Friday, April 22, 2011

Hidden Messages in Ruth

The Book of Ruth is filled with irony, double entendres, drama and even humor. In Chapter 1 there is a hidden discussion between Naomi and her daughters-in-law. She wants them to come with her; they are all the family she has left, yet she knows that Bethlehemite society is not accepting of strangers, especially Moabite women (as is obvious from Chapter 4:6). Unable to say this directly, she hints of it in an ironic statement: "Turn back my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. For even if there were hope [for marriage] and [I were to conceive] tonight and bear children, would you wait for them to grow up?" Why would her daughters-in-law expect her to produce husbands for them? Obviously, Naomi knows how difficult it will be for them to remarry in Bethlehem. Orpah gets the massage and returns home, while Ruth clings to Naomi.

Chapter 2 includes a humorous description of Ruth's being unaccustomed Judean culture: And she went and gleaned in the field after the reapers. In Hebrew, the word "reapers" is masculine gender. It appears that Ruth, unacquainted with Judean customs of modesty, went gleaning in the field behind the male reapers. It also appears that out of courtesy, no one said anything to her.

Boaz came from the city and noticing this unusual event asked right away: "To whom is this girl?" The reaper, possibly embarrassed to have allowed such a situation, covered up for himself with the excuse, "She is a Moabite girl who came with Naomi from the fields of Moab," meaning — she is a foreigner, so obviously she does not know how to act.

Boaz tries to hint to Ruth to glean with the woman reapers. And Boaz said to Ruth: "You have heard my daughter, do not go to glean in another field, do not change places and thus shall you cling to my [reaper] girls." Boaz diplomatically told her to glean in his field but only among the woman reapers. Ruth did not get the message, assuming he was just being kind in inviting her to stay in the field.

In the meantime, Boaz told his male reapers to keep their distance from her, and not to embarrass her if she continued to glean among them. When Ruth returns home, beaming that Boaz came over to talk to her, she still does not comprehend what she has been told. After telling Naomi about her meeting with Boaz, she says: 'He even told me to cling with his [reaper] boys until the end of the harvest.'

Naomi, familiar with the customs of Judah, understands Ruth's mistake right away, and tells her: "Better my daughter that you go out with his girls so that they should not harm you in another field." That is when Ruth realizes what Naomi means: "And she clung to Boaz' girls to glean until the end of the barley and wheat harvest."

From The Jewish Bible Quarterly, Vol. XXX:2 (118), April-June 2002 by Raphael Shuchat

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