The Story – Chapter 1




Ruth 1:1-2




h±2s`}a1c «rťd7k vˇ7sťvşh o3j±3k ,h‡2!cn Ah®!t L3k«™œ•u .#r×7t7c c„7g7r h‚1vşh•u ohÜ!y0p`ą8v y`±p}A «h2nşh1 hˇ1vşh•u   t

:uh¶b7c h‚™b}Ať ¨„Ż}A!tşu tť‚v cÜ7t¨n

« ohÜ!,7r0p#t i¨h0k1fşu i¨‹k0j*n uh±¶b7c‘hb}A o‚2Aşu h®!n^g¶b ¨«Ż}A!t »o2Aşu L3k†#nh1kt Ah±!t7v o±2Aşu   c

 :o7A‘ťh0vĐœ•u c„7t¨n‘h2s`}a ťt`‚c¶œ•u v×7sťvşh o3j„3k ,h‚2c!n










And it came to pass

kai; ejgevneto  

And it came to pass,


in the days of

ejn tw'/



the judging


were judging,


the judges

tou;" krita;"

the judges


and it came to pass

kai; ejgevneto

that there was


a famine


a famine


in the land

ejn th'/ gh'/

in the land

« L3k«™œ•u

and went

kai; ejporeuvqh

and went




a man


from house

ajpo; Baiqleem

from Bethleëm






(in) Judah

th'" Iouda

of Juda


to live

tou' paroikh'sai

to dwell


in the fields

ejn ajgrw'/

in the land




of Moab






and his wife

kai; hJ gunh; aujto

and his wife


and two

u' kai; oi

and two


his sons

uiJoi; aujtou'

his sons


And name

kai; o[noma

And the name


the nobleman

tw'/ ajndri;

of the man






and name

kai; o[noma

and the name


his wife

th'/ gunaiki; aujtou'

of his wife






and name

kai; o[noma toi'"

and the names of

uh±¶b7c ‘hb}A

two his sons

dusi;n uiJoi'" aujtou

his two sons






and Kilyon

kai; Celaiwn

and Chelaion






from house

ejk Baiqleem

from Bethleëm


of bread




(In) Judah

th'" Iouda

of Juda


and they came

kai; h[lqosan

and they went

c„7t¨n ‘ h2s`}a

fields of Moab

eij" ajgro;n Mwab

into the land of Moab

:o7A ‘ ťh0vĐœ•u

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.


Stone’s Translation


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.



Peshat Level:




1:1 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.


1:2 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.




1:1  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 was punished.


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 of Moab, 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 Ephrath.



Gemarah Level:


Talmud Babli


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 anointed him.’


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.




GEMARA. 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]’.


‘The men should have met the men and the women the women!’


He 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.


As, 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.


The 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.


The 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.


Raba 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 Ammonitess.


Raba 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 three.’


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 left Palestine 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.




GEMARA. 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.




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 LEAVE IT’.


Our 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 kethubah.


Our 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


(Encyclopedia Judaica)


This 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).


The 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).


These 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).


The 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).




Midrash Level:


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"


[Because 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.)


Midrash 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.


Midrash 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


Midrash 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] unto you!


4. 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 WENT.


Midrash 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.


Midrash 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.


Midrash 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.


Midrash 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.


Midrash 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.


5. 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.


Midrash 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 Rabba 5,10).





Zohar Level:



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


Section 1

Aspects of the Soul


<75a> “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.[1]


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).[2] The Holy Blessed One created humanity in the world and imparted to them His name YHVH.[3] Hey is the Nefesh-Soul. Vav is the Ruach-Soul. Hey is called the Neshamah­ Soul. Yad is the Soul of Souls.[4] 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.[5] 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].[6] 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.[7]


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.[8]


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)[9]


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.[10]


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[11] 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.[12] 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)[13].


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”!’[14]


It is told, “If you are worthy to perform the commandments, each and every one of them <75c> will become for you a good angel.[15] 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).[16] 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.[17] 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).[18] ‘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.[19] ‘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).[20]


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’[21] (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;[22] and the Eternal has brought me back empty’[23] (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).[24]


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!”[25] And the body becomes separated.


Section 2

Distress Provokes Rebellion


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.[26] 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?[27]


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![28]


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 mind.”


During 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.”[29] 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.[30] 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).[31] 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)?[32] 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).[33] Job said, “Master of the Universe, perhaps a whirlwind passed before You and interchanged the letters of my name ‘Job’ to ‘enemy’![34] 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.[35]


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 (Genesis 33:16).[36]


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.[37] 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.”[38] 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)[39]


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.[40] 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).[41] 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.


Section 3

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.[42]


R. Chasdai says: There is one star on high which the Holy Blessed One brings forth from its place; its name is Vilon [Curtain].[43] 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 place.


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 of Zion.


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).[44]


And R. Simlai said: When the Holy Blessed One created he universe He inserted light within light, clothed one with the other,[45] 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).[46]


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.[47]


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).[48]


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.[49]


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)[50] “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[51] 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. [52]


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” (Deuteronomy 6:4).[53]


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: l2).[54]


“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?[55] 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[56] 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.[57]


“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.”[58]


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.”[59] 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[60] or when Moses said it to Israel. But now, when everyone says, ‘Hear 0 Israel,’ which Israel is addressed?


 “Thus have we learned: Jacob our Patriarch has not died; the Holy Blessed One engraved him upon His Throne of Glory[61] 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,[62] 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’ (Isaiah 44:2).[63]


“R. Yehudai explained: Corresponding to[64] 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.”[65]


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 beloved.


“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.[66]


“Rabbi said: At the moment that Hananiah, Misha’el and Azariah were seized to be thrown into the fiery furnace,[67] 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’ (Isaiah 29:22).[68]


“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).[69] 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.[70]


“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.[71] R. Nehorai said, “Let us diverge from the road and ascend the mountain;[72]  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[73] 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)[74] 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.”



Section 4

Divine Judgment Upon the Leaders


“A man of Bethlehem in Judah 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.[75]


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.[76]


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 separately.[77]


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.[78] 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?[79] 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.[80]


“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.[81] 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.[82]


“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.[83] 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.[84] 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.[85]


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).[86]


“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[87] 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.[88]


“‘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).[89] ‘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.[90] ‘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![91] 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;[92] 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, [93] and taken the young ones hidden in the nest to receive his reward.[94] 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).[95]


“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).[96]


“All these knots are in people. The knot of Understanding,[97] which is derived from these [other two], infuses the other creatures; for they all have reasoning, each to their own natural properties.


“When 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.


“Then 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).[98]


R. 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!”


The 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.


“And 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.[99] Humans have the skill to make boats for the sea; so a bird takes clumps of earth to make a seaworthy vessel.


“A 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.”


R. 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[100] and said, “As you have consoled my heart, so may the Holy Blessed One comfort you.” They sat together.


This 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 the world.[101]


“In 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’;[102] 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 it.


“If 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 22:23).


“Surely, 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).


“There 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.[103] 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,[104] 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.


“On the other hand, there is one who does not render judgment according to the letter of the law and is rewarded for example, Aba, 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.’[105] 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.[106] 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.


“‘A 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.[107] When this word appears in the context of reproach for example, ‘a man skilled in the hunt, a man of the outdoors’[108] (Genesis 25:27) this is a wicked man, who kills in his wickedness and overpowers people without fear.


“Elimelech 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: 15).[109]


“But 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!”[110] He [R. Bun] said, “Praised be the Merciful One who sent me here to hear your words!”


Section 5

The Community


R. 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.


As 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.”[111] They sat down in the field under a tree.


R. 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.[112] 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).”


R. 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 .[113]


“R. Nehorai said further: There are 248 words in the recitation of the Sh’ma, corresponding to the number of a person’s limbs.[114] 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)!”


In 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?”


The 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].[115] 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.”


Meanwhile, 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[116] 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.’


In the Tefilah[117] 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.[118] Anyone who recites the Sh’ma in this manner will surely not be harmed that day.


“Anyone 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.’[119]


“But 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).[120] 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 9:14).”[121]


R. 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).[122]


As 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?”[123]


He 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 no purpose.


“If 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.[124] 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!


“What 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].[125] 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 judge.[126]


“It 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.


“Elimelech 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.


“From 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).”


“And 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.[127]


R. Yose ben Qisma said: Just as they were, so were their wives. Orpah was sentenced according to her name, “stiff-necked,”[128] 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 mother-in-law.


Ruth 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.[129] Ruth since a child descended from her who delighted the Holy Blessed One with songs and hymns.[130]


Ruth, 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 in Israel.


The 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).[131] “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.


“They took[132] Moabite women” (Ruth 1:4). R. Rachumai said: They were daughters of Eglon, King of Moab.[133] 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).[134]


R. 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!”


But 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.”


R. Chisdai said, “But have we not learned that the valley of Shitim increased women’s desire for adultery[135] 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.”


R.Mansia 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.”


R.Yose 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.”[136]


R. 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.[137]


“If 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.[138] 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.[139] It was all necessary for the two sides to join together; and the seed of David needed this.[140]




Other Commentaries:


Me’Am Lo’Ez




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).


The 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).


Yet 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).


Doeg’s 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).


A 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.  


According 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.


After 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” (Psalms 40:8).


The Story and its Purposes


Samuel 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.


According 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.


Thus 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.


This 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.


The 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.


From 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.


Furthermore, 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.


Because 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).


In 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.


Although 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 prophet.


Why Ruth is Read on Shavuoth (Pentecost)


The Megillah of Ruth is read in the synagogue on the festival of Shavuoth, “the time of the giving of our Torah.”


What 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.


Our 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.”


Ruth 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 his wisdom.


This, 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).


From 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).


“How 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!


Just 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.


We 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!”


Ruth’s 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.


Ruth 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.


From 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.


The 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.


The 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).


It 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.  


This 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.  


The 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 is, Boaz.  


But 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 being judged.  


If a 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 public.  


The 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.”  


In 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.  


Besides 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 went unchecked.


Thus King 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 24:23, 24).


Those 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!


The Consequences


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” (Isaiah 9:15).


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.


Troubled Times


The period of the judges, before the monarchy was established, was a difficult period for the Jewish people.


With no king to unite the twelve tribes and lead a strong army into battle, they were continually harassed by the neighboring nations and subjugated.


Their 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 enemies.


In 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.


Then, 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.


These 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 Judges”


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).


Famine is the judgment that comes upon the world when justice is delayed (ihsv hubg) or perverted (ihsv ,uug).


In 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.


The 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 bodies nourished.


This 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.


Famine 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 abundance.


Israel 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.


Symptomatic 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.


Our 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.


Barak 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).


According 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).


That 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.]


Rabbi 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).


The 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.


Ehud 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).


According 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 of Israel, even as he himself was guilty of oppres­sing them by failing to provide for the poor, and crushing their spirit by his departure.


Then “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.


Elaborating 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.


It 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).


Another 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.


Thus 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.


Others 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 destruction followed.


The 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.


The 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.


Other 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


In 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.


They 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.


They 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).


Our 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.”


This 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.


On 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 corruption.


“My 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


According 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.


Conversely, 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.


As 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.


Hence vay’ehi (“woe”)—how great the tragedy that God had to bring famine because of the sins of His creatures!


The 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.


Elimelech did not do so, and instead of repenting, fled.


By 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).]


Others 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.


Elimelech’s Flight


“How 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.”


Both 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.


Not only did he leave the Holy Land for the unholy soil and the land of the gentiles, he left Bethlehem, the home of Boaz and later of the righteous Ishai and his son David. None of this he considered or antici­pated.


One 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.]


Elimelech 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.)


He 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, and Israel, 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).


Thus 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).


Elimelech 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.


On 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.


In 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 32,33).


At 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.


At 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.


Since 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.


For all these reasons Elimelech was not appointed king. Neither was he appointed chieftain-judge, for that function was already served by Boaz.


Others 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 dynasty.


Amidst 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. 


His 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.]


It 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 nations.


Elimelech 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.


“There 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.


Naomi 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.”


Although 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).


He 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.


When 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.


It 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 food.


Significant, 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.


The 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.


Like Moab, Elimelech did not offer Israel 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.


By 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.


Elimelech’s 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.]


Furthermore, 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 distinction.


Had 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.


Another interpretation is that originally he intended only to live in Moab temporarily (“to sojourn”). But in the end, he settled there permanently.


In 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.


Another 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.”


Similarly, 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).


One 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.


Elimelech 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 with it.


Abraham 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.)


When 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 a man.”


On 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.


Although 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.


The 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.


Some 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.


Everyone who saw these four foreigners recognized them immediate­ly as distinguished Ephratites from Bethlehem.


The old saying, “in his hometown a man is known by his name, elsewhere he is known by his clothes,” did not apply to them.


We 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.


The 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.


It 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 greatness.


According 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 God.


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).


On 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 totally obliterated.


It 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.


Our 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.


Moreover, 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.


Such 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 end.


Accordingly, 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 of Miriam.


Elimelech, 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.


Originally 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.


Another interpretation is that while at first Elimelech intended merely to sojourn in Moab for the duration of the famine, eventually the family settled there.


Accordingly, 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 name.


It 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.


By 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.


Another 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 in Egypt, he had remained faithful to God.




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.


There 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.


The ‘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.


Moabitesses 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.


The 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 of Ephraim.


Ephrath 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 us the 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.[141] 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!”


Another reason 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 is Bethlehem (Bereshit 48:7).


Elimelech’s 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 permanently.





There are several difficulties which require clarification.


(i)The Hebrew hvhu it was, is repeated in verse 1. The second hvhu could have been left out of the text.


(ii) 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 went...”


(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 to Moab, 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!


Double Trouble?


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?


Worthy 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.[142]


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 5%-98).


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.[143]


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 of Moab (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.


They 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 citizens.”


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[144] 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 where 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 1:4).


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 famine.


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 resumed.


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 (Deuteronomy 23:4-5).[145]


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 for bread.

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 way?[146]


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’.[147] 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:[148] “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 of Israel. 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).[149]


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).





[1] Rabbinic literature interprets Job 38:7 as referring to hosts of angels praising God in heaven; these angelic choirs are divided into courses throughout the day, so that the songs of praise never cease. See, e.g., TB Chulin 91b and Genesis Rabbah 65:21, where “Morning Stars” refers to the People of Israel, whose praise of God in the synagogues inspires the angels (“Divine Beings”) to echo the praises in heaven. See also Midrash HaNe‘elam to Genesis (ZCh 5b), where the same verse from Job is cited. In our present passage, the theme of angelic praise is interrupted and resumes on fol. 76a.

[2] See TB Yoma 38a.

[3] The Tetragrammaton, the most sacred name of God, composed of the Hebrew letters yod hey vat’ hey (YHVH).

[4] Literally, the “Neshamah to the Neshamah,” the supreme soul. It is the soul of the Nefesh and Ruach, just as these latter two are souls to the body.

[5] The side of the sefirotic tree from which evil originates. See Zoh.1:79b-80a (Sitrey Torah), where these aspects of the soul are identified with characters in the Book of Genesis.

[6] Cf. Genesis Rabbah 3:8. The “left side” possesses animalistic counterparts to the two lower aspects of the soul. Corresponding to Ruach is Samael (masculine) and corresponding to Nefesh is the serpent (feminine). In the Zohar, Samael is another name for Satan, or the Angel of Death. For an earlier literary treatment of Samael and the serpent, see PRE 13 and 21.

[7] Through an interpretation of Isaiah 42:3, Midrash HaNe‘elam derives different aspects of God. “Ani” normally translated as “I” is treated here as a proper name for God which denotes the divine attribute of retribution. This passage follows the rabbinic teaching that the mention of the Tetragrammaton in Scripture denotes God’s Attribute of Mercy, and that mention of “Elohim” denotes the Attribute of Justice; see, e.g., Genesis Rabbah 33:3. “Other god” refers to the “left side” of evil, which bears no corresponding relationship to the letters of the Tetragrammaton.

[8] See the chart in the Introduction, p. xiii. Here the first two sets in the chart are linked with the act of Creation: just as God imparted the divine name YHVH to the universe when it was brought into being, so does God impart the soul to the body at conception.

[9] This verse from Genesis refers to the covenant that God made with Abraham, when God’s presence was revealed to him. The next verse cited in the text, from the Song of Songs, is a plea for the secret of God’s presence to be revealed to the mystic, through the Tetragrammaton. My dove” [h,buh] is parallel to “turtledove” [ru,] which is “Ruth” [,ur] reversed.

[10] The “house” is the Tetragrammaton, built by the souls of holiness. (Cf. the Warsaw edition, which equates woman’s wisdom” with the Neshamah and Nefesh thereby referring to the two women, Naomi and Ruth.) But since the left side does not partake fully of the divine Name, it contains only the Nefesh-Soul and Ruach-Soul, represented in the Book of Ruth by Orpah and Kilion respectively. The human Neshamah-Soul is incapable of evil. However, cf. below, fol. 78c-d. where Samael is called the “Soul of souls from the left side.”

[11] Another version (ZCh 46d-48a) reads: Forty days after it [the embryo] is created. This follows the tradition recorded in TB Niddah 3Gb. See also a later treatment of this tradition, Seder Ye:zirat Haviad, in Bet Hamidrash 1:151ff.

[12] In addition to the rabbinic and Zoharic references in the notes above, cf. the Platonic doctrine that the soul learns everything before birth, but is caused to forget when it enters the world (see esp. the dialogue Meno, fol. 81-6).

[13] The soul is not dominated by the body.

[14] Cf. TB Avodah Zarah 5a, where the dog symbolizes sin. “Darkness” here refers to the time of death, while ‘day” refers to bliss in the afterlife. The word translated here as “truly” is ann Elliot Wolfson remarks that “in the Zohar the word ann can designate that a specific term is to be understood in its Kabbalistic signification” (in “The Beautiful Maiden Without Eyes). He also points out that the term htsu can function in similar fashion.

[15] See Mishnah Avot: 4:11 and TB Avodah Zarah 5a.

[16] Cf. TB Berakhot 1 Rb and Ketuvot 77b.

[17] See TB Shabbat 152a and Midrash Tanchuma, Emor 6.

[18] God’s charge to Abraham is here interpreted as a charge to the fetus before it enters this world.

[19] The “Holy Blessed One” refers in the Zohar to the sefirah Tiferet; the “Assembly of Israel” is the sefirah Malkhut.

[20] The two verses (Genesis 12:2-3) are broken down into seven phrases, each of which constitutes a blessing. A parallel passage occurs in Midrash HaNe‘elam to Genesis (ZCh 24a), in which the body and soul are wedded before birth and are endowed with seven blessings; Genesis 12:1 is interpreted to refer to the ‘supernal lucid lens.” See also Zoh. l:77b.

[21] Heb. hngb ,tzv. This passage takes the interrogative hey to refer to the second letter in the Tetragrammaton which, as noted above, corresponds to Naomi, the Neshamah-Soul.

[22] The temporal world.

[23] At death.

[24] The Neshamah-Soul is nurtured in this world through the performance of commandments. If this nurturing has taken place during one’s lifetime, then at death the lower aspects of the soul will remain united with the Neshamah. But in the next paragraph we learn that, if the animal souls of the “left side’ have dominated during one’s lifetime, then they cling to the body at death.

[25] Cf. TB Shabbat 151 b, where the stomach bursts open three days after burial and makes this same statement to the mouth. The intent both in the talmudic passage and in Midrash HaNe‘elam is that a hedonistic life is harmful to one’s spiritual welfare.

[26] Heb. r,xb aht. Based on what follows, it appears that this person is one who suffers tragedy and who perceives that God has hidden the divine presence uhbp rh,xv from him.

[27] The Munkacs edition reads: “But with whom does the Holy Blessed One have a quarrel? Is not peace His, about whom Scripture states, ‘He who establishes peace in His heights’?”

[28] Job’s protestations could be taken as lese-majeste. The literary figure here is rather apt: since the King cannot be harmed, one attempts to damage the King’s image. This “image” might refer to Torah as the embodiment of divine will, or to Job’s body which is made “in God’s image.”

[29] See TB Bava Batra 16b and Zoh. l:224a

[30] Cf. TB Shabbat 97a: “Anyone who harbours suspicions about the worthy is smitten in his body.”

[31] Miriam was stricken with leprosy for harbouring suspicions about Moses.

[32] Midrash HaNe‘elam reads the word nevalah (“fully”) as nevelah (e.g., Leviticus 11:8); both words, without vowels, are spelled vkcb This verbal connection may be derived from TB Arakhin 16b, which claims that leprosy is a punishment for slander.

[33] Here the text reads “whirlwind” [vrgx] spelled with the letter samekh. In the Masoretic text it is spelled with a sin. In the passage that follows, Midrash HaNe‘elam will cite verses in which this word is spelled with one of these letters or the other.

[34] Cf. TB Bava Batra 16a. “Job” is spelled cuht and “enemy” is chut.

[35] Referring in both cases to “Satan”, which is also written with the letter fin (iya).

[36] The locative hey in vrhga is here interpreted to be a feminine suffix.

[37] To summarize the foregoing passage: the word vrga, when written with the letter sin, denotes a demonic whirlwind; this kind of whirlwind has both masculine and feminine aspects. But when written with a samekh (vrgx), the word denotes a divine wind. Therefore, even though Job’s whirlwind (spelt with a samekh) afflicted him, it was indeed sent by God, as was the whirlwind of Elijah in the passage which follows.

[38] This passage appears, almost verbatim, in a tract by Moses de Leon which can be found in I. Tishby, Questions and Answers on Matters of Kabbalah (Hebrew), Qovetz alyad, 4 (1950), pp. 35..6. I am indebted to Charles Mopsik, Le Zohar: Le Livre de Ruth (Verdier, 1987), p. 55, n. 42 for this reference.

[39] And thus “whirlwind” is spelled with a samekh, for the Angel of Death was neutralized by Elijah.

[40] Instead of a straight nun (i)’ which we would normally expect at the end of a word, we find in the word min in this verse the medial nun, which is bent at the bottom (bn).

[41] Here the Venice edition repeats Job 38:7, the verse which tells of the angelic praise of God. This verse is employed to point out that the angels rejoiced in heaven once Job was silenced and God was vindicated; Midrash HaNe‘elam thus brings Job 38:7 into causal relationship with the verses which immediately precede it. In Section 1, this verse led to an exposition on the creation of the human soul. In this section, it refers to divine judgment. Section 3 also opens with Job 38:7, combining the two themes.

[42] This heavenly “changing of the guard” ensures that the world is always under divine supervision.

[43] The lowest of the seven heavens, according to TB Chagigah 12b. The Venice edition gives the name Silon (tube) to the star.

[44] For the Rabbis, the site of the Temple on Mount Zion was the place where creation began. See, e.g.,TB Yoma 54b. See also Midrash HaNe’elam to Song of Songs, ZCh 61a.

[45] Zoh. 1:20a describes how layers of light emanated outward from a central point.

[46] Cf. PRE 3, where God creates the heavens by means of the light with which He clothes Himself; the earth is created from snow which He casts down from the Throne of Glory.

[47] “For he, too, originates from his navel. He, too, comes from the snow of the male seed which is cast into the waters of the female seed.” (R. Margoliot, Nitzotzey HaZohar, ad loc.).

[48] See PRE 5.

[49] Cf. TB Makot 11a, where it is King David who casts a clay shard, engraved with the Divine Name, into the Deep. S similar passage to our present one appears in Zoh. 2:152a. The theme in all these passages is that the forces of chaos continually threaten to overtake the world, but the Name of God sustains the order of Creation. For an exposition on the 72-letter name of God, see Zoh. 2:52a. This name is derived from three verses in the Book of Exodus (14:19-21), each of which contains 72 letters.

[50] In this passage, the seven pillars are the seven lower sefirot, of which the penultimate is Yesod. Yesod acts as the main channel for the energy of the higher sefirot, transferring this energy to the last sefirah, Malkhut, Later, Midrash HaNe’elam will associate Yesod and Malkhut with Boaz and Ruth respectively (see fol. 85b).

[51] See TB Chagigah 12b, PRE 18. See also Midrash HaNe’elam to Genesis, ZCh 3a.

[52] Different images are employed to depict the seven sefirot which flow from their supernal source, which is Binah.

[53] Midrash HaNe’elam employs a rabbinic hermeneutic to demonstrate that Jacob/Israel is called “heaven”. In the Zohar, Jacob refers to the sefirah Tiferet; see, e.g., Zoh. 1:119b.

[54] More sefirotic imagery is employed here. The seven “pillars” (the seven lower sefirot) oversee the seven “inferior degrees” (perhaps the archangels of the seven hekhalot; see, e.g., Hekhalot Rabati, Chapter 17). The “lower earth” is Malkhut. This entire structure has emanated from the two higher sefirot Chokmah and Binah.

[55] Here the text reverts to the main theme of this section: God judges the world and makes it quake from Zion.

[56] The name Nehorai means “light”. Given the theme of the discussion, the choice of this name may be deliberate.

[57] Cf. PRE 6, where the sun traverses 366 heavenly windows. The sun, through the divine letters engraved on it, restores daylight to the world. Here the role of the sun resembles that of the clay/shrd above – that is, it defeats the forces of darkness and chaos.

[58] The colours white and red are often associated with the sefirot Chesed and Gevurah respectively. It is possible to speculate that the sun, emerging from the “night” of judgment bears the red colour of this realm; but when it brings the “day” of redemption, it dons the colour of mercy.

[59] An affirmation of Jewish faith, recited daily in the evening and morning service. It consists of the Biblical verses Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41.

[60] See TB Pesachim 56a and Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:35. In these passages, the twelve sons of Jacob/Israel say “Hear O Israel” to their father, in order to assure him that his faith will be passed down to posterity.

[61] See TB Ta’anit 5b. In PRE 35, Jacob has a vision of the divine Throne.

[62] In TB Ta‘anit 25a, this is a reward for the righteous in the world to come. Note that Jacob had thirteen children: twelve sons and one daughter.

[63] I.e., “Do not fear,” because of the protection by “My servant Jacob.”

[64] The Aramaic word tndusc appears to be used often as a technical term throughout Midrash HaNe ‘elam, indicating a tellurian parallel to a celestial phenomenon. I am indebted to Herbert Basser for this insight. Whenever the word operates in this fashion, it is translated “modeled after.” Regarding the twelve supernal tribes, see Sefir HaBahir #113.

[65] Just as the clay/shard sustains the world, so does Jacob protect the people of Israel. And when Israel praises their Creator on earth, the angels utter praise in heaven; see TB Chulin 91b, and Sjfra to Deuteronomy end of Pisqa 306. The motifs of the foundation clay/shard, the angelic courses and Jewish prayer are all united into a theme of divine protection.

[66] A similar passage appears in Genesis Rabbah 63:2.

[67] Cf. TB Pesachim l18a

[68] The merit of Jacob saved these three from the furnace. Jacob (the sefirah Tiferet) possesses redemptive power.

[69] Nebuchadnezzar is the speaker here.

[70] Since Dan. 2:46 mentions the name “Daniel,” it is understood that the blemish of his pagan name Belteshazzar was removed from Daniel; therefore, he was spared from being burned with the idols. This passage may be casting aspersions against medieval Jews who took on Christian names. A similar passage in TB Sanhedrin 93a implies that Daniel, God and Nebuchadnezzar all had separate motives for wishing Daniel’s departure.

[71] Darkness (the Attribute/Angel of Judgment) is about to return to the world. (The Venice edition does not have this sentence.)

[72] Perhaps this is a poetic reference to leaving the “road” of drash (rabbinic homily) and ascending the “mountain” of sod (mystical interpretation).

[73] These were two of the ten martyrs of the Roman persecutions, according to Midrash Eyleh Ezkerah; see A. Jellinek, Bet Hamidrash (Jerusalem: Wahrmann, 1967) 2:64ff. Rabbis Ishmael and Simeon are also referred to in Avot de Rabi Natan, chapt. 38.

[74] See Ruth Rabah, proem 7.

[75] Judgment is personified as the Angel of Death. See TB Bava Qama 60a

[76] This sentence is not found in the Venice edition.

[77] One draws attention to oneself by fleeing from the community.

[78] Literally, God’s “Attribute of Justice.” But since it argues with God later in the passage, this term must refer to an angelic being.

[79] So reads the Munkaics edition. The Sulam, based on the Warsaw 1885 edition, reads: “Who would not know that this verse concerns Elimelech?”

[80] See TB Shabbat 54b; also Tanchuma, “Shenuni” 9. The judgment of Elimelech is a recurring theme throughout this section. Regarding the sin of not speaking out against injustice, see TB Avodah Zarah ISa and Zoh. 3:46b.

[81] See TB Megilah lOb; Ruth Rabah proem 7. See also Zoh. 1:119b.

[82] Through this criticism of Elimelech, the author may be appealing to the Jewish leaders of his own day who neglected their people in order to curry favour with the Christian rulers.

[83] See TB Yevamo: 49b. Regarding the unique prophetic status of Moses, see Zoh. 2:23a-b.

[84] Since the verse cited is from Proverbs, the speaker is presumed to be King Solomon, who is reputed to be the author of this Book (See Proverbs1:1).

[85] Instead of “shapes,” the Munkaics edition reads ‘colours’ (which may be reminiscent of Ezek. 1:27-28). See Zoh. 2:154a, which mentions that Saul experienced both prophecy and kingship. However, the two cannot be experienced simultaneously; therefore, as soon as he became king, the spirit of prophecy departed from him. R. Eleazar’s point is that the two verses in this passage refer to exceptions, and that prophets normally enjoy a much closer relationship with God than do kings. Thus the verse from Jeremiah depicts a “dim vision,” since prophets should normally perceive God’s presence more clearly.

[86] Portending trouble, as discussed above. The preceding passage implies that there was an absence of clear prophetic visions in the days of Elimelech. The passage which follows cites the ominous phrase again, indicating that R. Bun’s days were also troubled ones.

[87] The term “Tanna” can have two meanings. It can refer to a Sage of the Oral Tradition in the time of the Mishnah (first to third centuries BCE), or to a scholar whose task it was to memorize and recite tannaitic teachings. In this passage, the latter sense is meant.

[88] See Genesis Rabah 2:3, where the light created by God on the first day is identified with Jacob.

[89] Much sefirotic imagery is implicit in this passage. “Repentance” is a code-word for Binah; see Sefer HaBahir #104, which also establishes this connection. (Incidentally, the Munacs edition has ‘Malkhut” in brackets.) Rachel, the moon and the Shekhinah represent Malkhut; Jacob is Tiferet; the righteous is Yesod.

[90] Cf. infra., 84a. The Shekhinali is like a soul, and terrestrial Israel is like a body which clothes it.

[91] See TB Berakhot 3a, where it is the Holy Blessed One who utters this lament over Israel.

[92] From “two ‘sendings” to here does not appear in the Munacs edition.

[93] The Aramaic term is trybue.

[94] Namely, that his days will be prolonged (from Deuteronomy 22:7). The Aramaic term for “reward” is trdt. The Sulam commentary renders to place them on the roof.

[95] These are six of the thirteen merciful attributes of God, according to rabbinic exegesis; see, e.g., TB Rosh Hashanah 17b. This striking allegorical passage seems to elude precise interpretation, and our effort here is tentative at best. If ‘hen who destroys the nest represents the enemy of Israel (the Christian rulers of 13th-century Spain?), then the passage may imply that, if this enemy drives the Shekhinah (mother bird) from the fledglings (the People of Israel) so that they are exposed to danger, then the Holy Blessed One (Tiferet) will be aroused to reunite the sefirot and bring redemption to Israel. In a time of helplessness for Jews, God is being provoked to act.

[96] See PRE 3

[97] Heb. vbuc,, virtually synonymous with vbhc The Venice edition has tbnhv, which may mean “faith” or “trust”.

[98] Cf. Zoh. 2:8a-9a, which interprets these verses from Deuteronomy 22 to refer to the Messiah. Our present passage implies that the nations which persecute the Jewish People play a role in hastening divine redemptive intervention!

[99] See Leviticus Rabah 22:4.

[100] The term “Colleagues” thhrcj refers to the members of the mystic circle. The kiss is a common motif in Zohar, denoting that the hearer acknowledges a mystical teaching from a fellow initiate, and approves. See, e.g., Zoh. 2:23b; also in Midrash HaNe’elam below, fol. 79a and 81a. There are also some instances of this “kiss of approval” in rabbinic literature; see, e.g., TB Chagigah 14b.

[101] See Mishnah Avot 5:11.

[102] The verse from Proverbs refers to “tillage of the poor” [ohar]. With the addition of the letter aleph, the word becomes “leaders” [ohatr].

[103] The Munacs edition adds, “and levies punishment only according to the letter of the law.”

[104] See TB Yevamot 90b, which also contains a passage regarding a couple who engaged in sexual relations out-of-doors, similar to the case of Aba below.

[105] Mishnah Avot 1:1.

[106] Instead of “This was so that . . .“ until this point, another version reads: “Let a judge not say, ‘I shall take them out [for flogging] according to the letter of the law, and this is enough for me.’ Rather, a judge who does not make a fence for Torah will not have a fence for himself in this world or the next; for his fence is ‘son or grandson’ this will be denied him in this world.”

[107] See Tanchuma, Shemini 9.

[108] Referring to Esau.

[109] This is the interpretation which Rashi gives to this verse in his commentary to TB Bava Qama 60b.

[110] In contrast to Elimelech R. Bun is praised as a leader who remains with his community to ensure a faithful adherence to Torah. Regarding the merit of exiling oneself for the sake of Torah, see Mishnah Avot 4:14.

[111] See Mishnah Avot 3:4 and TB Berakhot l0b.

[112] Mishnah Avot 3:2 and TB Berakhot: 6a.

[113] Regarding Torah as healing, see TB Qidushin 30b. Since the Sh’ma is a recitation of passages from the Torah, it has healing power. See TB Berakhot 16b, where the recitation of the Sh’ma results in divine blessing.

[114] Regarding the 248 limbs of the human body, see TB Nedarim 32b and Genesis Rabah 69:1.

[115] The prayer after the Sh’ma recitation begins with the word “true” (,nt). In order not to allow a pause between the Sh’ma and this prayer (see Mishnah Berakhot 2:2), the leader recites aloud the last two words of the Sh’ma and the first words of the next prayer. See J.H. Hertz, ed., The Authorized Daily Prayer Book (London: Shapiro, Valentine & Co., 1963), p. 126. This practice can be observed only when a quorum of ten is present for congregational prayer; and so Midrash HaNe‘elam reiterates the importance of remaining within the Jewish community, even in times of adversity.

[116] See TJ Berakhot 1:5.

[117] The central prayer of the service, which in the weekday version consists of three initial blessings, three final blessings and twelve intermediate blessings (plus an additional blessing which was added later). See Hertz, Daily Prayer Book, pp. 130-157.

[118] See TB Shabbat 55a, where the word ,nt is a “seal [name] of the Holy Blessed One.”

[119] See Hertz, Daily Prayer Book, p. 126. This refers to the morning service; in the prayer chmhu ,nt following the Sh’ma recitation, words two through sixteen begin with the letter vav. For an explanation of this practice, see Shuichan Arukh, Orach Chayim 61:3 and commentaries.

[120] Cf. TB Berakhot 26a

[121] There are too “few people” if one prays without a quorum. This discussion ends abruptly and resumes on fol. Sod; meanwhile, another journey/discussion of R. Bun is recorded.

[122] I.e., one who does not pray with the congregation.

[123] See TB Ta’anit 8a.

[124] See Ecciesiastes Rabah 10:11 and Leviticus Rabah 26:2.

[125] The Venice edition does not contain the bracketed portion of this sentence.

[126] See Yalqut Shim‘oni (to Proverbs) #939.

[127] Cf. Ruth Rabah 2:5, which presents a slightly different interpretation of these names.

[128] In the Aramaic, kse ,ae. The equivalent Hebrew expression, ,ae ;rut, reveals the play on Orpah’s name.

[129] “Turtle dove” is ru,, which reverses the letters of the name “Ruth”. See above, fol. 75a. Regarding the “Moabite females,” based on an interpretation of Deuteronomy 23:4, Mishnah Yevamot 8:3 prohibits Jewish women from marrying Moabite men. The Moabite women, however, are not proscribed.

[130] The child is David; see TB Berakhot 7b.

[131] Cf. the citation of the same verse above, fol. 75a.

[132] Heb. eujrhu. The Masoretic text of Ruth 1:4 actually reads utahu. Both verbs can mean “they married.”

[133] This follows TB Sota 47a, where Ruth was the daughter of Eglon and granddaughter of Balak. In TB Horayot l0b, Ruth is said to be Eglon’s granddaughter.

[134] A similar passage appears in Ruth Rabah 2:9.

[135] See Numbers Rabah 20:22.

[136] This statement exhibits a positive attitude toward women who converted to Judaism in sincerity. See also Ruth Rabah 3:5.

[137] Peretz, the son of Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38:29), is also an ancestor of Boaz (Ruth 4:18). Peretz was the son of a non-Israelite woman who claimed progeny through union with an Israelite; such is also the case with Obed, son of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 4:17). The “smelting” refers to the mixture of non-Israelite blood into the line of David. Peretz is the silver which is smelted twice: once through Tamar and once through Ruth.

[138] Gentile and Jew.

[139] See TB Berakhot 54a

[140] There had to be some fusion between good and evil in the universe, for the world to be strengthened. The logical place for this to happen was in the seed of David, the cosmic messianic line.

[141] The period of the judges lasted for almost 350 years. Overall there were 15 judges, beginning with Osniel ben Kriaz and concluding with Samuel the Prophet. The Malbim understands that this was an interim period when there was no one single judge who led the entire nation until Boaz was appointed.

[142] In the introduction to Esther Rabbah, Number 11, “God said to them, ‘You treat your judges with contempt. I promise that I will bring upon you a calamity you will not withstand.’ That is the famine, as it is written, And there was a famine... “ (Also cf. Midrash Tanchuma Shemini 9, Zohar Chadash, Ruth 77b).


[143] The Sifri on the verse, And he sojourned there (Deuteronomy 26:5) remarks: This teaches us that he did not intend to settle there but merely to sojourn. See also Lekach Toy concerning Elimelech.


[144] This may be in reference to the Talmud (Sotah lib): David was descended from Miriam, as it is written: And Caleb took Ephrath [for a wife) and she bore him Hur. Further, it is written: And David, the son of an Ephrathite man (I Samuel 17:12). Here, too, they were called Ephrathites, as they were descended from Miriam, who was called Ephrath.

[145] The Iggereth Shmuel also considers Elimelech’s choice of Moab to be a grave sin, but for a different reason. The Torah forbids Jews to greet Moabities or seek their prosperity forever (Deuteronomy 23:7). Since Elirnelech lived in Moab, he would have found it very difficult to avoid transgressing this command.

[146] This seems to conflict with the opinion of Tosafoth (Hagigah 16b) who notes that this only applies to forbidden food, as it is considered despicable for a righteous man to eat it.

[147] For further reading on this subject, see the Alshich’s commentary on Genesis 37:3) beginning with the words: “The point is, when one has sins to his name it is not surprising if he is led to transgress further, as one bad deed leads to another...”

[148] “The source in the Tanchuma has not been identified. However, a similar statement can be found in the Midrash HaGadol Vayigash, on the words for God sent me... to preserve life (Genesis 45:5).

[149] The Midrash explains that prayer has the power to annul half a decree. Moses prayed on Aaron’s behalf and only two of his sons died instead of all four.