Every time we read the story of Ruth we are once again inspired by
the extraordinary loyalty and noble spirit of this former Moabite princess.
Naomi, a Jewish woman living in Moab, decides to return to Eretz
Yisrael after losing her husband, her two sons and all her wealth. Her
two widowed daughters-in-law, Arpah and Ruth, both of them Moabite
princesses, want to accompany her, but Naomi insists that they return.
Arpah accedes to her mother-in-law’s wishes, but Ruth is steadfast in
her loyalty. Together, Naomi and Ruth return to Eretz Yisrael, where
Ruth ultimately marries Boaz and becomes the ancestress of the
Davidic dynasty. Arpah returns to Moab and becomes the ancestress of
How and when was Ruth’s loyalty expressed? Her famous words
immediately come to mind: “Do not press me to abandon you, to turn
back and leave you behind. Wherever you go I shall go. Wherever you
sleep I shall sleep. Your people are my people, your Lord is my Lord.”
But if we look into the Book of Ruth we find that Ruth’s loyalty had
already become evident even before she spoke these famous words.
We read: “And Arpah kissed her mother-in-law, and Ruth embraced
her. And [Naomi] said, ‘Behold, your sister-in-law is returning to her
people and her gods. Follow your sister-in-law.’ And Ruth said, ‘Do not
press me to abandon you . . .’”
How did Naomi know Arpah had decided to return but not Ruth?
The clue seems to have been in their different reactions to Naomi’s
appeal that they return home. Arpah kissed her, but Ruth embraced her.
The Talmud (Sotah 42b) tells us that Goliath was vanquished by David
because the Holy Blessed One said, ‘Let the child of the one who kissed
be vanquished by the one who embraced!’ Clearly, there was a great
difference between Arpah’s kiss and Ruth’s embrace, a difference with
important ramifications for the future.
How can we define this difference between a kiss and an embrace,
which instantly told Naomi that Arpah had decided to return but Ruth
was determined to remain?
Perhaps we can answer this question with another question. The
Talmud tells us that when the Jewish people assembled at Mount Sinai
to receive the Torah, Hashem uprooted the mountain and held it over
their heads. “If you accept the Torah, all is well,” He said, “but if you
don’t, this will be your burial place.” The question immediately arises:
Why did He find it necessary to do this? The Jewish people had just
accepted the Torah unconditionally with the immortal declaration of
“Naaseh venishma! We will do, and we will hear!” Why was it necessary
to force them to do something they had already agreed to do?
The commentators explain that Hashem was teaching the Jewish
people a critical lesson that would carry them through all future
generations. If the Torah had been accepted only because of an
emotional impulse, there would always have been a danger that, at
some future time, the emotion would dissipate - and the commitment
along with it. Therefore, Hashem wanted to impress upon the Jewish
people that Torah was the very breath of life, that without it they were as
good as in a “burial place.” The tremendous inspiration of the moment
was to their everlasting credit, of course, but the perpetual bond to the
Torah could only be forged by a strong fundamental attachment based
on need in addition to emotion.
This is where a kiss differs from an embrace. A kiss is a glancing
touch, an incomplete physical contact which expresses strong inner
emotion but from a slight distance; a kiss does not show the fusion of
two souls. An embrace, however, is an expression of total attachment,
of two hearts that beat as one, that cannot live without each other.
When Arpah kissed Naomi, she showed that her feelings for her
mother-in-law were purely emotional, and Naomi immediately
understood that these tender emotions would not lead her to accept the
sacrifices that lay ahead. But Ruth hugged her mother-in-law, showing a
close attachment, a dependency, and Naomi understood she would not
be so easily persuaded to return home. Nevertheless, she tried to send
her away, and Ruth responded with her celebrated declaration of
In our own lives, we sometimes find our observances lacking in zeal
and enthusiasm. But if we reflect on the awesome power of the Torah to
transform, elevate and give meaning to our lives, we can recapture that
enthusiasm. As we prepare to receive the Torah this Shavuos, let us do
more than pay lip service to the Torah. Let us recognize that our lives
have lasting, eternal value only through the Torah. And if we embrace
the Torah with all the devotion and dedication in our hearts, we will
surely be rewarded with a feeling of total connection and fulfillment.