Jul 16, 2011

Ruth Chapters 2.16 to 3.18

Supplement to discussion in class July 6, 2011

Chapter 2
  • As a reminder, in verse one of  chapter 2, we are introduced to Boaz, who is identified in as kin to Naomi and as ish gibor chayil, a mighty man of valor.   When he finds that Ruth is gleaning in his field, he offers her extra gleanings and food, and protection from the young men who might otherwise humiliate her.   He offers this paltry help, even though he states that he has heard about how she has followed Naomi to this land and taken care of her.  We should ponder what is wrong with this picture?
  • Ruth gleans in Boaz’s field and takes food to Naomi.  Because of Ruth’s generous loving-kindness towards her mother-in-law, Naomi’s spirit is revived.  She blesses the man who took notice of Ruth.  How did she know it was a man?  Ruth did not say so.
  • The key to Chapter 2 is the revitalization of Naomi.  Naomi is brought out of her bitterness and despair through Ruth’s acts of loving-kindness, although she does not yet take action.  
  • 2:20 - Naomi offers up a blessing when she discovers that it is Boaz who owns the field where Ruth was gleaning.     “Blessed be he of the Lord, who has not failed in his kindness to the living or to the dead!”  The text is a bit ambiguous (is Naomi blessing Boaz or God?), but certainly Naomi understands that Ruth has been fortunate to light upon the field of her kinsman, Boaz.  While Boaz has not offered much help, he has at least protected Ruth in the field and provided her with extra gleanings.
o   Tikva Frymer-Kensky has pointed out that this may be a formulaic blessing of God, as it is very similar to the words of Abraham’s steward (Reading the Women of the Bible, p 246), who said in Gen 24:27: “Blessed be YHWH the God of my lord Abraham who has not left off his acting benevolently (hesed) and faithfully with my master.”   Note that this episode begins with the steward asking for a micreh – Gen 24.12.  See blog commentary on Ruth 2.3.
Chapter 3
  • 3:2-4 Naomi takes action because Ruth’s hesed has redeemed her. She instructs Naomi how to attract Boaz.  The scheme is not without risk.
  • 3:7 -  Ruth comes “stealthily” = ba’lat בלט=  This causes us remember Lot  לוט  – and to think about whether Ruth’s actions in attracting Boaz are similar to or different  from  the actions of Lot’s daughters.  They tricked their father into sleeping with them (to save humanity).   (Judith Kates, oral teaching).  Ruth is descended from Moab, the son of Lot and his oldest daughter.   See "Line of Descent" in list of documents on this blog.
  • 3:11  -  Boaz recognizes and blesses Ruth.  He calls her ishat  chayil, sometimes translated as woman of valor.  In the JPS Tanach it is misleadingly translated as “fine woman.”  Remember that in v 2.1.  Boaz is called ish gibor chayil, a mighty man of valor.    Boaz would appear to think Ruth is a very strong woman.
o   BDB definition of chayil – strength, efficiency, wealth, army;  when used of men = mighty man of valor or hero of strength.
o   To understand more about what Boaz may mean in calling Ruth ishat chayil,  look at Proverbs 31:10-31.  The wife in Proverbs, the ishat chayil,  labors by her own command and owns the fruits of her labor.  She oversees the management of the household, distributes charity, weaves linens and is a merchant for her goods.  With the profits she acquires land and plants a vineyard.   (See Miriam Peskowitz, Spinning Fantasies, for further discussion of these verses from Proverbs.)
  • When Ruth returns from visiting Boaz, Naomi is uncertain about what might have occurred between them.  She asks, “Who are you?”  mi at?  She then tells Ruth to wait and see what Boaz will do.  Naomi seems to display significant wisdom, as well as confidence that Boaz will now fulfill his duties.

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