed on the earth! Worthy are these children who thus rally around their
father!’ At that moment, the entire host of heaven exclaims, ‘Praised be His
name whose glorious kingdom is forever and ever.’
“Then Jacob is encircled with thirteen rivers
of pure balsam oil, and he watches eternally over his children
in the presence of the Holy Blessed One as a wall surrounds a city. He does not
allow any harsh judgment to overpower them; thus no nation <76d> can
destroy them. This is the meaning of the verse, ‘Do not fear, My servant Jacob’
“R. Yehudai explained: Corresponding to the twelve tribes on earth, the sons of Jacob, there is a supernal
Jacob and twelve supernal tribes in heaven. Just as Israel affirms the unity of the
name of the Holy Blessed One below, thus do the holy angels affirm His unity on
high, everything having a higher correlation.”
Rabbi [Nehorai] continued his discourse with
the verse, ‘Therefore thus says the Eternal concerning the house of Jacob who
redeemed Abraham: Jacob shall no more be ashamed, no longer shall his
face grow pale’ (Isaiah 29:22). But did Jacob really redeem Abraham? Jacob was
not even created yet!
“Rather, come and see — when
Abraham was cast into the furnace in Ur of the Chaldees, the Holy Blessed One
gathered His host and said, ‘Save Abraham from the furnace, for he is My
“They replied to the Holy Blessed One, ‘But
Ishmael will come forth from him!’ The Holy Blessed one said, ‘Behold, Isaac
will issue from him.’ They said, ‘But Esau will come forth from him!’ The Holy Blessed
One replied, ‘Behold, Jacob will issue from him.’ They responded, ‘Certainly he
should be rescued through the merit of Jacob!’ For this reason it states, ‘Who
has redeemed Abraham’ — for through his merit Abraham was rescued.
“Rabbi said: At the moment that Hananiah,
Misha’el and Azariah were seized to be thrown into the fiery furnace, Hananiah said, ‘The Eternal is for me, I
shall not fear; what can man do unto me?’ (Psalm 118:6). Misha’el said, ‘But do
not fear, 0 My servant Jacob; and do not be dismayed, 0 Israel . . . for I am with you, says the Eternal’ (Jeremiah 46:27-28). Azariah said,
‘Hear 0 Israel,
the Eternal is our God, the Eternal is One’ (Deuteronomy 6:4).
“Then the Holy Blessed One said: ‘One shall
say, “I am the Eternal’s”’ (Isaiah 44:5) — this is Hananiah, who said, ‘The Eternal is for me, I shall not fear.’
‘And another shall invoke the name Jacob’ (ibid.) — this is Misha’el, who said, ‘But do not fear, 0 My servant Jacob.’ ‘And
take on the name Israel’
(ibid). — this is Azariah, who said, ‘Hear 0 Israel,
etc.’ ‘Jacob shall no more be ashamed, no longer shall his face grow pale’
“Why was Daniel not in the furnace with them?
Daniel had said, ‘My name is Belteshazzar,’ like the name of Nebuchadnezzar’s
idol. As Scripture states, ‘Belteshazzar, like the name of my god’ (Dan. 4:5). It
is also written, ‘Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and bowed to
Daniel’ (Dan. 2:46). So the Holy Blessed One said, ‘You shall burn their graven
gods in the fire.’ Daniel left and was not included among them.
“What prompted Hananiah, Misha’el and Azariah
to let themselves be thrown into the fire? They said: ‘Frogs tossed themselves
into the fire at the order of the Holy Blessed One in order to befoul Egypt;
how much the more so should we, for the sake of our Master’s glory!”’
As they were walking and engaging in Torah,
the sun had already set. R. Nehorai said, “Let us diverge from the road and ascend the mountain; we
shall engage in Torah and not sleep.
While they were sitting engaged in Torah with
each other, they heard a certain voice which said, “Arise, 0 supernal angels!
Mortal beings, who wallow in sleep, awaken! Behold, the Holy Blessed One wishes
to shake the world. Those enduring pillars, upon which the world rests,
tremble. The voice of a young deer weeps over a lion; this is eternally
imprinted upon the holy Throne.”
R. Nehorai asked R. Isaac, “Did you hear
anything?” The latter replied, “I heard, and for this I say: ‘I heard, and my
bowels quaked’ (Habakuk 3:16)!” R. Nehorai said, “Surely the Holy Blessed One
wishes to judge His world; just before He executes judgment, the voice arises
and unceasingly calls out to the world. Surely the most lofty will now be
removed from the world. And everything is clear to us, except for that which
was said: ‘The voice of a young deer weeps over a lion’ — I
do not know what this means.”
R.Nehemiah said: At that moment they did not
know its meaning, but in a few days it was revealed to the world. What was this
weeping? It was the weeping of R. Ishmael ben Elisha the High Priest, who wept
over the head of Rabban Simeon ben Gamliel This
weeping will not be removed from the Throne of the King until the Holy Blessed
One executes vengeance upon the other nations.
R. Rachumai said: Come and see — when
the Holy Blessed One judges the world, whom <77a> does He judge first? He
judges the leaders of that generation first and subsequently He judges the
world. What is the Scriptural proof? The proof is this verse: “In the days when
the judges were judged” (Ruth 1: 1) —first the judges, and then, “There was a
famine in the land” (ibid.). R. Yose bar Judah
said: From this verse, “To execute judgment of His servant, and the judgment of
His people Israel”
(I Kings 8:59). First
“the judgment of His servant,” and afterwards, “the judgment of His people Israel.”
Divine Judgment Upon the Leaders
“A man of Bethlehem
went” (Ruth 1:1). R. Judah and the Rabbis gave the following interpretations.
When Judgment visits a city, one should remove himself from that city. For when
permission is given to the Angel of Death, he spares no one; he has authority
to destroy whomever he encounters.
When Elimelech perceived that Judgment was
coming there, he immediately fled; but nevertheless he could not escape it. The
Rabbis from Caesaria say that Elimelech was the leader of his generation and
was recognized as such on high; and anyone in this position is first to be
taken for judgment.
R. Joshua said: Scripture states concerning
the Shunamite woman, “I dwell among my own people” (II Kings 4:13). It follows
that one must be counted together with the community, and not be listed
What is written at first? “A man went” (Ruth
1:1) —unidentified, for he wished to remain
anonymous so that he would not be singled out. Who did single him out? — the
Angel of Justice. So Scripture states, “The man’s name was Elimelech” (Ruth 1:2) — he
is a well-known person and listed separately; it is senseless for him to hide.
Is this not Elimelech, chieftain of the people? Is this not Elimelech, who
closed his eyes to the people’s plight?
R. Perachiab said: At that very moment the
Holy Blessed One was judging the world, and the supernal court was in session.
The Holy Blessed One sheltered him, saying, “A man went” —unidentified.
The Angel of Justice stood up and identified him: “The man’s name was
Elimelech.” Immediately punishment was decreed upon him and his sons, as
Scripture states, “Elimelech died” (Ruth 1:3).
R. Judah said: “Elimelech” — how did he know to leave? Indeed, when he saw that his generation
scorned the leaders, he thought, “I must surely go away from here and not be
caught with them.” For Elimelech was a leader of that generation. He could have
admonished them for their sins, but did not; instead, he fled from there.
Therefore his name was mentioned and he was punished.
“In the days when [vayehi biyemey] the
judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1). R. Joshua said: Every instance where Scripture
states, “vayehi biyemey,” this portends trouble. Elimelech was like a king. When he perceived what was happening, he
dissociated himself from Israel
and went to live among the nations, reasoning that he would not be judged among
them. But the Angel of Justice rose to accuse him, and he was caught.
“In the days when the judges ruled” (Ruth
1:1). R. Hilkiah bar Eliezer interpreted the following verse: “From afar the
Eternal appeared to me” (Jeremiah 31:2). When the Holy Blessed One addresses
the prophets, He appears to them only from afar. Hence they see only images
like a person standing at a distance. Moses, however, was the exception.
As R. Eleazar said quoting R. Hananiah: All
the prophets saw merely through a hazy lens, but Moses through a lucid lens. The other prophets saw from a distance, but
Moses from nearby. ‘As Scripture states, “Not so with My servant Moses: he is
trusted throughout My household” (Numbers 12:7). He is trusted in the king’s
house, and is a close friend of the king.
And if you say that since all the prophets
saw from afar, God’s love was not upon them — is it not written,
“From afar the Eternal appeared unto me. I have loved you with an everlasting
love; therefore I have drawn you with loving kindness” (Jeremiah 31:2)!
R. Hanina said: There is far which becomes
near and near which becomes far. Regarding far which becomes near, Scripture
states, “She brings her food from afar” (Proverbs 31:14). Regarding near which
becomes far, Scripture states, “From afar the Eternal appeared unto me.” The
latter case shows how near prophets are; the former case how distant kings are. R. Eleazar reverses the explanation: The former case is near for kings
and the latter case is far for prophets, since prophets normally see heavenly
images in the form of shapes.
R. <77b> Hilqiah said: When the prophets
see with clarity, it is certain that the world will receive a favourable
judgment. But when they see dimly, it will be judged with retribution. Thus the
Book of Ruth begins, “In the days when the judges were judged” (Ruth 1:1).
“In the days.” R. Bun had lived all his days
in Caesaria. One day he saw how corrupt the people were, for the poor would
pass by but no one would take notice of them. He thought: Judgment will
certainly appear here. He arose and departed.
One day when he was in low spirits, he
happened upon Kfar Sikhnin in Ramon, and fell asleep. He heard the voice of a
certain Tanna who was labouring over the joy of Torah, saying, “‘If you chance upon a
bird’s nest along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or
eggs’ (Deuteronomy 22:6). ‘Nest’ —
this refers to Repentance.
‘Along the way’ — this refers to Rachel, as Scripture says,
‘But the way of the righteous is as the light of dawn, which shines more and
more until complete day’ (Proverbs 4:18). ‘The righteous’ refers to two sons,
Joseph and Benjamin. She [Rachel] is called ‘the moon’ which traverses the
entire night to give them light until ‘complete day’, which is Jacob.
“‘In any tree’ (Deuteronomy 22:6). ‘Any’ — this
refers to the righteous, who lives forever. ‘Tree’ — this
refers to the Shekhinah, as Scripture states, ‘She is a tree of life to those
who hold onto her’ (Proverbs 3:l8). ‘Upon the ground’ (Deuteronomy 22:6) — this
refers to the lower earth. ‘Fledglings’ — these refer to the
twelve supernal tribes. ‘Or eggs’ —
these refer to Israel below,
who are like the garments of the body. ‘And the mother sitting over the fledglings, . . . send the mother away’ (Deut 22:6-7), as Scripture states, ‘For your
offenses is your mother sent away’ (Isaiah50:1).
“‘Take only the young’ (Deuteronomy 22:7).”
R. Bun inclined his ear and heard this voice saying, “Anyone who interprets
this verse as referring to pity for a mother bird has said nothing. The one who
truly takes pity would leave the mother with her young and go away. But when
the mother is driven from her nest, what does she say? ‘Alas, that I have
destroyed my house, burned my Temple
and exiled my children among the nations! When the Holy Blessed One hears this, He
takes pity; it is only their piteous state which arouses the Merciful One.
“For this reason the Shekhinah cries out for
her children. Behold, Scripture states, ‘Send away [shalach
teshalach]’ (Deuteronomy 22:7) — two
‘sendings’ representing the First and Second Temples.
‘Send away’ the Shekhinah even one hundred times; for if she returns to her fledglings due to
love for her children, send her away even many times, until he has gone up and
destroyed her nest,
and taken the young ones hidden in the
nest to receive his reward. Behold, it is only their piteous state which arouses the Merciful One.
‘That you may prolong your days’ (Deut 22:7) — that He may withhold
His anger due to the six days which are called: ‘The Eternal, The Eternal! A
God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger’ (Exodus 34:6).
“R. Chidqa cited R. Yose b. Qisma who quoted
R. Samuel: When the Holy Blessed One created the universe, He created it with
three knots which are Wisdom [chokhmah], Understanding [binah]
and Knowledge [da ‘at]. As Scripture states, ‘The Eternal through
Wisdom has founded the earth; through Understanding He has established the
heavens. Through His Knowledge the depths are broken up’ (Proverbs 3:l9-20).
“All these knots are in people. The knot of
Understanding, which is derived from these [other two], infuses the other creatures;
for they all have reasoning, each to their own natural properties.
this bird flies off from its fledglings and is sent from its young, it shrieks
continually, not knowing where it goes, and
it vows to destroy itself. But
the Holy Blessed One, of whom it is written, ‘His mercies are over
all His works’ (Psalm 145:9) —even over a tiny fly — His mercies are over all.
The angel appointed over the bird arouses the Holy Blessed One.
the Holy Blessed One is aroused over His children. A voice goes forth from
before Him, saying, ‘As a bird that wanders from her nest, so is a man who
wanders from his place’ (Proverbs 27:8). Thereupon His mercy is aroused over
all those who wander from place to place, from town to town, those of broken
heart and broken strength. His mercy is aroused over all beings and He takes
pity on them, and forgives the sins of those who wander from their place. He
takes pity on them and thus on the entire world.
“For this reason the Holy Blessed One said:
Let the bird dwell outside [its nest], and it will arouse mercy for the entire
world. Who brought about compassion upon the world and who aroused mercy over
it? It is the one who sent this bird away to sorrow in two ways. Thus
the Holy Blessed One is aroused, full of mercy <77c> for all those
sorrowful ones, and for all those wanderers who have left their homes.
Therefore, what is his reward for sending away the bird? Scripture states, ‘In
order that you may fare well and prolong your days’ (Deuteronomy 22:7).
Bun bolted to his feet and said joyfully, ‘Praised be the Merciful One, that I
have heard this explanation. If I had come [into the world only to hear this,
it would have been enough for me!”
voice continued as before, interpreting the verse, “’How manifold are Your
works, 0 E~erna1; in wisdom have You made them all’ (Psalm 104:24). The entire
world comes only from Wisdom, and humanity is wholly saturated with it. The
other creatures possess a remnant of Wisdom left over from humanity.
even though all creatures are thus, none can imitate humankind so skillfully as
the bird. Humans build a structure for their dwelling, and so does a bird.
Humans gather food for their offspring, and so does a bird. Humans heal
diseases with herbs, and so does a bird.
Humans have the skill to make boats for the sea; so a bird takes clumps
of earth to make a seaworthy vessel.
human being praises and exalts the supernal King; a bird chirps in praise ~o
its Master, who is God on high. For this reason Scripture stares, ‘In order
that it may bring good for you’ (Deuteronomy 22:7), and not, ‘that 1 may
deal well with you.’ ‘It’ is the act of sending away the bird, which arouses
pity over the world to deal well with you.”
Bun arose and went toward the speaker, and discovered that it was R. Yanai the
Elder, one of the Colleagues. He came up to him, kissed him upon the head
and said, “As you have consoled my heart, so may the Holy Blessed One
comfort you.” They sat together.
sage [R. Yanai] opened his discourse with the verse: “‘In the days when the
judges were judged, there was a famine in the land’ (Ruth 1:1). When the Holy
Blessed One judges the world, whom does He judge first? — those who serve as magistrates. As they judge others, so the
Holy Blessed One judges them. Due to the perversion of justice, famine comes to
all cases, it comes only when the leaders of the people transgress. For behold,
R. Yudai cited the verse, ‘Much food is in the tillage of the leaders, but some
are swept away for lack of justice’ (Proverbs 13:23). When there is sufficient
food in the world, this is the result of ‘tillage of the leaders’;
they sow and eat to satiety. But when there is no food in the world, this
is because some are swept away for lack of justice.’ There is someone who lives
complacently and is swept away from the world. For what transgression? — for corrupting justice and distorting
you should say that if the leaders sin for lack of judgment, in that they did
not do justly in the world, the Holy Blessed One comes to kill the poor on
their account — this is not so.
Rather, the poor are the vessels of the Holy Blessed One. They are near to Him,
and when famine comes to the world they cry out to Him and the Holy Blessed One
hears them. He investigates into ~he world and judges those who caused such
distress for the poor; they are swept away from the world before their time. As
Scripture states, ‘When they cry out to Me . I will pay heed, for I am compassionate’ (Exodus 22:22, 26),
and also, ‘My anger shall blaze forth, and I will put you to the sword’ (Exodus
at that time, some are swept away and depart from the world before their time
due to lack of justice, since they did not properly carry out their judicial
duties, and since they distorted and corrupted justice. As R. Yose said:
Regarding any judge who does not render strict judgment, strict judgment is
rendered to him from on high and he departs from the world before him time.
This is the meaning of the verse, ‘There are some that are swept away for lack
of justice’ (Proverbs 13:23).
is the one who renders judgment according to the letter of the law and who
receives a reward for this from the Holy Blessed One. And there is the one who
renders judgment according to the letter of the law and is punished — for example, a judge who examines
minutely in order to acquit the wicked.
As it has been taught: A court can levy corporal punishments and penalties even
with no Scriptural authority, in order to make a fence around Torah,
or when the times call for punishment and a judge removes himself from
the proceedings so as not to punish him [the wicked], or examines the case
minutely to find a pretext to acquit him from the deserved verdict — even though the judge acts according
to the letter of the law. When the Holy Blessed One judges the world, he is
apprehended and departs from the world before his time. And if he escapes
punishment, Scripture says of him, ‘He shall have neither son nor grandson
among his people’ (Job 18:19). If he himself is not taken to task, his seed is.
the other hand, there is one who does not render judgment according to the
letter of the law and is rewarded — for
who saw a certain man embracing and kissing a married woman. He took them out
and flogged them to death —not
that they deserved execution, but in order to make a fence around Torah. This
was so that people would not say that the judge extricated them in accordance
with the Torah which does not make them liable for execution; rather, ‘Make a
fence around the Torah.’
If a judge does not make a fence around Torah, there will be no <77d>
fence for him in this world, ‘neither son nor grandson’ — this will be denied him.
And in the world to come he will be deprived of the good deeds which
serve as a fence for a person in the world to come. For as R. Nun said: Make a
fence around Torah, so that you may prolong your life in this world and in the
world to come.
man went’ (Ruth 1:1). In every instance where ‘man’ is stated, he is a
righteous leader of his generation who is able to rely on his own judgment and
on the counsel of others.
When this word appears in the context of reproach — for example, ‘a man skilled in the hunt, a man of the outdoors’
(Genesis 25:27) —this
is a wicked man, who kills in his wickedness and overpowers people without
was a leader of his generation, worthy to rely upon his own judgment and on the
counsel of others. When he saw the famine, he fled immediately; therefore he
was punished. ‘From Bethlehem in Judah’ (Ruth
1:1) — from the site of the
Sanhedrin, from the fount of Torah which is there. As Scripture states, ‘Oh
that someone would give me drink from the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate’ (II Sam. 23:
this one [Elimelech] uprooted his feet from the fount of Torah of Bethlehem in Judah, in order to dwell in the fields of Moab; for this
reason he was punished. But you, Rabbi, have exiled yourself to a place where
the Colleagues flow in the fount of Torah!”
He [R. Bun] said, “Praised be the Merciful One who sent me here to hear
Bun set out on a journey one day, and encountered a lad who said, “Rabbi, let
me walk with you on your way, that I may serve you on this journey.” R. Bun
replied, “Come.” The lad walked after him.
he journeyed on, he was met by R. Chiya, R. Aba, R. Judah and R. Yose, who said
to him, “You are alone, and there is no one behind you to carry your burden.”
He replied to them, “There is a child here who walks behind me.” R. Chiya said,
“You risk self-incrimination, for you have no one with whom you can engage in
words of Torah.”
They sat down in the field under a tree.
Chiya opened his discourse with the verse, “‘The way of the righteous is as the
light of dawn, that shines more and more until perfect day’ (Proverbs 4:18).
When one is on a journey, one needs to have someone with whom to speak words of
Torah. And such is the way of the righteous, ‘that shines more and more [holekh v’or] — he walks [holekh], and with
him are words of Torah, as Scripture states, ‘And Torah is a light [or]’ (Proverbs
6:23). ‘Until perfect day’ — until
the Shekhinah joins him and does not budge from him. As we have learned: In
every place where there are words of Torah, the Shekhinah is there.
As Scripture states, ‘In every place where I cause My name to be
mentioned, I will come to you and bless you’ (Exodus 20:21).”
Judah opened his discourse with the verse: “‘It shall be health to your navel’
(Proverbs 3:8). The Torah is a healing for humankind, for the body and bones,
in this world and in the world to come. As R. Nehemiah quoted R. Nehorai: There
is healing in this world every day for one who recites the Sh’ma as prescribed .
Nehorai said further: There are 248 words in the recitation of the Sh’ma,
corresponding to the number of a person’s limbs.
When one recites the Sh’ma as prescribed, each limb takes a word to
itself and is healed through it. This is surely ‘health to your navel and
marrow to your bones’ (Proverbs 3:8)!”
the meantime, the young lad arrived, weary from the journey, and sat among
them. When he heard these words he rose to his feet and said, “But behold, in
the recitation of the Sh’ma there are only 245 words!” R. Chiya replied, “Sit
down, my child.” He sat down. R. Chiya asked, “My child, have you heard any
teaching about this?”
lad replied, “I heard the teaching from my father that there are three words
less than 248 in the recitation of the Sh’ma, which would correspond to the number of
a person’s limbs. How can this count be completed? It is completed when the
leader of the congregation repeats three words. Which are these? ‘Eternal, your
God, true [Adonai eloheykhem
emet]. In order to complete 248
words with the congregation, and in order not to stop before the word ‘true’,
the leader repeats no less than
three words, and no more.”
R. Yuda son of R. Phineas came and sat among them. He asked, “About what are
you deliberating?” They replied, “About the words of the recitation of the
Sh’ma,” and [they told him] what the lad had said. He replied, “It is certainly
so, for thus said R. Yohanan ben Nuri quoting R. Yose ben Dormasqit, in the
name of R. Aqiva: The early pious ones [chasidim harishonim] fixed the recitation of the Sh’ma to correspond
to the Ten Commandments
and the number of a person’s limbs. But three words were lacking from the
total. They prescribed that the leader of the congregation would repeat and
fulfill them. Which are these? — ‘Eternal,
your God, true.’
they prescribed three initial blessings and three <78a> final
blessings. In the recitation of the Sh’ma there are three names at the
beginning: Adonai, Eloheynu, Adonai —and
three names at the end: Adonai, Eloheykhem, Emet.
Anyone who recites the Sh’ma in this manner will surely not be harmed that day.
who recites the Sh’ma without the congregation does not fulfil the total number
of his limbs, since he misses the three words which the leader repeats. How can
this be completed? He should concentrate on the fifteen vav’s of the
prayer ‘True and certain.’
regardless of all this, my father cited the verse, ‘A twisted thing cannot be
made straight [and a lack cannot be made good]’ (Ecclesiastes 1:15).
He cannot count the three words in the recitation of the Sh’ma which the leader
repeats to total 248, as can the rest of the congregation.” He said to the lad,
“Cite a biblical verse which supports your position . “ The
lad cited, “‘There was a little city, with few people in it’ (Ecclesiastes
Bun was carrying a burden one day behind R. Simeon ben Yochai. As they were
climbing a rock at the summit of a hill, they saw a bird which wandered from
its fledglings; then others came and plucked off their wings. He recited the
following verse about this: “As a bird that wanders from its nest, so is a man
who wanders from his place” (Proverbs 27:8).
they journeyed onward, they saw a snake kill a man and leave him. Then they saw
a lion tear off an ear and eat it. R. Simeon asked, “What benefit is it to the
snake, to strike for nothing?”
opened his discourse with the verse: “‘For with a tempest he bruises me, and
multiplies my wounds without cause’ (Job 9:17). ‘For with a tempest’ — this refers to Satan, whose way is
like the snake; he strikes and kills for nothing and derives no benefit from
it. ‘He bruises me’ — here it
states ‘He bruises me’ and elsewhere it states ‘He shall bruise your head’
(Genesis 3:15). And because ‘he bruises me with a tempest, he multiplies my
wounds without cause.’ For it is his way to harm for nothing and to strike for
you should say that he acts without permission, behold Scripture states,
‘Stormy wind fulfils His word’ (Psalm 148:8) and also ‘Will the snake bite before
it is charmed [lachash]?’ (Ecclesiastes 10:11). The snake does not bite
unless he is prompted [lachashin] from above.
As R. Simeon said: There are instances when he is prompted from above;
but the victim is not known to the snake, and he kills someone else. Happy is
the one who is not known to him and who is not proscribed for him!
does Scripture state about Elimelech? ‘The man’s name was Elimelech’ (Ruth
1:2). Once he was proscribed, Satan executed judgment upon him until he killed
him. As Scripture states, ‘Elimelech died’ (Ruth 1:3). Just as it was
authorized to kill him, so was it authorized to kill his sons. This is all
according to the punishment [rendered to a judge, for there is no punishment
like that to a judge].
Let the judge not think that only he will be punished; rather, he and his
children and his entire household will be caught up in the condemnation of the
is incumbent upon a judge to investigate thoroughly the deeds of the
townspeople, for he is implicated in their sins. The judge may not say: I shall
render judgment between one person and another, but no further. Rather, all the
deeds of the town hang upon his neck. If he closes his eyes to the deeds of the
town, he is caught up in their sins.
had the ability to arise in defense of his generation, for he was righteous.
When the Holy Blessed One roused Himself in judgment upon the world, He looked
upon the leaders of the people and wished to protect Elimelech. At first what
does Scripture state? — ‘a man’
anonymously, and his identity is not specified. Thereupon the Accuser arose and
said, ‘The man’s name was Elimelech’ (Ruth 1:2), so that he and his entire
household would be marked for proscription.
this I have learned that there is no judge in any generation who is not marked
on a list on high. And when judgment is aroused upon the world, he is the first
to be judged, as Scripture states, ‘When the judges were judged’ (Ruth 1:1).”
his two sons were named Machlon and Kilion” (Ruth 1:2). R. Pedat and R.
Perachiah said: Machlon — because
the Holy Blessed One forgave [machal]
him afterwards, since he protested against his father and attempted
to pass his own judgments. Kilion — because
he perished [nikhlah] from
the world, leaving no trace.
Yose ben Qisma said: Just as they were, so were their wives. Orpah was
sentenced according to her name, “stiff-necked,”
since she did not wish to have a portion <78b> with Israel. It is
like the expression, “For they have turned their neck [oreph] to Me, and not their face”
(Jeremiah 2:27). The Rabbis say: Because she turned her neck to her
— from the word “turtle-dove,”
which is worthy for the altar. Thus was Ruth worthy to come into the
congregation, for on her account the law was established regarding only the
Ammonite and Moabite males, not females.
Ruth — since a child
descended from her who delighted the Holy Blessed One with songs and hymns.
wife of Machlon, entered the congregation. Machlon — because the Holy Blessed One forgave him, that his name should
be perpetuated. Orpah, wife of Kilion, did not enter the congregation; since
the Holy Blessed One caused them to perish, Kilion’s name was not perpetuated
linkage is established: Naomi is the Neshamah-Soul; Elimelech is the Soul of
Souls; Machlon is the intellectual Ruach-Soul; Ruth is the intellectual
Nefesh-Soul; Kilion is the animal Ruach-Soul. Concerning this, Solomon said,
“Who knows the human Ruach that rises upward, and the Ruach of animals that sinks
down into the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:21). “The human Ruach” — this refers to Machlon. “The Ruach of
animals” — this refers to Kilion,
who is from the left side. The animal Nefesh-Soul is Orpah, who is
stiff-necked~ and she is from the left side. For this reason, Kilion’ s name is
not perpetuated in Israel.
Moabite women” (Ruth 1:4). R. Rachumai said: They were daughters of
Eglon, King of Moab.
Why did Eglon deserve this? R. Rachumai said: When Ehud came and said,
“‘I have a message from God for you,’ and he [Eglon] rose from his throne”
(Judges 3:20), the Holy Blessed One said to him, “You have risen from your
throne in honour to Me; by your life, one shall descend from you who will sit
upon My throne.” As Scripture states, “Then Solomon sat on the throne of the
Eternal” (I Chron. 29:23).
Bun said, “Had I been present when the law was established against [marrying]
the Moabite males and not females, I would have disagreed and stated the
opposite. For Scripture states regarding the latter: ‘The people profaned
themselves by whoring with the Moabite women, who invited the people to the
sacrifices for their gods’ (Numbers 25:1); and also, ‘These are the very
ones who, at the bidding of Balaam, induced the Israelites to trespass against
the Eternal in the matter of Peor so that the Eternal’s community was struck by
the plague’ (Numbers 31:16). They [the women] caused all this, yet the men are
forbidden and they are permitted!”
he immediately said, “I retract the statement. For did not Moses and Eleazar
accept them, as Scripture states, ‘Spare those who have not had carnal
relations with a man’ (Numbers 31:18). What was their reasoning? The Moabite
daughters participated in the deed under duress, as R. Hilqiah quoted R. Assia
ben Gurion: The men came and brought them against their will, and she who
refused was killed — so that all
the Moabite females present were there under duress. Therefore certainly the
men are forbidden and the women are permitted. Furthermore, two reasons are
furnished in the Torah: ‘Because they did not meet you with food and water . . . and because they hired Balaam
against you’ (Deuteronomy 23:5). The ones who were really responsible
were the men.”
Chisdai said, “But have we not learned that the valley of Shitim
increased women’s desire for adultery
— but you say that they
participated against their will! As R. Oshaiah said: Why does Scripture state,
‘A fountain shall come forth from the house of the Eternal, and shall water the
valley of Shitim’ (Joel 4:18)? — because at that time the Holy Blessed
One intended to heal the entire world; and since the valley of Shitim
was rife with adultery, a fountain from the house of the Eternal would come
forth to heal this valley. If so, you must admit that the women came of their
own accord for the sake of adultery.”
said, “Heaven forbid! It is clearly known that women do not come of their own
accord in public to a place where their husbands and fathers are present.
Rather, the men ravaged them forcibly, at the advice of Balaam.”
ben Qisma said, “I doubt whether the purpose of the Book of Ruth is merely to
connect the seed of David with Ruth the Moabitess. For if this were so, it
would have related only the genealogy; why do we need all the rest? It should have
recorded only the genealogy of Boaz who married Ruth, by stating, ‘This is the
line of Peretz . . . Jesse begot David’ (Ruth
4:18-22). Rather, the entire Book is important because of a righteous woman who
came to convert and to find shelter under the wings of the Shekhinah, to show
her humility, modesty and righteousness.”
Eleazar son of R. Yose said, “It is to show the seed of David that they are ‘as
silver smelted in a crucible on the earth’ (Psalm 12:7). For ‘Peretz’ and
‘Obed’ are smelted, like silver which is smelted twice.
you should ask why it was necessary for them to come from such mothers, it is
because silver is refined with the base metal which is in it; and the seed of
David is smelted from both sides.
As Scripture states, ‘You shall love the Eternal your God with all your
heart, etc.’ (Deuteronomy 6:5) — with both your inclinations, the good
and the evil.
It was all necessary for the two sides to join together; and the seed of
David needed this.”
Abba Zaira said: The book of Ruth contains
neither laws of purity and impurity, nor precepts of forbidden and permitted.
Then why was it written?
Because of loving-kindness; to teach how greatly Cod rewards those who do
kindness (Ruth Rabbah 2).
Megillah of Ruth ends by recording the lineage of King David, founder of the
dynasty of Judean kings, ancestor of the long-awaited Messiah, and a father of
his people. For David, king of Israel, ranks with the patriarchs; just as God
us called “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus
3:6), so is He called “the God of David” (2 Kings 20:5).
this father of his people was subject to scathing abuse because of his descent
from Ruth the Moabite. The Torah prohibits Moabite converts from marrying into
God’s congregation; as the scripture writes, “A Moabite shall not enter into
the assembly of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 23:4). Ruth, however, was permitted to
do so, on the basis of a long- forgotten law (halacha) that the prohibition
applies only to the men of Moab,
not to the women: “a Moabite, not a Moabitess.” Yet in the time of King Saul,
Doeg the Edomite, head of the Sanhedrin, tried to disqualify David from the
kingship by proclaiming him unfit to enter God’s congregation (Talmud).
challenge touched off a heated controversy. The Talmud records that Amasa, son
of Yitra, drew his sword and declared, “He who does not accept this halacha
will be pierced by the sword. This is the tradition I received from the court
of Samuel: A Moabite [is forbidden], not a Moabitess” (Yebamoth 77a).
query was then dispatched to the aged prophet Samuel, who confirmed Amasa’s
statement: that aspect of the law was an oral tradition faithfully transmitted
from Moses. Thereupon the prophet composed the Megillah of Ruth as a halachic
ruling to validate David’s right to enter the congregation.
to a different opinion, when Samuel saw David seated on the throne, he wrote
the Megillah in order to publicize the wonders of God in creating the
possibility of the salvation of mankind—” the light of the Messiah,” of whom
all the prophets prophesied and whose coming is a basic tenet of Judaism. It
reveals that the Messiah will be of the royal family of Judah, and
therefore worthy of judging the poor and oppressing their oppressors, ruling
the nations and bringing them all to a recognition of God.
narrating how Ruth joined the people of Israel, wed Boaz, and bore Obed,
‘the father of Ishai, father of David” (v. 4:17), Samuel wrote: “And these are
the generations of Pereta” (v. 4:18). Thus he exalted David by tracing his
lineage back to Judah’s
son Pereta (lit. “the breaker”)’ the father of kings who break through to make
way for themselves. And David was to say, “Behold, I have come to honor and
greatness; in the scroll (megillah,) of a book it is written of me”
The Story and
begins the account with the departure of the aristocratic Elimelech of Judah,
his wife Naomi, and their sons from the famine-stricken land of Israel.
After settling in Moab,
Elimelech dies, followed by the death of both sons, who had married the Gentile
women Orpah and Ruth. Naomi, destitute and bitter, sets out for the land of Israel, and she is joined by her daughters-in-law.
When she pleads with them to turn back, Orpah leaves; Ruth, however, cleaves to
Naomi and her God, and the two make their way together to the Holy
Land. There Ruth goes to glean in the field of Naomi’s kin, Boaz,
who treats her kindly; and when the harvest season ends, Naomi sends her to ask
him, as a redeemer, to marry her. Boaz at first offers a closer relative the
opportunity of redeeming Ruth, and when the other refuses, marries her himself
and begets Obed, grandfather of David.
to our sages, the book has another purpose besides that of recording David’s
ancestry. It recounts the story of Ruth in lengthy detail, to teach us how
magnificently God rewards those who practice kindness.
Naomi says to Orpah and Ruth: “May the Lord deal kindly with you as you have
dealt with the deceased and with me” (v. 1:8), from which our sages infer that
they provided shrouds for their deceased husbands, relinquished their marriage
settlements (kethuboth, ,ucu,f) in favor of Naomi, and then
supported her and shared in her misery. God would reward them for these acts of
kindness. Because Orpah had accompanied Naomi forty paces, her descendant
Goliath would be spared for forty days. Ruth, who accompanied her all the way
back to the land of Israel
and converted, merited that David and Solomon would descend from her. And Boaz
merited the same by his kindness to Ruth.
is the basis of faith in God. Although the reward is sometimes delayed, the
Divine Master can be depended upon to reward in full measure.
Megillah also emphasizes the long-range impact of one’s deeds. Elimelech,
though descended from the eminent Nachshon, son of Aminadav, begot sons who
married Moabite women and died childless at an early age; Ruth, the sincere
convert, had descendants who sat on the throne of Israel.
the book of Ruth we learn, moreover, that God watches over men and requites
each according to his deeds. Thus Eglon king of Moab, because he honored
God (Judges 3:18), merited to have Ruth and David descend from him; but
Elimelech, who left the Holy Land to avoid dispensing his money to the hungry
populace, lost all and left his wife destitute. Then Ruth and Naomi chose
poverty in the land of Israel over wealth at the royal palace of Moab,
and they were raised to kingship.
the Megillah teaches that God arranges circumstances to implement His designs,
without interfering with man’s exercise of free will. Elimelech left the land of Israel
and his sans married Moabites— while God thereby arranged for the seed of David
to be brought back from Moab
by Ruth. Similarly, Gad had arranged for Judah’s tryst with Tamar to produce
Pereta. Earlier still, Jacob had journeyed to Laban, who tried to thwart him in
every way and tricked him into wedding Leah in addition to Rachel, even as God
had ordained them to be the mothers of the twelve tribes.
these three episodes are part of the same plan, they are all mentioned in the
blessing which the elders bestowed upon Boaz and Ruth at the time of their
marriage: “May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your house of Israel like
Rachel and like Leah.... And may your house be like the house of Pereta whom
Tamar bore to Judah,
from the seed that the Lord will give you from this young woman (v.4:11,12).
the order of the Holy Scripture, the book of Ruth is followed by Psalms, to
teach that Ruth’s suffering had a worthwhile end. From her came David who
overflowed before God with songs and praise.
the book of Ruth was written by the prophet Samuel, it is included among the
Writings rather than the Prophets. Apparently it stemmed from a lower level of
prophecy than the book of Judges and the book of Samuel composed by the same
Why Ruth is Read on Shavuoth (Pentecost)
Megillah of Ruth is read in the synagogue on the festival of Shavuoth, “the
time of the giving of our Torah.”
connection is there between Ruth and Matan Torah (vru,
i,n, the giving of the Law)? One answer is that the account of Ruth’s
marriage to Boaz testifies to the authenticity of the Oral Law rendered to
Moses at Sinai. The legitimacy of David and of the Messiah depends on the
halachic distinction “a Moabite, not a Moabitess,” which is an oral tradition
not recorded in the scripture.
sages declare that the book of Ruth is read on Shavuoth to teach that the Torah
is given only through affliction and poverty. “The Torah said before God: If
the rich study me, they will grow haughty. But when the poor study me, they
know they are hungry and lowly, and will not grow haughty.”
personifies the teaching that the Torah is perpetuated only by those who make
do with little, suffer, and accept death for its sake. She joined the Jewish
people and ,made do with barley, the bread of poverty; endured wandering, want,
and loneliness; and she cleaved to the Torah even if she would have to die for
it, declaring, “Where you die, I will die” (v. 1:17). Therefore, she merited to
have Solomon as her descendant, who made the Torah accessible to others through
too, we learn from Ruth: One should not study Torah in order to achieve honor
and glory, although these will come. She cleaved to the bitter, destitute
Naomi, and in the end attained honor and glory in this world and in the next.
Thus Boaz said to her, “The Lord repay your deed [in this world], and be your
reward complete [in the World to Come]” (v. 2:12).
Elimelech, on the other hand, we learn that one should not leave the land of Israel. Yet one may do so in order to
study Torah (Talmud).
great is the illumination provided by the Torah!” exclaim our sages. Gentiles
abandon their vanities and convert in order to cleave to it; how much more so,
then, must we exalt it and toil to possess it!
as our forefathers accepted the Torah and entered a covenant with God through
ritual immersion, so, too, did Ruth at her conversion. From the time she joined
Israel “at the beginning of the barley harvest” (v. 1:22) (on Passover, where
the first-grain (the omer,) of barley is offered) until the end of the
barley harvest on Shavuoth, she was purified and elevated by suffering, just
as the children of Israel were purified and elevated during seven weeks from
the Exodus on Passover until Matan Torah on Shavuoth.
learn as well not to look down on the proselyte. Rabbi Akiba was descended from
converts, and according to the Midrash was worthy of having the Torah given
through him, had he not been preceded by Moses. Thus the Midrash recounts that
when Moses ascended on high and saw Rabbi Akiba, he said to God, “You have such
a one, yet You give the Torah through me!”
great-grandson David is likened to Moses. Whatever Moses did, says the Midrash,
David did also. Moses saved Israel
from the Egyptian bondage, David, from suppression by the nations. Moses split
the sea, David, the rivers. Moses gave Israel the Five Books of the Torah,
David, the five books of Psalms.
was forty years old when she embraced the Torah, and perhaps it was her example
that inspired Rabbi Akiba to begin learning Torah at the same age. Hence adults
who received no Torah education in childhood can draw courage to educate and
immerse themselves in Torah.
Ruth’s divinely chosen husband—the wealthy aristocratic Boaz, of whom it is
written, “Boaz ate and drank, and his heart was glad [with Torah study]” (v.
3:7), we learn that the rich, too, must occupy themselves with Torah learning.
story of Boaz and Ruth teaches that righteous women are equal to righteous men.
Although women are not obligated to engage in Torah study, they can attain high
spiritual levels, as did the beautiful Ruth, who, by carefully observing the
laws of leket (gleaning) and scrupulously practicing modesty, merited
to become the mother of royalty.
book of Ruth is read during the harvest season to remind us that Torah study is
a prerequisite for prosperity. When “It came to pass in the days of the judging
of the judges,” which our sages explain as reflecting a weakening of Torah
study, “there was a famine in the land” (v.1:1).
also reminds us of the obligation of giving to the poor from the harvest, in
accordance with the laws of peah, leket, and shikechah (Leviticus
19:9—10). Charity is particularly necessary and advisable at the completion of
the days of Counting the Omer, a time of din (ihs), strict
judgment, for it then protects the giver from the Attribute of Justice (Din).
Through charity and Torah study, Israel will merit the speedy coming
of Ruth’s descendant, the Messiah.
It came to pass in the days of the judging
of the judges, that there was a famine in the land. There went a man from Bethlehem in Judah
to dwell in the Fields of Moab—he,
his wife, and his two sons.
book of the Holy Scripture unfolds the divine pattern of events that was to
give rise to the royal house of David as a result of the marriage of Boaz and
the Moabite woman Ruth. It is the story of how Ruth .0earned the privilege of
becoming the mother of royalty in Israel because of her persistence
in cleaving to the Jewish people.
narrative begins by recording that these events took place in the days of the
judges. The age of the kings was still in the future, and the leadership of the
people was in the hands of chieftain-judges. It was the time of Ibetzan, that
they were not simply the days of the judges; they were the days of “the judging
of the judges.” They were the days, our sages point out, when the judges were
judge would point out a small offense committed by a Jew, the Jew would point
out a worse offense committed by the judge. If the judge rebuked someone for an
obvious wrongdoing, the man would reply that the misdeeds of the judge were
equally grave, although harder to detect. And if he was chastised
for sinning in private, he would retort that the judge had sinned in
inference by our sages that the judges were judged, is hinted at in the words ohypuav
yupa, whose letters can be arranged to read ovhypua uypa ”they
judged their judges.”
judging their judges, the people did not stop at mere words. Before a judge
could order an offender flogged, the offender would flog the judge.
judging the judges and rejecting their rebuke, the people also found fault with
the judiciary process itself. For the judges were struck by fear of violent
defendants and failed to convict them. They were thus guilty of transgressing
the admonition aht hbpn urud, tk, “be not intimidated by any
man” (Deuteronomy 1:17), and the growing epidemic of crime that swept the land
Solomon was to declare: “These also are [sayings] from the wise: To show
respect for persons in judgment is not good. If one says to the wicked: ‘You
are righteous,’ people will curse him, nations shall fume at him” (Proverbs
who pervert justice are cursed for the consequences that ensue. Accordingly,
the book of Ruth opens on a note of distress. The expression vayehi (hvhu),
“and it came to pass,” contains the word vay (hu) “woe.” Woe to the Jews in those times!
Woe to a
generation that judges its judges. And woe to a generation whose judges deserve
to be judged!
Because it was a generation that judged
its judges, there were no men of sufficient merit among them to intercede
before God and forestall the decree of famine that was brought on by the
corruption of society.
Just as Israel fell short of being a
perfectly righteous nation, their judges fell short of being ideal rulers.
Ideally, a ruler in Israel
guides the people by his personal example and his strong, inspired leadership.
But the judges did not provide effective leadership, and the people did not
attain spiritual perfection.
The ideal society cannot exist without
justice in law. Thus, when Jacob prophesied about the Messianic age, he said:
“The staff will not depart from Judah,
nor the law-giver from between his feet, until Shilo (the Messiah) will come
(Genesis 49:10). The Messianic king will rebuke all who are within his hearing;
he will smite them with the rod of his mouth (cf. Isaiah 11:3,4).
The people had the leaders they deserved,
and the corruption of both deepened. As a result, the society crumbled. There
came true the words of Isaiah: ‘They
that lead the people cause them to err; and they that are led by them are destroyed”
Then God brought judgment upon Israel in the
form of a famine.
Famine is a harsh punishment. But this
famine was at the same time an act of divine providence. It would provide Israel with a righteous king, David, king of Israel, who
would administer universal justice.
Accordingly, God patterned events and
arranged causes that led to Elimelech’s leaving the country, and Naomi’s
bringing back Ruth the Moabite.
period of the judges, before the monarchy was established, was a difficult
period for the Jewish people.
no king to unite the twelve tribes and lead a strong army into battle, they
were continually harassed by the neighboring nations and subjugated.
physical woes reflected their spiritual decline. When Israel cleaves
to the Torah, God casts fear of them upon the nations. But without the forceful
guidance of a king, they failed to attain the required level of cleaving to the
Torah that God demands of them, and He delivered Israel into the hands of its
the days when the events recorded in the book of Ruth took place, famine was
added to Israel’s
woes. The famine was all the more devastating because there was no king to
stabilize food prices, distribute available food fairly, or compel the rich to
support the poor. Since the judges had no power over the people, food was
hoarded and prices soared.
to add to their woes, Elimelech abandoned them. A great man of noble lineage
and vast wealth, to whom the starving populace looked for support and
encouragement during the famine, had crushed their morale by leaving. And there
was no king to prevent his departure.
three calamities are alluded to in the three vay’s (“woes”) of the
verse: vay’ehi, in the days of the judging of the judges; vay’ehi, there
was a famine; vay’elech, and Elimelech left.
More on “The Judging of the
scripture records about those times that “also to their judges they did not
listen” (Judges 2:17). And because the people judged their judges, in
punishment, measure for measure, Israel was judged by one of God’s four
“judgments” spoken of by the prophet Ezekiel: “For thus said the Lord God: How
much more so when I send My four sore judgments against Jerusalem, the sword,
and the famine, and the evil beasts, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man
and beast” (Ezekiel 14:21).
is the judgment that comes upon the world when justice is delayed (ihsv
hubg) or perverted (ihsv ,uug).
this sense too, then, “it was in the days of the judging of the judges”; that
is, the judges of the heavenly tribunal judged the judges of the generation.
Their decree: there was to be a famine in the land.
famine for bread was the physical manifestation of a famine for spiritual
sustenance. The word of God, Torah, is also called bread (Proverbs 9:5), and
because the people of Israel
had neglected to nourish their souls by the study of Torah, neither were their
accords with the words of the Talmud that “If there is no Torah, there is no
flour” (Avoth). There was both a hunger for bread and a hunger for Torah when
Elimelech abandoned the land of Israel for the land of Moab.
also comes upon the world on account of strife. Compromise and peace are
necessary for abundance, as it is written, “He puts peace as your border, and
satiates you with the fat of wheat” (Psalms 147:14). Without peace, there is no
in those days was not a harmonious whole but a people divided and quarreling
among themselves. As a result, “it was in the days of the judging of the
judges.” Since no side would yield in any dispute, the judges were kept busy
judging the claims and complaints of the people.
of the disunity is the fact that Israel was governed by “judges” (plural),
rather than by a single judge. Because Torah knowledge had declined and
qualified leaders were scarce, all who wished declared themselves judges.
Sages derive from the combination of singular (ypa) and plural (ohypua)
forms in the verse that two judges would govern at the same time. In contrast
to the self-declared judges, these are identified as being qualified judges.
and Deborah were two of those judges. Between them they led the people to
victory on the battlefield, and together then offered praise to God (Judges 5).
to the Midrash, there were then actually three righteous judges. The third was
Yael, wife of Chever the Kenite, who contributed to victory by slaying the
enemy general Sisera (Judges 4:21).
she, too, was a judge is apparent from the Song of Deborah: “In the days of
Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Yael, the highways ceased and the
travellers walked through byways” (Judges 5:6). On account of her forceful
administration of justice, the roads were safe.]
Yehoshua ben Levi identifies the judges as Ehud and Shamgar, the latter having
begun to rule before the former died. Thus it is written: “And after [Ehud] was
Shamgar son of Anath ... and Ehud died” (Judges 3:31, 4:1).
Book of Judges records of their time that “The children of Israel continued to do evil in the
eyes of God” (Judges 4:1). The people sinned. and the result was the famine.
lived in the beginning of the era of the judges, shortly after the land of Israel had been conquered and
apportioned to the tribes. In their eagerness to work the new fields and
vineyards God had given them, the Israelites neglected Torah study, whereupon
God delivered them into the hands of Eglon, king of Moab (Judges 3:12).
to the view, therefore, that the story of Ruth took place in the time of Ehud,
Elimelech left for a country and a nation that was then oppressing the people
even as he himself was guilty of oppressing them by failing to provide for the
poor, and crushing their spirit by his departure.
“Ehud made a sword that had two mouths” (Judges 3:16). Our sages explain that
he upheld the study of Torah, which is called a double-mouthed sword, for it
nourishes a man in this world and in the World to Come.
on the verse “The voice is the voice of Jacob, and the hands are the hands of
Esau” (Genesis 27:22), the Talmud declares that when the voice of Jacob is
raised in Torah study, the arm of Esau can no longer prevail in battle. Ehud
slew Eglon by the sword and freed Israel
from the yoke of Moab, and
then, by having restored the study of Torah among the people, helped Israel keep free of Moab.
is thus clear that the criticism leveled by our sages was only at the majority
of the people. Righteous individuals were still to be found, such as Deborah
and Barak, Shamgar and Ehud—and Ibetzan (Boaz).
interpretation: “It was in the days of the judging of the judges”—it was a time
when God applied the attribute of stern justice (Din) to the judges
themselves. When God brings judgment upon the world, He begins with the judges,
because they cause anguish to the poor.
the scripture writes, “Wherever [the judges] went forth, the hand of the Lord
was against them for evil . . and they were sore distressed” (Judges 2:15). He
caused the judges to suffer, and in addition brought famine to the land.
perceive yet another reason for the scripture linking famine and “the judging
of the judges.” It is based on the teaching of our sages that Jerusalem was destroyed because “they set
their words upon the words of the Torah.” That is, the judges of the time did
not seek to make peace among the litigants, but applied the strict letter of
the law. “Let the law pierce the mountain!” was their credo—and famine and
generation was not punished by exile, however, because it cherished the land.
This is demonstrated by the fact that the scripture highlights the single
instance of this one man, Elimelech, who left the land to escape the famine.
Some say that Elimelech left for fear of the disunity and strife that increased
in the wake of the famine.
stress of general want aggravated tensions, and seeing how troublesome it
would be for him as a judge to deal with the many disputes that would come
before him, he fled.
men of stature also refused to undertake the troublesome burden of serving as
judges, with the result, as already noted, that unworthy judges were appointed,
whom the people then had good cause to condemn.
In Praise of Israel
this view, the people themselves were mostly praiseworthy, and the book of Ruth
itself attests to their careful observation of Torah Law. They gave the “gifts
of the poor” (Leviticus 19:9,10): they left the corner (vtp)
of the fields untouched, for the poor to reap; and let them pick (yek)
stalks of grain that dropped during reaping; and gather forgotten sheaves of
cut grain (vjfa). They performed conversions according to
Torah law, as in the case of Ruth herself; refrained from marrying Moabite
women converts, although permitted by law since the halacha had not been
clarified at that time; arranged for fields to be redeemed by relatives, as
Boaz did; married in the presence of ten male Jews (v. 4:2); and acquired
ownership of property by passing a kerchief (v. 4:7)—rsux
ihbe — as provided for in Torah law.
were chaste. Ruth spent days picking in the fields, but the field hands never
touched her. Boaz awoke one night to find a beautiful woman at his feet, but he
did not sin.
had faith in God. Boaz greeted the harvesters with “the Lord be with you,” and
they replied, “May the Lord bless you” (v. 2:4).
sages comment upon the verse, “God spoke to Moses and Aaron and gave them
instructions regarding the children of Israel…. (Exodus 6:13): God said to
them, “My children are dissenters, are excitable, are troublesome.” Rabbi
Avigdor Miller explains this in a positive manner: They are aggressive and take
action; and if they see their leaders in the wrong, they oppose them, as they
did here in “judging the judges.”
is usually held against them: Woe to the generation which judges its judges!
But this can also be seen as a commendation of our fathers. They criticized
their leaders; and therefore the leaders were forced to be perfect, else they
would be exposed to public censure.
the one hand, the children of Israel
were “troublesome,” they were aggressive, and they attacked the leaders for
every deviation, real or imagined. We stand horrified when Moses exclaimed: “A
little more, and they will stone me” (Exodus 17:4), and we might consider them
an unruly rabble. But these words ought to be put on a banner and displayed as
a testament to the greatness of our forefathers. Even Moses could not escape
their censure. Authority meant nothing to them when they thought they saw
children are troublesome” is thus the explanation of why they are “My
children.” Their loyalty to God transcends their loyalty to men.
The Mistress is Stricken
to this view that the people were righteous, it was thus the failure and
incompetence of the judges that brought on the famine. “Justice, justice shall
you seek,” exhorts the Torah (Deuteronomy 16:20), “so that you will live and
inherit the land!” And our sages conclude that the appointment of worthy
judges sustains the people of Israel
and keeps them on their land.
the lack of justice must lead to a lack of food. And since this was a time when
the judges deserved to be judged, the land was stricken with famine.
the pillar of justice eroded, the channels of rainfall broke down. Ordinarily,
the whole world is blessed with rain in the merit of the land of Israel, as it
is written: “Who gives rain on the face of the land [of Israel] and [then]
sends water on the face of lands outside [,umuj] (Job 5:10). But
now the land of Israel
was afflicted with famine, while in the other lands (including Moab, according
to one view) there was no famine. The mistress was stricken, the maidservant
was not stricken.
vay’ehi (“woe”)—how great the tragedy that God had to bring famine
because of the sins of His creatures!
stark contrast between Moab’s
plenty and Israel’s want
should have alerted the judges to examine their deeds and repent, for the
famine in Israel
was obviously not a natural phenomenon, but a divine punishment.
did not do so, and instead of repenting, fled.
fleeing, he demonstrated his lack of faith in God. In contrast stands the
episode of the gentile who pointed out to a Torah scholar who was leaving the land of Israel
to seek his livelihood elsewhere: “God Who provides for you outside the Holy Land will provide for you in it as well.” [And he
shamed him into staying (Talmud).]
also blame the famine on the people, who were ambivalent in their faith. Some
served idols, others served God, and they thought themselves clever. “If we are
right,” the first reasoned, “the idols will bless us. If we are wrong, the
merits of our God-fearing neighbors will shield us from God’s wrath.” But God
brought famine upon them all.
greatly God cherishes the ascent to the land of Israel!”
exclaim our sages. In describing the return to Zion in the days of Ezra, the scripture
gives a detailed account of the returning population, down to its horses,
camels, and mules (Ezra 2). But when the wealthy Elimelech left the land, the
scripture merely says: “a man went.”
in this and the following verse, the scripture says that Elimelech was “a man..
. from Bethlehem in Judah.” Although he was “a man (aht),
a person of rank, wealth, and distinction, and hence under obligation
to protect the poor, he abandoned them and left the country. Although “from Bethlehem in Judah,”
one of its old and established citizens, he went with his family to settle
permanently in Moab.
Thus the following verse says, significantly, “They came to the Fields of Moab
and they were there.” What is emphasized us that they had left not merely
as a temporary measure but to remain there.
did he leave the Holy Land for the unholy soil and the land of the gentiles, he
the home of Boaz and later of the righteous Ishai and his son David. None of
this he considered or anticipated.
of the reasons he fled was that the people were judging their judges. “If this
is so in times of prosperity,” he thought, “how much worse it will be in times
of stress and famine. The land will be ridden with crime, and there is no one
to restrain the criminal!” [Evidently he left before the famine deepened.]
was “a man,” a prominent member of the family of Nachshon son of Aminadav,
prince of the tribe of Judah
during the exodus from Egypt.
And he is identified in the next verse as Elimelech (lknhkt),
which literally means “a king to me” (lkn hkt). He saw
himself as the progenitor of kings, and, being of the tribe of Judah, even
sought the royal scepter for himself. For, as he was wont to exclaim, “Kingship
will come to me!” (Talmud.)
failed to understand, however, that the essence of kingship is charity and
kindness: the king’s task is to care for the needs of the people. When the time
came to appoint a king over Israel,
God chose a shepherd who faithfully and tenderly cared for the flocks entrusted
to him. “He chose David, His servant, and took him from the sheepfolds. From
following the ewes that give suck He brought him to shepherd Jacob, His people,
His inheritance. He shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart,
and by the skillfulness of his hands he led them” (Psalms 78:70-72).
when David’s son Solomon was asked about the power of charity, he replied: Look
at what my father said: “He has distributed and given to the needy, his
righteousness (vesm—lit. charity) endures forever, his horn shall
be exalted in honor” (Psalms 112:9).
closed his hand to the needy, and thus disqualified himself for kingship. He
failed to realize that the honors of royalty go to the one who seeks the public
welfare, not personal glory.
the other hand, he sought the kingship also because the people were judging
their judges, making it impossible to enforce any verdict and to punish
criminals. The same motivation, later, was behind the people’s request for a
king when they said to the prophet Samuel: “Give us a king to judge us” (1
Samuel 8:5). They wanted justice enforced against powerful men who
defied the law.
Elimelech’s day, however, the time was not yet ripe for the monarchy. This had
to await the unfolding of events that stemmed from the portentous encounter
between Jacob and Esau, as recounted in the Portion of VaYishlach (Genesis
that encounter Jacob had said to Esau, “Let my master pass before his servant”
(Genesis 33:14). For this to come true, says the Talmud, eight kings had to
first rule in Edom, the inheritance of Esau, before any king reigned in Israel.
Since the reigns of the eight Edomite kings were not yet completed in
Elimelech’s time, Israel
had to still remain under the rule of the judges.
that historic meeting, too, according to our sages, all the members of Jacob’s
household—except for Rachel, who was shielded by Joseph, and her son Benjamin,
who had not yet been born—had bowed down before Esau. Therefore only a
descendant of Rachel would be able to vanquish Israel’s arch-enemy Amalek,
descended from Esau.
the task of Israel’s first
king would be to destroy Amalek, he would thus have to be of the tribe of
Benjamin, not of Judah.
That king was Saul.
all these reasons Elimelech was not appointed king. Neither was he appointed
chieftain-judge, for that function was already served by Boaz.
explain Elimelech’s claim to kingship thus. [It was not simply the expression
of personal ambition, or a means of dealing with the immediate problems of his
society, but] the prophetic vision of a Gadol HaDor, the great man of
his generation, who saw in the future a magnificent chain of kings arising
from him, extending through David, Hezekiah (Chizkiya), and the Messiah. On the
other hand he saw the corruption of his generation due to the failure of the
judges, and the resulting famine. So he tried to hasten the establishment of
the monarchy by going to Moab
in search of the “precious pearl” that would lead, he knew, to the founding of Israel’s royal
the licentious populace of the Fields of Moab he thought to find one chaste and
modest woman—outstanding on that account—who would be worthy of becoming the
mother of royalty in Israel.
vision came true, in fact, although indirectly, by Boaz eventually taking Ruth
in levirate marriage, whose purpose, according to the Law of Moses, is “to
establish the name of his brother in Israel” (Deuteronomy 25:7). The resulting
progeny was thus a continuation of the house of Elimelech.]
is revealing in this regard that lkhu (“went”) appears twice in the Holy
Scripture—the “going” of Elimelech and the “going” (lkhu) of Amram,
the father of Moses. Of Amram it is written: “A man of the house of Levi went
and took to wife the daughter of Levi” (Exodus 2:1). Of Elimelech it is
written: “A man went from Bethlehem in Judah.” Just as
Amram’s going illuminated the world with Moses, who redeemed Israel from Egypt,
so did Elimelech’s going sow the seeds of the Messiah, who will redeem Israel from the
was not the only distinguished member of his family. His wife was Naomi (hngb
—“the pleasant”) known far and wide for her good deeds that were pleasing to
God and to man. And their sons were “Ephratites”—people of distinction. So well
known were they that here the scripture does not find it necessary to identify
them by recording their lineage.
went a man.. . he, his wife, and his. . . sons.” First the man went alone, to
ascertain that there was food in Moab, and also where in the Fields
of Moab to settle. Then he returned to take his family, and he, his wife, and
his sons went away together.
had no desire to leave the Holy Land, but
thought it proper to follow her husband; and the sons followed their parents.
Thus our sages declare: “He, his wife, and his sons—they are listed in order of
importance. Since Elimelech led the departure, he was punished first.”
he only had his wife and two sons to provide for, he fled to the land of the
Moabites, about whom the scripture says: “You shall not seek their peace nor
their prosperity all your days forever” (Deuteronomy 23:7).
was the scion of a noble family, bearing the seed of kings. Yet he forsook the Holy Land and abandoned the people to their misery.
Elimelech left the land, say our sages, God was sitting in judgment of the
world, His heavenly tribunal in session before Him. At first God concealed
Elimelech; thus the scripture records that “there went a man without mentioning
his name. But the Attribute of Justice mentioned his name—as the next verse
records: “And the name of the man was Elimelech”—and immediately a harsh decree
was issued against him and his sons.
was not hunger that drove him to leave. There was food aplenty in his house: he
went from “Bethlehem,”
literally, “a house of bread.” He left for fear that the poor would beg him for
then, is the emphasis that he left for Moab as “a man” (aht),
a person of stature and wealth, and there he became impoverished as a
punishment for abandoning the poor.
punishment befit the deed also in that, of all places, he chose to live in Moab.
Although the Moabites were descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot,
they had not come out to welcome the Israelites in the wilderness with bread
and water. Therefore, God had commanded Israel “Do not seek their peace or
their prosperity” (Deuteronomy, 23:7), and He had forbidden the Jewish people
to marry male Moabite converts.
Moab, Elimelech did not
food and water. He forsook the people in violation of the command to “Love your
neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) and he went to live among a people
whose prosperity a Jew is forbidden to seek.
departing for Moab,
Elimelech thus brought darkness upon Israel by helping in their
subjugation. Yet out of his going there gleamed forth the light of the Messiah
of the house of David.
departure, though criticized, is not unprecedented. His forebear Judah, whose
name appears in this verse, also left his brethren at one point to live among
gentiles, as it is written: “It came to pass at that time, that Judah went down
from his brothers, and turned to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah”
(Genesis 38:1). And the events that followed led to the completion of an early chapter
in the history of the monarchy. [Judah’s ringing confession, “She is
more righteous than I” (Genesis 38:26), won him the kingship forever, and the
child Peretz born to Judah and the convert Tamar was a link in the chain
leading to David and the Messiah.]
the next verse points out that Elimelech and his family remained righteous in Moab as they had been in the land of Israel.
The mane was still Elimelech, worthy of kingship; the wife was still Naomi,
whose deeds are pleasing; and the two sons remained Ephratites, men of
Elimelech’s purpose in leaving been simply to obtain food, he could have
remained in the land of Israel but moved near the border, where he could
purchase food from Moab.
But his purpose was “to sojourn” in Moab.
interpretation is that originally he intended only to live in Moab
temporarily (“to sojourn”). But in the end, he settled there permanently.
contrast to Boaz (Ibetzan), who was burdened with the support of thirty sons
and thirty daughters (Judges 12:9), yet did not leave the Holy Land during the
famine, Elimelech left although he had only two sons to support. Therefore Boaz
merited the kingship that Elimelech sought.
criticism leveled against Elimelech is that he did not leave the land of Israel during the entire time injustice
was rampant there: He left only when the famine came and the lack of justice
affected him personally. This is reflected in the sequence of the verse. He did
not leave “in the days of the judging of the judges,” i.e., when the judges
were being judged; but after “there was a famine in the land.” Only then “there
went a man from Bethlehem in Judah.”
in the infamous Pilegesh beGivah episode (Judges 19,20), the
Benjaminites were slaughtered because they protested for the honor of mortals
but not against the idol of Mica (Judges 17).
might try to defend Elimelech by citing the dictum of our sages: “In time of
famine, leave your home.” However, that does not mean one is allowed to leave
the Holy Land. Furthermore, it does not apply
to great men, who must not abandon their people in order to seek their own
welfare. A man of wealth should distribute his money among the poor; a sage
should remain with his people to lend them moral support and pray that God
grant them bread. Elimelech did not do so.
did the opposite of what Abraham had done, who also left the land of Israel
during a famine (Genesis 12:10). Abraham devoted his life to doing chesed, kindness.
He lavished hospitality on wayfarers, and when he ran out of food to give, he
went to Egypt,
there to continue his kind practices. But Elimelech, who had food in the land of Israel, left in order to avoid doing chesed
left the land when it was inhabited by wicked heathens; Elimelech left when it
was settled by the Jewish people. Moreover, he left Bethlehem, the seat of the Sanhedrin, a city
from which Torah came forth. For as King David later said: “Who will give me
water [a metaphor for Torah] to drink from the cistern of Bethlehem at the gate where the High Court of
Sanhedrin convened]!” (2 Samuel 23:15.)
a rich man sets out on a journey, the local poor see him off and he throws
money into the crowd. Elimelech, however, was afraid of just that, and he left
in secrecy. Hence the verse does not mention his name, saying only “there went
the other hand, upon arriving in Moab, he publicized his name—”the
name of the man was Elimelech” (v. 1:2)—so that people would honor him.
a great man left, the people of Israel
did not follow his example. Despite the famine, they remained in the Holy Land.
Now the name of the man was Elimelech, and
the name of his wife, Naomi; and the name of his two Sons, Machlon and
Kilyon—Ephratites from Bethlehem [in] Judah. They
came to the Fields of Moab,
and they were there.
man, his wife, and his two sons are now identified as Elimelech, Naomi, and
Machlon and Kilyon. We are told hat they were Ephratites, that is,
distinguished people from the Judean town of Bethlehem.
Jews, when they find themselves in exile among gentiles, are ashamed of their
Jewish names and change them. Not so Elimelech and his family. Even in Moab they kept
their original names.
who saw these four foreigners recognized them immediately as distinguished
Ephratites from Bethlehem.
old saying, “in his hometown a man is known by his name, elsewhere he is known
by his clothes,” did not apply to them.
learn from Naomi’s name (“one who is pleasing”) that she was a woman whose
deeds were pleasing to God and man. However, she was punished because she had
not prevented her husband from leaving the land of Israel,
which was within her power. For by Torah law a man cannot force his wife to
relocate, let alone leave the Holy Land.
fate that befell this family in Moab
is hinted at in the names of the two sons. In the scripture, Machlon and Kilyon
are also called Yoash and Saraph (1 Chronicles 4:22), which means
despair and burning. They despaired of God saving Israel
from the famine, and by divine retribution, measure for measure, they deserved
death by burning for leaving the Holy Land.
For Torah Law forbids leaving the land
of Israel except under
certain conditions, and when one nullifies even a single aspect of Torah
teaching, it is as if he burned the entire Torah.
is significant that they were “two sons.” They were of two minds and did
not consult with one another. Another interpretation is that they were equal in
to one view, Machlon and Kilyon were not their original names, but the names
they were given to tell of their fate—dissolution and destruction. They were
wiped off the face of the earth because they had left the Holy
Land. Indeed, Machlon and Kilyon are not two distinct names, but a
single name-form which reveals that they incurred extinction by the hand of
The name Machlon (iukjn) also conveys that
they had made their lives chullin (ihkuj), commonplace and unworthy of
preserving. Both were thus “Kilyon” (iuhkf)—subject to extinction (vhkf).
the other hand, the names are seen as distinguishing between them. Machlon also
means forgiveness (vkhjn); he who married Ruth was forgiven for his
sins. God left him a remembrance and perpetuated his name through his
next-of-kin, Boaz. But Kilyon married Orpah, and as his name implies, was
is stressed that they were Ephratites; that is, they were distinguished
because they came from Bethlehem in Judah. Although
there were other towns in the land of Israel named Bethlehem,
the most important town was that located in the territory of Judah,
the tribe of royalty.
sages explain that “Ephratites” means nobles or princes. The fact that Eglon.
king of Moab.
gave his daughters Ruth and Orpah in marriage to Machlon and Kilyon, attests to
their eminent stature.
they were Ephratites because they traced their descent from the prophetess
Miriam, who is called Ephrata (1 Chronicles 2:19). Yocheved and
Miriam (Shifra and Puah of Exodus 1:15) had defied Pharaoh’s orders to
kill the newborns, and as their reward God promised them houses” (Exodus
1:21)—a house of priesthood and a house of royalty.
was Miriam’s faith in God, that even when her brother Moses was abandoned on
the Nile, she did not despair. She had “stood
from afar to see” (Exodus 2:4) how her prophecy would turn out in the
now that God’s promise of a royal household was about to be fulfilled through
this family, the scripture records that they were Ephratites, that is, descendants
Naomi, and their two sons had three virtues essential for kingship: wealth,
wisdom, and eminent lineage. Elimelech was wealthy; Naomi, who attained
prophecy, was wise; and Machlon and Kilyon were Ephratites. But all these virtues
were of no avail when they left the land
of Israel and the sons
married Moabite women.
they had gone to the “Fields of Moab,” that is, they intended to live in one of
the small (“field”) towns. Finding that the townspeople were steeped in
immorality, they moved to the larger cities. However, a water shortage in the
cities forced their return to the towns, where they remained. It is stressed to
their discredit that “they were there’ despite the rampant depravity.
interpretation is that while at first Elimelech intended merely to sojourn in Moab for the
duration of the famine, eventually the family settled there.
so long as Elimelech was only planning to live there temporarily, the scripture
concealed his identity and merely stated that ‘a man went.” But when he fixed
his residence in Moab—”and
they were there’ ‘—it proclaimed his infamy and recorded his
is ironic that Elimelech chose Moab
as a haven from hunger. The male converts of Moab
were not even permitted to marry into the community of Israel, since, as already noted,
they had not welcomed the Israelites in the desert with bread and water. Yet to
this people, Elimelech now took his family in search of food.
dwelling among the stingy, inhospitable Moabites, their own tendency to
stinginess was reinforced. Thus the scripture records that they did not travel
throughout the country, but stayed in one place. According to one
interpretation, they hoped thereby to keep their arrival in Moab secret so
that poor Jews would not come asking for food.
interpretation is that the scripture testifies to their merit; although “they
were there”—in depraved, inhospitable Moab—they remained unaffected. In Moab they retained the same level of piety as in
the Holy Land. Similarly, the scripture had
written of Joseph: “And God was with Joseph.. . and he was in the house
of his master the Egyptian” (Genesis 39:2). Although he was the only Jew
he had remained faithful to God.
ABRAHAM IBN EZRA
1:1 IT CAME ABOUT IN THE DAYS WHEN THE JUDGES
WERE JUDGING: There are some who say that God judged the judges, for it was
through them that the famine came into the land of Israel.
is one who is so particular about details that he says that the word ypa
is nor a verb but a noun as in the phrase ‘sword, judgment’, but it can be
taken in its usual sense for every verb, past or future or intransitive, is
conjugated from the infinitive for it is the root.
‘FROM’ in FROM BETHLEHEM, JUDAH, serves for itself and also for his people,
because a proper noun cannot be put in the construct.
1:2 MAHLON AND CHILION: We do not know the events
which occurred, by reason of which they were given these names, as we do in the
case of Issachar and Moses. By derash they
say that they are Joash and Saraph because they took daughters of Moab and it is written there that they had
dominion in Moab.
were permitted to Israel for
the scripture only forbade that Ammanites and Moabites should come into the
congregation and that they should marry the daughters of Israel, and in
the book of Ezra I will explain this properly.
reason why FROM BETHLEHEM is written twice is to show that they were natives,
and further because it says EPHRATHITES and this word is sometimes used in
connection with the place which is called Ephrath, and sometimes for the family
was the name of the wife of Caleb son
of Hezron, and the place was called by her name in the same way as Egypt. It is
not possible that Mahlon and Chilion married these women before they were
converted to Judaism; the evidence for this is TO HER PEOPLE AND HER GOD.
Questions: Why does the
Prophet Samuel relate that this story took place in the days when the judges governed? He should have told
name of the judge. Why does it appear to repeat itself, saying a (great) man
from Bethlehem (in) Yehudah went and also that they came to the fields
of Moab and stayed there?
1. It was in
the days when the judges governed. The Prophet Samuel is describing
the reasons which motivated Elimelech to leave the Land of Israel. Namely, that it was in the days when the judges governed. About these times it is stated (Shofetim 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25), In those
days there was no king in Israel.
Each man would do what was right in his own eyes. At that period, too,
there was no one individual judge for all of the people of Israel, who
could exercise control. It was a time “between the judges” when there were many separate
judges; any man who desired made claim to power. As a result, the authority of
each judge was mitigated, and, as is stated in Pirkei Avot (3:2),
“Without the fear of the kingship, one individual will swallow the other alive.” Our
Sages have hyperbolically described this era: “Woe to the generation that
judges its leaders!”
alluded to by the Prophet Samuel is that there was a famine in the land. In times of famine, the poor masses
would gather and demand of the rich that they be provided with bread and grain.
If these were not forthcoming, they would take them by force, since there was
no authority to prevent their doing so. Therefore a man from Bethlehem
in Yehudah went to sojourn in the fields of Moab — because he was a
wealthy man, he feared that the poor would converge upon him and take all that was his. Even so,
he did not go to settle there, but only to stay until the trouble passed. He chose
not to live in a city or village but rather in the countryside, as one who temporarily en
camps. In spite of the dreadful conditions caused by the famine, however, only
one man left, while the other prestigious residents did not abandon the Land of Israel. Even Elimelech’s own family did
not willfully leave the cherished Land. He decided to go, and his wife and two
sons were compelled to follow. This idea is expressed in the Midrash Ruth
Rabbah (1:5): “He [Elimelech] was primary and his wife [Naomi] was
secondary to him.”
2. The man’s name. Samuel, the
Prophet, describes Elimelech as a man who was known by name, i.e., he was famous.
Not only was he famous, but also his wife and two sons were famous in their
own right. This explains his fleeing from the Land of Israel
to avoid the anticipated masses of poor people who would seek food from him.
This is also the reason for the awesome punishment which overcame him: because
of his greatness and stature among the people, his exodus caused fright and
panic among them (as described in the Midrash Ruth Rabbah 1:4) as well
as the desecration of HaShem’ s name which resulted from Elimelech’s
abandonment of the Land and its people.
Ephrathites from Bethlehem [in]
Yehudah. Bethlehem was originally
called Ephrat and afterwards was given the name Bethlehem,
as it is written, and I buried her [Rachel] there on the way to Ephrat which
family was of prestigious lineage from
the tribe of Judah
and were hence called Ephrathites (after Ephrat the wife of Caleb, who was great and renowned); therefore the Prophet
emphasizes that they were from one of the city’s most prominent families.
They came. Even though their original intent
was only to sojourn in the fields of Moab
temporarily, once they came to the fields of Moab,...and stayed there — they agreed to stay there
There are several difficulties which require
(i)The Hebrew hvhu it was, is repeated in verse 1. The second hvhu could have been left out of the text.
The verse should have begun simply by informing us of Elimelech’s move to Moab because of
the famine. The fact that the story takes place when the judge. judged seems irrelevant. As a reference to a
particular period in history it is too vague, and a more specific opening
phrase such as: “It was in the days of Ivtzan,” or, “...days of Boaz” should
have been used.
(iii) In verse 1 we are informed that a man went. This ‘man’ is identified in
verse 2 as Elimelech. It would have been simpler for the prophet to have
written, in verse 1, “And Elimelech from Bethlehem
(iv) The text indicates that Elimelech went
to sojourn, when, in fact, we read in verse 2 that he settled there.
(v) Note, too, that the Hebrew ctun hsa, the fields of Moab, is in the plural. Later we find the
singular form used: ctun vsa, the field of Moab.
(vi) The word tuv seems superfluous.
(vii) Moreover, the subject of the narrative
seems to be Elimelech alone. Apparently, as an afterthought the prophet adds
that his wife and children joined him. Would it not have been better to say:
“And a man, his wife and two sons,...”?
(viii) In verse 2, a simpler form could have
been used: “And his name was Elimelech.”
(ix) The fact that they came from Bethlehem has already
been ascertained in the preceding verse.
(x) Lastly, the words at the end of the
verse are confusing. Obviously, if they came
they were there!
‘Veh’! and ‘Vai’!
To answer this we must study a Midrash
(Lamentations Rabbah 1:31) on the words, Her
adversaries hove become the head (Lamentations 1:5). During the siege of Jerusalem in the time of the Second Temple,
rebels deliberately set fire to the storehouses of grain and food. When the
news reached R. Yochanan ben Zakkai, he exclaimed, “Vai!” as if to say, “What a
disaster!” When the rebels heard R. Yochanan’s remark, they were extremely
angry and plotted to kill him. The learned sage defended himself by arguing
that he had not said Vai, but rather, Veh, an
expression which signified joy. He went on to explain that now that the
storehouses had been destroyed, the people had no choice but to fight their
enemies with all their might, until they were annihilated. This desperate show
of force would not have come about had the supplies of food been plentiful.
Thus, we learn that vai hu, is
used to express sadness while veh, vu, indicates joy. This concept is clearly demonstrated in the Midrash
(Introduction to Esther, number 6): sus
lknvu And the King David (I
Kings 1:1). The first two letters are vu, veh, denoting joy, as David’s reign was
good for Israel.
On the other hand, we find it written in Scripture: ctjt luknhu And Ahab reigned (I Kings 16:28). Here, the first two letters
are hu, vai, an exclamation of sadness, while the first letters in vhvu vu—are an exclamation of joy — veh!
Our Sages further asked (introduction to the
Midrash Ruth), “What events prompted the author to use the word hvhu in verse 1? The answer: The people judged their judges.”
This seems somewhat puzzling. The text
reveals that there was a famine in the land. This itself is a distressing
circumstance. Why was there a need to explain the use of hvhu? As we pointed out earlier, the word hvhu is repeated, implying that there may have
been a double cause for distress. The second hvhu is
obviously an expression of sadness because of the famine. The first hvhu refers to some other event which caused distress and is obviously
related to the first clause in the verse. Our Sages inferred that the sad state
of affairs at that time arose from the fact that the people judged their own
judges. This answers the first question. The verse emphasizes why there was a
famine in those days. The people were guilty of judging their judges and
therefore deserved punishment.
But how are these two ideas connected with
one another? What does famine have to do with judging the judges?
In the Scriptures (Deuteronomy 16:20) we
find the command, Justice, justice shall
you pursue, that you may live. The Sages (Sifri, Shoftim 144) explain
that the appointment of worthy judges preserves Israel and maintains them in their
land. Hence, the verse adds, that you may live and that you may
inherit the kind. This cannot
refer to the conquest of the land, since, by law, judges can only be appointed
once the land has been conquered. Consequently, the promise must mean that if
worthy judges are appointed, Israel
will merit to remain in the land forever. The word ‘inherit’ implies
continuity, unlike a gift which is not handed down from one generation to
another (Talmud Bava Bathra 129b).
It follows from this that if unworthy judges
are appointed, Israel’s
right to inhabit the land will be jeopardized. Now the verse makes more sense.
In the days when the people chose unworthy judges and justice in general was
corrupt, it was inevitable that there would be suffering and the means of
survival would be denied the people.
Corruption Leads to Famine
Hence, there was a famine in the land. Either they deserved to be judged for one
reason or another, or they refused to accept the jurisdiction of the courts and
prevented them from carrying out their judgments. Indeed, whenever the judges
tried to hand down a verdict, the people would condemn the judges themselves to
that very sentence. Both these possibilities are mentioned in the Midrash. (The
introduction to Ruth, number 3, relates: A man from Israel was found to be serving an
idol. A judge would sentence him, but, instead, that man would beat the judge.
In the Midrash 1:1, we read: “Woe to that generation who judged their judges
and woe to the generation whose judges need to be judged” (cf. Yalkut Shimoni, Ruth
We see the necessity of repeating the word hvhu, as there were two reasons for despair, and one led to the other.
The People Loved Their Land
The obvious question here is why were the
people not driven from their land, a punishment they fully deserved for their
ignoble behavior? The answer is: A man went. God noted that the people did indeed love
their land, for, considering the lack of food, they should have all left for
greener pastures, following the adage, “When there is a famine in town, scatter
your feet” (Talmud Bava Kamma 60b, after the verse There was a famine in the
land, and Abram went down to settle in Egypt (Genesis 12:10). The people, however, all
remained in Judah,
except for one solitary man. Thus, the prophet declares: A man... went. God acknowledged their will to stay, and
they were not driven to leave because of hunger. They managed to subsist on the
little that was left.
Elimelech did leave, even if he didn’t
intend to settle but merely to sojourn temporarily.
Elimelech Settles in Moab
The text stresses this point by saying the ‘fields’ of Moab, in the plural. This denotes that Elimelech
didn’t intend to .settle in one particular place. He journeyed among the towns
(cf. Ruth Rabbah 1:5), spending a little time here and there, without making
any one place his permanent home. His evil inclination, however, got the better
of him, and he settled in Moab
permanently. Because of this sin he was punished by death.
came.. .and were there. Earlier
we noted that this clause is somewhat puzzling. The Targum explains the words
as meaning, “They attained high-ranking positions and became prominent
More simply, the verse can be explained to
mean that Elimelech originally went to sojourn without any intention of
settling. Once he was in Moab,
however, he decided to stay permanently. Hence, they were there — permanently.
It is precisely for this reason that the
first verse omits any mention of Elimelech’s name. As long as he had no
intention of settling in Moab
he was innocent. Thus, his name was not made public. Later, when he and his
family had established a residence and decided to remain, he is identified, as
are his wife and children.
His Identity Is Revealed
The order of words in verse 2 indicates
this: the name of the man was Elimelech. The reason for
announcing the name is provided at the end of the verse: They... were there, i.e., they remained in Moab.
An alternative interpretation: At first, the
name is not supplied because Elimelech travelled incognito; he stole away from
his hometown unnoticed. Thus, the verse simply states A man went. Only later is his identity revealed: the name of the man was Elimelech.
Interestingly, the cantillation sign on the
word Elimelech is a pazer, which
denotes that he was a person of high standing The mention of his wife’s name,
children’s names and the fact that they originated from Ephrath and Bethlehem all indicate his importance and greatness,
especially since verse 1 informed us that Elimelech came from Bethlehem. Furthermore, our Sages say that
the Ephrathites are so named because they were descended from Miriam the
prophetess, who was called ‘Ephrath,’ since she was the wife of Caleb, as we
read in I Chronicles (2:19): Caleb
took Ephrath [for a wife].
When Is It Permitted to Leave Israel?
We further asked why no mention was made of
Elimelech’s wife and children at the beginning of the first verse and why their
names were supplied only in the second verse. In addition, the word he in verse 1 seems superfluous.
Let us examine the following passage from
the Talmud (Bava Bathra 91a):
The Rabbis learn: One must not leave the Land of Israel unless the price of two ‘se’ah’ reaches a ‘selah.’ Rabbi Shimon says, “I heard that this applies only in a case
there is nothing available
on the market, but if produce can be
found, even if the price stands at one ‘se‘ah’ for a
‘selah,’ it is forbidden to leave.” Thus did R. Shimon bar Yochai declare: “Elimelech, Machlon and
Kilyon were the greatest people in
their generation. Why, then, were
they punished? Because they left the Land
of Judah to go
elsewhere”... R. Hiyya bar Obin said in the name of R. Yehoshua: “God forbid!
Even had they been able to find only bran, they would not have left. They were
punished because they ought to have begged for mercy on behalf of the people of
their generation, and they neglected to do this. About them it is written,
‘When you cry out, those about you will deliver you’ (Isaiah 57:13).
Did They Deserve to Die?
We see that Elimelech and his sons were very
righteous people, the leaders of their generation. They were condemned to die
either because they left Judah
or because they failed to beg for mercy on behalf of the people.
It seems somewhat absurd that a death
sentence should be handed down for these reasons alone. After all, doesn’t the
Talmud (Bava Kamma 60b) sanction leaving the country in the face of famine? “If
there is a famine in the city, scatter your feet.” Even if they were guilty of
leaving when they shouldn’t have, the sentence of death seems to be a little
harsh. The only possible explanation is that “God is punctilious with the pious
even to a hair’s breadth” (Talmud Yebamoth 121b).
Elimelech — A Great Man
A man from Bethlehem in Judah went.... Elimelech left because the land was ravaged
by famine. He was sentenced to die for his sin, but it should come as no
surprise: The name of the man ux~s
Elimelech — a leading figure of the times.
The Hebrew aht is
employed to emphasize his importance. (cf. Zohar Chadash, Ruth 77b. The word aht also signifies the saintliness of a man. The
Targum translates it as “a great man.” See also Tanchuma Shemini 9, Genesis Rabbah 30:7). Furthermore, the
inclusion of the definite article, ahtv, further
indicates that he was no commoner, but a man of high standing. His name,
Elimelech, is a shortened form of the Hebrew words ,ufkn tc, hkt: “The monarchy is destined for me.” He felt
that there was no one more suited for the crown than he himself. His wife,
Na’omi, was so called because of her exemplary righteousness. Her ways were ohgb
pleasing, and thus, she was given the name hngb (Midrash Ruth Rabbah 2:5). Their two sons
were also famous and known as Ephrathites,
a title signifying their distinguished pedigree, for they were descended
from Miriam. David is given a similar title (I Samuel 17:12).
Their connection to Bethlehem
is emphasized, as that town was acknowledged as a metropolis in the Land of Judah.
These facts combined served to elevate this
family to great prominence in Judah.
God expected a higher standard of behavior from them and consequently judged
them harshly, holding them to account for even the slightest deviation from the
law. It should come as no surprise, then, that their decision to “remain there”
warranted a sentence of death.
In verse 3 we read, Elimelech died. We note
that at first he alone died, while his wife and sons remained alive. This may
explain why verse 1 singles out Elimelech as the one who left Israel
and only later adds that his wife and sons followed suit. They were dependent
on him and only left because of his decision. They were not considered guilty
for leaving, as the father was the one who resolved that they should leave.
They were subordinate to him, and thus the prophet treated them as an
afterthought by including them at the end of the verse. The word he is not superfluous either. He was the one who made the important
decisions. The rest of the family followed accepted his counsel (Ruth Rabbah
Elimelech — a Saintly Man
The verse can be understood in an entirely
different light. The intention is to portray the piety of Elimelech, and it was
for this reason that he was judged by God.
Our Sages say (Talmud Ta’anith ha) that a
righteous man must not cohabit with his wife during times of drought or famine
(cf. Tosafoth, ad loc. that the prohibition applies only to the pious). This
law is derived from the verse, And to Joseph
were born two sons before the years of famine came about (Genesis 41:50). We learn that only before the years of famine did Joseph
carry on intimate relations with his wife, but not during the years of
Our Sages (Talmud Sanhedrin 108b) further
derive from the command made to Noah, And
you shall come into the ark, you and your sons, your wife and your
daughters-in-law with you (Genesis 6:18), that Noah and his sons were
forbidden to cohabit with their wives while the flood waters covered the earth.
Thus, God deliberately mentioned the men apart from the women: you and your sons; your wife... When
they left the ark, however, relations were once again permitted. Hence Noah is
instructed, Leave the ark, you and
your wife; your sons and daughters-in-law (Genesis
8:16). It can be noted that Noah is now mentioned with his wife, his sons with
their wives, denoting that once the disaster was over, normal life could be
How Grave Was His Sin?
Our verse demonstrates the behavior of
Elimelech during the famine: A man
went — alone. He didn’t
travel with his wife, since they lived in troubled times. Once he arrived in Moab, Scripture
placed him together with his wife: he [and] his wife... Only while in Bethlehem were they separated.
To sojourn in the fields of Moab.
These words indicate that his guilt was greater than it would have been
had he chosen to go to any land other than Moab. The Torah excluded the male
Moabites from joining the Jewish people, because they had refused to supply the
wandering Israelites with bread and water on their way to the Promised Land
In truth, the Israelites did not lack bread
or water, for they were well supplied with the manna sent from Heaven and with
water from Miriam’s well. But Ammon and Moab
showed a lack of courtesy and respect, for they ought to have remembered how
well Abraham had treated their ancestor Lot
(cf. Ramban, Deuteronomy, 23:7). Thus, it was considered embarrassing and
degrading for Jews to go to seek bread in Moab, of all places. The Moabites
would have realized that Elimelech’s only intention in coming there was to beg
When a Man ‘Goes’
According to the opinion that Elimelech was
a righteous man, the meaning of the verse is as follows.
The clause a man went appears twice in the Scriptures. First, in Exodus 2:1
we read: A man from the House of Levi went. Here, too, there is a similar statement: A man... went.
This requires some thought. Our Sages have
said (Talmud Yebamoth 99b; Chullin 7a) that God does not permit the beasts of
the righteous to sin in error — how much less so the righteous themselves!
How then could such a saintly person as Elimelech be lured to sin in such a
Concerning King David, our Sages (Talmud
Avodah Zarah 4b-5a) explained that though he acted wrongly, he later repented
completely. This set an example for anyone who might sin, enabling him to look
at what King David did and not despair of repentance.
They further said that David was not
inherently evil and it was not in his nature to commit such an act. Neither was
it in the character of Israel
to bow to the Golden Calf. However, these events serve as a lesson to us that
even for such sins repentance is possible (see the Alshich on II Samuel 12:1
and in his commentary to Psalms 17:2 where this point is discussed).
A similar concept is found concerning the
sons of Jacob. In Genesis 37:3 we read, And he [Jacob)
made for him [Joseph) a coat of many colors. The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 84:8) asks
rhetorically: “Why did the brothers hate Joseph? So that God could eventually split the Red
Sea. Do not read ohnp, ‘many
colors’, but oh op, ‘a split through the sea’.“ Why didn’t God prevent the brothers from
acting in a way which led to such unfortunate circumstances? Why did He allow
them to hate Joseph? Their free will led them to sin, but the consequence of
their actions was the splitting of the Red Sea.
Our Sages say (Midrash Shochar Toy 114) “The [Red) Sea saw and it fled (Psalms 114:3).
What did it see? It saw
Joseph’s coffin, in merit of the fact that Joseph had fled from Potiphar’s wife
when she attempted to seduce him.” Also of interest is the Midrash Tanchuma, which remarks: “The sin of the righteous is very
significant, for it can sustain the whole world in a time of famine.”
We are now in a position to understand
Elimelech’s behavior. God did nothing to interfere with his free will, for he
‘went’ as did Amram, whose traveling resulted in the birth of Moses, the savior
As a result of Elimelech’s travels, David the king and savior of Israel
was born — a direct descendant of
Ruth (see Ba’al HaTurim, Exodus 2:1). It was through Divine providence that she met Boaz, married
him and established the [basis for the] royal Davidic dynasty.
The One Who ‘Remained’
In verse 3 we read, and she remained. Again
in verse 5 we find the woman remained. Na’omi did not object when her husband
settled outside Judah.
Nor did she raise a cry of protest when her sons married Moabite girls. For
this alone she deserved punishment, maybe even death. But she was allowed to
‘remain’ alive since she had a part to play in building Jewish history.
In a similar vein, Scripture writes uhbc rn,ht ktu rzgkt ktu ohr,ubv, And to Elazar and Ithamar, the sons that
were left (Leviticus
10:12). The Hebrew ohr,ubv
indicates that they, too, deserved
to die, but they were spared in the merit of Moses (Leviticus Rabbah 10:5).
Na’omi was allowed to live on, even though
she had been sentenced to death, for the reasons stated above. But it was
through her merit that the Royal House of David was established. With this, we
will be in a better position to understand the meaning of verse 21 (see the Alshich’s commentary there).