And to Naomi a kinsman for her husband, a mighty man of valor, of the
family of Elimelech, and his name was Boaz (Ruth 2:1).
The second chapter starts after Naomi and Ruth had just entered Bethlehem.
We are now introduced to Boaz. According to the usual pattern of such
introductions, we would expect a sentence such as: “And there lived in
Bethlehem a man by the name of Boaz, a kin to Naomi, a mighty man of
valor”. Had it been so written, the focus would have been on Boaz as the
Narrator perceives him. However, the verse chooses to shine a spotlight on
Naomi and who Boaz was in relation to her. The verse also utilizes an
intentional ambiguity for it can be read as suggesting that Boaz was to be
a husband for Naomi. If so, we might expect Naomi to reach out to Boaz but
she does not. Instead the focus abruptly shifts to Ruth.
And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi: 'Let me now go to the field, and
glean among the ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find
favour.' And she said unto her: 'Go, my daughter.'
And she went, and came and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and her
hap was to light on the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of
the family of Elimelech.
It is Boaz in whose eyes Ruth will find favor. Providence led her to him
but Naomi assisted.
A careful reader quickly notices that while Boaz certainly appreciated
Ruth’s sterling qualities, his heart tended more to Naomi. Naomi was,
after all, his kin, the wife of his relative, a part of his world and his
heritage. Although the Sages tell us that Ruth was forty years-old at that
time (Ruth Rabbah 6:2), according to the plain sense of the verses, Naomi
was still fertile and not much older than Ruth, perhaps in her mid-
thirties (see 1:12-13, Ruth Rabbah 3:7 and Sanhedrin 69b). Even if Naomi
was older, she was a more fitting partner for the twilight of Boaz’s life.
Naomi was a natural; Ruth was a gamble. We find that Boaz appreciated and
praised Ruth for what she has done for Naomi.
And Boaz answered and said unto her: 'It has fully been told me, all that
thou has done unto your mother-in-law since the death of your husband; and
how you left your father and your mother, and the land of your birth, and
came unto a people that you knew not heretofore (v. 11).
Even at the point that Boaz commits to Ruth, he is still thinking of Naomi.
And she said: 'These six measures of barley he gave me; for he said to me:
Go not empty unto your mother-in-law(Ruth 3:17).
Naomi could have had Boaz but in an act of profound self-transcendence and
selflessness she put Ruth forward instead.
And Naomi her mother-in-law said unto her: 'My daughter, shall I not seek
rest for thee, that it may be well with thee?
And now is there not Boaz OUR kinsman… (Ruth 3:1-2)
Why did Naomi do this? Was it simply the sense of gratitude and obligation
that the older woman felt for the younger one, her who left her people and
her land to share Naomi’s fate? Or, was it the sense that Ruth was more
suited to play the role that history prepared for Boaz? Naomi knew Ruth
and she understood Boaz for Ruth and Boaz shared a quality that Naomi
herself no longer possessed.
Significantly Boaz describes Ruth with the same words that the verse
describes him. Boaz is a man of valor and Ruth is a woman of valor (3:11).
The Midrash notes this fact and comments (Ruth Rabbah ad. loc.):
R. Abbahu said: A giant marries a giantess, who do they produce? Men of
valor. Boaz married Ruth. What did they produce – David of whom it
says, “man of valor… (Samuel I, 16)".
What, however, of Naomi. Is she not a closer kin for purposes of a
levirate relationship and is she not the actual owner of the field that
Boaz is supposed to redeem? Is she not one who should have more fittingly
given birth to a messianic king than Ruth, the stranger, the Moabite?
The answer lies, I believe in the last verses of the preceding chapter. We
must as to what purpose did Scripture recount Naomi’s “breakdown” upon
return to Bethlehem. On the surface it contributes little to the story. In
truth, however, it is essential. Yes, Naomi would have been perfect for
Boaz; however, Naomi no longer existed. In her place, by her own
testimony, there now stood another woman, weighed down by suffering,
embittered and not at peace with God, a woman called Marah. This woman was
not suitable to give birth to the Redeemer, for Redemption is all about
hope among darkness, deliverance in darkness and despair, a vision of
glorious and consoling future in the midst of bitter exile. Ruth has
traveled through her own Gehenna and never abandoned hope. Her suffering
has not bent her. She remained optimistic and trusting of God and people.
She threw her lot with a nation she barely knew and people who did not
welcome her and God Whom she knew only as one who took her husband away
and withheld children from her womb. David and the Jewish people needed an
ancestor such as this. David had a hard life but rose above it and his
descendents were destined to drink the cup of bitterness and gall to its
darkest dregs. Only optimism, hope and trust could guarantee their
survival. Ruth Boaz and Naomi understood that this match was beyond human
calculations, likes and proclivities. This was about destiny. The second
chapter of Ruth tells us about human beings who were inspired to rise
above their needs, feelings, and limitations to see and act upon God’s
plan. Boaz, Naomi and Ruth understood that Ruth was suited to be Mother of
Royalty in a way that Naomi could no longer be and the rest, as they say,