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Absorbing Ruth

And the women said unto Naomi: 'Blessed be Hashem, who did not leave you this day without a redeemer, and (this child’s ) name will be called in Israel (4:14).

Strange, Ruth has a baby and Naomi gets the credit!

We certainly appreciate that Naomi is comforted by her grandchild, the boy who will inherit her land and live on to perpetuate the name and memory of her departed husband and son. On a deeper level, as the Malbim points out in his commentary, the soul of Machlon has returned to animate this baby, the son of his beloved wife and Boaz, his kinsman. Still, where is Ruth in all this?

The answer, I believe lies deeper. On yet a deeper level, Ruth also has returned to her roots in the family of Abraham. In doing so she has, as the literary convention and beyond just a literary convention, become absorbed into Naomi. In Kabbala, Naomi and Ruth are identified with the sefiros of Bina and Malchus. Here we find an allusion to the fact that in the process of redemption, Malchus rises and is reabsorbed into the station of Bina from which it originally derives (see Pardes, 20:19, also Class 13). However, this teaching also has psychological significance.

On the practical level these verses raise for us the question of how may a stranger join a community. How can the different become same; how can the separate become one? What happens when a person of quality, a man or woman of substantial personal achievement, gained in foreign environment and built upon foreign foundations, joins with a people whose mores, values and perceptions are different, perhaps even antagonistic to those of the eager stranger. It seems that there can only be two possible outcomes – slow assimilation that enriches the host and eventually erases all differences, or a clash that brings about injury and ruin to both.

When the nation and the convert show each other love, humility and compassion, we have the story of Ruth. If, on the other hand, there is mistrust and mutual suspicion, we have the story of Athaliah (see 2 Kings 11). Athaliah was a foreign princess, daughter of King Ahab and non- Jewish Jezebel, who married into the royal family of Judah and at the end almost wiped out the Davidic line. The Sages provide us with the following comment.

R. Choniah said: (Only) due to the blessings of the women, was it that the line of David was not forcibly completely uprooted (Ruth Rabbah 7:16, see also Sanhedrin 95a)

Ruth sought to identify with Naomi. The people accepted Ruth and her absorption into the body of the Israelite nation gave rise to the royal house. Anthalia, culturally and spiritually a pagan transplant, resisted joining the House of Judah and her recalcitrance and rebellion almost destroyed it.

The contradiction between self actualization and submission to the authority and wisdom of the community is never easy to resolve. There are those whose souls and beings mesh naturally with the inner spiritual core of their people; such ones do not even perceive the question. For others it is as struggle that continues throughout life. Fortunately for us, the Children of Israel, self-transcendence and the search for the Divine does not contradict tradition, history, heritage and community. The Torah has the keys to this conundrum and not only in the book of Ruth. The example of Ruth and Naomi in the context or separation and redemption provides important guidance about how to quest for God as an individual but from within a people and a tradition.


Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Dr. Meir Levin and Torah.org.


 
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