Peshat Level:


Categories of Agunot by Dr. Robert Gordis


In sum, four principal categories of the agunah have emerged in modern times and are on the increase:


1. A man divorces his wife in the civil courts and possibly even remarries, but refuses to give his wife a get, either because of malice or greed. All too often the husband tries to extort money from his wife in exchange for the get.


2. A man disappears without leaving a trace, so that he is not available to issue the divorce that halakhah demands. During the early decades of the 20th century , when mass Jewish immigration to the United States from Eastern Europe reached its height, Yiddish newspapers published a regular feature, "The Gallery of Missing Husbands," asking readers to help locate the errant spouses. Together with photographs, there would appear pathetic pleas for help from the deserted wives.


3. The man is lost in military action or dies in a mass explosion. In modern war, combatants are often blown to bits. Where there is no hard evidence that the soldier is dead, the wife becomes an agunah, since halakhah has no such category as "declared" or "legally" dead.


4. Not strictly a case of "desertion" but similar to it is the rarer case of a childless widow who, according to halakhah, requires halitzah (release) from her husband's brother before she can remarry. [Biblical law requires her brother-in-law to marry her to perpetuate the dead husband's "name" by providing his wife with a child. The ceremony of halitzah releases the widow from this obligation.] This situation has also served as an occasion for extortion.





1:6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law and returned from the field of Moav, for she was informed by an angel, in the field of Moav, that the Lord had remembered his people, the Torah teacher, giving them bread, through the merit of the Judge Ivtzan by virtue of the prayer which he prayed before the Lord; he is Boaz the Pious.


1:7 She went forth out of the place where she had been, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they were walking on the way to return to the land of Judah.


1:8 Said Naomi to her daughters-in-law: "Go, return each to her mother's house. May the Lord do kindness unto you, just as you have done unto your deceased husbands, refusing to marry [literally “to take a man”] after their death, and unto me, whom you have provided for and sustained.


1:9 "May the Lord reward you fully for the kindness which you have shown to me, and by virtue of that reward may each of you find rest in the house of her husband." Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.


1:10 Said they unto her: "We will not return to our people and our gods, but with you will we return to your people, to become proselytes."


1:11 Then said Naomi: "Return, O my daughters. Why should you go with me? Do I still have children in my womb that they might be husbands unto you?


1:12 "Return, my daughters, from following me. Go unto your people, for I am too old to be married. Should I say: 'Now, if I were a young woman, having hope, verily! should I be married this very night and should I bear sons,'


1:13 "Would you wait for them until they grew up, like a woman who waits for a small brother-in-law to marry her? Because of them would you sit tied down, not marrying? Pray, my daughters, do not grieve me, for I am more embittered than you, because a stroke from the Lord has come forth against me."


1:14 Once again they lifted their voices and wept; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung unto her.


1:15 Then said she: "Behold, your sister-in-law has returned to her people and to her gods. Return after your sister-in-law to your people and your gods!"


1:16 But Ruth said: "Do not coax me to leave you, to turn from following you, for I desire to become a proselyte." Said Naomi: "We are commanded to keep the Sabbaths and holidays, not to walk more than two thousand cubits." Said Ruth: "Wheresoever you go I shall go." Said Naomi: "We are commanded not to spend the night together with non-Jews." Said Ruth: "Wherever you lodge I shall lodge." Said Naomi: "We are commanded to keep six hundred thirteen commandments." Said Ruth: "That which your people keep, that I shall keep, as though they had been my people before this." Said Naomi: "We are commanded not to worship idolatry." Said Ruth: "Your God is my God."


1:17 Said Naomi: "We have four methods of capital punishment for the guilty -- stoning, burning with fire, death by the sword, and hanging upon the gallows." Said Ruth: "To whatever death you are subject I shall be subject." Said Naomi: "We have two cemeteries." Said Ruth: "There shall I be buried. And do not continue to speak any further. May the Lord do thus unto me and more if [even] death will separate me from you."


1:18 When she saw that she insisted upon going with her, she ceased to dissuade her.





1:7  So she departed from the place  Why was (this) stated? Indeed, it was already stated (verse 6), “and she returned from the fields of Moab,” and how could she return if she would not (first) depart from the place where she had been? Rather, (the phrase) tells (us) that the departure of a righteous person from a place is noticeable and makes an impression – its radiance departs, (and) the praiseworthiness of the city departs. And similarly (Genesis 28:10) “and Jacob went forth from Beer-sheva” (i.e., his departure made an impression on the city).


1:12  For I have become too old from belonging to a man  (I.e.,) that I should marry him and bear sons, and you would (then) marry them, for they (such sons) would not be forbidden to you (as husbands), and you would not be forbidden them by dint of (the prohibition against a man marrying) the wife of his (older) brother who was not in his world (i.e., who died before he was born), who (i.e., the widow) is not bound to the levirate, since Machlon and Chilion were not Halachically married to them, for they were Gentiles (and therefore would not be considered their brother’s wives), and they had not converted (at marriage), and (only) now were they coming to convert, as it is stated (verse 10), “(No,) but with you we will return to your nation.” Henceforth, we will become one nation.


(Even) if I were to say (that) there is hope for me  (I.e.,) for even if my heart were to tell me (that) there is hope for me to marry again and to bear sons.


Even (if) I were to marry this very night  And moreover, even if I were to conceive male offspring this (very) night.


Or had I even borne sons Or even if I had already borne sons.


1:13  Would you wait in hope for them  (The v denotes a question posed) in wonder, “Would you perhaps wait (in hope) for them until they grow up?” (Cf.) the expression of (Psalms 146:5), “whose hope (urca) is in the Lord his God.”


Tie yourself down - תעגנה  (This is) an expression of being restricted and confined, (from the root dug) as in (Taanith 23a), “He drew a (confining) circle and stood within it.” And some interpret (vbdg, as stemming from the root Idg), an expression denoting anchoring, but this is not possible, for if so, the b should have been punctuated with a dagesh (forti to replace the missing b) or written (with) two b’s (one as the radical and the other for the feminine plural).


"Should you wait for them to grow up? Should you shut yourselves off for them (te'agenah) and have no husbands?"

(Ibn Ezra, perhaps deliberately, notes that the word is unique by writing that it "has no friend".)

Rashi in his commentary on Ruth tries to show that actually the root here is עוג and that the word תעגנה is the feminine plural future form of the verb. His proof for this is that if the nun was part of the root, it should have had a dagesh or appeared twice. He still says the word means "restriction", but gives the example of Honi HaMe'agel who "עג עוגה ועמד בתוכה" - drew (ag) a circle and stood inside it until it rained.

However, Avineri in Heichal Rashi points out that according most grammarians the nun is part of the root (for example the Radak in Sefer HaShorashim), and even Rashi himself in his commentary on Bava Kama 80a (s.v. ha'aguna) connects the word aguna and the verse in Ruth.


For there has gone forth against me the hand of the Lord  Rabbi Levi said (Ruth Rabbah), “Wherever is mentioned ‘the hand of the Lord,’ it is (a reference to) a plague of pestilence,” and the precedent for all of them is (Exodus 9:3), “Behold, the hand of the Lord is (upon thy cattle … a very heavy pestilence).”


1:15  Behold your sister-in-law has returned  This (instance of the word שבה has) its accent at the beginning, under the ש, since it is the past tense. (However, in Esther 2:14) “and in the morning, she would return (שבה),” its accent is at the end, on the ה, since it is the present tense, and likewise, (in) all similar instances.


1:16  Do not urge me  Do not press me.


For wherever you go I will go  From this our Rabbis, of blessed memory, derived (Yeb. 47b), “(If) a (potential) proselyte comes to convert, we inform him of some of the punishments (for transgressing the commandments), so that if he wishes to withdraw from it (i.e., from his intention to convert), he can withdraw,” for from the words of Ruth, you can learn what Naomi (must have) said to her. (Naomi said,) “We are forbidden to venture forth outside the boundary (of 2,000 cubits beyond the city limits) on the Sabbath.” She (Ruth) said to her, “Wherever you go, I will go.” “We are forbidden to seclude ourselves a woman with a man who is not her husband.” She (Ruth) said to her, “Wherever you lodge, I will lodge.” “Our nation is separated from other nations by 613 commandments,” (to which Ruth replied,) “Your nation is my nation.” “We are forbidden idol worship,” (to which Ruth replied,) “Your God is my God.” “Four deaths (i.e., types of capital punishment) were delegated to the Beth Din (to punish sinners),” (to which she replied,) “Where you die, I will die.” “Two burial plots were delegated to the Beth Din (to bury those executed), one for those stoned and those burned and one for those executed by decapitation and those strangled.” She (Ruth) said to her, “and there will I be buried.”


1:17  Thus may the Lord do to me  (I.e.,) as He has begun to afflict me, for His hand has gone forth against me, killing my husband and (causing me) to lose my possession (lit., to descend from my possessions).


And thus may he continue  If (anything) shall make a separation between me and you except death.


1:18  So she desisted from speaking to her From Here (our Rabbis) derived “We do not overburden him (the potential convert), and we are not overly meticulous with him (concerning the commandments).” (ibid.)


Hakham Shimshon Raphael Hirsh states that the Hebrew word for bride - kallah - means ‘completion’ as in: “beyom kallot hamishkan - the day the tabernacle was completed.”


In his commentary on Bereshit (Genesis) 43:20, Rashi equated crying and beseeching. Thus we learn that the right kind of tears can be shed to beseech HaShem to hear our prayer.


Crying, בכי bechi is from the same root as confusion, nevucha. We see this confusion in:

Shemot (Exodus) 14:3 … They are confused (nevochim) in the land, the desert has closed them in.


The word for "sister-in-law"  (Yevamah) that is used here is very unusual for the context. What we translate as “sister-in-law” is in the original Hebrew a word that signifies a levirate relationship. The Torah dictates that if a married man dies childless, the widow is to marry her dead husband's brother, preferably the eldest. The firstborn son they produce together is considered a continuation of the dead husband's line. This practice is known as Yibum, or levirate marriage. The brother-in-law is called the Yavam; the widow is called the Yevamah.


Mother-in-law = Chamot, from the root cham meaning ‘hot one’.



Gemarah Level:

Talmud Babli


Sotah 42b  These four were born to Harafah in Gath; and they fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants. Who were they? — R. Hisda said: Saph, Madon, Goliath and Ishbi-benob. ‘And they fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants’, as it is written: And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clave unto her. R. Isaac said: The Holy One, blessed be He, spake, May the sons of the one who kissed come and fall by the hand of the sons of the one who clave.


Raba expounded: As a reward for the four tears which Orpah dropped upon her mother-in-law, she merited that four mighty warriors should issue from her; as it is said: And they lifted up their voice and wept again.


Yevamoth 47b  The Master said, ‘If a man desires to become a proselyte . . . he is to be addressed as follows: "What reason have you for desiring to become a proselyte . . ." and he is made acquainted with some of the minor, and with some of the major commandments’. What is the reason? — In order that if he desire to withdraw let him do so; for R. Helbo said: Proselytes are as hard for Israel [to endure] as a sore, because it is written in Scripture. And the proselyte shall join himself with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob.

‘He is not, however, to be persuaded, or dissuaded too much’. R. Eleazar said: What is the Scriptural proof? — It is written, And when she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, she left off speaking unto her. ‘We are forbidden’, she told her, ‘[to move on the Sabbath beyond the] Sabbath boundaries’! — ‘Whither thou goest’ [the other replied] ‘I will go’.


‘We are forbidden private meeting between man and woman’! — ‘Where thou lodgest. I will lodge’


‘We have been commanded six hundred and thirteen commandments’! — ‘Thy people shall be my people’.


‘We are forbidden idolatry’! — ‘And thy God my God’.


‘Four modes of death were entrusted to Beth din’! — ‘Where thou diest, will I die’.


‘Two graveyards were placed at the disposal of the Beth din’! — ‘And there will I be buried’. Presently she saw that she was steadfastly minded etc.     


Yevamoth 47b Our Rabbis taught: If at the present time a man desires to become a proselyte, he is to be addressed as follows: ‘What reason have you for desiring to become a proselyte; do you not know that Israel at the present time are persecuted and oppressed, despised, harassed and overcome by afflictions’? If he replies, ‘I know and yet am unworthy’, he is accepted forthwith, and is given instruction in some of the minor and some of the major commandments. He is informed of the sin [of the neglect of the commandments of] Gleanings, the Forgotten Sheaf, the Corner and the Poor Man's Tithe. He is also told of the punishment for the transgression of the commandments. Furthermore, he is addressed thus: ‘Be it known to you that before you came to this condition, if you had eaten suet you would not have been punishable with kareth, if you had profaned the Sabbath you would not have been punishable with stoning; but now were you to eat suet you would be punished with kareth; were you to profane the Sabbath you would be punished with stoning’. And as he is informed of the punishment for the transgression of the commandments, so is he informed of the reward granted for their fulfillment. He is told, ‘Be it known to you that the world to come was made only for the righteous, and that Israel at the present time are unable to bear either too much prosperity. or too much suffering’. He is not, however, to be persuaded or dissuaded too much. If he accepted, he is circumcised forthwith. Should any shreds which render the circumcision invalid remain, he is to be circumcised a second time. As soon as he is healed arrangements are made for his immediate ablution, when two learned men must stand by his side and acquaint him with some of the minor commandments and with some of the major ones. When he comes up after his ablution he is deemed to be an Israelite in all respects.


תשב – ‘return’ when the letters are rearranged they spell ‘shabbat’ -  שבת 


Megilah 31a On New Year we read On the seventh month, and for haftarah, Is Ephraim a darling son unto me.’ According to others, we read And the Lord remembered Sarah and for haftarah the story of Hannah. Nowadays that we keep two days, on the first day we follow the ruling of the other authority, and on the next day we say, And God tried Abraham, with ‘Is Ephraim a darling son to me’ for haftarah.


Gematria of HaShem (YHVH) is 26. Kabbalah goes even further to show how the letters themselves are composites of other letters, except for the letter Yud. The letter Aleph - א is composed of two Yuds and a Vav. Since each letter of the Aleph-Bais has a pre-assigned numerical value (gematria), and Yud equals 10 and Vav equals 6, the total numerical value of the letter Aleph would be 10+10+6, or 26, the gematria of the Four-Letter Ineffable Name of God.


Rashi commenting on:


Rosh HaShana 17b ‘The Lord, the Lord’: I am the Eternal before a man sins and the same after a man sins and repents. ‘A God merciful and gracious:’ Rab Judah said: A covenant has been made with the thirteen attributes that they will not be turned away empty-handed, as it says, Behold I make a covenant.


Says that Lit., ‘He’. The Divine name YHWH (E.V. ‘the Lord’) designates the divine attribute of mercy.


Chagigah 14a When R. Dimi came, he said: Eighteen curses did Isaiah pronounce upon Israel, yet he was not pacified until he pronounced upon them this verse: The child shall behave insolently against the aged, and the base against the honourable. Which are the eighteen curses? — It is written: For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah stay and staff every stay of bread, and every stay of water,’ the mighty man, and the man of war; the judge and the prophet, and the diviner, and the elder; the captain of fifty; and the man of rank, and the counsellor, and the wise charmer, and the skillful enchanter. And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. ‘Stay’ — this means the masters of the Bible. ‘Staff’ — this means the masters of the Mishnah, like R. Judah b. Tema and his colleagues. R. Papa and our Rabbis dispute therein: one says that there were six hundred orders of the Mishnah, and the other that there were seven hundred orders of the Mishnah. ‘Every stay of bread’ — this means the masters of Talmud, for it is said: Come, eat of My bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. ‘And every stay of water’ — this means the masters of Aggadah, who draw the heart of man like water by means of the Aggadah. ‘The ‘mighty man’ — this means the masters of traditions. ‘And the man of war’ — this means one who knows how to dispute in the warfare of the Torah. ‘The judge — this means a judge who passes judgment in strictest accord with truth — ‘The prophet’ — according to the literal meaning of the word.


Sanhedrin 11b Our Rabbis taught: The intercalation of a year can be effected [by the Beth din] only in Judea; but if for some reason [it had been decided upon by the Beth din] in Galilee, the decision holds good. Hanania of Oni, however, testified: ‘If the intercalation was decided upon in Galilee, it is not valid.’ R. Judah the son of R. Simeon b. Pazi asked: What is the reason for the view of Hanania of Oni? — Scripture states, Unto His habitation shall ye seek and thither thou shalt come: whatever search you have to make shall be only in the habitation of the Lord (I.e., Jerusalem the Capital of Judea, which the Lord (Heb. Makom, lit., ‘the Place’, v. Glos.) has selected as habitation unto Himself.).


Kiddushin 2b Now, why does he employ shalosh? on account of derakim [ways]! Then let him teach debarim [things] and sheloshah? — Because he wishes to mention INTERCOURSE, which is designated ‘way’, as it is written, and the way of a man with a maid. . . Such is the way of an adulterous woman. Now, that answers for intercourse; but what can you say of MONEY AND DEED? — [They are] on account of INTERCOURSE. And are two taught on account of one? — These too are adjuncts of intercourse.


Pesachim 87b  R. Hiyya taught: What is meant by the verse, God understandeth the way thereof, and He knoweth the place thereof? The Holy One, blessed be He, knoweth that Israel are unable to endure the cruel decrees of Edom, therefore He exiled them to Babylonia. R. Eleazar also said: The Holy One, blessed be He, exiled Israel to Babylonia only because it is as deep as she'ol, for it is said, I shall ransom them from the power of the nether-world [she'ol]; I shall redeem them from death. R. Hanina said: Because their language is akin to the language of the Torah. R. Johanan said: Because He sent them back to their mother's house.[1] It may be compared to a man who becomes angry with his wife: Whither does he send her? To her mother's house. And that corresponds to [the dictum] of R. Alexandri, who said: Three returned to their original home, viz., Israel, Egypt's wealth, and the writing of the Tables. Israel, as we have said. Egypt's wealth, as it is written, And it came to pass in the fifth year of King Rehoboam, that Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem; and he took away the treasurers of the house of the Lord. The writing of the Tables, for it is written, and I broke them before your eyes. It was taught: The Tables were broken, yet the Letters flew up. ‘Ulla said: [Their exile] was in order that they might eat dates1 and occupy themselves with the Torah.


RADAK "Chesed," Kindness, is an abundance of "Emmet," Truth.


Shabbath 64a For consider: the dead is likened to semen, for it is written, ‘and whoso toucheth anything that is unclean by the dead, or a man whose seed goeth from him’; while in respect to semen it is written, ‘and every garment and every skin, whereon shall be the seed of copulation. What then is the purpose of ‘raiment and skin’ written by the Divine Law in connection with the dead? Infer from this that its purpose is to leave it redundant.


Menuchah is a allegory for "inheritance" (cf. Devarim 12:9; Melachim Alef 8:56)


Berachoth 6b R. Helbo further said in the name of R. Huna: Whosoever partakes of the wedding meal of a bridegroom and does not felicitate him does violence to ‘the five voices’ mentioned in the verse: The voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of them that say, Give thanks to the Lord of Hosts. And if he does gladden him what is his reward? — R. Joshua b. Levi said: He is privileged to acquire [the knowledge of] the Torah which was given with five voices. For it is said: And it came to pass on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a horn . . . and when the voice of the horn waxed louder . . . Moses spoke and God answered him by a voice. (This is not so! For it is written: And all the people perceived the thunderings? — These voices were before the revelation of the Torah.)


The numerical value of bechi, weeping, is equal to that of lev, heart, which is thirty-two, because tears are meaningful when they are sincere expressions of the heart.


Yoma 74b The School of R. Ishmael taught: Here the phrase ‘affliction’ is used, and there the term ‘affliction’ is used; just as there an affliction through hunger is meant, so is here an affliction through hunger meant. But let us infer from: ‘If thou shalt afflict my daughters’? — One should infer concerning the affliction of a community from another affliction of a community, but not for the affliction of a community from the affliction of an individual.


Shabbath 152a It was taught, R. Jose b. Kisma said: Two are better than three, and woe for the one thing that goes and does not return. What is that? Said R. Hisda: One's youth. When R. Dimi came, he said: Youth is a crown of roses; old age is a crown of willowrods.[2]


Kethuboth 20b And what is old? Sixty years.




GEMARA. TOREN is the mast; for so it is written: They have taken cedars from Lebanon to make masts for thee. NES is the sail; for so it is written: Of fine linen with richly woven work from Egypt was thy sail, that it might be to thee for an ensign. [As to] OGEN, R. Hiyya taught: These are its anchors; for so it is written: Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? Would ye shut yourselves off for them and have no husbands?


Yoma 82a Eliezer said: Since it is said, With all thy soul, why is it said: With all thy might? And since it is said: ‘With all thy might’, why is it said: ‘With all thy soul’? [It but comes to tell you that] if there be a man whose life is more cherished by him than his money, for him it is said: ‘With all thy soul’; and if there be a person to whom his money is dearer than his life, for him it is said: ‘With all thy might’.


Bereshit (Genesis) 2:24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave <01692> unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.


Baba Bathra 113a Both, at all events, [agree that] in, from one tribe to another tribe, Scripture speaks of transfer through the husband; how [is this] to be inferred? — Rabbah son of R. Shila said: Scripture states, Ish. Is not Ish written in both? — But, said R. Nahman b. Isaac, Scripture states, shall cleave. Is not [the phrase], shall cleave, written in both? But, said Raba; Scripture states. The tribes shall cleave. R. Ashi said: Scripture states. from One tribe to another tribe, but a son is not [of] another.


A yebamah who is subject to the levirate marriage may not be married by a stranger before the levir has submitted to halizah. For further notes on the whole passage v. Kid., Sonc. ed. pp. 26off. Since Orpah had intercourse with 100 Philistines, she denied herself yibum.


Berachoth 32a And they shall have eaten their fill and waxen fat, and turned unto other gods. Or, if you prefer, I can say from here. But Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked.


Gittin 56b In the school of R. Ishmael it was taught; Who is like thee among the gods [elim]? Who is like thee among the dumb ones [illemim].


Yevamoth 47b ‘He is not, however, to be persuaded, or dissuaded too much’. R. Eleazar said: What is the Scriptural proof? — It is written, And when she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, she left off speaking unto her. ‘We are forbidden’, she told her, ‘[to move on the Sabbath beyond the] Sabbath boundaries’! — ‘Whither thou goest’ [the other replied] ‘I will go’.


            ‘We are forbidden private meeting between man and woman’! — ‘Where thou lodgest. I will lodge’


            ‘We have been commanded six hundred and thirteen commandments’! — ‘Thy people shall be my people’.


            ‘We are forbidden idolatry’! — ‘And thy God my God’.


            ‘Four modes of death were entrusted to Beth din’! — ‘Where thou diest, will I die’.


            ‘Two graveyards were placed at the disposal of the Beth din’! — ‘And there will I be buried’. Presently she saw that she was steadfastly minded etc.


* * *


Romans 6:4  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Mashiach was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.


Rashi [Toldot -9] says he was "nitman" in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever for fourteen years. The word "nitman" (Hatmana - buried) means to totall submerse.


Yoma 87a FOR TRANSGRESSIONS COMMITTED BY MAN AGAINST HIS FELLOWMAN THE DAY OF ATONEMENT PROCURES NO ATONEMENT, but it is written: If one man sin against his fellow-man, God [Elohim] will pacify him?16 ‘Elohim’ here means ‘the Judge’.



Midrash Level:




Midrash Rabbah Ruth II:12 AND SHE WENT FORTH OUT OF THE PLACE WHERE SHE WAS (I, 7). AND SHE WENT FORTH. Was she then the only one that went forth from the place? Did not many camel-drivers and how many ass-drivers also go forth? And yet it says only AND SHE WENT FORTH? R. ‘Azariah in the name of R. Judah b. R. Simon explained: The great man of a city is its shining light, its distinction, its glory, and its praise. When he departs, its brilliance, its distinction, its glory, and its praise depart with him…. AND THEY WENT ON THE WAY TO RETURN UNTO THE LAND OF JUDAH (1, 7). Rab Judah said in the name of R. Johanan: They transgressed the letter of the Law and journeyed on the Festival. Another interpretation of AND THEY WENT ON THE WAY is that the way was hard for them because they went unshod. AND THEY WENT, discussing the laws of proselytes.


Ruth II:13 AND NAOMI SAID UNTO HER TWO DAUGHTERS-I N-LAW: GO, RETURN EACH OF YOU TO HER MOTHER’S HOUSE (1, 8)-i.e. to her people’s house. The mother of Abnimos of Gadara died, and R. Meir went up to condole with him’ and he found them sitting in mourning. Some time later his father died, and R. Meir again went up to condole with him, and found them engaged in their normal occupations. He said to him: ‘It appears to me that your mother was more dear to you than your father!’ He answered him: ‘Is it not then written, TO HER MOTHER'S HOUSE, but not "to her father's house"?’ R. Meir answered him: ‘Thou hast spoken well, for a heathen indeed has no father.’


Ruth II:14 THE LORD DEAL KINDLY WITH YOU (ib.). R. Hanina b. Adda said: The ketib is ya'aseh. He certainly will deal kindly with you. AS YE HAVE DEALT WITH THE DEAD, in that ye busied yourselves with their shrouds; AND WITH ME, in that they renounced their marriage settlement. R. Ze'ira said: This scroll [of Ruth] tells us nothing either of cleanliness or of uncleanliness, either of prohibition or permission. For what purpose then was it written? To teach how great is the reward of those who do deeds of kindness.


TURN BACK, MY DAUGHTERS, GO YOUR WAY (I,12). R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Judah b. Hanina: Three times is it written here [1:8, 1:11, and 1:12] ' turn back’, corresponding to the three times that a would-be proselyte is repulsed [A would-be proselyte is not accepted with open arms, but first repulsed, being warned of the difficulties of Judaism, to make sure of the sincerity of his convictions.]


Ruth II:15 THE LORD GRANT YOU (I, 9). R. Jose said: All the boons and all the consolations which the Holy One, blessed be He, is destined to bestow on Solomon, as it is written, And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding (I Kings V, 9), shall come from you. THAT YE MAY FIND REST (I, 9). The ketib is u’ mzen. One of you will find rest, not both. EACH OF YOU IN THE HOUSE OF HER HUSBAND (ib.). From this we see that a woman has no contentment except in her husband's house. THEN SHE KISSED THEM, AND THEY LIFTED UP THEIR VOICE AND WEPT. AND THEY SAID TO HER... AND NAOMI SAID: TURN BACK, MY DAUGHTERS, WHY WILL YE GO WITH ME? HAVE I YET SONS IN MY WOMB, THAT THEY MAY BE YOUR HUSBANDS (I, 9-11)? Can then a man marry the widow of his brother [who became widowed] before he was born?


Ruth II:16 TURN BACK, MY DAUGHTERS, GO YOUR WAY (I,12). R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Judah b. Hanina: Three times is it written here [1:8, 1:11, and 1:12] ' turn back’, corresponding to the three times that a would-be proselyte is repulsed; but if he persists after that, he is accepted. R. Isaac said: [It is written,] The stranger did not lodge in the street (Job XXXI, 32): A man should rebuff with his left hand, but bring near with the right.


Ruth II:16 TURN BACK, MY DAUGHTERS, GO YOUR WAY (I,12). R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Judah b. Hanina: Three times is it written here [1:8, 1:11, and 1:12] ' turn back’, corresponding to the three times that a would-be proselyte is repulsed; but if he persists after that, he is accepted. R. Isaac said: [It is written,] The stranger did not lodge in the street (Job XXXI, 32): A man should rebuff with his left hand, but bring near with the right. FOR I AM TOO OLD TO HAVE A HUSBAND, etc. SHOULD I EVEN HAVE A HUSBAND TO - NIGHT (I, 12). R. Johanan said: The Torah teaches us a lesson of decency, that intercourse should take place not by day but by night. That is the meaning of what is written, In the evening, she went in [to the king], and on the morrow she returned (Est. II, 14). While it is written here SHOULD I EVEN HAVE A HUSBAND TO-NIGHT.


Ruth II:17 SHOULD I EVEN HAVE A HUSBAND AND ALSO BEAR SONS (I, 12). Thus if I had had a husband this night, I might have borne sons; but even in this case, WOULD YE TARRY FOR THEM TILL THEY WERE GROWN (I, 13)? Can ye then sit and wait until they are grown? WOULD YE SHUT YOURSELVES OFF FOR THEM AND HAVE NO HUSBANDS (ib.)? You might remain agunahs without ever marrying. NAY, MY DAUGHTERS (ib.): [translate] woe is me, my daughters, FOR IT GRIEVETH ME MUCH FOR YOUR SAKES. meaning on account of you, FOR THE HAND OF THE LORD IS GONE FORTH AGAINST ME: against me, against my sons, and against my husband.


Ruth II:19 R. Levi said: Wherever the ’hand’ of the Lord is mentioned, it refers to the pestilence, and the locus classicus is the verse, Behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thy cattle (Exodus IX, 3). Bar Kappara said: They asked for the ‘hand’, and the ’hand’ smote them with pestilence. R. Simon said: The pestilence smote those that went out, but not those who remained [at home]. The disciples of R. Nehemiah deduced this fact from the verse, Whithersoever they went out, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil  (Judges II, 15). The pestilence smote those that ’went out’, but not those who remained. R. Reuben said: Even their children were anxious for [their death] and said, ‘When will they die, that we may enter the land!‘


Ruth II:18 R. Hanina, the son of R. Abbahu, interpreted this verse4 to refer to Moses. Moses said to the Holy One, blessed be He: ' Lord of the Universe! With the word hen (behold) I uttered thy praise, as it is said, Behold, unto the Lord thy God belongeth the heaven, and the heaven of heavens (Deuteronomy X, 14), and I did hope that thou wouldest give me preferment,5 but alas! With hen Thou hast wearied me.6 Thou hast wearied me with the Angel of Death, Thou hast abandoned the hen in my favour,7 and said unto me, Hen!  (behold) Thy days approach that thou must die ‘ (Deuteronomy XXXI, 14). And he then turns to Israel and says, NAY, MY DAUGHTERS: Woe unto me! my children, FOR IT GRIEVETH ME MUCH FOR YOUR SAKES. It is on account of you that THE HAND OF THE LORD


Ruth II:20 AND THEY LIFTED UP (WATTISENAH) THEIR VOICES AND WEPT (I, 14). There is an alef missing [from WATTISENAH] teaching that they went on their way weeping, with diminishing strength. R. Berekiah said in the name of R. Isaac: Forty paces did Orpah go with her mother-in-law, and [for this reason retribution] was suspended for her descendant4 for forty days, as it is said, And the Philistine drew near morning and evening, and presented himself forty days  (I Sam. XVII, 16). R. Judah said in the name of R. Isaac: Four miles did Orpah proceed with her mother-in-law, and as a reward four mighty men descended from her, as it is said, These four were born to the giant (II Sam. XXI, 22).5 R. Isaac said: The whole of that night when Orpah separated from her mother, a hundred heathens raped her. That is the meaning of the verse, And as he talked with them, behold, there came up the champion... out of the ranks of the Philistines (l Sam. XVII, 23). The ketib is mimma'arwoth, referring to the hundred men who violated her that night. R. Tanhuma said: And one dog also, as it is written, And the Philistine said unto David: am I a dog  (I Sam. XVII, 43).


Ruth II:21 AND ORPAH KISSED HER MOTHER-IN-LAW (I,14). All kissing is folly except on three occasions, the kiss of high office, the kiss of meeting after separation, and the kiss of parting. Of high office, as it is written, Then Samuel took the vial of oil, and poured it upon his head, and kissed him  (I Sam. X, 1). Of meeting, as it is written, And he met him in the mountain of God and kissed him (Exodus IV, 27); of parting, as it is written, AND ORPAH KISSED HER MOTHER-IN-LAW. R. Tanhuma added: Also the kiss of kinship, as it is said, And Jacob kissed Rachel (Genesis XXIX, II): Why? Because she was his relation.


Ruth II:21  AND SHE SAID: BEHOLD, THY SISTER-IN-LAW IS GONE BACK, etc. (I, 15). Once she returned UNTO HER PEOPLE (ib.), she returned UNTO HER GOD (ib.).


Ruth II:22 AND RUTH SAID: ENTREAT ME NOT TO LEAVE THEE, AND TO RETURN FROM FOLLOWING AFTER THEE (I, 16). What is the meaning of ENTREAT ME NOT? She said to her, ‘Do not sin against me; do not turn your misfortunes away from me.’ TO LEAVE THEE AND TO RETURN PROM FOLLOWING AFTER THEE. I am fully resolved to become converted under any circumstances, but it is better that it should be at your hands than at those of another. When Naomi heard this, she began to unfold to her the laws of conversion, saying: ‘My daughter, it is not the custom of daughters of Israel to frequent Gentile theatres and circuses,’ to which she replied, WHITHER THOU GOEST, I WILL GO (ib.). She continued: ' My daughter, it is not the custom of daughters of Israel to dwell in a house which has no mezuzah,’ to which she responded, ' AND WHERE THOU LODGEST, I WILL LODGE (ib.). THY PEOPLE SHALL BE MY PEOPLE (ib.) refers to the penalties and admonitions [of the Torah], AND THY GOD MY GOD (ib.) to the other commandments of the Bible.


Ruth II:23 Another interpretation: WHITHER THOU GOEST I WILL GO: to the tent of testimony, to Gilgal, Shiloh, Nob, Gibeon, and the Permanent Temple. AND WHERE THOU LODGEST I SHALL LODGE: I shall lodge overnight with the sacrifices. THY PEOPLE SHALL BE MY PEOPLE, in that I will destroy all idolatry within me, and then THY GOD SHALL BE MY GOD, to pay me the reward of my labor.


Ruth II:24 WHERE THOU DIEST WILL I DIE (I, 17) refers to the four forms of capital punishment inflicted by the Court, viz. stoning, burning, beheading, and strangulation. AND THERE WILL I BE BURIED; these are the two graves prepared by the Beth din, one for those who have suffered stoning and burning, the other for those decapitated and strangled. THE LORD DO SO TO ME AND MORE ALSO. Naomi said to her: My daughter, whatever good deeds and righteous actions you are able to acquire, acquire in this world, for in the World to Come, DEATH SHALL PART THEE AND ME.


Ruth II:24 WHERE THOU DIEST WILL I DIE (I, 17) refers to the four forms of capital punishment inflicted by the Court, viz. stoning, burning, beheading, and strangulation.5 AND THERE WILL I BE BURIED; these are the two graves prepared by the Beth din, one for those who have suffered stoning and burning, the other for those decapitated and strangled. THE LORD DO SO TO ME AND MORE ALSO. Naomi said to her: My daughter, whatever good deeds and righteous actions you are able to acquire, acquire in this world, for in the World to Come, DEATH SHALL PART THEE AND ME.


Ruth III:5 AND WHEN SHE SAW THAT SHE WAS STEADFASTLY MINDED TO GO WITH HER (I, 18). R. Judah b. Simon commented: Come and see how precious in the eyes of the Omnipresent are converts. Once she decided to become converted, Scripture ranks her equally with Naomi.


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis X:9 Rabbi asked R. Ishmael b. R. Jose: ‘Have you heard from your father the actual meaning of AND ON THE SEVENTH DAY GOD FINISHED, etc.?’ Said he to him: ' It is like a man striking the hammer on the anvil, raising it by day and bringing it down after nightfall.’ R. Simeon b. Yohai said: Mortal man, who does not know his minutes, his [exact] times or his hours, must add from the profane to the sacred; but the Holy One, blessed be He, who knows His moments, His times, and His hours, can enter it by a hair's breadth. Genibah and the Rabbis discussed this. Genibah said: This may be compared to a king who made a bridal chamber, which he plastered, painted, and adorned; now what did the bridal chamber lack? A bride to enter it. Similarly, what did the world still lack? The Sabbath.


Rashi quotes a disturbing midrash:

"Vayeshev Yaakov" — Yaakov wished to dwell (shuv – to sit) in calmness and tranquillity, but the trouble (lit., rage) of Yosef pounced upon him.  God said: "Tzaddikim want a peaceful life? Is the good that awaits them in the World to Come not sufficient, that they desire calmness and tranquillity in this world?"


Midrash Rabbah - Exodus III:8 AND I HAVE SAID: I WILL BRING YOU UP (III, 17) -’Tell them that I will do what I promised to Jacob their father.’ What did He promise him? ’And I will also surely bring thee up again’ (Gen. XLVI, 4). And so Jacob promised his sons: But God will be with you, and bring you back into the land of your fathers (Gen. XLVIII, 21). Straightway, AND THEY SHALL HEARKEN TO THY VOICE (Ex. III, 18). Why? Because of this tradition of deliverance which they possessed, that any redeemer that came and used twice the expression of pakad (to visit) was known to be a true deliverer.


Midrash Rabbah - Numbers IX:18 THE LORD MAKE THEE, etc. (ib.). Woe unto the wicked, for they change the divine Attribute of Mercy into one of ruthlessness! Wherever the Divine Name is spelled with yod, he, it symbolises the Attribute of Mercy; for it says, The Lord, the Lord, God, merciful and gracious (Ex. XXXIV, 6), but in our text it represents the attribute of ruthlessness.


Torah is bread [Sifre on Ekev]


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LIV:1 R. Aha observed: Is there a greater despoiler than he [the Tempter]? And of him Solomon said: If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat, etc. (Prov.XXV, 21): [resist him] with the bread of the Torah, as you read, Come, eat of my bread (ib. IX, 5); And if he be thirsty, give him water to drink (ib. 25)-the water of the Torah, as in the verse, Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye for water (Isa. LV, 1).


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXX:5 AND WILL GIVE ME BREAD TO EAT, AND RAIMENT TO PUT ON (XXVIII, 20). Akilas the proselyte visited R. Eliezer and said to him: Does then all the benefit of the proselyte lie in what is said, And loveth the proselyte [E. V. ’stranger’] in giving him food and raiment (Deut. X, I8)? Is then that a small thing in your eyes, replied he, for which our ancestor supplicated, praying, AND WILL GIVE ME BREAD TO EAT, AND RAIMENT TO PUT ON, while He [God] comes and offers it to him [the proselyte] on a reed! Then he visited R. Joshua, who began to comfort him with words: ’Bread’ refers to the Torah, as it says, Come, eat of my bread (Prov. IX, 5), while ' raiment ' means the [scholar's] cloak: when a man is privileged to [study the] Torah, he is privileged to perform God's precepts.


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis I:4 [The creation of] the Temple was contemplated, for it is written, Thou throne of glory, on high from the beginning, the place of our sanctuary  (Jer. XVII, 12).


Tehillim (Psalm) 1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2  But his delight is in the law of HaShem; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. 3  And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. 4 ¶  The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. 5  Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. 6  For HaShem knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.


Midrash Rabbah - Leviticus IX:3 For R. Samuel b. Nahman said: [The duty of] derek-erez preceded the Torah by twenty-six generations. This is [implied in] what is written, To keep the way to the tree of life (Gen. III, 24). [First Scripture mentions] the way  (derek) which means derek-erez, and afterwards [does it mention] ’ The tree of life’, which means the Torah.


Midrash Rabbah - Leviticus II:2 Of the Levites it is written, And the Levites shall be Mine (Num. VIII, 14). Of Israel it is written, For unto Me the children of Israel are servants (Lev. XXV, 55). Of the heave-offering it is written, That they take unto Me an offering (Ex. XXV, 2). Of the firstborn it is written, For all the firstborn are Mine (Num. III, 13). Of the Sanhedrin it is written, Gather unto Me seventy men (ib. XI, 16). Of the Land of Israel, For the land is Mine (Lev. XXV, 23).1 Of Jerusalem: The city which I have chosen unto Me (I Kings XI, 36).


Midrash Rabbah - Leviticus I:10 FROM THE TENT OF MEETING (I, 1). Said R. Eleazar: Even though the Torah was given as a fence at Sinai, they were not punishable in respect thereof until it was repeated in the Tent of Meeting. This may be compared to an edict which has been written and sealed and brought into the province, but in respect whereof the inhabitants of the province are not punishable, until it has been clearly explained to them in the public meetingplace of the province. So, too, with the Torah: even though it was given to Israel at Sinai, they were not punishable in respect thereof until it had been repeated in the Tent of Meeting. This is indicated by what is written, Until I had brought him into my mother's house, and into the chamber of my teaching (S.S. III, 4).1 ’My mother's house’ means Sinai; ’The chamber of my teaching’ means the Tent of Meeting for thence Israel were commanded the teaching [i.e. the Law].


Midrash Rabbah - Exodus V:10 AND HE WENT, AND MET HIM (IV, 27). When it says: Mercy  (hesed) and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other (Ps. LXXXV, 11)- ’mercy’ refers to Aaron, of whom it is said: And of Levi he said: Thy Thummim and Thy Urim be with Thy holy one-hasideka (Deut. XXXIII, 8), while ‘truth’ refers to Moses, of whom it says: My servant Moses is not so; he is trusted in all My house (Num. XII, 7). Hence ’Mercy and truth met together’ when ’He went and met him in the mountain of God ‘.


Tehillim 31 I have been forgotten from the heart like the dead.


Midrash Rabbah - Exodus XXX:9 When he slaughtered an animal, he would distribute to each one a piece proportionately.1 His son, beholding this distribution, asked him, ' What wilt thou give me? ‘-He replied, ' Of that which I have prepared for myself.’2 So God gave to the heathen commandments as it were, in their raw state,3 for them to toil over,4 not making any distinction among them between uncleanness and purity; but as soon as Israel came, He explained each precept separately to them, both its punishment [for non-fulfilment] and - reward, as it says, Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth  (S.S. I, 2).5 Hence: ’ His statutes and His ordinances unto Israel.’


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis V:4 R. Levi said: Some interpreters, e.g. the son of ‘Azzai and the son of Zoma, interpret: The voice of the Lord became a guide1 to the waters, as it is written, The voice of the Lord is over the waters (Ps. XXIX 3). R. Berekiah said: The upper waters parted from the nether waters with weeping, as it is written, He bindeth the streams from weeping (Job XXVIII, 11).2 R. Tanbuma adduced it from the following: He hath made the earth by His power... at the voice of His giving a multitude of waters in the heavens (Jer. X, 12 f). Now ‘voice’ refers to nought but weeping, as you read, A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping (ib. XXXI, 15).


Midrash Rabbah - Exodus XXXVIII:4 God replied: ‘I desire words, as it says, "Take with you words, and return unto the Lord" (Hos. Ioc. cit.), and I will pardon all your sins.’ The ’words’ here referred to are words of the Law, as it says, These are the words which Moses spoke unto all Israel (Deut. 1, 1). They then said to God: ' We know no Torah.’ ‘Then weep and pray unto Me and I will accept [your remorse],’ was the Divine assurance.


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LIX:6 AND ABRAHAM WAS OLD (ZAKEN). Zaken means, This man has acquired  (zeh kanah) two worlds. (Three were crowned with old age and with abundance of days, and these three were pre-eminent in their trials, Abraham, Joshua, and David. Abraham was the head of the Patriarchs. Joshua was the head of the royalty which came from the tribe of Ephraim, as it says, Out of Ephraim came he whose root is in Amalek (Judg. V, 14), which refers to Joshua. David was the head of the royalty which came from the tribe of Judah).’


Midrash Rabbah - Deuteronomy II:20 WHEN THOU SHALT BEGET CHILDREN. This bears out what Scripture says,  The wages of the righteous is life; the increase of the wicked is sin (Prov.X, 16). ’ The wages of the righteous is life.’ R. Tanhum says: This refers to Eliphaz, who grew up in the lap of Isaac.1 ’ The increase of the wicked is sin.’ This refers to Amalek, who grew up in the lap of Esau. Another explanation: ’ The wages of the righteous is life’


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XCVIII:14 WAIT FOR THY SALVATION, O GOD. R. Isaac said: Everything is bound up with waiting [hoping]. Suffering is bound up with waiting, the sanctification of the Divine Name with waiting, the merit of the Fathers with waiting, and the desire of the World to Come with waiting.6 Thus it is written, Yea, in the way of Thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for Thee (Isa. XXVI, 8), which alludes to suffering;


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis IX:10 R. Samuel b. R. Isaac said: BEHOLD, IT WAS VERY GOOD alludes to the angel of life; AND BEHOLD, IT WAS VERY GOOD, to the angel of death. Is then the angel of death very good? Imagine a king who made a feast, invited the guests, and set a dish filled with all good things before them: ' Whoever will eat and bless the king,’ said he, ' let him eat and enjoy it; but he who would eat and not bless the king, let him be decapitated with a sword.’ Similarly, for him who lays up precepts and good deeds, lo! there is the angel of life; while for him who does not lay up precepts and good deeds, lo! there is the angel of death.


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXXX:7 AND HAMOR SPOKE WITH THEM, SAYING (XXXIV, 8). R. Simeon b. Lakish said: The Holy One, blessed be He, manifested His love to Israel with three expressions of love, debikah  (cleaving), hashikah (love), and hafizah  (delighting in). Debikah: But ye that did cleave (hadebekim) unto the Lord your God  (Deut. IV, 4).


Midrash Rabbah - Exodus XV:15 Another explanation: It is written: He sent Moses His servant, and Aaron whom He had chosen (Ps. CV, 26). As soon as God, as it were, entered, He smote their firstborn and their gods, for it says: And I plagued Egypt (Josh. XXIV, 5). Also among their gods did the Lord perform judgments.


Midrash Rabbah - Ruth II:13 AND NAOMI SAID UNTO HER TWO DAUGHTERS-I N-LAW: GO, RETURN EACH OF YOU TO HER MOTHER’ S HOUSE (אמה) (1, 8)-i.e. to her people’s3 house (אומתה).

3 -  אמה ‘her mother’ is translated as  אומתה ‘her people’.


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XXXIV:11 But when that day cometh, of which it is written, For the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall be worn out like a garment  (Isa. LI, 6), then [shall the verse be fulfilled], And it [sc. the covenant] will be broken on that day  (Zech. XI, 11). R. Aha commented: What was responsible for their rebelling against Me? Was it not because they sowed but did not cut down, i.e. they gave birth but did not bury?


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XXXIII:3 Wherever Elohim (God) is employed it connotes the Attribute of Judgment: Thus: Thou shalt not revile Elohim- God (Ex. XXII, 27); the cause of both parties shall come before Elohim-God (ib. 8); yet it is written, And Elohim heard their groaning, and Elohim remembered His covenant (ib. II, 24); And Elohim remembered Rachel (Gen. XXX, 22); AND ELOHIM REMEMBERED NOAH.


Midrash Rabbah - Ruth II:22 When Naomi heard this, she began to unfold to her the laws of conversion, saying: ‘My daughter, it is not the custom of daughters of Israel to frequent Gentile theatres and circuses,’1 to which she replied, WHITHER THOU GOEST, I WILL GO (ib.). She continued: ‘My daughter, it is not the custom of daughters of Israel to dwell in a house which has no mezuzah,’ to which she responded, ' AND WHERE THOU LODGEST, I WILL LODGE (ib.). THY PEOPLE SHALL BE MY PEOPLE (ib.) refers to the penalties and admonitions [of the Torah], AND THY GOD MY GOD (ib.) to the other commandments of the Bible.



Zohar Level:


Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 8a R’ Simeon was sitting and studying the Torah during the night when the bride was to be joined to her husband. [Tr. note: i.e. the eve of Pentecost.] For we have been taught that all the members of the bridal palace, during the night preceding her espousals, are in duty bound to keep her company and to rejoice with her in her final preparations for the great day: to study all branches of the Torah, proceeding from the Law to the Prophets, from the Prophets to the Holy Writings, and then to the deeper interpretations of Scripture and to the mysteries of Wisdom, as all these represent her preparations and her adornments. The bride, indeed, with her bridesmaids, comes up and remains with them, adorning herself at their hands and rejoicing with them all that night. And on the following day she does not enter under the canopy except in their company, they being called the canopy attendants. And when she steps under the canopy the Holy One, blessed be He, enquires after them and blesses them and crowns them with the bridal crown: happy is their portion!


Soncino Zohar, Vayikra, Section 3, Page 15b ‘We have learnt as follows. From the side of the Mother issue emissaries of punishment who are armed with the clubs of Geburah (Severity), and prevail over Mercy, and then the worlds are defective and there is conflict between them. But when men amend their ways below, punishment is mitigated and removed, and mercy is awakened and prevails over the evil which arose from stern judgement, and then there is joy and consolation, as it is written, “And the Lord was comforted of the evil” (Ex. XXXII, 14). When judgement is mitigated, all the Crowns return to their places and the keys are restored to the Mother, and this is called repentance (teshubah, lit. returning), and the world is forgiven, since the Mother is in perfect joy.’[Tr. note: The passage which follows is written in so allusive a style that it would be hardly possible to convey its meaning by a translation. The point of it is that sin (especially the sin of unchastity)”uncovers the nakedness of the Mother (Binah),,, and repentance is the covering-up again. The word teshubah (returning) is also explained to mean, “causing the light from the Ancient Holy One to return to the Small of Countenance”.]


Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:42-45 And I will remember my covenant with Jacob, Isaac...and Abraham and I will remember the land... and even in the lands of their enemies, I have not despised them nor have I found them repulsive intending to destroy them, to break my covenant with them...for I will remember the covenant.


Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 69b the Scripture says that GOD REMEMBERED NOAH. Said R. Simeon: Observe that all the time that judgement was being executed there was no remembering, but only after the chastisement had been completed and the wicked had been exterminated do we find mention of remembering. For as long as judgement hangs over the worlds there is no communion of man with God, and the destroying angel is rampant. But as soon as judgement has run its course and wrath has been allayed, everything returns to its previous state. Hence we read “and God remembered Noah”, remembrance being centred in him since he was entitled “righteous”.’


Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 23a even when they all three agree to condemn, there comes the right hand which is outstretched to receive those that repent; this is the Tetragrammaton, and it is also the Shekinah, which is called “right hand”, from the side of Hesed (kindness).


Yochanan (John) 6:33  For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.


Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 7a We may also find enshrined in this passage a mystery of wisdom, in which all other mysteries are enclosed. We translate: “O Mah, great is thy goodness, etc.” Mah (“How” or “What”) has already been explained. Rab (“abundant” or “great”) alludes to the strong and mighty tree: there is another and a smaller tree, but this one is tall, reaching into the highest heaven. “Thy goodness” alludes to the light that was created on the first day. “Which thou hast laid up for those who fear thee”, since He has treasured it up for the righteous in the world to come: “which thou hast wrought” alludes to the higher Gan-Eden (Garden-of-Eden, Paradise), as it is written, “The place, O Lord, which thou hast wrought for thy dwelling” (Exod. XV, 17), to wit, “Thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee”. “In the sight of the sons of men” alludes to the lower Gan-Eden where all the righteous abide, as spirits clad in a resplendent vesture resembling their corporeal figure in this world; this is meant by “in the sight of man”, i.e. presenting the likeness of the people of this world.


Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 29b When the upper descended into the lower, it was filled from the channel of a certain grade which rested on it, corresponding to that hidden, secret and recondite path above, the difference being that one is a narrow path and the other a way. The one below is a way, like “the way of the righteous which is as a shining light” (Prov. IV, 18), whereas the one above is a narrow path, like. “the track which the vulture knoweth not” (Job XXVIII, 7).


Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 1b “In our land” implies the day of the Sabbath, which is a copy of the “land of the living” (the world to come, the world of souls, the world of consolations).


The “containing vessel,” which holds and preserves the Divine inspiration within a person, is the Torah, as it says (Song of Songs 3:2-4), "... I will seek the one my soul has loved...I caught hold of him, and I will not let him go until I have brought him into my mother’s house and into the room of the one that bore me." Jewish philosophy explains that the Hebrew phrases "my mother’s house" and "the room of the one that bore me" refer to the Written Torah (the Scriptures) and the Oral Torah (the entire corpus of Jewish knowledge, traditionally expounded orally from the Scriptures) respectively. This is because the function of a house or a room is to encompass, to contain — in a broader or more particular sense, respectively — that which is within them, and in our context, these expressions are mystical allusions to the manner in which Torah study and performance of mitzvos are themselves the “vessels” which “contain” the light of G-d within the individual Jew.


Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 22b He proceeded: ‘Friends, we must expound the rest of the verse, since it contains many hidden mysteries. The next words are: I kill and make alive, etc. That is to say, through the Sefiroth on the right side I make alive, and through the Sefiroth on the left side I kill; but if the Central Column does not concur, sentence cannot be passed, since they form a court of three. Sometimes, even when they all three agree to condemn, there comes the right hand which is outstretched to receive those that repent; this is the Tetragrammaton, and it is also the Shekinah, which is called “right hand”, from the side of Hesed (kindness).


Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, Section 2, Page 52b THUS THE LORD SAVED ISRAEL... AND ISRAEL SAW THE EGYPTIAN(S) DEAD. God showed them Egypt's celestial chieftain passing through the fiery stream, which was at the shore of the Ocean. “Dead” means that he was deprived of his power.


Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, Section 2, Page 124b BEHOLD, I SEND.AN ANGEL BEFORE THEE. R. Isaac quoted in this connection the words: “Let him kiss me with the.kisses of his mouth” (S.S. 1, 2), and said: ‘It is the Community of Israel who says this (to God). Why does.she say “Let Him kiss me” instead of “Let Him love me”? Because, as we have been taught, kissing.expresses the cleaving of spirit to spirit; therefore the mouth is the medium of kissing, for it is the organ of.the spirit (breath). Hence he who dies by the kiss of God [Tr. Note: According to the Haggadah, Moses.and certain other saints died “by the kiss of God”.] is so united with another Spirit, with a Spirit which.never separates from him. Therefore the Community of Israel prays: “Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His.mouth”, that His Spirit may be united with mine and never separate from it.


What is crying? Crying is the involuntary reaction to a process that has ceased. Our soul becomes confused by certain events. The soul expresses this confusion in the physical world with crying.


Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 137a But we learn this from another source. It is written, “As a lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters” (S. S. II, 2). The lily may be taken as symbolic of the Community of Israel, which in the midst of its multitudes resembles a rose among thorns.


When the Torah (Vayikra 19:32) commands us to "honor the zaken," it is not referring to age, but rather to one who has studied Torah and is capable of teaching it to others, as we can see in the Zohar:

Soncino Zohar, Vayikra, Section 3, Page 87b R. Jose then said: ‘The succeeding verses are to be taken in their literal meaning, but some remarks may be made on the verse: THOU SHALT RISE UP BEFORE THE HOARY HEAD, AND HONOUR THE FACE OF AN OLD MAN. The “hoary head” refers to the Torah, and a man should rise before the Scroll of the Torah. When R. Hamnuna the Elder saw a Scroll of the Law, he used to rise and say, “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head”. Similarly a man should rise before a man of learning, because he exhibits the holy supernal image and is emblematic of the supernal Priest.


Soncino Zohar, Vayikra, Section 3, Page 105b When the king comes he sees all rejoicing as he ordained, but he lifts up his eyes and sees one man chained and sorrowing.


Soncino Zohar, Vayikra, Section 3, Page 107a ‘Observe that when God created man and invested him with high honour, He required of him to cleave to Him in order that he might be unique and single-hearted, cleaving to the One by the bond of single-minded faith wherewith all is linked together.


Tehilim (Psalms) 40:8  I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart <04578>. (inside of me)


Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 9b Thus shall ye say unto them: The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, these shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens. (Jer. X, 11). Why has this verse- been written in Aramaic, with the exception of the last word? It cannot be because the holy angels do not pay attention to Aramaic and do not understand it, for then all the more was it appropriate for this verse to be written in Hebrew, so that the angels should acknowledge its doctrine. The true reason certainly is that the angels, since they do not understand Aramaic, shall not come to be jealous of man and do him evil. For in this verse the holy angels are comprised, as they are called Elohim (gods, powers), and yet they have not made heaven or earth.


Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, Section 2, Page 33b Therefore the Shunammite woman said, “I dwell among my people” (2 Kings IV, I3), meaning that she had no desire to separate herself from the majority, having dwelt hitherto among her people and being known above merely as one with them.



Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 70b AND TETRAGRAMMATON SAID TO NOAH, COME THOU AND ALL THY HOUSE INTO THE ARK, which conforms with what was said before, that the master of the house gave him permission to enter; whereas afterwards it was the wife who speeded him out of the ark, as it is written, AND ELOHIM (=Shekinah) SPOKE UNTO NOAH, SAYING: GO FORTH FROM THE ARK.


Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 5a The word ‘Ami (my people) may be read ’Imi (with me), meaning “to be a collaborator with Me”; for just as I made heaven and earth by a word, as it says: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made” (Ps. XXXIII, 6), So dost thou. Happy are those who devote themselves to the study of the Torah!


Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, Section 2,page 55a THIS IS MY GOD AND I WILL MAKE HIM A HABITATION; THE GOD OF MY FATHER, AND I WILL EXALT HIM. “This is my God” refers to the Zaddik, from whom blessings emanate on the married state; “and I will make him a habitation” in the place where love is found, namely in the Sanctuary.



Other Commentaries:


Me’am Lo’ez



She rose, with her daughters-in-law, and returned from the Fields of Moab. For she heard in the Fields of Moab that God remembered His people to give them bread.


It is made clear that not the women but the men had prevented the family from returning to the land of Israel. No sooner had Machlon and Kilyon died, then their womenfolk rose to go back.


There is a significant contrast between the present singular form: “she rose. . .returned...heard” (vgna.. . ca,u . . . oe,u)’ and the plural form of the following verse: “.. . and her two daughters-in-law ... went” (pl. vbfk,u). At first she and her daughters-in-law went as one, but then it became apparent that the daughters-in-law were headed in two different directions.


Additionally, the verse conveys that the decision to return to the land of Israel was made as soon as they “rose,” that is, as soon as they had literally risen from sitting on the ground during the seven days of mourning for the deceased. Thus we find, similarly, that at the episode of the golden calf, the Israelites demanded of Aaron, “Arise and make for us gods,” upon which our sages elaborate: Aaron was sitting in mourning over the slaying of Chur and the seventy elders.


Another interpretation is that Naomi rose from the illness that grief had brought on.


Her decision made, Naomi rose earlier than is customary. She did not want to be detained by well-meaning neighbors who would insist on a proper send-off, as befits a great woman. Having heard that the famine was over, she did not want to lose a minute.


Naomi wisely realized that if she discussed her plans with her daughters-in-law, they would plead with her to remain. So she kept silent until the actual time to leave had arrived, and then simply rose to go. Her daughters-in-law then hurriedly joined her.


Although the present verse says that “she . . . returned,” does not mean that she actually returned, for the next verse states that “she left the place.” At this point she had only resolved to return. God, however, rewards good intentions as if they were accomplished deeds, and the verse says “she returned.”


These words (“she returned”) accent, moreover, that Naomi went back empty-handed. Of all Elimelech’s tents and servants and herds and camels and great wealth, including the ten fields that he had acquired in Moab (Talmud), nothing was left. Thus she was to say later, “I went out full, and empty has the Lord returned me” (v. 1:21).


What prompted her return was the news that the famine had come to an end. We are informed that she was told, “God has remembered His people,” which means that she heard the glad tidings from itinerant peddlers from Eretz Yisrael. Alternately, she reasoned that if people were once again buying the peddlers’ luxury wares, they must already have bread in the house.


According to Targum Yonathan, an angel appeared to Naomi in the field to inform her that the famine was over.


Although Naomi had just risen from her sickbed and was penniless, she left at once. She did not wait for her neighbors to provide her with food for the journey, but placed her trust in God to bring her home safely. Thus she repented for having despaired of God saving Israel from the famine.


Another opinion is that Naomi did not actually hear any news, but on her own understood that the famine had ended. Moab, too, had to some extent been affected by the famine, and when she now saw the fields of Moab newly covered with lush grass and flowers, she knew that the land of Israel must be blooming once more.


Naomi realized, moreover, that only through the land of Israel does God bless the other nations with abundance. “For she heard . .. that God remembered His people”—i.e., in the land of Israel—”to give them”—the Moabites—”bread.”


It is implied that God remembered His people with rain, since the resulting crops would then “give them bread.” So it was that by the time Naomi actually returned, the barley was being harvested.


This also indicates that this turn of events was sudden. The famine was to have lasted longer, but in the merit of the righteous Boaz, it ended at this time.


Naomi had been informed that the people had not yet repented of the injustice and strife that had precipitated the famine. So the rain came not because Israel deserved it, but because God in His mercy remembered His people. Armed with this knowledge, she dared to return to the Holy Land despite the fact that God was still dealing with her in strict justice rather than mercy. She trusted that among her own people she, too, would be affected by the divine mercy that was extended to them for having remained in the Holy Land during the famine.


Naomi was like that poor guest at the inn who would not join the crowds that came there to eat and drink, because he could not afford the lavish food. But one day the innkeeper made a feast for all his guests for which no payment was required, whereupon the poor guest, too, ate and drank along with the rest.


If Naomi had heard that God ended the famine because the people were worthy of it, she would not have dared to return. But as He was providing them with bread out of mercy rather than justice, she came.


At another time in the future, in the days of the prophet Joel, Israel was also stricken with famine. But then the famine ended because “God was zealous for His land, and pitied His people” (Joel 2:18). In the days of the judges, “God remembered His people.” Although they were not entirely repentant, He gave them bread because they had remained in the Holy Land during the famine and relied on God to save them from starvation.




She left the place where she had been, and her two daughters-in-law were with her. They went on the road back to the land of Judah.


The previous verse recounted that Naomi “rose, with her daughters-in-law, and returned from the Fields of Moab.” After interjecting, however, that the famine had ended, the narrative resumes by repeating that “she left the place where she had been.”


These two verses are similar but not identical. As previously noted, the first verse indicates that the three women had initially risen as one to return; the second, that en route “her two daughters-in-law” turned out to be of two minds. Orpah accompanied Naomi out of politeness, but Ruth longed to cleave to her.


Others say that when Naomi rose to return, she assumed that her daughters-in-law were merely seeing her off. Now that they had crossed the border and still “her . . two daughters-in-law were with her,” she realized that they intended to go “to the land of Judah,” there to join the Jewish people.


The reason for the journey was as much to escape the place of their suffering (“she left the place where she had been”) as to see the longed-for Holy Land (“They went .. . back to the land of Judah”).


The Talmud teaches: “The tzaddik (righteous man) of a city is its radiance and light, its glory and praise. When he departs, the city’s radiance and light, glory and praise, depart with him.” For the tzaddik influences the people about him to become righteous.


Thus the scripture records that “Jacob went out of Beersheba” (Genesis 28:10), even as it says here that Naomi “left the place where she had been,” to indicate that their departures noticeably affected the places they left behind.


While Naomi was living in Moab the decadent Moabites curbed their immorality. Now that she left, the Moabites fell back to their previous practices, as evidenced by what later happened to Orpah. The glory of Moab departed with Naomi.


Of all places in the land of Israel, Naomi returned “to the land of Judah” Although a person who has suffered bad fortune is ashamed to return to his hometown, Naomi accepted her suffering with love and willingly returned to Bethlehem in order to atone for leaving the Holy Land.


Some say that Naomi, ashamed to face the people she had deserted during the famine, would have preferred to go where she was unknown. Nevertheless, she returned to her hometown because it afforded the best chances of supporting her daughters-in-law.


The three women, anxious to get to the Holy Land, immediately “went on the road.” That is, they set out alone on the road, without waiting to travel in the safety of a caravan.


To minimize the danger, they took “the road,” the main thorough­fare, avoiding deserted side roads. Moreover, it is indicated that they clung together to avoid seclusion with men, for they were on their way to the holy “land of Judah.”


In their eagerness to get there, “they went”—they walked without stopping to rest.


Our sages observe that they literally walked “on the road.” Too poor to buy riding animal~ or even shoes to protect their feet, they walked barefoot, hurting their feet on the road. According to one interpretation, they went on foot because in their eager haste they also traveled on the festival, when riding is prohibited.


Every step they took was with the specific intention of going “to the land of Judah.” God therefore rewarded them for every step (Talmud).


As they walked, they studied the laws of conversion. For Ruth and Orpah were on their way “to.. Judah” also in another sense, that is, to embrace the faith that derives its name from “Judah.”


“When a gentile wishes to convert,” teaches the Talmud, “he is to be turned away with the left hand and drawn closer with the right.” Naomi thus drew her daughters-in-law close by teaching them that so precious were converts in God’s eyes that His Torah warns no less than forty-eight times against distressing a convert. [On the other hand, she at­tempted to turn them away, as the following verses recount.]




Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law: “Go, return each to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the deceased and with me.”


Even after their husbands died, Ruth and Orpah continued to relate to Naomi as their mother-in-law, and she still saw in them “her . . . daughters-in-law.”


The three of them were already “on the road back to the land of Judah” (v. 7), when Naomi turned to Ruth and Orpah and told them to return. She had waited until then because only then did she realize that they intended to travel with her the whole way.


At first she had thought that her two daughters-in-law “were with her” (v. 6) only to see her off. But when they reached “the road that led back to Judah” (v. 7), Ruth and Orpah showed no signs of turning back. Instead, they adjusted their clothing [in keeping with standards of modesty in Judah]. thus revealing their intentions.


Another interpretation is that Naomi had thought they were coming with her to the land of Israel to collect the marriage settlements (kethuboth, ,ucu,f) to which as widows they were entitled. When, however, they renounced their claims, as our sages reveal, she understood that they wanted to join the Jewish people, and she tried to dissuade them.


To test their determination, Naomi let them taste the hardships of the journey before telling them to “Go, return.”


The test revealed the difference between her “two” daughters-in­3 law. Ruth remained steadfast and Orpah returned.


Even before testing them, Naomi had perceived Ruth’s purity of heart and felt closer to her than to Orpah. For the sake of peace, however, she spoke to the two equally and urged them both to go back. Preferential treatment was therefore not a factor in Ruth staying and Orpah leaving.


The form “go, return” is significant in this regard. To Orpah, who did not truly wish to convert, she said simply “go,” that is, go back to Moab. To Ruth, who ardently desired to join the Jewish people, Naomi said “return”—go back to your decision.


“Return to your mothers’ houses,” she advised, “for I have no house and no means of supporting you. I may have been like a mother to you; but a real mother will treat you better than a good mother-in-law.


“Nor be afraid that your mothers will reject you for marrying Jews. God will deal kindly with you and see that you are welcome.”


Naomi told them to go “each to her mother’s house,” rather than the father’s, for a number of reasons:

(1) Gentiles then traced their descent through their mothers.


(2) If Ruth and Orpah had displeased their parents by marrying out of their people, their mothers, being by nature more merciful, would more readily forgive and accept them.


(3) Generally it is the mother who stays home, while the father goes out to work. And it is the mother who would care for a widowed daughter and prepare her dowry.


According to our sages, Ruth and Orpah were daughters of Eglon, king of Moab, evidently by differently wives, for Naomi told each to return to her mother’s house.

By telling them “go, return,” Naomi was in fact offering various options. One was that they accompany her to Bethlehem and then return.


Then again [according to the opinion that before marrying Machlon and Kilyon, Ruth and Orpah had converted]—they could “go” to Moab as Jews or “return” to the idolatry of their mothers’ homes. [This she said in order to test them.] In either case, she told them, God would repay them for the kindness they had extended to the deceased and to her.


However, God’s kindness would be fuller if they remained faithful than if they returned to idolatry. This is conveyed by the expression “may [He] deal.” Although the Hebrew original is written in full (ya’ase, vagh), in pronunciation it is truncated (ya’as, agh) [as if the letter heh v, (numerical value 5) was missing. God would deal differently with them if they remained faithful to the Five Books of Moses, than if they did not.]


If they turned back, God would reward them in full for the forty paces they had accompanied Naomi thus far. This is conveyed by the unexpected masculine ending of “with you” (ofng instead of the gram­matically proper ifng). The numerical value of the final letter (o) is forty.


And if they cleaved to the Jewish people, God’s kindness would culminate five generations later, in the golden era of Ruth’s great-great-grandson King Solomon. This is likewise alluded to by the letter v in the written form vagh. The five generations are Boaz, Obed, Ishai, David, Solomon.


The reward for cleaving to Naomi is further hinted at in the word hsng (“with me”), an acronym of Obed (g of scg), the Messiah (n of jhan), David (s of sus), Ishai (h of  hah)—all of whom would descend from Ruth.


Naomi continued: “Do not fear that by leaving me now you will forfeit the merit of your past kindness. Your reward will remain intact; God will deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the deceased and with me.”


Nor would they lose their reward by being far away from Naomi. God, Who is “desirous of kindness” (Micah 7:18), would requite their kindness wherever they went. For kindness [by man is imitative of the divine attribute of kindness—chesed, and] is one of the pillars that hold up the world, as it is written: “The world is build on kindness” (Psalms 89:3).


Naomi prayed, “May the Lord deal kindly with you,” because the convert’s lot in this world is not a happy one, since he must atone for his past sins.


Here, too, Naomi tested their determination to convert. By pro­nouncing the term, vagh as if it were written with one letter missing, she hinted that a convert is shown less kindness than a born Jew. If they replied: “We know, and we are not worthy of that other kindness” their sincerity would be made evident.


In her bitterness, Naomi likened kindness to her with kindness to the dead—’ ‘as you have dealt with the deceased and with me.” Both could rightly be termed “true kindness” (,nt ka sxj), that is, kindness without hope of reciprocation. “So poor am I,” she said, “that I can no more repay your kindness than can the dead.


“But,” she added, “God will pay you back by giving you rest, each in the home of her husband” (v. 9).


Naomi praised Ruth and Orpah for dealing kindly “with the deceased” by being good wives to Machlon and Kilyon and, according to the Targum, by refusing to remarry after they died.


Our sages say that they provided the shrouds and paid for the burials, although widows are not legally obligated to do so. Naomi there­fore blessed them: “May God deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the deceased. Just as you clothed the deceased in clean shrouds, so in the World to Come will God clothe you in the pure souls of tzaddikim, to enable you to appear and bow down before Him.”


Naomi praised them for their kindness to her also after her sons died—”with the deceased and [afterwards] with me.” They had mourned for them, says the Midrash, and they cried “with me.”


Moreover, they gave up their marriage settlements, which they were entitled to collect from the family’s fields in Bethlehem. In a magnificent act of kindness, they left all the family property to Naomi.


An alternate interpretation is that Naomi had co-signed their kethuboth. Yet, when her sons died, they did not collect from her, but lived with her until their money ran out. Then they left Moab.


“By continuing to deal kindly with me even after my sons died,” said Naomi, “you showed that your kindness to me while they were living was always sincere, and not because of your husbands.”


Naomi addressed them in the masculine form (ofng, “with you”) to commend their manly determination and strength of character. Hence they could not be suspected of ulterior motives. The acts of kindness they had done for the living and the dead testified to their purity of heart and their love of God and man.




After Naomi assured her daughters-in-law that their kindness would be requited in full by God dealing “kindly with you as you have dealt with the deceased and with me” (v. 8), she added: “In return for giving up your marriage settlements, may God grant you wealth. And in return for bringing to rest your deceased husbands, may each of you find rest in the house of her new husband.”


Proper burial is an act of kindness that affords repose to the body and peace to the soul, as it is written: “He will come in peace, they will rest on their couches” (Isaiah 57:2).


Recall in this regard Jacob’s bitter lament—”A wild beast has devoured him! Joseph has been torn apart!” (Genesis 37:33)—when he thought that Joseph had died without burial.


And it is fitting that in return for properly burying the dead, Ruth and Orpah would find personal tranquility in remarriage.


According to the Targum, Naomi said, “May God grant you wealth in the full measure of your kindness. Your wealth will attract distin­guished suitors, and among them you will select husbands to make you happy.”


Naomi said, “God grant.” She wished them prosperity from the bounteous hand of God rather than from the niggardly hands of mortals.


To Naomi’s words, “You will find rest, each in the house of her husband,” our sages relate the teaching that a woman is never content except in her husband’s home. The wealthy widow living in a palace and the pampered daughter in her father’s house may enjoy material com­fort. But only in her husband and children does a woman find fulfillment and peace of mind.


In wishing them “rest, each in the house of her husband,” Naomi was also praying that they have the peace and security of owning their own homes, instead of living in rented dwellings together with their in-laws. For rarely do a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law live peace­fully under one roof as Naomi had lived with Ruth and Orpah.


Another in Naomi’s position would have blamed her suffering on her daughters-in-law. She, however, grieved over their suffering—their poverty, their childlessness, and their widowhood. And she whole­heartedly prayed that God would bless them with wealth, happy mar­riages, and children, and spare them further tragedy.


“If your first marriages were ill-fated because my sons married you to suit their whims,” she said to them, “may your second marriages be ordained by God. You will then find contentment.”


Although our sages teach that first rather than second marriages are ordained before birth, second marriages are decreed according to a person’s deeds. And on account of their kindness “with the deceased and with me,” Naomi assured them that their second marriages would be happy ones.

She prayed that her barren daughters-in-law would succeed in raising a family—the mark of the mainstay of the home, as it is written: e sets up the mainstay of the house; the mother of the children is happy” (Psalms 113:9).


At the mention of marriage, however, Ruth and Orpah recalled their dead husbands, and they “raised their voice and wept.”  


On another level of meaning, Naomi’s blessings were prophetic regarding each of her daughters-in-law.


In the merit of the forty steps that Orpah had accompanied Naomi, her descendant Goliath would be spared for forty days before being slain by David. This is conveyed by the masculine form of “(to) you” (ofk rather than ifl). The letter mem (o) corresponds to the number forty.


Ruth would live to see her descendants David and Solomon sitting on the throne of Israel. The letters of ofk may be rearranged to spell lkn - king.


This indicates, accordingly, that Ruth, who derived her [spiritual] descent from Judah’s wife Tamar, would “find rest in the house” of Judah s descendant Boaz. It would only be a momentary haven, however, as hinted at by the missing final letter v of it,nu Boaz died the very night of their wedding.


From Ruth and Boaz would descend Solomon, of whom God said,             “He will be a man of rest, and I shall give him rest from all his enemies around him.. He will build a House for My name”(1Chronicles 22:9-10). And the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) is the resting place of the Divine Presence.


From Ruth and Boaz, too, would descend the Messiah. He will usher in an era when the Jewish people will be gathered, never to be exiled again. Israel will thus find rest in the land of God, even as a woman finds rest... in the house of her husband.” Thus the prophet says: “At that  time you will call Me my Husband; you will no longer call Me my Master” (Hosea 2:18).


Moreover, it is indicated that since the Third Temple will be built by God Himself, it will aptly be called His House, hence “the house of her husband.”


Ruth would be the mother of prophets as well as kings, and this, too, is conveyed by the word “rest.” Thus our sages deduce from the verse, “Seraiah (v-h ra, prince of God), the prince of rest” (Jeremiah 51:59), that Baruch ben Neriyah attained prophecy.


Having blessed her daughters-in-law. “she kissed them,” just as Isaac had kissed his son Jacob upon blessing him (Genesis 27:27). The kiss symbolizes transfer of the blessing by binding together the souls of the one giving and the one receiving the blessing.


Some authorities write that the kiss of a tzaddik awakens the soul of a pure person from its slumber. But if the person is impure, the kiss draws the sparks of holiness out of him, and he remains without a basis of existence. After Naomi’s kiss, accordingly, “they raised their voice (singular) and wept.” (They did not weep together, i.e., for the same reason; each wept separately.] Ruth wept out of longing for God, Naomi’s kiss having aroused her desire to cleave to Him. And Orpah wept over her downfall, for she realized that she had lost her sparks of holiness.


VERSE 1:10


They said to her, “No, with you shall we return to your people.”


When Naomi kissed them farewell, Ruth and Orpah protested that they would not forsake her, but “with you . .. return to your people.”


Although they had never been there, they spoke of returning to Judah. “So strong is our love of Israel,” they said, “that going to Judah is like returning home.


“Although you prayed that God should deal kindly with us if we returned to our mothers’ home, we trust He will treat us just as kindly if we come with you.”


According to the Targum, they were replying to Naomi’s advice to “Go, return each to her mother’s house” (v. 8). “No, we will not go back to the idols of Moab; we will return with you to the God of Israel.”


Although Naomi had warned them that the life of a convert was full of suffering and sadness, they nevertheless insisted on converting.


Their motivations, however, differed. Both Ruth and Orpah had “raised their voice and wept” (v. 9), and both now said, “with you we will return to your people.” But Orpah stressed the word l,t “with you”; her wish was to be with Naomi, and to that end she was willing to convert; and Ruth said lngk “to your people.” Her primary motive was conversion to Judaism; being with Naomi was secondary.


Furthermore, they insisted on going with Naomi because “with you we shall return to your people.” That is, only from her could they    receive the necessary instruction preparatory to their conversion.


They also needed Naomi to testify to their sincerity. For if they were suspected of converting because of Israel’s new prosperity they would be turned away, as all would-be converts were later turned away during the golden age of King Solomon.


VERSE 1:11


Naomi said, “Return, my daughters. Why go with me? Have I more sons in my womb who might be husbands for you?”


Now that Ruth and Orpah had expressed a desire to convert, Naomi tenderly called them “my daughters.” She tried to dissuade them, however, suspecting that their desire to convert stemmed from love of her, not love of God. And she pleaded that remaining with her was impossible. The bonds of marriage which had united them were now dissolved by death and could not be renewed, for she had no more sons to give them.


“Why go with me if you insist on converting? Go to a different city in Israel and spare me the pain of seeing my sons’ wives married to strangers. And if you want to become Jews because you are like daughters to me—return. I cannot accept such self-sacrifice.


“Nor is it even advisable for you to go with me, if your intention purely is to join the Jewish people. Go to Judah alone, lest you be suspected of converting on my account. For then you would not be accepted as converts.


“Go back to Moab and marry there,” she further argued, “for no Israelite men will want to be your husbands. The law permitting mar­riage with women converts from Moab is not commonly known, and the few who know of it may be afraid to rely on it. Nor will they want to marry women who were childless in a previous marriage.


“And you cannot rely on me. Machlon and Kilyon are dead, my unborn child is dead. Even if I were carrying sons now, after you will have grown old waiting for them to come of age, they might not want to be your husbands.


“Nor could they be your husbands, according to Torah law.” Marry­ing a brother’s widow is forbidden except in levirate marriage (yabum, ouch) for the sake of perpetuating the name of the deceased through offspring. Since yibum applies, however, only ‘if brothers dwell together’ (Deuteronomy 25:5), that is, if the two brothers were in this world at the same time, a man born after his brother’s death is ineligible for yibum, and forbidden to marry his brother’s widow.


Naomi therefore said that even if she had sons in her womb now, they could not “be husbands for you.


VERSE 1:12


“Return, my daughters, go. For I am too old to have a husband. For were I even to say there is hope for me or even if I were to have a husband tonight and I also bore sons..


For the third time now, Naomi told her daughters-in-law to “return.” in keeping with the teaching of our sages that a would-be convert should be turned away three times. If he nevertheless persists, he is then accepted.


Rabbi Yitzchak expounded: A would-be convert is kept away with his left hand and drawn near with the right, as it is written: “My door to the wayfarer I will open; outside a stranger shall not sleep” (Job 31:32). That is, I do not open my door to a stranger—a gentile who comes to convert—as readily as to a wayfarer; but if the stranger persists in knocking, I will not close the door to him.


“If we could all continue to live together,” she now urged, “it would be reasonable for you to come with me. But why do so, when ultimately you must marry out of the family and leave me?”


Naomi again called them “my daughters.” She felt towards them like a mother who is anxious to see her widowed daughters find husbands, not like a mother-in-law who is angry if her sons’ widows remarry.


It was inevitable that they would marry out of the family, she said. She had no other sons for them to marry; “I am too old to have a husband” and bear more children. And it was ludicrous to imagine that in the land of Israel she would suddenly become rejuvenated, immediate­ly find a husband, marry, conceive, and bear not daughters, but sons for both of them to marry.


“Even if I were to become young again,” she pursued, “and I married this very night and bore sons, why should you languish in widowhood waiting for them to reach marriageable age?”


According to the opinion that Ruth and Orpah had not converted before marrying Machlon and Kilyon, they could marry Naomi’s future sons, as their first marriages were then void by Torah law and the prohi­bition of marrying a brother’s widow would not apply.


It is significant and prophetic that Naomi said, “Return . . . go.” For one would in fact return to Judah with her, and the other would go back to Moab.


VERSE 1:13


 “Would you wait for them until they are grown? Would you shut yourselves off for them and have no husbands? No, my daughters, for I am very bitter for you [alt: I am more bitter than you]. For the hand of God has gone out against me.



“If you are coming with me in the hope of marrying sons I may yet bear, turn back. For even if you are willing to remain widows until they are of age to marry, by then you will be far too old, and they will not marry you. Besides, ever since Abraham married Sarah, men have mar­ried younger women.”


By her use of the feminine form (ivk instead of ovk), Naomi further reminded them that even if she did bear children, they might, after all, be girls.


Ruth and Orpah might, however, be content to remain widows out of respect to their dead husbands, so she pleaded against it. “I am bitter enough over your past misfortunes. Do not add to my grief by living the rest of your lives in the miseries of widowhood.


“If I myself refuse to remarry, it is because I am broken over the loss of my whole family and all my possessions. My suffering is far more bitter than yours. ‘There is no soundness in my flesh because of God’s anger; there is no health in my bones because of my sin’ (Psalms 38:4). But you are still youthful and vigorous, and can still recover what you have lost.”


Naomi thus assured her daughters-in-law that she was not sending them away because she blamed them for her sons’ deaths. She blamed only her sins for her misfortunes. Just as Jeremiah was later to proclaim, ‘The crown is fallen from our heads; woe to us for we have sinned” (Jeremiah 5:16), Naomi declared: “The hand of God has gone out against me.”


This also indicates that her sons had died of the pestilence, the plague the Egyptians called “the hand of God” (Exodus 9:3). Remark­ably, although the disease is extremely contagious, it was restricted to her family alone—clear evidence that it was a divine punishment.


Indeed, her suffering had “gone out” of the ordinary. She was smit­ten not by the finger of God but by His hand, five blows in all: the deaths of her husband, her two sons, and the unborn child, and her extreme destitution. So much misfortune could be due only to her sins.


“By being with me, you, too, have suffered because of the hand of God that has stricken me,” said Naomi. “Therefore leave me and go back to Moab, where you will find happiness in remarriage.”


VERSE 1:14


1:14 They raised their voice and wept again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth cleaved to her.


When Naomi first urged them to return to Moab, Orpah and Ruth had “raised (utahu) their voice and wept” (v. 9). And they continued weeping as they walked, until their strength gave out. Thus the missing letter t here associates vba,u to ha,, weakness; as in “Of the Rock that begot you, weakness (ha,), and you forgot God, Who bore you” (Deuteronomy 32:18). Such was their exhaustion that they could barely raise their voices.


Naomi’s moving plea (vs. 12-13), full of love and concern for their welfare, evoked fresh tears, and “they raised their voice and wept again.”


[The singular form (“voice”) is significant.] Only Ruth’s weeping came from the depths of her being. Orpah’s weeping was patently superficial, for she “kissed her mother-in-law” and left. This time (compare v. 9), she did not even wait for a parting kiss from Naomi. This too is conveyed in the incomplete spelling of vba,u.


Our sages infer that nevertheless, in the merit of the four tears she had shed—[hinted at by the four words (sug vbhfc,u ikue vba,u) that describe the weeping]-four mighty warriors would descend from her. Thus it is written, “These four were born to Harafah in Gat” (2 Samuel 21:22), namely Saf, Madon (Lahmi), Goliath, and Yishbi (ibid: 16, 18, 19, 20, 1 Chronicles 20ff.).


Ruth truly wept and clung to Naomi out of love. Thus the women of Bethlehem were later to observe: “Your daughter-in-law who loves you, she who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him” (v. 4:15).


Our sages declare: Let the sons of Orpah, who kissed Naomi, fall by the hands of the sons of Ruth, who cleaved to her. And generations after the two sisters-in-law parted ways, the four warriors who came from Orpah were slain by Ruth’s great-grandson David and his men (1 Chronicles 20ff.).


VERSE 1:15


1:15 She said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has returned to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”


Both Ruth and Orpah had declared their intention to convert. Nevertheless, after Naomi told them that she could not arrange for them to marry distinguished men suitable for a king’s daughters, Orpah left. In a final test of Ruth’s determination to convert, Naomi now told her to follow Orpah’s example and go back to Moab.


 “Your sister-in-law came this far out of courtesy and because she was ashamed to leave me,” said Naomi, “but now she has returned home. You are also free to depart. Do not feel obligated to remain because Orpah has left.”


Another interpretation is that Naomi, thinking she succeeded in persuading Ruth to leave, urged her to hurry and catch up with Orpah (“return after your sister-in-law”), so the two could travel together.


Although Orpah had but returned “to her people,” Naomi knew that under their influence she would also return “to her gods.” In this regard, the influence of the environment is already noted in the Torah, which warns: “they [idolators] shall not dwell in your midst lest they cause you to sin against Me” (Exodus 23:33).


One who encourages a Jew to worship idols incurs the death penalty. If therefore Naomi told Ruth to return after her sister-in-law who “has returned to her gods,” evidently Ruth had not yet converted. Or else, Ruth and Orpah had converted to marry Machlon and Kilyon, but invalidated the conversion by secretly continuing to worship idols.


However, Naomi spoke as she did in order to test Ruth, and she chose her words carefully. She did not actually say, “return to your gods,” but “return after your sister-in-law.” She accepted Ruth’s sin­cerity of faith, and only urged her to go back to her father’s house in Orpah’s company.


VERSE 1:16


1:16 But Ruth said: “Entreat me not to leave you, to return from following after you. Where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge; your people are my people, and your God is my God.”


When urged to follow the example of Orpah, who returned “to her people and to her gods,” Ruth countered: “Your people are my people, and your God is my God.”


Naomi had also advised her to return to her mother’s house or go to Judah on her own. The first she rejected categorically, declaring, “I will not go back to the idolatry of my mother’s house. Your people are my people, and your God is my God.” And to the second, upon which Naomi had a right to insist, she replied: “Entreat me (hgdp,) not to leave you, to return from following after you.


The expression hgdp, can also mean strike a blow, and thus Ruth conveyed to Naomi that she was stung by the insinuation that she was only accompanying her out of politeness. “In coming with you I have no ulterior motive, not even to collect my marriage settlement in Bethlehem. Wherever you go, be it Bethlehem or elsewhere, I will go.


“Your sharp words will not turn me away. Even if you tell me black is white, I will follow you and obey you.


“Nor can you frighten me away by implying that the hand of God that has gone out against you may also strike me if I cleave to you.


“Even if I remarry, I will not leave you. Nothing, not the land, nor differences of nationality, religion, or custom, will separate me from you.


“You wished us to find rest in the houses of our husbands, but I am not looking for peace and security; I would rather be a wanderer casting about for my lodging with you, than live in the palace of a king.


“And if you do not let me come with you, I will go alone to Judah to convert. Where you go - i.e.; to Judah— there will I go. for your God and your people are mine. And our paths must eventually join, for our goals are the same.”


Leaving Naomi was for Ruth like forsaking the Torah; by the seem­ingly redundant phrase, “to return from following after you,” she indicated that with every step she might take away from Naomi, the distance between them would double. Similarly our sages teach: When a person departs from the Torah, the Torah departs from him, hence doubling the separation between them.


Naomi had instructed her in the commandments, and Ruth now committed herself to fulfill them. “Your people are my people” was her acceptance of the laws between man and his fellow; “your God is my God” relates to the laws between man and God.


Our sages expound: “Your people are my people”— these are punish­ments and warnings [of the Torah which Ruth now accepted as binding]. “Your God is my God”— these are the other precepts.


Another implication: “Your people are my people” who will take me away from idolatry; “your God is my God” who will reward me for my labor. Ruth thus expressed her belief in reward and punishment.


Naomi instructed her with particular care in the laws of the Sabbath, for Sabbath observance unequivocally attests to belief in God as Creator. And our sages wrote that despite their desire to reach Judah as quickly as possible, she taught her that it is forbidden to walk on the Sabbath more than two thousand cubits beyond the last inhabited settlement. To this Ruth replied, “Where you go, I will go.”


Naomi also taught her the code of Torah morality, including the prohibition of yichud (sujh), seclusion with men. And this Ruth accepted: “Where you lodge, I will lodge.”


According to our sages, when Naomi said to her: “We are com­manded to fulfill six-hundred and thirteen precepts,” Ruth replied:


“Your people are my people.”


“We are forbidden to worship idols.”


“Your God is my God.”


“My daughter, a Jew does not reside in a house that lacks a mezuzah.”


“Where you lodge, I will lodge.”


“Jewish maidens do not frequent pagan circuses and theaters.”


“Where you go, I will go.”


Ruth understood Naomi’s hesitation to take her to Judah; she feared that no Jew would marry a Moabite woman since the prohibition against marrying Moabites was generally thought to extend also to women. Her answer was: “I will cleave to you and from your deeds learn how to cleave to God.”


VERSE 1:17


1:17 “Where you die, I will die; and there I will be buried. Thus may God do to me, and more, for death will separate me from you.”


“I cannot bear to be without you. The moment you die, I will die. And may God deal severely with me if I permit anything but death to separate me from you.”


Realizing that it was unlikely that any man in Judah would marry her, Ruth was prepared to live and die alone with Naomi, and be buried next to her rather than next to a husband.


“Death will separate me from you,” she insisted, “but not my place of burial.” Since, however, it was not within her power to determine when and where she would die and be buried, Ruth prayed that God grant that she remain free of sin and thus worthy of dying in the same place as Naomi, and hence be buried next to her.


Moreover, she prayed that her death and burial be in the Holy Land, for according to our sages, one who dies there is like a baby in his mother’s arms, whereas one who dies elsewhere is like a baby in the arms of a stepmother. And one who is buried in the Holy Land is considered as if buried beneath the altar of the Holy Temple.


Then, realizing that she had spoken of Naomi’s death before her own (“Where you die, I will die”), Ruth quickly corrected herself by adding, “Thus may God do to me ... for death will separate me from you,” mentioning her own death first.


According to the Midrash, Naomi had warned Ruth that one who accepts the Torah is liable for transgressions and subject to the four types of capital punishment. And Ruth replied: “In whatever way you die, I will die,” expressing her acceptance of the Torah along with its specific punishments.


Then she added “may God do to me”- a prayer that she die a natural death rather than incur the death penalty for her sins.


According to our sages, “for death will separate me from you” also alludes to the teaching Ruth absorbed from her mother-in-law regard­ing life’s purpose in this world: to fulfill as many mitzvoth as possible and accumulate good deeds for which one is rewarded in the World to Come. [She would strive for this by becoming a Jew and cleaving to Naomi.] In the hereafter, on the other hand, they will be “separate.” For the souls of the righteous are uniquely rewarded in the World to Come, “each occupying a different abode” (Talmud).


The contrary is true of the gentiles who worship idols, whom death does not set apart. [Since they do not acknowledge the one true God, the source of all distinctions and differences in the world, the difference between living and non-living is denied]. “In life they are all as dead, and in death they are not separate” (Daily Prayer).


Accordingly, Ruth said: “Death will separate me from you,” affirm­ing her belief in life after death.


Moreover, vf rcet conveys her belief in the resurrection of the dead. The last four letters spell vfrc blessing, which is an allusion to resurrec­tion. Thus it is written, “For there has the Lord commanded the blessing (vfrc)—eternal life” (Psalms 133:3).


Ruth said, “Thus may God do to me.” She prayed that the blessing Naomi had given her daughters-in-law (“May the Lord deal kindly ..“—v. 8) should be fulfilled through her alone, now that Orpah returned to her gods. And more—may He add to this blessing (“find rest in the house of her husband”—v. 9) so that from her marriage will come forth the royal dynasty.


VERSE 1:18


1:18 When she saw that she strove to go with her, she ceased speaking to her.


Naomi saw that the more she tried to dissuade Ruth from convert- ing, the more resolute Ruth became. When she first said "Go, return" (v. 8), Ruth had replied, "With you we shall return to your people" (v. 10). And then instead of yielding to Naomi's persistent urging to the con- trary, Ruth declared: "Where you go, I will go ...where you die, I will die" (vs. 16, 17). Her words had the opposite effect she intended, and so Naomi ceased speaking.


In accordance with the teaching of our sages that a would-be convert is rejected with the left hand and befriended with the right, Naomi had tried to deter Ruth by instructing her in the penalties incurred for trans- gression of Torah precepts; and when Ruth embraced the Torah way nonetheless, she encouraged her by speaking of the reward of the righteous in the World to Come. Then "she ceased speaking to her," lest this would-be convert should be [encouraged or] discouraged excessively.


A further reason was that Naomi "saw" Ruth was trying to gain strength and ease her isolation by cleaving to her.


Another interpretation sees Ruth, not Naomi, as the subject of the verse. When Ruth saw that Naomi was determined to thrust her away, and fearing that she might be swayed, she stopped talking and began to walk alone toward Judah.


Ruth's perseverence is without parallel. Nowhere else does the Scripture use the term ,mnt,n, for no other proselyte ever "strove" so tenaciously to cling to the Shechinah (Divine Presence).


Resh Lakish, then leader of a robber band, once leaped across the Jordan River in a single bound. When, however, Rabbi Yochanan subsequently persuaded him to dedicate his energies to Torah learning, he lost his strength and was unable to leap back (Baba Metzia 84a). Similarly, when Ruth accepted the yoke of the Torah, she became weak and had to exert herself (“she strove”) to walk.


Moreover, this indicates that since Ruth was on the way to join a strange people, she had to struggle to keep pace with Naomi, who was returning home, even if laden with misfortune.


In return for her efforts, God strengthened Ruth as He strengthened all those who struggle to be righteous, as it is written: “He that has pure hands grows stronger and stronger” (Job 17:9)



Abraham Ibn Ezra


1:6  AND SHE RETURNED FROM THE FIELD OF MOAB: The verb expresses intention, as in ‘And Israel began to fight with Balaq’.


1:8  WITH THE DEAD: These are her sons.


1:9  MAY THE LORD GRANT YOU: A husband.


1:11  HAVE I YET SONS?: Many of our colleagues have thought that this is an argument against those who deny, but they did not know that our fathers limited the duty of levirate marriage to brothers who have the same father, and not to those who have the same mother only. She said to them, “If there were sons in my womb, I would have given them to you instead of the dead”. But this would have been done out of love and not as levirate marriage.


1:13  WOULD YOU WAIT FOR THEM?: The nun (in ivkv) is instead of men. The converse is found in VERY BITTER TO ME ON ACCOUNT OF YOU (ofn), and in THEY (vnv) CAME TO BETHLEHEM. The word vbrca, means ‘attachment’ when used with the letter lamedh or with the word ‘l, as in urcah fhkkf hbh

vbd, belongs to the niphal conjugation, and there is no other example of the verb.


NOT TO BELONG TO A MAN: That is, each one of them to her own man, as in ‘the two of them were hanged on a tree


NO, MY DAUGHTERS: That is to say, ‘Do not go with me


FOR THERE HAS GONE OUT AGAINST ME: The decree of God which goes out from his presence or which has been delivered and has gone out against me until it has been seen.


THE HAND OF THE LORD: This means ‘a blow’, for in using the word ‘hand’ the text is speaking metaphorically.


1:15  YOUR SISTER—IN—LAW HAS GONE BACK: The declension of ‘sister—in—law’ we have already explained in the Torah.15


TO HER PEOPLE AND HER GODS: This shows that they had been con­verted to Judaism.


1:16  DO NOT ENTREAT ME: The meaning of dp’ is persuasion,


and the preposition c is always found with it, as in ‘Entreat Ephron for me’. It is not a strange word, except far the occurrence with the meaning ‘I will spare no man’, and I will explain this in that place.


YOUR PEOPLE SHALL BE MY PEOPLE: I will never forsake the Torah of Israel and the declaration of the unity of God’.


1:18  tan,n: Hithpael conjugation.




6-7. Question: Why does the text appear to repeat itself, saying: she...arose...[to] return, she left the place, and they went on the road to return?


6. She then arose, with her daughters-in-law. All three of them resolved to leave because they thought that their misfortune was the result of residing in that place. As such, in terms of their decision to leave Moab, they were in total agreement. However, regarding their destination, only Naomi had made up her mind [to] return from the fields of Moab (because "returning" applies only to someone who returns to the place where he or she had already been). At the outset, only Naomi had this intention, as is stated, [to] return from the fields of Moab. Orpah and Ruth did not agree to this while they were still in the fields of Moab but only later, as will be explained.


For she heard in the field of Moab. The verse emphasizes that Naomi did not go back because of the "local" misfortunes or fear of her own death. If these had been her motives, she had merely to migrate to another location in Moab. Rather, she left because the ETERNAL had taken account of His people to provide them with food. She had only left the Land of Israel because of the famine, and only intended to sojourn in Moab until it would pass. Therefore, when she heard that they would no longer bear the shame of hunger, she set out to return. The Midrash Ruth Rabbah (2:11) asks, "From whom did she hear? From itinerant salesmen. What did she hear? That HaShem had remembered His people. The Midrash then poses the following Scriptural difficulty: One verse says, For HaShem will not forsake His people nor will He abandon His inheritance (Tehillim 94:14); another verse says, HaShem will not forsake His people for the sake of His great name (Shemuel I, 12:22). How can this be reconciled? When the Jewish people are meritorious in their own right, then HaShem acts for His nation's sake. However, when they are not meritorious, HaShem acts for the sake of His great name." The question of the Midrash is: Who would say, The ETERNAL had taken account of His people? Surely not the Moabites. Even though they lived next to the Land of Israel and were aware of what went on there, it would be completely out of character for them to say that The ETERNAL had taken account of His people! They did not believe in HaShem and certainly not in the special relationship He had with the Jewish nation! Therefore the Midrash asserts that Naomi heard from the traveling Jewish merchants who brought goods to sell in Moab. This itself was an indication that the famine had ended. Furthermore, the Midrash explains that the end of the famine itself would not have been sufficient reason for Naomi to return. Naomi knew that the cause of the famine was the failure of the Jewish people to live up to HaShem's expectations; as it says: It was in the days when the judges governed...and there was a famine. On this the Midrash comments that the famine resulted from a lack of justice, the people's "judging" their judges, and the mere fact that the judges needed to be judged. As such, as long as the nation had not improved its ways, Naomi was unsure whether another famine might still occur. Only, when she heard that The ETERNAL had taken account of His people, meaning that He acted not for the sake of His own name, but that the people had improved their ways and were worthy of HaShem's remembrance and constant bestowal of sustenance, did she resolve to undertake the journey.


7. She left the place where she was [living], with her two daughters-in-law. The Prophet now elucidates the previous verse in that, relevant to their leaving, all three of them were in agreement about departing immediately from their ill-fated location. However, regarding Naomi's decision to return to the land of Judah, they didn't initially concur. Orpah and Ruth intended to resettle elsewhere in the land of Moab.


They went on the road. Only after making the journey to a border of the land of Moab, which led exclusively to the land of Judah, did they agree to cross into the Land of Israel.


8. Naomi then said. Naomi thought in the beginning that their going with her on the road to the land of Judah was only to accompany her so she would not be alone and that afterwards they would return to Moab. Hence she said to them, Go -go on your way to a destination within the land of Moab. She did not require them to accompany her. Since they could choose to relocate in the land of Moab, either to go to another city or to return each to her mother's house, Naomi suggested, Return, each to [your] mother's house. That is to say, just as you held fast to me because I treated you like a mother, it would be even better for you to be with your real mother. Now she explains her previous word of Go, that they should not exert themselves on her behalf in order to accompany her. About this she said, May the ETERNAL treat you kindly, just as you treated the deceased and [treated] me as we", since when their husbands were alive they were good to them. The Midrash Ruth Rabbah (2:14) explains the deceased: that Orpah and Ruth provided them with burial shrouds; and me: that they relinquished the marital contracts, monetary obligation owed them by Machlon and Kilyon. This was an act of kindness because, according to the civil law of Moab, the burial and all its accoutrements were the responsibility of the deceased's estate and Naomi was required to pay the posthumous marital compensation. Purely out of their own goodness they voluntarily forfeited any claim on their deceased husbands' estates. Naomi felt that they had surely done more than enough to merit HaShem's beneficence in kind, because HaShem would not disallow the reward that was rightfully theirs by virtue of their magnanimity. Naomi was confident that HaShem would act in accordance with His attribute of relating to each person in accordance with his deeds.


9. May the ETERNAL grant. Besides that which HaShem should bestow upon you in accordance with your munificence, may He give you a gift (something which is not a reward for a previous deed) that each find contentment in her husband's home. This corresponds to what Naomi had said: Return, each to [your] mother's house. For it was customary in those times that a widow who did not desire to remarry would take up separate residence as a statement of her self-determination and independence. But a widow who desired to remarry would go back to her father's house, or in the case of non-Jews (who do not have the status of genealogical descent from the father[3]), to her mother's house until she would be wed. In this regard, Naomi blessed them, that each find contentment in her husband's home; that they suffer no more bereavement or grief; and that they encounter only a delightful sense of security which is truly the gift of HaShem.


She then kissed them. A kiss of separation and farewell.


10. They said to her. At this point they revealed to her that their intention was not just to accompany Naomi until the land of Judah and to return to Moab. [No,] for we will return with you to your people. That is to say, it is our desire to remain among your people. They did not say, "to your Lord" which would have implied an intention to convert, only to your people, that is, to live among your nation.


11. Naomi answered [them]. To this Naomi advised, Return, my daughters. Why do you [wish to] go with me? By this she meant that her people would not marry them and it was a vain hope for Naomi once again to provide them with spouses: Do I have any more sons in my womb {who] could become your husbands? It has already been explained (HaTorah v'HaMitzvah, Parashas Tazria, Note 4) that the literal usage of the noun sons applies only to children already born, not those still in their mother's womb. If so, how could Naomi say, Do I have any more sons in my womb? Obviously; Naomi was speaking ironically. First she intimated, Do I have any more sons old enough to marry you right away? Then, to exaggerate even more, Naomi contended, "Do I have sons old enough for you to wed, and do I conceal them in my womb -who might propose to you today!?" Surely this verse should be understood as clearly an exaggeration. For no one could seriously suggest that Orpah and Ruth would be willing to wait for Naomi to marry, have children, and raise them to a marriageable age. By then, Orpah and Ruth would be much older and thus inappropriate as brides for men so many years younger than themselves.


12. Return. Naomi adds a second rationale for them not to continue with her: Even if one could possibly entertain the notion that you would be willing to wait...there are two problems: [1  for I am too old to marry a man, and [2] would you wait...until they grow up. The Midrash Ruth Rabbah (2:17) comments, Even it.., if I were to have a husband tonight, could I have children? The Midrash explains the verses this way, according to the Talmudic dictum (Yevamos 34b), " A woman who remains a widow for ten years will no longer bear children." The Talmud asks, "Was not the daughter of Rav Chisda a widow for ten years before she remarried and had children?" The Talmud replies that she always hoped to remarry and, under that condition, she could still have children even after ten years. If so, it says here, Elimelech...died...and they lived there about ten years. As such, Naomi was a widow for ten years and it was only possible for her to have more children under one of two conditions: [1] if during the period of her widowhood she did not despair of remarrying, she would be able to give birth even after ten years; or [2] if she did not intend to remarry, only if she would wed tonight -the last night of the ten years. According to this, Naomi said, Return, my daughters, go [marry], for I am too old to marry a man, a widow after ten years can no longer bear children to her spouse. Only if she had maintained, there is hope for me that during the entire ten years she had never despaired of remarrying and always said...There is hope for me, would she be able to give birth even after ten years. And, even if I were to have a husband tonight, only if I would wed tonight the last night of the ten years -could I still have children? Therefore, I ask you, Would you wait?


13. Would you wait. The definition of tesaberna (vbrca,), waiting, is the hope for something distinct which logic dictates will be fulfilled in its appropriate time; as it says, His hope is in HaShem, his Lord (Tehillim 146:5); On the day the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the upper hand over them (Megillas Esther 9:1); and The eyes of all look to You with hope and You give them their food in its proper time (Tehillim 145:15). Naomi admonished her daughters-in-law that, even if sons were born, could you be sure they would grow up? Perhaps they would die in their adolescence! And, even if they would mature, would you tie yourselves down for them and not marry anyone else? No, my daughters! The Midrash Ruth Rabbah (2:17) interprets the word Al ('II) as in, Woe like unto a virgin (Yoel1:8) and, Woe unto me (Michah 7:1), meaning woe unto me even more than for you!


For the ETERNAL's [plague] has affected me [literally, ...the hand of the ETERNAL has gone forth against me]. The hand of HaShem, which normally connotes a blow or plague, is not found in Tanach together with the words gone forth (vtmh) but rather with the words it was (v,hv): Your hand was against me (Shemuel II, 24:17); The hand of HaShem was against them (Shofetim 2:15). The language gone forth used here indicates that HaShem had already expended all of His chastisements against her and would not visit any more punishment upon her. On this, the Midrash Ruth Rabbah (2:17) remarks: gone forth against me -against me, my children, and my husband. Naomi's message was that HaShem had punished her completely, but regarding Orpah and Ruth, HaShem's hand was against them but had not yet gone forth (implying that their continued relationship with Naomi might still bring them misfortune).


14. Orpah then kissed her mother-in-law. A kiss of separation, because she had intended to accompany Naomi only to the extent that it was "beneficial" to her. Whereas, Ruth, whose purpose in going with Naomi was for the " good"[4] , clung to her.

15. Look! Your sister-in-law has returned. By this she meant to say that since she returned to her people, most likely she returned also to her god (Midrash Ruth Rabbah 2:21), implying that she had not intended to convert. Naomi insinuated, "You probably are of a like mind and, if so, accompany your sister-in-law ."


16. Do not press me. The Midrash Ruth Rabbah (2:22) interprets her words in the following way: Ruth said to her, "Do not sin against me! You will not receive your beseechment from me!" This is based on the idea that the word hgdp, (urge) has three possible meanings: striking, as it says, And he struck him and he died (Melachim 1,2:25); meeting, And he met [came across] Jericho (Yehoshua 16:7); and beseeching, Beseech on my behalf from Ephron (Bereshis 23:8). According to the Midrash, "meeting" and "beseeching" are essentially the same -one requests and then expects that his friend will come out and " meet" him in order to fulfill his petition. As such, Ruth chose the language of 'y~!)n in the sense of striking to harm. She meant to tell Naomi that if she would be forced to leave her she would die a spiritual death. This the Midrash paraphrases: Do not sin against me! [In the sense of meeting and beseeching, she wanted to communicate to Naomi, "Do not think that my heart will 'meet' (i.e., agree with) you in this request, and will think like you." The Midrash renders this thought as, "you will not receive your "beseechment" from me!"]


To leave you, to turn back from following you. Ruth said, "1 will not leave you because I do not wish to part with you or to turn back from you! Even if I would have to withdraw from you, I would not go back to the land of Moab! No matter what, I will journey to the land of Judah and be converted to your religion. [So, too, in the Midrash Ruth Rabbah (2:22), to turn back from following you: Nevertheless, my intention is to convert -preferably by you and not by others. ]


For where you go, I will go. Ruth declared, "Do not think that the purpose of my going is different from your own: you are going there for the sake of your religion -so that you will be able to keep the commandments which are dependent on the soil (that is, of the Land of Israel), as well as the rest of the Torah and its commandments; however, you think I go only for the sake of some benefit...not so! My purpose is identical to yours." Likewise, "Do not think that I hope to achieve some temporal advantage such as marrying a wealthy man, etc."


Where you sleep, I will sleep. "I will reside as a foreigner in the Land just like the righteous who reside in this world as a place of temporary dwelling:' The motivation of my odyssey is: your people is my people, and your God is my God. "I have already embraced the Torah of your God and the customs of your people and recognize myself as one of your nation."


17. Where you die, I will die. Ruth expressed, "My ultimate desire in going is to die the death of the righteous just like you, in which the spirit returns to the Rock of life."


And there I will be buried. "In the same place in the Holy land and in the graves of the righteous who anticipate the resurrection of the dead."


Let the ETERNAL treat me like this. Ruth swore that this indeed was her genuine intention.


If anything but death separates between me and you. Ruth stated, "My reason for accompanying you is because I understand that death will create a great divide between us. In life, I have clung to you. Even though our religions separated us, we were united by virtue of our mutual love. However, after our death, we will be separated because you will be linked with the Lord of Hosts but I will be banished to the realm of the idolaters. Therefore, I plead with you that I may convert so that we not part in death!" By these words (verses 16 and 17) Ruth revealed that she had already accepted the major tenets of Judaism: the existence of HaShem and His Oneness (as she said, your-God is my God), the uniqueness of Torah and its customs (for where you go, I will go: meaning that I will go in the path of the upright and the Torah, your people is my people) and the eternity of the soul, reward and punishment in the World to Come, and the resurrection of the dead (Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried). Our Sages (Yevamos 47b) explained that Ruth also embraced the practical commandments (as she said, for where you go -on Shabbos -I will go, etc.). The Midrash Ruth Rabbah (2:25) comments that Naomi implored Ruth, "Whatever commandments and good deeds you can accomplish, do so now in this world, because death separates between me and you!"


18. [Naomi] saw. Once Naomi perceived that Ruth wanted to convert wholeheartedly (because the word ,mnt,n connotes the persistent strengthening of the heart) she desisted from dissuading her, in accordance with the precepts of conversion.[5]




(i) Looking first at the beginning of verse 6, why is it necessary to write that she arose? Isn’t it enough to say that she and her daughters-in-law returned? What did she ‘rise’ from?

(ii)The singular form oe,u, she arose, is employed in place of the more correct unue,u, and they arose, the subjects being Na’omi and her daughters-in-law. Similarly, ca,u she returned, should be ucua,u and they returned, as all three came to the Land of Judah from Moab. It can be argued that only Na’omi ‘returned’ to Judah, as Ruth had never been there before. The next verse, however, refutes this: And they set out on the road to return. Here we see that the plural vbfk,u is employed, even though the ‘return’ to Judah applies only to Na’omi.


For the same reason we find in Genesis 24:8: “Take care not to bring my son back there.” The reference is to Isaac, who had never been to Judah. Yet the verb ca, return, is employed. As Ibn Ezra explains, since Abraham would have to follow Isaac to Haran, the word ca,u essentially refers to him as he originated from Haran and not to Isaac.

(iii)ln verse 6 the word ca,u, she returned, is in the past tense. The next verse seems to go back in time: She left the place... and set out on the road!

(iv) In verse 6 there are two apparently contradictory phrases: the fields’ of Moob (ctun hsa) in the plural and the ‘field’ of Moab (ctun vsa) in the singular.

(v)The prophet seems to speak derisively of Na’omi by indicating that the only reason for her return was that she heard that there was now food to be had in Judah. The implication is that she did not return out of love for the Holy Land, which should have been dear to her even if it did lack the means for providing sustenance.

(vi) In verse 7, we read: She left the place... In order to arrive in Judah she had to leave Moab. What is the prophet trying to convey?

(vii) They set out on the road... To reach any destination, one has to ‘set out on the road’! Furthermore, why does the prophet wait until now to inform us that they were returning to Judah?


Why Was Na’omi in a Rush to Leave?

In these verses, Sripture highlights the wisdom of Na’omi. She did not take the time to bid a tearful farewell to her daughters-in-law as other women would do. It would have been quite normal to have consoled them about her imminent departure by saying: “I must return to my country and my people. It is very difficult for me to do this, for you both know how much I love you. But now the time has come to go our separate ways; you must return to your mother’s house.”


The prophet takes pains to tell us: She then arose. Immediately after the death of her two sons she made preparations for the trip. Wisely, she realized that if she were to tarry and make a grand farewell party, they would no doubt persuade her to remain by claiming that they needed her guidance, and that they would be better to her than even ten sons. They would most likely have told her: “We do not dare leave the confines of your protective influence. Just as an eagle stirs up her nest, so will you hover over us (cf. Deuteronomy 32:11). Is it worth it for you to be treated with contempt by the distinguished members of your people when you were once esteemed as one of the nobles and leaders of the land? How will it be when they see you again those who had once extolled your honor and the honor of your husband? They will surely exclaim: ‘Is this really that woman?’ They will whistle in disbelief and spit at you with contempt!”


Such strong words would no doubt have left their mark on Na’omi, and in this way her daughters-in-law might have persuaded her to stay in Moab. It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that she did not wish to face her daughters-in-law and made haste to leave without too much fanfare. She hoped to be well on her way by the time they realized what was happening. Once they noticed she was leaving them, however, they accompanied her as a matter of course, even though they did not know her destination.


With this we can understand why the verse speaks only of Na’omi arising to leave. Only once she had left did her daughters-in-law follow suit. Similarly, ca,u, And (she) returned, is in the singular, for at that time only Na’omi was intending to return. The others did not know where she was going.


This also explains why the past tense is employed. The Divine Spirit is reminding us of one of God’s greatest kindnesses to His people, Israel. He considers a good intention to be an actual deed (Talmud Kiddushin 39b). And (she) returned teaches us that as soon as she arose with the intention of returning, it was considered by God as if she had actually returned.[6]


The above-mentioned Talmudic dictum applies only to a Jew. Hence, in the following verse we read: And ‘they’ set out on the road to return. They includes Ruth and Orpah, who were gentiles, and their intention to return was not combined with an action (Jerusalem Talmud Pe’ah 1:5). This explains why the future tense of ‘to return’ is employed. (Though the reference is to Na’omi as well, she is in the minority.)


Were Her Motives Pure?

One may be inclined to judge Na’omi unfavorably on two accounts: (1) She realized that she was not succeeding in her present surroundings and therefore wished to move to a new locality where her luck might change, following the advice of our Sages (Talmud Bava Metzia 75b): “One who is badly off in one place should seek his fortune elsewhere.” (2) She feared that she would die like her husband and sons for settling in a foreign land.


One could argue that these realizations prompted her to return to Judah. She was driven by ulterior motives and not by love for the land itself. We can even supply proof for the second reason by pointing out that she did not leave until her family had died. Then we are told that she immediately prepared to return. Obviously, she was afraid that the same would happen to her.


To Leave and Never to Return

To refute these arguments and to show that her intentions were pure and holy, Scripture informs us that she returned from the fields of Moab, in the plural. This indicates that she left all the fields of Moab behind, never to return. Had her intention been merely to seek her fortune elsewhere, she would not have been in such a hurry to leave Moab completely. She would have moved from one area to another or even from one town to another inside Moab.


For she had heard, while in Moab... This shows that the fact that her husband and children had recently died had no bearing on her decision to return. She did not fear retribution. Scripture emphasizes that the reason for her return was because she had heard. But why did she wait until there was bread to be had in Judah?


Why Did SheWait Until the Famine Was Over?

Na’omi understood that if she were to return during a famine, while she herself was poor and suffering from hunger and thirst, the people there would find reason to rebuke her: “When you had plenty of food and lived comfortably, then you were worried that you might have to share your wealth with the poor and you would have too many mouths to feed. Thus, you fled to avoid helping the hungry (cf. Midrash Ruth Rabbah 1:4). What right have you to come begging to us when you find yourself in distress so that we should sustain you?”


To avoid such a confrontation, Na’omi did not return until she had heard that the famine was over. Then she would have been able to survive by the work of her own hands or from alms that were given generously to the poor once the famine was over.


That God had remembered His people. The point being made here is that God remembered His people and not His land. This is in contrast to the times of Joel about which it was written: And God was jealous for His ‘land’ and had pity on His people (Joel 2:18).


Though Na’omi would not have remained outside Judah in any case, she hurried to leave now, for she had heard that God had found merit in His people. As far as the land was concerned, she felt she had little or no right to take food from it, since she had sinned by leaving Judah to settle in Moab. Now that the people merited deliverance, she who considered herself part of the nation felt that she would be blessed along with them, in the same way as the righteous woman told the prophet Elisha, I dwell among my people (II Kings 4:13). And given them bread. Na’omi meant to say: “Though God has provided ‘them’ with bread and not ‘me,’ that does not mean that I am excluded from eating it. Their prosperity will bring me peace, and I will be blessed along with them.”


It can be implied further that she did not wait until they were actually provided with bread. As soon as she heard that God had remembered them with the intention of relieving the suffering there, she immediately made plans to leave. This in fact is quite a common occurrence. After a famine has lasted for a few years, God blesses the land so that the seeds germinate quickly and the crops grow. The people can see that God has remembered them even though the produce is not ripe for reaping. They see the blessing before they actually have food. Na’omi heard that they had been blessed and that a bountiful crop was in the offing, so she immediately set out on her way. Proof of this is shown later when we read that they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of the barley harvest (verse 22). This period of time marks the onset of the harvesting season. We deduce from there that when she set out on her way, the crop was still growing in the fields. Thus, the people were still waiting for their first yield of food. Furthermore, the text indicates that she was not expecting to live in luxury or eat delicacies, for she had heard that God had given them only bread and not the many fruits and vegetables with which Judah is associated. For all this, she left the fertile fields of Moab, as she preferred to survive on bread alone as long as she was in the ‘Land of Life.’


We will now discuss verse 7 in more detail:


Na’omi Was Hesitant to Return to Bethlehem


Na’omi’s original intention was not to return to Bethlehem, where she would most likely feel the shame and disgrace of her poverty by having to face all those who knew her and who would recall the days of her former glory. Consequently, she did not make plans to return to her hometown but just to the Land of Judah and to God’s people.


She returned…for she had heard. Her intention was imply to return to Judah. However, once she was well on the way and she saw that her two daughters-in-law were still with her, she realized that their intention was not solely to escort her and then return home but to follow her all the way, as they were some distance from the town by now.


Hence, the meaning of the verse is this: She had left the town where she had resided, but her daughters-in-law were still following along with her. She then understood that they intended to accompany her all the way to Judah where they would have to rely on her for guidance and protection, as it was a strange land for them. So, for their sakes, she had to choose a place which was familiar to her and where she could enlist the help of kinsmen and acquaintances in caring for them. It did not matter to her that she herself was in a desperate situation.[7]


As a result of this, Na’omi changed her mind and decided to go to Bethlehem. Thus, we are informed: They set out on the road to return to the Land of Judah.


Alternatively, she did not reveal her destination to them. She left suddenly, and they accompanied her, unaware of her intentions. There is no doubt that originally they had planned only to escort her, for they had an attachment to her. But it was Na’omi alone who elected to leave Moab behind and return to her people.


Once they had left the city behind and were well on their way, Na’omi revealed her plan to them, and it is then that the daughters-in-law decided to accompany her all the way, especially after she had explained her reasons for leaving. Thus, the prophet now adds, They set out on the road to return to the land of Judah. Only after they had gone some way from the town did they decide to go to Judah.



(8) And Na’omi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, return each of you to her mother’s house. May God deal kindly with you as you dealt with the dead and with me.”

(9)”May God grant that you find peace, each one in your husband’s home.” She kissed them and they cried loudly.


Looking closely at these two verses, there are many difficulties which demand explanation.


(i)        Why is there a need to emphasize that there were two daughters-in-law if we are well aware of that fact already?

(ii)       In verse 8 she tells them: Go back, return, yet later in verse 12 she telis them, return alone. This is further complicated when we note that in verse 11 the order is reversed: return, go back!

(iii)     It seems strange that she asked them to return to their mothers’ home’s instead of to their fathers’ homes which is the norm, as we find in Leviticus 22:13: And she shall return to her father’s house...

(iv)     In verse 8 she urges them to return, each of them, to her mother’s house but in verse 9 she blesses each of them that she finds peace in her husband’s home!

(v)       A further contradiction: In verse 8 her blessing is that hj agh May God deal..., while in verse 9 it is hj i,h, May God give...

 (vi) Why is the letter v in the word vagh silent? (It is read as agh.)

(vii) The word ofng with you, is in the masculine instead of the feminine form ifng Similarly, in verse 9, ofk, to you, should be ifk.

(viii) The clause hufu o,hag ratf as you have done..., should have been inserted after the second blessing in verse 9 and not between the two blessings.

(ix) In the word itmnu (and you shall find) the letter v is missing, as the correct word in this instance is vbtmnu.

(x)Why did Na’omi kiss them? For the moment, even Orpah had not made the decision to turn back, so it could not have been a farewell kiss.


Na’omi did not want to appear in a hurry to convert them, as she did not want Judaism to seem cheap in their eyes. On the contrary, any gentile wishing to convert must first be gently dissuaded. Na’omi might have asked: “What is so attractive about Judaism that makes you want to join the Jewish people?” She made it seem obvious that she was expecting them to return and that she thought they had come only to see her off on her journey.


Why Not ‘Father’s House’?


Na’omi told her daughters-in-law, “Go, return! Had you both converted to Judaism, it would have been out of place to return to your fathers’ houses, for once converted, you are no longer part of the family” as our Sages say (Talmud Yebamoth 22a): “One who becomes a proselyte is like a newly born child.” “How could you be expected to return to your parents’ homes once you are Jewish if you are no longer related to them? Besides, the atmosphere in such a house would prove to be alien to your new beliefs. Thus, even if you return, it would only be ‘to the town,’ for you would have no parents or siblings to turn to. Since you have not converted, there is no reason why you cannot both return to your mother’s house, br you still belong to your respective families.”


Na’omi deliberately used the term mother’s house and not father’s house, (or she wished lo show her distaste for male Moabites, who had been excluded by God from marrying into the Jewish people. A Moabitess, however, is permitted to marry a Jew (Talmud Yebamoth 69a).


There may be another reason why a father’s house is not mentioned. It is based on two factors which made it difficult for the sisters-in-law to part from Na’omi. First of all, she had been like a mother to them. Secondly, if she left them, they would be like trees that have shed their leaves. Each of them would return to her mother’s home lonesome and dejected with little appetite for food. They would feel like birds wandering to and fro, seeking tidbits. Even if their father were to provide them with sustenance, it would be ‘the bread of affliction.’ Instead of being treated like princesses in their husbands’ homes, they would be overcome with misery. They would feel as if they were relying on someone else’s charity even if they were in their own homes. The neighbors would no doubt reproach them by saying: “This is your reward for leaving your own people to marry Hebrews. You deserve no better than this.”


Na’omi had all this in mind, and she wisely knew exactly how to arrange her words to put the girls at ease.


Regarding the first factor she says: “True, I treated you like my very own daughters, but surely the mothers who bore you will treat you many times better than I. For this reason she stresses mother’s house instead of ‘father’s house,’ as only a real mother can take her place.


As to the second reason for their reluctance to return, Na’omi adds: “There is no purpose in feeling like beggars. God does not withhold the reward of any creature (cf. Talmud Pesachim 118a). I am certain that God will deal kindly with you and ensure that you will not have to rely solely on your mothers for survival.”


A Reward for Her Kindnesses


As you dealt with the dead and with me. The Midrash (Ruth Rabbah 2:13) relates that Ruth and Orpah prepared the burial shrouds of their husbands and relinquished their claims to the entitlements that were due to them upon their husbands’ deaths in favor of their mother-in-law — a most pious and charitable act. Thus, they had dealt kindly with the dead.


“On account of this,” said Na’omi, “God will surely deal equally kindly with you. He alone will reward you and care for you; you will not need to be blessed by me. However, I request of God that He grant you a gift that is greater than the reward you have earned: you should find peace and tranquility, each woman in her husband’s home.” As the Midrash says (Ruth Rabbah 2:15), “A woman can find happiness only in her husband’s home.’’


All in all, Na’omi wished two things for them. Firstly, she wished that they find happiness by remarrying rather than having to remain in their mothers’ houses. Secondly, since no pleasure or tranquility is complete unless it can be shared with the companion of one’s youth, as our Sages say (Talmud Sanhedrin 22b), “A woman only concludes a covenant with one who transforms her from a shapeless lump into a useful vessel.”


Na’omi asked of God that they be granted a privilege not often enjoyed by other women. She asked that they be happy and content in the homes of their second husbands, even though these men would not “transform them into vessels.”


In order that they should not suffer humiliation when separating from her, she kissed them as if she were bidding them farewell. Later, when they told her they wished to convert, she did not kiss them, as it might appear that she was rejecting them by kissing them goodbye. Instead, she pushed them away lightly as if with her ‘left hand’ while bringing them closer to her with her ‘right hand.’ In fact, we see later that it was Orpah who took leave of Na’omi by kissing her (verse 14). Nowhere is it recorded that Na’omi kissed Orpah.


There is another further way to understand these verses. First it is necessary to quote from the writings of our Sages.


In the Merit of Na ‘omi


Na’omi was known to be a great and righteous woman. Her name, hngb is derived from the word ogb, which means ‘pleasing,’ for her actions pleased everyone (Ruth Rabbah 2:5). She told Ruth: “You need not fear suffering embarrassment by lying at the feet of Boaz, as my merit will accompany you.” Thus we read, Then go down to the threshing floor (3:3). The keri is irdv ,srhu. However, the kethib has h,srhu in the first person, as if to say: “my merit will go with you” (Ruth Rabbah 5:12). Na’omi must have known that her merit was great; otherwise, she would never have made such a promise.


Na’omi was blessed with Divine intuition. The Midrash (Ruth Rabbah 2:15) relates that she knew that a certain ‘good dove’ was due to emerge from Moab in the merit of Lot’s daughter, whose intentions were entirely for Heaven’s sake, and that consequently, the Royal House of David would be descended from her. Moreover, we learn that even as Lot’s daughter lay with her father, the eventual outcome of her deed was revealed to her. “R. Tanchuma said in the name of R. Shmuel:    It is written: That we may preserve seed from our father (Genesis 19:32). It does not say, ‘preserve a child’ but, preserve seed. This is a reference to the seed that will come from elsewhere and that is the Messiah” (Midrash Genesis Rabbah 51:8). Thus, we see that not only was she aware of the fact that David and Solomon would issue from her, but she knew that from this union the Kingdom of David and ultimately the Messiah would result. Hence, when Na’omi spoke to Ruth and Orpah she bore these facts in mind.


Which ‘Dove’ Was Blessed?


Na’omi said: May God grant you. In the Midrash (Ruth Rabbah 2:15), R. Yose says on this verse: “All the benefits and the consolations that God would offer to Solomon — as it is written, And God gave wisdom to Solomon — will derive from you.


Na’omi was aware that a ‘dove’ was to emerge from Moab and that the Royal House of Solomon would be descended from that ‘dove.’ The problem is, she gave both her daughters-in-law a blessing even though she knew that only one was destined to benefit from it.


Na’omi’s words contain a great deal more than is obvious at first. Our Sages[8] have revealed that her words, May God deal kindly with you, refer to conversion. Thus, they maintain that the Hebrew (v)agh has a silent v to signify that a proselyte undergoes many tribulations and much suffering.


They further revealed to us (Ruth Rabbah 2:15) that the words God will grant you refer to the Kingdom of David. She blessed them by promising benefits to King Solomon, as we said earlier.


Now we can explain the verse in more detail.


Go, return. The meaning is as follows: “Go to your homes. However, if you wish to convert and come with me, then return.” To convey the concept of conversion she adds the term mother’s house instead of ‘father’s house,’ as according to law a Moabite cannot enter the Jewish fold, and conversion would apply only to the female members of Moab.[9]


“However,” continued Na’omi, “that hardly suffices, for as converts, you will find it difficult to lead a Jewish life in a Moabite household that is based on ideas contrary to your beliefs.” She spoke to both of them, blessing them that they be repaid for the kindness they did in providing shrouds for their husbands’ burials at their own expense. In addition, they gave up their entitlements in order to help her: “May you be repaid for the kindness you did for me.”


Ruth Is Singled Out for a Blessing


Note that the Hebrew word o,hag you dealt, is in the masculine form. Na’omi was indicating that what they did was essentially a man’s task. Thus, they understood that she was referring to their having provided burial shrouds for their husbands.


At this stage, Orpah also intended to convert. Only later did she change her mind. The letter v in the word vagh is silent, signifying that at first both sisters-in-law were willing to convert, but in the outcome only one of them did.


In verse 9, Na’omi continued to address them: “Until now I have blessed you both equally. However, I wish to give another blessing — an even greater one — that will be directed at only one of you: May God grant that you find... May only ‘one’ of you find peace...” The word itmnu is lacking a v, signifying that the blessing was directed at only one of the daughters-in-law (cf. Ruth Rabbah 2:15, where the Midrash interprets the word in a different way). It is interesting to note that while in verse 8 the v in vagh is kethib but not keri, here, the v is absent altogether. In the previous verse the blessing was addressed to both sisters-in-law, but only one of them took advantage of it by converting. This blessing, on the other hand, was directed at only one of them to begin with; hence, the v is omitted altogether.


Found in Sodom


The blessing itself promises the contentment associated with royalty. This is called vthmn, literally, ‘a valuable find.’ A word originating from the same root tmn appears in the passage dealing with Lot’s daughter.


The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 41:4) on the verse, I have ‘found’ my servant David (Psalms 89:21), remarks: “Where did God find him? In Sodom, for it is written, and your two daughters who are to be ‘found’... (Genesisl9:15).” We learn from here that God ‘found’ David in Lot’s daughters, so to speak. David was descended from one of them. Thus, the words vjubn itmnu and you shall find contentment, refer to David, who, as we said, will be ‘found,’ for it was predestined that David was to be descended from a Moabitess.


The Significance of vjubn


What is the significance of the word vjubn? It is an allusion to the concept of ‘levirate marriage.’ Na’omi indicated that one of the sisters-in-law would marry a relative of her dead husband, thus perpetuating his name. One of them would convert and become the wife of a nobleman in Judah. From their progeny would emerge a man who would succeed in establishing a royal kingdom either through his grandson or great grandson. But how could a common proselyte who had her origins in impurity qualify to become the mother of such a man, even if she were extremely righteous?


Ruth, however, was different. Her deceased husband Machlon left her a spark of his holy Jewish soul. This spirit remained pulsating within her until her union with a redeemer. Then, his spirit entered her and joined with the spirit of Machlon. Together they united with her spirit, and this threesome imbued the child with a holiness that rendered him eligible for to become the progenitor of kings. All this was necessary so that offshoots would emerge from the stock of Jesse in the form of David and Solomon.


This spirit, which had been pulsating restlessly inside her, would settle down only when she married a redeemer from whom the future King of Israel would issue. We can now appreciate how appropriate Na’omi’s words were: And you shall find contentment. David would come into the world as a direct consequence of the state of ‘contentment’ enjoyed by Machlon’s spirit when Ruth married Boaz.


Now we can understand why the masculine plural ofk (to) you, is employed here even though, as we explained earlier, Na’omi was addressing only one of the sisters-in-law. Ruth was counted as two people since she carried the identity of her husband Machlon, too. This accounts for the masculine grammatical form, because the collective term for a man and a woman is generally the masculine form ofk the man being considered the more important of the two.


What’s in a Kiss?


She kissed them and they cried loudly. Na’omi was wise as well as righteous, and she had good reason for kissing them. The Zohar (Volume 2, 254a) explains that kissing mouth to mouth is not merely a physical show of love. It enables the souls of the two people to become attached to one another.


Na’omi knew that one of her daughters-in-law would have the privilege of being the source of the ‘splendor of Israel.’ Though they both stood by silently while she was talking to them, she knew that one of them contained the spirit of her husband, which would form the basis for a holy progeny. By kissing them she hoped to arouse this spirit so that it could unite with her own (spirit), and in this way their conversion to Judaism would come into effect. This being accomplished, one of her daughters-in-law would become eligible to mother the holy seed that would result in the Royal Family of David. The other daughter-in-law, who in the event was Orpah, was in no way affected by the kiss, since the pure and the impure cannot combine into one unit.


The sisters-in-law realized that Na’omi was about to take leave of them and they wept loudly. The kiss, as we said, was purely physical for Orpah. As for Ruth, since she was the destined one, her spirit found a common link with Na’omi’s and was aroused, together with the spirit of Machlon contained within her.


Later (verse 14), we see that Orpah kissed her mother-in-law again. Still, their spirits could not unite as there was no spiritual attraction between them, just as ‘straw’ has little in common with ‘wheat.’ Ruth, on the other hand, had chosen to remain in Na’omi’s company, as she felt that their two spirits had been linked together as one. Hence, it is written Ruth clung to her (verse 14).



(10)  And they said to her: “For we will return with you to your people.”

(11)  But Na’omi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why should you go with me? Do I have more sons in my womb who can become husbands for you?

(12)  “Turn back, my daughters, go on your way, for I am too old to have a husband even if I had hope that I could marry a man tonight and I could bear sons.

(13)  “Would you wait until they grew up? Would you shut yourselves off and refuse to marry a man? No, my daughters, it grieves me much for your sakes, but the hand of God has gone out against me.”


First we will concentrate on verse 10.

(i)The word hf, for, does not seem appropriate in the context.

(ii)Furthermore, what are the sisters-in-law adding? They knew that Na’omi was aware of their intentions to accompany her to Judah.

(iii) ln verse 11 we find that for the first time Na’omi addresses them as my daughters. Why only now and not earlier?

(iv) Na’omi asked, Why should you. go with me? What kind of question is this? She knew they wanted to convert to Judaism.

(v) Na’omi’s rhetoric in verses 12 and 13 seems confusing. What purpose was there in asking all these questions if she knew it was not possible? Is it conceivable that they should have the slightest intention of waiting until she married again so that they could marry sons who would only be born in her old age?

(vi)  Na’omi repeated her argument thrice over: Do I have more sons.. .I am too old to have a husband... even if I had hope that I could marry...

All this is really a repetition of the same idea, and it was practically impossible at her age in any case.

(vii) Why did she interrupt herself by adding, in verse 12: Turn back, my daughters. She could have simply said, “Do I have more sons.. .1 am too old to have a husband.”

(viii)  In verse 13 she used two expressions which convey similar ideas: Will you wait.. .will you shut yourselves off? Why did she choose these particular words: vbdg, vbrca, ?

(ix) Besides that, her words would have made more sense had she arranged them as follows: “Will you wait for them? Will you shut yourselves off for them until they have grown up?” Note that I have inserted the latter clause after the second question rather than after the first. What did Na’omi intend by saying it the way she did?

(x) What did Na’omi mean by saying, It grieves me much for your sakes? Is she attempting to supply a reason as to why they should not want to marry? If so, couldn’t she have simply said, “for you will grow old”?

(xi)The final words in verse 13 are equally perplexing, for it seems that Na’omi was complaining against God. The Midrash (Ruth Rabbah 2:17) suggests that she was sorry about their having married her sons in the first place. This is difficult to understand. Here she was trying to console them, but these words could only have served to cause them distress.


Was Na’omi Mistaken?


In order to fully understand these verses, we must discover the true intentions of Ruth and Orpah. They were informing Na’omi that she was mistaken about their resolve: “Your request that we should leave you and return indicates that you have misunderstood us when we asked to accompany you to Judah. You assumed that we wished to go with you to your hometown but not to convert and live as Jews. In fact, our words to return with you to the Land of Judah were not simply a wish to follow you to wherever you should go, but a sincere desire to become a part of your people and their faith.”


Hence they declared.. .No! For we will return with you to your people — not just to your land. Now we can see how appropriate the word hf (for) is here. Previously, it had been assumed that they wished only to return to the Land of Judah (verse 7). Now they made it clear that they wished to return to the people of Israel and not just to Judah.


Following this, Na’omi felt a motherly love for them and called them my daughters, a title she had never previously accorded them. Still, we should take note that the word h,bc my daughters, lacks a vav after the nun. This is to signify that she meant to address only one of them as a daughter.


Na’omi was still unsure of their exact intentions. She said: “You have told me that you wish to return with me to my people, for you wish to convert. However, since you have stressed to your people and not ‘to your land,’ I presume that you wish to accompany me to Judah, and only there will you join my faith with the help of my people. Or, you may wish to become Jewish without going to the Land of the Jews, as you will return home once you have converted.”


“If your intention is indeed to accompany me to Judah and become proselytes there, then: Return to my God, my daughters, and convert with the aid of my people. But why should you want to accompany me? Do you benefit from being in my company? Are you attempting to emulate Tamar, who, wishing to retain her association with the House of Jacob, gave birth to Jacob’s child (Genesis, Chapter 38)? But how can you achieve this by remaining with your mother-in-law? Even if you had been married to your husbands according to Jewish law, it is of no use, for I have no children in my womb. Ironically, since your marriages to my sons were not valid, you are eligible to marry any future sons I might bear after the deaths of Machlon and Kilyon, for according to the law, a woman is forbidden to marry her late husband’s brother who was not his contemporary if their marriage was legal. Since you are Moabitesses, you are not excluded from marrying my future sons. All this, however, is purely hypothetical, for even if I do bear more sons, who says that they will agree to marry you?”


Orpah Is Persuaded to Return


This explains the Hebrew ohabtk ofk uhvu, who can become husbands for you. Though Na’omi didn’t expect them to wait and see if she would bear more children, as it would hardly be natural for her to do so at her age, she still added this clause in an attempt to dissuade them from converting and to note their reactions to her questions. They might well have answered that the only reason they wished to remain with her was to learn from her righteous ways. On the other hand, if they were not sincere, they would not have accepted her arguments and might have used them as an excuse to return to Moab.


It is here that we notice a significant difference between Ruth and Orpah. Na’omi’s ploy worked and Orpah’s reaction indicated that these arguments were sufficient to remove any vestige of shame she might have felt over leaving Na’omi to return home. Hence we read that she kissed her mother-in-law and returned to her people and her god.


Ruth, on the other hand, ignored Na’omi’s remarks and indicated that she had no intention of marrying one of her sons again. She had resolved to remain with her and begged her to refrain from forcing her to return to Moab.


Na’omi continued by saying: “If your intention in telling me that you will return with me to my people is to become a member of my faith with my help, but that then you wish to return to your land and home, then I say: Return to God with my help and then go to your land, for there you will be able to serve God, too.”


‘Don’t Wait for Me!’


Na’omi spoke gently to them so it would not appear as if she were pushing them away forcefully, for she knew that once they returned home, they would revert to their old habits and serve idols with the rest of their families.


Na’omi said: “When I asked, Do I have more sons? it provided sufficient excuse for you to change your minds and go back home, especially since there is no future for me. I am too old to get married again and am unable to bear any more children. Even if I do have any chance of bearing a child and get married tonight so that I can give birth as soon as possible -and bear two sons, one for each of you, it is highly unlikely that you will marry them. How can you be expected to wait until they grow up? You will both be too old to get married by the time they come of age.


“Perhaps you think that you are obligated to bide your time and refrain from marrying, because of your relationship with my sons. No, my daughters, there is no reason for you to remain single for their sakes. Even if you had converted to Judaism while you were still married, the law states that the widow of a man whose younger brother was not his contemporary is not only excluded from the obligation of levirate marriage (Talmud Yebamoth 17b), but she is forbidden to marry him. No, the Torah does not require you to wait until I bear sons, for, whatever the case, you won’t marry them. If you had already been converted then, you would have been prohibited from marrying them, as I have said. Therefore, I would never permit such a marriage to take place, even if it means that you will remain single for a long time to come.”


We can now understand the Midrash which explains the words, it grieves me..., to mean that Na’omi was sorry that they had ever married her sons. She meant to say that she was distressed over the trouble caused to them through her sons: “If, on the other hand, you had not converted, your marriages to my sons were never legally binding, and you would be permitted to marry any of my future sons according to the law. Still I say, No, my daughters, for I am deeply grieved that I did not prevent them from marrying you. Even though the marriages were invalid, I feel that the hand of God has gone out against me and I should have been condemned to death. I am fortunate to have survived thus far, but at any moment the hand of God will strike me down. How can I contemplate sanctioning a union which will have come about as a direct consequence of your relationship to my sons? It would give the impression that I had not repented of my sin. One further transgression, however light, would be sufficient reason to destroy me.”


The ‘Hand of God’ and Its ‘Five Fingers’


The Midrash (Ruth Rabbah 2:18) explains: “The hand of God has gone out against me, my sons and my husband.” This seems to contradict the simple meaning of the text which has only against me. How did the Sages know that she is referring to her sons and husband, too? Furthermore, although they quote the last phrase in the verse, the hand of God, they do not explain its meaning at all!


Apparently, they had difficulty in explaining the word vtmh, has gone out, since in the context a more suitable phrase would have been hc vtc (come unto me), or hc vgdb (affected me). Furthermore, what does the hand of God signify?


In the opinion of the Sages, the hand of God had already gone forth against her. Later (verse 21) she says, I went out full. The Midrash (Ruth Rabbah 3:7) comments: “This teaches us that she left Judah pregnant and the resultant child died, too.”


We must also take note of the Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 5:14) which comments on the words, And Israel saw the great hand (Exodus 14:31) as follows: “In what way were they [the Egyptians] smitten by the finger [of God]? With the ten plagues, as it is written: Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God’ (Exodus 8:15). Concerning the miracles wrought by the sea it says, the great hand. Since there are five fingers on each hand and each finger denotes ten plagues, it follows that by the sea, where they were smitten by a whole hand, there were fifty plagues.”


From this Midrash it is clear that the hand of God signifies five different plagues or afflictions, corresponding to the five fingers of a hand. Here, too, when Na’omi said that the hand of God has gone out against me, she was alluding to five individual misfortunes that had befallen her. The Sages concluded that these concerned herself, her children and her husband.


Later (verse 20) Na’omi testified: For the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me. She had become very depressed and forlorn; this was the last of the five misfortunes to strike her. Previously, she had suffered on four separate occasions. She had lost three sons one by one — Machlon, Kilyon and the son she carried while leaving Judah. In addition, she had become a widow. All told, this amounts to the five ‘fingers’ which make up the hand of God.


Hence, the verse reads as follows: “The hand of God has gone out against me. Since I have suffered as a result of these four misfortunes, the ‘hand’ of God has now completed its work.”


Na’omi’s Spiritual Link with Ruth


From the context it appears as if Na’omi addressed both daughters-in-law. Samuel the prophet, with his Divine inspiration, hints that Na’omi was endowed with a Divine intuition. In verse 8 the word vbfk, go, is written in full, while later, in verse 12, ifk is lacking the letter heh at the end of the word. Furthermore, as we pointed out earlier, the words vbca and h,bc in verse 12 are both missing the letter vav. These discrepancies can be explained as follows.


When Na’omi kissed them in order that their spirits should unite with hers, she noticed a significant difference between the two sisters-in-law. While the kiss brought Ruth spiritually closer to her, it had no effect whatsoever on Orpah. Thus, the word h,bc (my daughters) is lacking a vav, indicating that Na’omi was addressing only one of the sisters-in-law.


The word vbca (return), is likewise missing a vav, indicating that only one of them would return with Na’omi to her people. It transpired that her command was directed solely at Ruth.


Similarly when Na’omi said ifk, go, the final letter heh was missing, as here the reference was to Orpah, the one who would return to Moab.


To sum up, the words h,bc vbca, return, my daughters, are directed only at Ruth (despite the plural form), whom Na’omi considered as dear to her as a daughter. She then turned to Orpah and said, ifk, go back! Note that she does not add h,bc (my daughters) when addressing Orpah.


Both words vbca and ifk are in the plural, as Na’omi wanted them to believe that she was addressing both of them at once. She didn’t want to hurt Orpah’s feelings by making it obvious that she intended that only Ruth accompany her.


(14)  Then they raised their voices and wept again. Orriah kissed her mother-in-law, while Ruth clung to her.


(i)The first word in the verse, vba,u is missing an ‘aleph’ before the ‘nun.’ (n)The word sug seems redundant. (iii)We are informed that Orpah kissed Na’omi. No mention is made of her leaving to return to Moab.

(iv)The words clung to her don’t seem the most appropriate in the circumstances. More correct would have been “remained with her.”


The Midrash (Ruth Rabbah 2:20) explains the absence of the aleph as signifying the physical fatigue suffered by the women after their exhausting journey. It is highly unlikely that the intention is that they became weakened as a result of their weeping, since Orpah hardly cried at all.


Interestingly, if we calculate the lower numerical value of the word vba,u, we arrive at the sum of 23, which is equal to the lower value of the words sckc ,ur (Ruth alone).


We can also derive from here that when Orpah cried she raised the volume of her voice to twice the usual level before kissing Na’omi (goodbye) and leaving. Hence, they raised their voices — above the usual level — and wept again, i.e., they doubled the volume of their cry. Following that, Orpah kissed her mother-in-law farewell and left. Ruth on the other hand, remained there, weeping uncontrollably.


Why Did They Weep?


It is also possible that the phrase and wept again indicates their determination to remain members of Na’omi’s family. They felt sad that they were left empty-handed after their childless marriages. Until now, their despair had remained bottled up inside them, but now, after they heard Na’omi informing them explicitly that it was highly unlikely that she would bear more sons for them to marry, they could no longer control their emotions and burst into tears.


They raised their voices and wept again. Earlier, Na’omi had said ,ohbc hk sugv Do I still have sons...? The word sug here is not redundant as we first thought. It reminds us of the sugv Na’omi said earlier (verse 11). The reason why the daughters-in-law wept now was because Na’omi had said: hufu hk sugv Do I still have sons to offer you in marriage? Hence the verse here can be understood thus: They wept on account of sug. However, Scripture is referring mainly to Ruth and not to Orpah. That explains why the aleph in vba,u is missing.


Tamar Also Wept


The Yalkut Shimoni (Ruth 601), in reference to this verse remarks: “Two women will be remembered for giving their lives for the sake of the Tribe of Judah: Tamar and Ruth. Tamar cried, ‘I will not leave this house empty-handed.’ Ruth wept each time her mother-in-law told her, Go my daughter.. .as it is written, They raised their voices...


This Midrash requires some thought. What connection does Tamar have here? Furthermore, the text implies that both Ruth and Orpah wept, but according to the Yalkut it seems that only Ruth cried!


In addition, the Yalkut states that Ruth wept each time Na’omi told her to go. In fact, Na’omi only told her Go, my daughter, once, in chapter two when she allowed Ruth to gather stalks in the fields. There was certainly no reason to cry then. Besides, that had nothing to do with giving her life for Judah, for she did not know that she would meet Boaz in the fields.


The Rabbis of the Midrash had to overcome three basic difficulties before fully understanding the passage. (i)The aleph is absent from the word vba,u. (ii)The word sug seems redundant. (iii)Both girls cried though one was leaving and the other remained with Na’omi.


The absence of the aleph implies that there was another woman elsewhere in the Scriptures who raised her voice and wept. That woman was Tamar. The Sages also maintained that Ruth cried at this point because Na’omi addressed her together with Orpah as if they were on the same level of piety.


Later when Na’omi told Ruth, follow after your sister-in-law (verse 15), Ruth also cried. The extra sug indicates that besides crying together with Orpah, Ruth cried alone, too.


Orpah Takes Leave of Na’omi While Ruth Remains


We asked why no mention was made of Orpah’s return to her mother’s house after she took leave of Na’omi. It is possible that the prophet wished to emphasize the difference between Ruth and Orpah. The latter was hesitant to leave Na’omi only because she was her mother-in-law. Her strong religious beliefs and convictions didn’t interest Orpah. Thus, we read: Orpah kissed her mother-in-law. She gave her a goodbye kiss and that was all.


Ruth acted differently. She clung to Na’omi’s religious beliefs. She was devoted to her mother-in-law not merely because of their family relationship but because Na omi was a woman of valor. For this reason the clause “and she (Orpah) returned home” is omitted, as it would distract us from the main point of the verse, i.e., Ruth’s sincerity.


From this it is clear that the verse distinguishes between the ways in which the sisters-in-law conducted themselves towards Na’omi. Na’omi kissed Ruth so that their spirits could unite in a common bond. Before she accepted Ruth, she had to determine if she was the ‘good dove’ that was destined to come from Moab. If she was, their spirits would cling to each other when they kissed. Through this kiss, her insides would become hallowed and the spirit of Machlon within her would also be aroused. She would find herself spiritually attuned to Na omi.


The Two Kisses


Now the meaning of the verse is clear. After Na’omi kissed her daughters-in-law so that her spirit would combine with theirs, Orpah again kissed her mother-in-law. However, this was a purely physical kiss and thus, their spirits were unable to find a common link. Ruth, on the other hand, had received one kiss from Na’omi, and with that, she was spiritually attached to her mother-in-law. Hence, the point being made here is not Orpah’s return home, for that does not interest us, but that Ruth became attached to Na’omi while Orpah did not. In this way the prophet highlights the righteousness of Ruth.


There is another, simpler reason for omitting any mention of Orpah’s return. She did not return immediately. While she was still with them, Na’omi turned to Ruth and said: Look! Your sister-in-law has returned... (see next verse). She said this to emphasize that Orpah was not only returning to her home but also was reverting to her old ways and would worship idols as she once did. She would not adapt to the ways of the Jews or accept the Law of Moses in any way. Na’omi wanted Orpah to hear what she was saying, as earlier it seemed that both Ruth and Orpah would continue to serve God whatever happened — even if they returned to Moab their hearts would remain with Na’omi wherever she was. Thus, Na’omi told them: Return, my daughters, as if to say, “Return to God even if you be in your own land. Why is it necessary to follow me?”


Orpah Returns to Her Old Ways


Now that Orpah was leaving her, Na’omi addressed Ruth, saying: “She should not think that in her own home it will be easy for her to serve God. I admit that it was I who first suggested that she return, but then I thought it would be a good idea. She can’t blame me though, if she ends up worshiping idols.”


Na’omi deliberately spoke to Ruth while Orpah was still within hearing distance: “Now your sister-in-law is returning to her people and her god.” With this she intended to convey that ‘serving gods’ was an inevitable consequence of returning to her people. Na’omi hoped that Orpah would get the message that a return to Moab meant a return to idol worship. She would be made to understand that if she had any intention of becoming a Jewess, she should not return to Moab. Now we can understand why no mention of her return is made in verse 14. The conversation between Ruth and Na’omi quoted in verse 15, precedes Orpah’s return to Moab. However, it must be made clear that Na’omi did not speak directly to Orpah regarding this matter, for she did not wish to humiliate her by implying that she would be serving idols. She addressed only Ruth, with the hope that her message of warning would make an impression on Orpah, too.


(15)       So she said,”Look! Your sister-in-law has returned to her people and her god. Follow after your sister-in-law.”


Na’omi thought that Ruth was too embarrassed to leave her and needed to be persuaded to follow Orpah. To test her sincerity she said: Look! Your sister-in-law has returned. By this she intended to say: “You need not feel embarrassed for Orpah has made the first move.”


In her own way, Na’omi was attempting to befriend Ruth.[10] With these words, she was eliminating the possibility of Ruth voicing a wish to follow Orpah, with the intention of continuing to serve God in her home in Moab. By stressing the fact that Orpah was returning to her people and her god she was indicating that a return to Moab meant no less than a return to idol worship and her gentile ways. If Ruth wanted to go home, she would have to do so now, together with her sister-in-law, as there would be no one else to accompany her later.


Alternatively, it is possible that Na’omi was not advising Ruth to follow Orpah in all respects. “Follow her, but not her god. Don’t be led astray in the same way that she is being led astray.”


(16) But Ruth said: “Don’t press me to leave you; to turn back from following after you. For wherever you go I will go; where you lodge I will lodge; your people are my people and your God, my God.”

(17)  “Where you die I will die and there I will be buried. So may God do to me and so may He continue, for only death will separate between me and you.


(i)ln verse 16, there seems to be an unnecessary repetition of expressions: to leave you; to turn back...

(ii)Froan the text it appears that when Ruth declares: Where you will go, I will go... she is giving reasons for remaining with her mother-in-law. But, how appropriate are these ‘reasons’? They don’t seem to fit in with anything said previously. As for the clause, your people are my people and your God my God, this should have been said either at the beginning or at the end of her statement but not right in the middle.

(iii) Where you will die... needs an explanation as does the assertion: There will I be buried!


Regarding this last question our Sages (Ruth Rabbah 2:25) explain that she was referring to the fact that those executed by order of the court by means of stoning or burning are not buried together with those who are executed by strangulation or by the sword. This is somewhat difficult to understand, as we are instructed to teach a would-be proselyte the hard things that come with Judaism as well as the easy ones. However, this particular point of law does not have to be taught to them before they convert.


Ruth Assures Na’omi


It is possible that Ruth told Na’omi the following:


“Look, you have been constantly urging me to return to my people. I have no doubt that you are testing me to see if I am sincere or if I am not really interested and will eventually return to Moab like Orpah did. Do not press me any longer; there is no reason to do so, for I am not like Orpah. I am serious about following in the ways of God. In fact, since I have resolved never to leave God, your efforts are only serving to distance me from you. That is why I am adamant that from today, whereuer you go I will go and whereuer you lodge, I shall lodge. You need not worry about my faith in God, for I have resolved that your people are my people and your God, my God. A return to my land would not be tantamount to a return to my nation and my god as you very well realize.


“You might wonder why I am insisting on returning with you to your country if I am convinced that I can remain true to my beliefs in Moab. To this I answer: Whereuer you will die, I will die. I, too, would like to die in the land of Israel.” No doubt she had in mind the saying later taught to us by our Sages: “There is no comparison between giving our soul back to its mother — that is, the Land of Israel — and giving it to a stranger another land (Jerusalem Talmud Kethuboth 12:13; see also a similar statement in Talmud Kethuboth lila; cf. the Aishich on Numbers 27:6).


There will I be buried. Don’t think that I will go there without you. So rr~y God do to me and so may He continue, for nothing but death will separate us.


Ruth Accepts Mosaic Law


The Talmud (Yebamoth 47b) explains the meaning of the text to be a dialogue between Ruth and Na’omi, who tried to dissuade the former from joining the Jewish people because of the myriad responsibilities incumbent on a Jew.


Na’omi told her: “It is forbidden to walk long distances out of town on Sabbath.” Ruth replied: Whereuer you go, I will go. Na’omi said: “A private meeting between man and woman is forbidden.” Ruth responded: Where you lodge, I will lodge.


Na’omi said: “We must keep 613 commandments.” Ruth asserted: Your people are my people. Na’omi told her: “We must not serve or bow to foreign gods.” To which Ruth declared: Your God is my God.


Na’omi explained: “There are four methods of execution practiced by the Sanhedrin.” Biblical law makes clear which crimes are punishable by each form of execution. Ruth acknowledged this: Whereuer you will die, I will die.


Na’omi said: “There are two distinct burial places reserved for those executed by the Sanhedrin.” Ruth asserted: There will I be buried.


Ruth Learns about ‘Mitzvoth’


Why did Na’omi select these particular mitzuoth and points of law as examples of Judaic practice? Firstly, only two — Sabbath and seclusion are selected and only then does she tell Ruth that 613 precepts must be kept. Following that, she tells her of idol worship and the various methods of execution. Aren’t these laws contained within the 613? Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to begin or end with the statement that Jews are required to keep all 613 commandments? Why is this brought to her attention in the middle of the dialogue?


There is, however, method and logic in Na’omi’s choice of subjects. Besides conveying to Ruth the importance of both the easy and difficult aspects of Jewish living, Na’omi takes their present location into account, for Ruth was being introduced into the Jewish nation at that specific time and she had to know how to live as a Jew from that moment on. Moreover, Na’omi felt she had to make known to Ruth the three crimes which Judaism considers to be the most serious: forbidden sexual relations, idol worship and bloodshed.


Na’omi might have questioned Ruth as follows: “What would you, as a Jewess, do in these circumstances? You have left the town and are walking in the countryside where few people, if any, are in evidence. Indeed, the only people you are likely to meet are rogues or highwaymen intent on evil. Such people would, without doubt, attempt to assault you.” Indeed, our Sages note (Ruth Rabbah 4:4) that her appearance was so seductive that anyone staring at her would be sexually aroused to the point of a seminal discharge.


“Were you yet a gentile woman, it would be of no consequence, but being that you are now Jewish, you have to guard yourself from any forbidden sexual act, and this may prove difficult on a journey through a remote area where no help can be expected from other people.


“The truth is, that by adhering to the Sabbath laws of domains, there is a greater likelihood that you will be accosted by a stranger since you must acquire a place of residence before the Sabbath begins and are forbidden to leave a given area for the duration of the Sabbath. This will make it easier for someone to trap you and dishonor you. You may find a guide who is willing to escort you and protect you; but you may be forced to enter his home at night and forget that remaining in private with him is forbidden.”


Na’omi introduced Ruth to Judaism by concentrating on the laws most likely to affect her in the immediate future; the laws of Sabbath boundaries and laws of being alone with a man. Ruth agreed to keep the Sabbath by answering Whereuer you go I will go. “By following you, I shall be sure to keep within the permitted domain.”


As to private meetings she adds, “Wherever you lodge, I will lodge, for there will be no strange man with us.”


Once Na’omi had taught her about forbidden sexual contacts, she also wanted to impart to Ruth the gravity of worshiping idols but did not want to make it seem as if she suspected her of practicing pagan customs. Thus, first she informs Ruth of the number of precepts each Jew is required to keep and only then, as if by the way, does she mention that idol worship is forbidden. She then goes on to warn Ruth of the death penalties imposed by the courts for such serious crimes as bloodshed, as well as idol worship. To impress upon Ruth the gravity of these deeds she spells out that even after their execution, the sin has not been entirely obliterated, for the sinners’ bodies will be buried in separate plots, each according to the crime committed.


Regarding the various death penalties, Ruth says, So shall God do to me and so shall He continue, and as to the various burial places, she adds, only death will separate us, for it is known that each righteous person acquires a ‘home’ for himself after death, unlike the wicked about whom it is said that their evil deeds remain evident even after death by the fact that they are buried away from others.


There is another possible way to understand these words, as if they were spoken about a spiritual process. However, an introduction is necessary.


Firstly, while a person is in this world, he is in the process of ‘going,’ as Scripture says, . . .for man is going to his eternal home... (Ecclesiastes 12:5). In addition, the Mishnah warns Know... .where you are going (Ethics 3:1). In my commentary to that mishnah, I explained that man is constantly on the move from the day of his birth until the day of his death, as his life is gradually slipping away.


Secondly, the Zohar (Volume 2, 98b) remarks that the soul of a proselyte is bound up with the soul of a righteous man while the soul of a woman convert is bound up with that of a righteous woman.


Thirdly, the Zohar in its introduction to Parshath Vayechi (Volume 1, 218a; cf. Talmud Kethuboth 104a) tells us that when a man goes to his eternal home on High, all those who are to be his neighbors in his new ‘home’ come and lead him to his place. This concept is derived from the words, And he was gathered to his people (Deuteronomy 32:50); And you shall be gathered to your people (Numbers 27:13). Those who share his place of honor in the next world are called his people. They gather him and lead him to his appropriate place.


Fourthly, we are taught that God does not attach His name to a righteous man until he has died (Midrash Tanchuma, Toldoth 7).


Finally, as we have mentioned before, our Sages say that even though it is considered honorable to be buried in the Land of Israel, it is all the more beneficial for the soul if he actually dies in the Land of Israel, for one cannot compare giving a soul back to its ‘mother’ to giving it to a stranger (Jerusalem Talmud Kethuboth 12:3).


 ‘Wherever You Will Go I Will Go’


Coming back to our verse, Ruth says, Don’t press me. When a would-be proselyte is gently dissuaded by being asked, “What do you see [in Judaism] that you wish to convert?” (Talmud Yebamoth 47a), the intention is not to dishearten him totally, but to push him away gently as with a ‘left hand.’ At the same time he is drawn closer with the ‘right hand’ to test his sincerity. We must not push him away too many times — two or three times is enough. If he persists in wishing to become one of us, we must soften our attitude towards him. Ruth claimed that she had been constantly rebuffed, presumably to test her sincerity. However, she had not been rejected outright. “Now,” she says, “if you continue to urge me to return to my land, I will feel as if I have been rejected outright and you are not interested in my conversion.


“Do not press me to leave you. Any further attempts to dissuade me on your part will only serve to indicate that you suspect me of having evil intentions. It will appear that you think it is not fitting that you aid me in converting, lest I return to my old ways. However, I am not so inclined, for whereuer you go, I will go. I am certain that my soul, which is ‘going’ towards its eternal home — as it says, A man goes to his eternal home (Ecclescaites 12:5) will become attached to your soul, especially since you have the credit for helping me to convert, and it is reckoned as if you bore me. (“A proselyte is like a newly born babe” [Talmud Yebamoth 22a].) I shall follow you on the path of God that you take towards the World to Come. Thus, in Paradise, where you shall lodge, I shall lodge, for my soul will be bound up together with yours; it will not be the soul of a Moabite which has nothing whatsoever in common with a Jewish soul.


“On your arrival in Heaven, the neighbors will come and lead your soul to its rightful place in Paradise. They are called your people (see Deuteronomy 32:50, Numbers 27:13). Then your people will be my people, too. They will gather me up after my death, and just as God shall call His name to you after your death, so shall He attach His name to me, for your God is my God.”


Israel: Mother of the Soul


“All this concerns the soul. As for my physical body, whereuer you die, I shall die,” i.e., in the Land of Israel rather than in an ‘unclean’ land, for there is no comparison between giving the body back to its mother and giving it to a stranger. It makes no difference to a non-Jewish woman whether she is buried in Israel or not, for Israel is not her mother. “But, there I will be buried, for I do not wish that my soul be hampered by the unclean environment of a foreign country when it leaves my body. Similarly, I do not wish my body to be buried in the ground of an unclean country, for then my soul will mourn over my sad fate and will not be able to attach itself to your soul. If I am righteous and merit to die in the Land of Israel where you will die, and I am buried there, my soul will not be deprived of any spiritual benefits, since I will have gone where you have gone and will have stayed where you have stayed.”


Two Souls One Destiny


So may God do for me. “If this promise is fulfilled and I go where you go, then He will continue to do for me so that your people will be my people. Your companions [in Heaven] will be my companions and your God will be called my God, too, for only death will separate between me and you. The kiss that united our spirits and bound up our souls has made us like one. Our lives will have a common destiny. Only in death will we be separated, for one of us will surely die before the other. Yet, when the second one dies, the bond between us will once again be restored.”


Alternatively, “Just as God has done for me, that whereuer you will go I will go, so may He continue to do for your people will be my people. Deep down I know that I am righteous and that when death separates us it will be no more than a physical separation, for we will not be buried in the same grave. Our souls have been bound together forever

— even more so after death — since the kiss you gave me forged a common link between our two spirits. I am not like the wicked who even during their lifetime are considered as good as dead, while the righteous are ‘alive.’ Only death itself will separate us, and not sin.”


A Blessing Fulfilled


It is possible that the words of this verse refer to the blessing Na’omi gave to Ruth earlier. In verse 8 we explained that when Na’omi told Ruth that she would find contentment, she was alluding to the fact that her marriage would be in the form of a levirate union, and thus the spirit of Machlon, which had taken refuge within her, could be placated. Consequently, she would become the source of the Royal House of David. As we said, this blessing applied only to one of the sisters-in-law.


Here Ruth responds to the challenge: “I am willing to convert. Don’t push me away for God will do for me, as you yourself said, God will do for you... (verse 8), and that deed refers to conversion. So will He continue to do, for you gave me a second blessing, namely, that God will grant me contentment... (verse 9). This second blessing will be realized when I marry into a family from which the royal seed of David will issue.


Only death will separate us. “The son which will result from a levirate marriage will in essence be your son, for he shall be imbued with the spirit of Machlon. Whether now, while I have the spirit of your son within me, or whether later, when it will be transferred into my son, there will always be a bond between us. This would not be possible if I were to marry anyone else, as the spirit of Machlon would leave me and I would lose my connection with you even before one of us dies.”


(18)   But she saw that she was steadfast [in her decision) to go with her, and she stopped speaking to her.


The more she was spoken to, the more resolute Ruth became. This is contrary to nature, since a series of logical arguments generally serves to weaken the other’s position. Thus Na’omi stopped speaking to her altogether in the hope that this would silence Ruth.


Alternatively, she remained steadfast refers to Na’omi. As we said in verse 5, Na’omi had sinned by not protesting her husband’s decision to live outside Judah. She was allowed to survive because of the part she was to play in converting Ruth to Judaism and bringing to fruition the word of God concerning the destiny of Ruth. Na’omi, with her supreme wisdom, felt that she herself was persevering, in order that she could accompany Ruth, for that was the reason she was kept alive. She could see how keen Ruth was about becoming a follower of God and understood that her own existence would be justified if she helped Ruth. That is why she stopped speaking to her. She fully understood what had transpired and why she had been led to do so much for her daughter-in-lax.. It could only be because Ruth was the one destined to come from Moab.


Another meaning may be as follows: But she saw... Na’omi saw that Ruth was determined to go now, even if it meant traveling with her alone and not waiting for a company of people. She acknowledged the fact and that God had ordered the matter and thus she ceased to dissuade Ruth.


Based on a previous explanation we can understand the verse in yet another way. As we said, Na’omi kissed Ruth in order that their spirits could unite. The only way Na’omi could know that their souls had been bound up with each other was if she noticed a definite willingness on Ruth’s part to follow her. This being the case, she stopped urging her to return, as Ruth had proved herself to be a well-intentioned proselyte. There was no further need to test her.





Verse 13, in the Hebrew, contains a pesik ‘|’.




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(Greg Killian).

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[1] Abraham having come to Palestine from Ur of the Chaldees.

[2] Heavy to bear.

[3] See Yevamos 61b-62a and the Yerushalmi Yevamos 2:6 in accordance with the opinion of R. shimon ben Lakish.

[4] The classic medieval commentators (see Moreh Nevuchim 1:2) differentiated between three primary motivations: 1) the "good," that which is intrinsically moral; 2) the "pleasant," which is satisfying to the senses; and 3) the "beneficial," which offers a pragmatic advantage.

[5] Yevamos 47a; Rambarn, Hilchos lsurei Bi'ah 13:7; Yoreh De'ah 268:2, 12.

[6] See lbn Ezra on these words. His commentary seems to concur with the Aishich’s explanation. See also Iggereth Shmuel.

[7] lndeed, we see later that this is exactly what happened. Na’omi made sure that Boaz, the son of her father’s brother Salmon (see 4:21 and Talmud Bava Bathra 91a: “Elimelech, Salmon, Ploni Almoni and the father of Na’omi were all the sons of Nachshon, the son of Aminadav”), would become acquainted with Ruth.

[8] See Midrash Lekach Tov on this verse: “May God deal kindly with you. This teaches us that a proselyte does not find happiness in this world.” Similarly our Sages ask (Talmud Yebamoth 48b): “Why do the proselytes suffer? Because they waited before converting so that their former iniquities would be cancelled out.” Therefore the kethib is vagh and the ken is agh.

[9] See Talmud Yebamoth 69a. Although a Moabite can convert to Judaism if he so wishes, he cannot marry into the Jewish people, as can a Moabitess.

[10] According to this it is possible to explain the opinion of Ibn Ezra, who maintains that Ruth and Orpah converted to Judaism before they married Machlon and Kilyon. The Akeidath Yitzchok asks that if this is the case, any attempt by Na’omi to persuade Ruth to return would be tantamount to enticing her to idol worship. The Aishich has given us to understand that Na’omi’s words were said so as to prevent Ruth from returning to her mother’s house.