At first glance, the book of Ruth appears to disregard the Torah law that
does not allow Moabites to enter into the Jewish people. The Torah
prohibits marriage to Moabites but Ruth is not only welcomed but is an
ancestor of King David, and through him the Messiah. In this lesson we
will focus on this prohibition and its relevance to our book.
Deuteronomy 23 states:
A bastard must not enter God's marriage group. Even after the tenth
generation, he may not enter God's marriage group. An Ammonite or Moabite
may not enter God's marriage group. They may never enter God's marriage
group, even after the tenth generation. This is because they did not greet
you with bread and water when you were on the way out of Egypt, and also
because they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to
curse you. Do not despise the Edomite, since he is your brother.
Do not despise the Egyptian, since you were an immigrant in his land.
[Therefore,] children born to [members of these nations] in the third
generation [after becoming proselytes] may enter God's marriage group.
The Talmud in Kesuvos 7a tells us that Boaz gathered the ten elders in
order to publicize an ancient law that has fallen into disuse. This
Sinaitic ordinance explained that only a male Moabite or Ammonite cannot
join the Congregation of Hashem but females are permitted to join. Yevamos
77b suggests that the verses themselves modify the prohibition. “…
because they did not greet you with bread and water when you were on the
way out of Egypt, and also because they hired Balaam son of Beor from
Pethor in Aram Naharaim to curse you”. The staement of a reason for teh
law indicates that only the males are prohibited. After all, “it is the
way of the men to greet with bread and water” and it is the way of the men
and not the women to engage in hostile action or to wage war. What the
Oral Law does is explain that in this one case the stated reason for the
Law can determine its application, a matter otherwise of Tannaitic dispute
(Bava Metsia 115a). We usually follow the view that the stated purpose of
a law does not determine its details of application but in this one case
the Oral Law teaches us otherwise.
There are several indication from the Tanach itself that this Sinaitic Law
operated from the earliest times. There is the case of Rehoboam, whom
Na’amah, the Amonitess, bore to Solomon and who ruled over the kingdom of
Judea after him. There are also several verses from Ezrah that when read
carefully suggest that the returnees from the Babylonian exile also
understood this prohibition in this way (Matteh Dan of R. David Nieto 1:24-
28, this work will soon be published with my translation and commentary in
English by the Yashar Press).
What deeper factor makes this law an exception? Why are only male but not
female Moabites prohibited? The Maharal in Netsach Isroel, Ch. 32 offers a
profound explanation which I present her in a somewhat simplified fashion.
He begins by pointing out that all nations stem from a union of a man and
a woman and both of these ancestors contribute equally to physical and
spiritual characteristics of the emerging people. In the language of
Aristotelian philosophy, the man gives forth the form and the woman
provides the matter. This was not the case, however, at the emergence of
Ammon and Moab. In that unique case, it was a father and his daughters
that initiated the process of national emergence. Consequently, the
contribution of the father, directly and through his daughters was
overwhelming and the female element in Moab and Ammon remained undeveloped
and insignificant. This is why the women were excepted for they did not
possess that determinative Moabite quality. In fact, we might say that it
is precisely this that allowed Judah’s seed to stamp its own quality upon
the Moabite feminine substrate, taking from it only what it itself
lacked, only the positive and nothing of the negative.
This explications of Ruth’s origin provides and important insight into her
qualities and character. We have already noted that Ruth plays an
exceedingly passive role in this book. Ruth follows the direction of
others and never asserts herself; even her child “is born to Naomi”. It
teaches us that the Redemption can only be impressed upon the willing.
Those powers and forces that oppose the Redemption will not benefit by it
but shall be utterly routed and destroyed. The overpowering revelation of
Divinity at the core of Redemption will overwhelm all of creation and only
those who are ready to open themselves and to receive it can survive; the
rest will be shattered. “It should be known that that just as powers of
holiness are sustained through the Light of King’s Countenance so do the
powers of impurity derive their vitality form the same source. When the
Presence is revealed, all draw toward it…. When the effusion of
spirituality overtakes them and they are not suitable for it, they are
harmed. This is why the firstborns in Egypt (and their gods) were
destroyed (as Hashem went forth in the midst of Egypt). (Netsiv,
Commentary to Exodus 11, 3).