ויהי בימי ...
And it came to pass in the days ... (1:1)

QUESTION: Why does Megillat Ruth start with a vav — “And”? A sefer — book — starts with a vav only if it is a continuation of the book before it. To what subject is the Megillah a follow-up?

ANSWER: There are five books of Torah and eight books of Nevi’im — prophets. The last book of Nevi’im is T’rei Asar — the twelve prophets and Megillat Ruth is the first book of Kesuvim — Writings. The last in the twelve prophets is Malachi which concludes with “Behold I send you Eliyahu the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of Hashem” — the Revelation of Mashiach (3:23).

The prophet Shmuel wrote Megillat Ruth with Ruach HaKodesh — Divine Inspiration. It describes the family history of David, who was the founder of the Davidic dynasty and the ancestor of Mashiach. In a sense the Megillah is a consolation to Klal Yisrael, that even as they experience the galut — exile, they should not despair, for long before Hashem prepared the means for the emergence of Mashiach.

Since the Book of Ruth relates the episodes that led to the birth of Mashiach, it is a sequel to Malachi which concludes with Eliyahu’s appearance to herald the coming of Mashiach and thus, appropriately starts with a vav. “And it came to pass ...”

(שמחת הרגל להחיד"א)

ויהי בימי ... הוליד את דוד
And it came to pass in the days ... and Yisha begot David. (1:1, 4:22)

QUESTION: Torah is never ending. The end is joined to the beginning, and the beginning to the end (see Sefer Yetzirah 1:7, Likkutei Sichot vol. 14, p. 25). What link is there between the end and beginning of Megillat Ruth?

ANSWER: Shmuel the prophet wrote Megillat Ruth (Bava Batra 14b). A primary purpose of the Megillah is to record the events that led to the birth of King David, (the ancestor of Mashiach). King David was destined to be stillborn. Fortunately, Adam agreed to reduce his own lifespan from 1000 to 930 years, and he gave 70 years as a gift of life to David. Thus, David lived 70 years (see Zohar Vol. I, 168a).

The first word of Megillat Ruth, “Vayehi” (ויהי) — “And it came to pass” — has the numerical value of 31, and the last word, “David” (דוד), has the numerical value of 14. Together they add up to 45, which is also the numerical value of Adam (אדם).

Hence, the message conveyed by the opening and closing words of the Megillah is that while it is true that David was related to Ruth, his physical existence in the world was thanks to Adam.

(עיטורי תורה בשם מי מנוחות)

ויהי בימי שפט השפטים ויהי רעב בארץ וילך איש מבית לחם
And it happened in the days when the Judges judged, there was a famine in the land and a man went from Bethlehem. (1:1)

QUESTION: What is the connection between the man’s leaving, the hunger, and the Judges?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Bava Batra 15b) interprets the term “bimei shefot hashoftim,” literally “the days of the judgment of the Judges,” to mean that the judges themselves were corrupt. If a judge said to a man: “take a splinter from between your teeth” (i.e. refrain from a minor infraction), the defendant would retort, “Remove the beam from before your eyes” (i.e. “refrain from the major transgression you committed”). This being the case, there was no respect for authority in the land and lawlessness prevailed.

Elimelech was a very wealthy man. When a famine struck the land he feared that the poor and hungry would loot his coffers and warehouses since there would be no law enforcement to stop them and protect him. Therefore, he decided that it would be wise to move away to the fields of Moab.

(בשורת אליהו – ר' אליהו הכהן ז"ל מח"ס שבט מוסר)

ויהי רעב בארץ וילך איש מבית לחם יהודה לגור בשדי מואב
There was a famine in the land, and a man went from Bethlehem in Judah to sojourn in the fields of Moab. (1:1)

QUESTION: Why is it necessary to know the city he left?

ANSWER: The intent of this pasuk is not to tell us his starting point. In fact we know it from next pasuk which records the family as “distinguished persons of Bethlehem.” Rather, the pasuk is alluding to the man’s erroneous thinking.

The Gemara (Ketubot 66b) relates that the daughter of Nakdimon ben Guryon [a prodigiously affluent man who lived in Jerusalem at the end of the second Beit Hamikdash era] was extremely poor and came to Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai for food. When he asked her, “Where did the money of your father’s house go?” She answered, “My master, do they not say this proverb in Jerusalem, ‘melech mammon chaser’ — ‘the salt of money is its deficit.’ ” Salt is a preservative. The one who wishes to preserve his money should “lose” it by giving it to tzedakah. The deficit caused by charitable contributions serves as its preservation — and for taking care of the poor, Hashem will repay one many times over (Rashi, Me’iri).

The man [Elimelech] was very wealthy but stingy. When the famine struck, he left out of fear that he would “lose” much of his money by feeding the hungry. Little did he realize that for him the famine was a blessing in disguise. Bethlehem in Hebrew is Beit Lechem” which literally means “home of bread.” By fleeing the famine, he was actually forsaking what could have been a source of lechem — bread, i.e. riches — for him. Had he shared his resources with the less fortunate, Hashem would have rewarded him many times over.

Sometimes, a person runs a great distance seeking his fortune without realizing it is right there in his own back yard.

(בשורת אליהו)

לגור בשדי מואב
To sojourn in the fields of Moab. (1:1)

QUESTION: Why does it say “sedei” — “fields” — in plural?

ANSWER: Avimelech was a righteous person. He knew very well that a move away from his Torah observant community to the land of Moab could have a negative affect on his children’s piety. He therefore resolved to take precautionary measures.

One of them was to live in a field (or a small city — see Midrash Rabbah 1:5) rather than a metropolis, and even there, to avoid becoming assimilated. He also decided that he would not stay too long in a particular field but constantly move from one field to another.

Accordingly, the word “lagur” is appropriate because it is from the same root word as “ger” — a stranger. Wherever he dwelled he hoped to be merely a stranger.


לגור בשדי מואב
To sojourn in the fields of Moab. (1:1)

QUESTION: Why did Elimelech choose to live among the Moabites?

ANSWER: Elimelech was a very wealthy and prominent person. Wherever he would settle the people would ask “what brings you to our area?” When people heard that he had fled Israel because he did not want to share his wealth with the famine-stricken Jewish people, he would be scorned and rejected.

The Torah condemned the Moabite nation because they were inhospitable to the Jews. When the Jews were trudging through the wilderness, Moab was ungrateful in not coming forward to offer food and drink to the children of Avraham who had done so much for their ancestor Lot (Devarim 23:5). Since Elimelech’s character trait of refusing to offer food to the impoverished Jews was compatible with the Moabite philosophy, he calculated that only in Moab would he be well received.

(פון אונזער אלטען אוצר)

וילך איש מבית לחם יהודה לגור בשדי מואב, הוא ואשתו ושני בניו, ושם האיש אלימלך ושם אשתו נעמי ושם שני בניו מחלון וכליון אפרתים
A man went from Bethlehem in Judah to sojourn in the fields of Moab. He, his wife and his two sons. The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife was named Naomi, and his two sons were named Machlon and Kilion, distinguished persons. (1:1-2)

QUESTION: Why in the first pasuk does it speak of Elimelech in an obscure way, only revealing his name in the second pasuk?

ANSWER: Elimelech was very wealthy. When famine struck the land of Israel he was concerned that many of the impoverished would come to knock on his door for help. Motivated by stinginess he fled to the fields of Moab. Had he publicized his move, everyone would have come to him pleading that he leave over some funds to support the needy. Thus, he chose to leave incognito and he kept his identity unknown till he reached the fields of Moab.

Once he settled there, he was not afraid to reveal his identity because the people there were wealthy in their own right and not affected by the famine.

(כלי חמדה)

ושם האיש אלימלך... ויבאו שדי מואב ויהיו שם
The man’s name was Elimelech...And they came into the fields of Moab and there they remained. (1:2)

QUESTION: What connection is there between the man’s name and his decision to go to Moab? Also, what is the Megillah imparting with the seemingly extra words “vayeheyu sham” — “And there they remained”?

ANSWER: Most commentaries explain Elimelech’s action as something negative. The following is a positive approach.

Significance of Name, Elimelech

Naming a newborn child is not accidental or arbitrary, rather according to the Arizal the naming of a child is a “minor prophecy” parents are imbued with (see Sefer Hagilgulim, Introduction 23). The name given has a connection with the neshamah. It says much about the person and depicts inherent qualities or character traits of the individual.

The Midrash Rabbah (Ruth 2:5) explains that the name Elimelech signifies his attitude; he would boast “eilai tavoh malchut — “to me shall kingship come.” As a member of the tribe of Yehudah, and a descendant of Nachshon ben Aminadav, the prince of Yehudah, he reasoned that royalty would descend from him (see Torah Temimah).

The Problem

Elimelech lived in a time when lawlessness was rampant. The judges who had to keep law and order were themselves corrupt. The process of appointing judges had deteriorated and many who were unfit for the mantle would independently use their strong arm to seize power and proclaim themselves as judges. The land was stricken with a famine, the impoverished were in dire need, and no one could control them.

Being very wealthy Elimelech did not mind helping his brethren, but feared a stampede or looting that may put his life in jeopardy. In the book of Judges (21:25) the prevalent situation is described as follows: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did which was right in his own eyes.”

Need for a King

Seeing his people faced with turmoil, Elimelech concluded that the only hope for the land was to elect a king. As a member of the tribe of Yehudah, from which royalty derives, and having the name “Elimelech,” which signifies that “from me kingship shall come,” he considered it his mission to realize his visionary plan.

Possessing prophetic powers, Elimelech was aware that kingship in Israel would emerge from a descendant of Moab. In fact, for that reason Hashem instructed Moshe “You shall not distress Moab and you shall not provoke war with them (Devarim 2:9, Bava Kamma 38b). He also knew about the incident in which Ehud (one of the judges) approached King Eglon of Moab and said to him “I have a message from G‑d to you, and Eglon arose from his throne” (see Judges 3:19). Hashem then said, “You stood up from your throne in My honor; I will cause to emerge from you a descendant (Shlomo) who will sit upon My throne” (Midrash Rabbah, Ruth 2:9).

The Search

Hence, Elimelech decided to go to Moab anticipating that his sons might marry the daughters of Eglon. His intent was that once his sons would gain their consent, he would go back with his family to Bethlehem and have them converted. Thus, the use of the word “lagur” — can be explained as related to “geirut” — “conversion.”

The reason Elimelech chose to dwell in the “fields of Moab” perhaps may be the following: In the Capital, the royal palace is heavily guarded and access is very difficult to attain. However, when members of the royal family are out in the fields for their leisure they are more accessible (see Likkutei Torah, Devarim 32:2, re: concept of King in the field). Therefore, he sojourned in the fields anticipating fulfilling his plan for his sons to marry into the royal family of Eglon thus instituting kingship in Israel.

(If “sedei Moav — “fields of Moab” — means small cities (towns) as opposed to a large metropolis, Elimelech preferred living in the city since due to its not being heavily populated it would be easier to detect a girl who is modest and refined and suitable for his sons to marry.)

Elimelech’s Fallacy

Notwithstanding these lofty goals and intentions, Elimelech fell from glory and was punished. His downfall came about because of one unfortunate error.

After relating that “they came to the fields of Moab” the Megillah adds two more words, “vayihehu sham” — “and they remained there.” After leaving Eretz Yisrael, instead of being remorseful and eagerly looking forward to their speedy return to the holy land, Elimelech and his family were complacent and comfortable with their new geographic location, away from Eretz Yisrael.

(משיב נפש להב"ח – ר' יואל ז"ל סירקיש, נחמת צמח ישראל מר' נחום ז"ל מגיד בווארשא ובירושלים בשם זרע ברך דף ס"ג)

* * *

The abovementioned commentary, which casts a favorable light on Elimelech, concurs with an interesting observation of the Ba’al Haturim.

On the pasuk “vayeilech ish mibeit Levi — “A man went from the house of Levi and took a daughter of Levi” (Shemot 2:1), the Ba’al Haturim comments that the term “vayeilech ish” — “and a man went” — is found only two times in the Torah. The first is here, and the second is the pasuk in Megillat Ruth “vayeilech ish” — “and a man went from Bethlehem to dwell in the fields of Moab.”

The common denominator is that in both instances the man’s going was lesheim Shamayim — for the sake of Heaven. Amram went upon the urging of his daughter Miriam, to remarry his wife Yocheved whom he had divorced due to Pharoah’s decree to drown the children. Amram’s “going” brought about the first redeemer of the Jewish people — Moshe Rabbeinu. Similarly, from Elimelech’s “going” will come the ultimate redeemer of the Jewish people — Mashiach ben David.

(משיב נפש)

וימת אלימלך איש נעמי
Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died. (1:3)

QUESTION: The words “Ish Naomi” — “Naomi’s husband” — are extra since it already said in the previous pasuk that the name of Elimelech’s wife was Naomi?

ANSWER: To explain the mention of Naomi in conjunction with Elimelech’s death, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 22b) says that this indicates that “Ein ish meit ela le’ishto” — “A man dies only for his wife.” Simply this means that a man’s death is felt by no one as keenly and as deeply as by his wife.

Why would our Sages have to tell us such a universally accepted fact of life?

Perhaps the Sages with their great wisdom are imparting a very profound message.

There are people who live a very selfish life and take no interest in anyone except their spouse — wife or husband. On the other hand, there are people who in addition to attending to the needs of their family dedicate themselves to the betterment of society. They use their resources and talents to foster Torah and Yiddishkeit and the advancement of tzedakah and chesed — charitable and philanthropic endeavors.

The words of the Sages can be read “Ein adam meit” — “a person does not die” — i.e. he is not considered dead when he expires, “ela le’ishto” — only if he lived his entire life catering to his wife — and has no other accomplishments to speak of. However, if he lived not only for his wife, but rather he left behind many accomplishments, he is not considered dead even when he physically departs the world. His reputation and accomplishments continue to live on many years after he has gone to his eternal rest.

וימת אלימלך איש נעמי ותשאר היא ושני בניה
Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died; and she was left, with her two sons. (1:3)

QUESTION: It is superfluous to tell us that when her husband died “she was left with her two sons.” Isn’t it obvious?

ANSWER: Often when a prominent man dies his widow still receives honor and respect for her husband’s sake. The pasuk is telling that in this case Naomi received no honor or recognition from anyone after Elimelech’s death.

The reason is that Elimelech had lost all his connections and reputation in the Jewish community after forsaking it, and in Moab, his new residence, he was insignificant. He spent the final years of his life as ish Naomi — strictly being the husband of Naomi. He would spend most of the day at home with his wife and avoided involvement with the community. Thus, when he died, she had no glory coming to her on account of her husband. The only thing she had left was her two sons.

(בשורת אליהו)

ותשאר היא ושני בניה
She was left with her two sons. (1:3)

QUESTION: Why didn’t Naomi return to Bethlehem immediately after her husband’s death?

ANSWER: As explained (see p. 192) Elimelech’s intent in moving to the fields of Moab was to find a way for his sons to marry into the family of Eglon and thus forge the way for a king of Israel. Since Elimelech didn’t accomplish this during his lifetime, Naomi remained there with her two sons hoping to see her husband’s wish to fruition.

(נחמת צמח ישראל)

* * *

According to the commentaries that explain Elimelech’s moving to Moab as an iniquity, the pasuk is telling us that though she may personally have preferred to move back, her problem was “ushenei baneha” — “her two sons.” Now that their father had died they insisted on remaining there and marrying Moabite girls. Finding it hard to oppose both of them, she reluctantly yielded.

(אגרת שמואל, לר' שמואל אוזידא ז"ל מח"ס מדרש שמואל עמ"ס אבות)

וישאו להם נשים מאביות שם האחת ערפה ושם השנית רות
They married Moabite women: one was named Orpah, and other was named Ruth. (1:4)

QUESTION: Did Ruth and Orpah convert to Judaism before their marriage with Machlon and Kilion?

ANSWER: According to Rashi, they did not convert. In his commentary to Naomi’s plea “Turn back my daughter, go along, for I am too old to have a husband” (1:12) Rashi explains that she meant that if she were not old she would marry and give birth to a son, and they would be able to marry. Though he would be a brother conceived after the woman became widowed (and such a marriage is prohibited by the laws of yibum — levirate marriage), nevertheless, they would not be forbidden because the laws of yibum — levirate marriage — do not apply in their case, since they were gentiles when they married Machlon and Kilion and did not convert. It is only after the death of their husbands that they were considering converting, as they stated “We will return with you to your people” (1:10), thus, from now on we will all be part of one nation.

In the Midrash Rabbah (Ruth 1:4) Rabbi Meir states succinctly, “They neither converted nor ritually immersed.” The Targum (1:4-5) also suggests that they never converted and the premature death of Machlon and Kilion was a punishment for their transgressing Torah rule against marrying non-Jews. This also seems obvious from the Gemara (Yevamot 47b), which derives the laws of how to deal with prospective proselytes from the dialogue between Naomi and Ruth recorded in the Megillah. This opinion is also shared by Malbim and Alshich.

On the other hand, Ibn Ezra holds that they converted. He writes that “it would be unthinkable for Machlon and Kilion to marry them otherwise.” He also explains that Naomi’s statement about marrying her son was merely an affectionate expression to soothe their sorrow and had nothing to do with the laws of levirate marriage, since halachically a widow may only marry the brothers of her husband born before his death. Ibn Ezra supports his theory by citing Naomi’s statement to Ruth “look your sister-in-law had returned to her people and to her god,” which indicates that they were converted and Orpah reneged on her commitment to Judaism (1:15).

This view is also shared by the Zohar Chadash (Ruth 180-182) Rabbi P’dat asked the son of Rav Yosi, “usually when one converts he is given a new Hebrew name. Why was Ruth not given a Hebrew name when she because a proselyte?” He answered that he heard that in fact both Ruth and Orpah converted before they married Machlon and Kilion. Ruth’s original name was Gilit, and she got the name Ruth when she married Machlon. Similarly, Orpah’s original name was Harpah and when she returned “to her people” (1:15) she went back to her original name. However, because she turned her back on her mother-in-law and Judaism, she is referred to by the name “Orpah’ ” (Oref is the nape of the neck).

“If so,” Rabbi Pidat asked, “why did Naomi give Ruth vigorous warnings about conversion ceasing only upon being convinced of her sincerity. Wasn’t she already a proselyte for a number of years?”

The son of Rav Yosi replied that “indeed they had converted and conducted themselves religiously under the presumption of eimat ba’aleihem — the fear of their husbands.” That is Elimelech’s family was highly esteemed to the extent that the royal family of Moab (King Eglon) wanted its two daughters to marry the prominent newly arrived Jewish brothers. They insisted as a condition of marriage that the girls convert, and the young women acceded. The conversion took place and they conducted themselves as Jewesses. Though it was presumably out of fear of their husbands, halachically, the conversion was valid until they openly declared at one time, that their Jewishness was fictitious and that they refused to live a Torah lifestyle.

The Rambam (Issurei Be’ah 13:14-16) writes about conversion, that “a convert must demonstrate that his conversion is sincerely motivated — that it is not done for ulterior motives such as marriage, money, prestige or fear. During the reigns of David and Shlomo, converts were not accepted because the lures of being a member of the Jewish people were too great to insure sincerity. Despite this ban, many non-Jews joined thanks to conversions officiated by uninformed and unsophisticated makeshift courts. These converts were ignored by a legitimate Beth Din, but were not ostracized, and not embraced, until time and experience depicted whether or not they were truly sincere.”

Naomi, however, was apprehensive all the time about Ruth and Orpah’s sincerity and the validity of their conversion since it was not done by a prominent Beth Din. Hence, when they widowed she put them to the test by attempting to dissuade them from clinging to her and encouraged their return to their Moabite family. Ruth passed the exam with flying colors, and she demonstrated her sincere devotion and commitment to Torah. She verified the authenticity of her conversion and rose to be one of the most praised women in Jewish history. Orpah on the other hand, showed her true colors — she was a fraud all along.

(עי' שרש ישי, עקידת יצחק, משיבת נפש ושו"ת ציץ אליעזר חי"ז סי' מ"ב)

שם האחת ערפה ושם השנית רות
One was named Orpah, and other was named Ruth. (1:4)

QUESTION: Who was older — Machlon or Kilion, Orpah or Ruth — and which pair got married first?

ANSWER: Throughout the Megillah, when the two brothers are mentioned, Machlon is stated before Kilion, indicating that Machlon was the older brother. Of the two daughters of Eglon, Orpah was the older and Ruth was her junior.

Machlon was reluctant to marry a Moabite girl, even if they would convert. Kilion, the younger one, took the initiative and married Orpah, Eglon’s older daughter. Once Kilion broke the ice, Machlon no longer could withstand the pressure from the Moabite royal family and he too acquiesced and married Ruth.

For being the first to commit the iniquity, Kilion was the first to be punished with premature death, and his older brother Machlon suffered the same fate afterwards.

The only time Kilion is mentioned before Machlon is when Boaz says to the elders “You are witness this day that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s and all that was Kilion’s and Machlon’s from Naomi” (4:9). The reason here is that when Kilion died without children, his brother Machlon inherited him.

(משיב נפש, ועי' באשכול הכופר)

An alternative opinion is that Machlon, the senior of the brothers, married Orpah, the senior of the sisters, and his younger brother Kilion married Ruth the younger daughter of King Eglon. Kilion died first. Afterwards, Machlon married Ruth in accordance with levirate marriage (yibum). Thus, Ruth was married to both Kilion and Machlon, and Machlon inherited all Kilion’s possessions.

(פי' רבינו וידאל הצפרתי)

* * *

QUESTION: The words “sheim ha’achat” — “the name of the first” and “sheim hasheinit” — “the name of the second” — are superfluous, even a very young child can count up to two?

ANSWER: According to the aforementioned (first opinion), the Megillah is relating that “sheim ha’achat” — the name of the first [to get married], was Orpah (though she was younger) and the name of the second to get married, was Ruth.

According to the alternative opinion, the Megillah is telling that “sheim ha’achat,” the name of Machlon’s first wife was Orpah, and “sheim hasheinit” — the name of Machlon’s second wife (whom he married after Kilion died) was Ruth.

"וילך איש מבית לחם...הוא ואשתו ושני בניו...ושם שני בניו מחלון וכליון...וימת אלימלך...ותשאר היא ושני בניה...וישאו להם נשים מאביות...וימותו...מחלון וכליון ותשאר האשה משני ילדיה"
“A man went from Bethlehem, he, his wife, and his two sons...the man’s name was Elimelech and his two sons were named Machlon and Kilion... Elimelech died...and she was left with her two sons...They married Moabite women...Machlon and Chilion died, and the woman was bereft of her two children.” (1:1-5)

QUESTION: Why are Machlon and Kilion referred to as “banim” — “sons” — the first three times they are mentioned, and then called “yeladehah” — “her children”?

ANSWER: In Hebrew, the term “yeled” — “child” — denotes 1) biological offspring 2) someone immature. The Hebrew word for “son” is “ben,” and it is associated with the word “boneh” — “builder” — i.e. one who continues to build that which his father started (see Bereishit 5:28, Rashi). A son represents continuity. Moreover, when a person is blessed with sons, and his sons in turn have sons, the name of the family is built up and perpetuated.

Consequently, to Elimelech and his wife, Machlon and Kilion were banim/bonim — builders — perpetuators of the family tradition and their sons from whom they would have nachas.”

Unfortunately, a sudden turn of events shattered all their hopes and left them in dismay. Their two sons married non-Jewish women. Now, their children would not be considered Jews, but Moabites. By intermarrying, Machlon and Kilion would not only fail to build the home of Elimelech, but actively prevent it from continuing. Therefore, they were no longer banim (bonim — builders) but merely yeladim — biological offspring — who, regardless of their age, acted like children and brought shame and disgrace to their prominent family.

(פון אונזער אלטען אוצר)

* * *

According to the opinion that Ruth and Orpah converted to Judaism before marrying their Jewish husbands (see p. 198). Machlon and Kilion are now called “yeladehah” — “her children” and not “banehah” — “her sons” — as previously, for the following reason:

As long as they were alive she looked forward to them be “bonehah” — her builders. Hopefully they would have children and thus perpetuate the family legacy. Now that they had died and were not blessed with any offspring of their own, they were like children who die at an early age and leave no progeny to succeed them.

וימתו גם שניהם מחלון וכליון
The two of them, Machlon and Kilion also died. (1:5)

QUESTION: The word “gam” — “also” — is superfluous?

ANSWER: There is a rule in interpreting Biblical passages that the word “gam” is lerabot — to add something additional — (see Kiddushin 41a). When Naomi encountered the people upon her return to Eretz Yisrael, she said to them “I was full when I went away” which the Midrash (Rabbah 3:7) explains to mean that she told them she was pregnant when she left. In Moab she had a miscarriage and lost the baby. Thus, after her husband died, the pasuk says that the two of them, Machlon and Kilion, also died (Now she was bereft not only of them, but also the fetus she was carrying.)

(אגרת שמואל)

ותשאר האשה משני ילדיה ומאישה
The woman was bereft of her two children and her husband. (1:5)

QUESTION: Since we were told already that a woman, her husband, and two sons left together from Bethlehem, isn’t it superfluous to tell us that after the three men died, she was alone without her children and husband?

ANSWER: As mentioned above, Naomi left while pregnant and had a miscarriage. Nevertheless, the Megillah does not describe her as one who was bereft of three children. The reason is that in contrast to Kilion and the unborn baby who actually died, though Machlon expired he was not altogether lost. His spirit lived on in Ruth, to the extent that it pulsated in her stomach, (Zohar) and through her it was later reincarnated into the body of the son she bore after marrying Boaz.


כי שמעה בשדה מואב כי פקד ה' את עמו לתת להם לחם
For she had heard in the field of Moab that Hashem had remembered His people by giving them bread. (1:6)

QUESTION: What means of communication was available in those days between Eretz Yisrael and the fields of Moab?

ANSWER: According to the Midrash Rabbah (Ruth 2:11) since the famine was over the Jewish peddlers returned to Moab to sell their produce of Eretz Yisrael. They were the ones who spread the word and it ultimately reached Naomi.

According to the Targum, “she was told by heavenly angels that Hashem remembered His people to give them food in merit of Judge Ivtzan (the righteous Boaz) and thanks to his prayers on behalf of the Jewish people.”

How does the Midrash know that it was Jewish peddlers who told her and not gentiles, and what prompts the Targum to say that angels told her?

The Midrash and the Targum came to their explanations after analyzing the wording of the pasuk.

Non-Jewish peddlers would not have invoked Hashem’s name in their conversation. Since the peddlers said “Hashem has remembered,” obviously they were Jewish people who know to give credit to Hashem for all the good that befalls the Jewish people.

The Targum is bothered by an extra word. In their statement “Ki pakad Hashem et amo” — Hashem remembered His people” the word et is entirely superfluous?

When there is an extra word et in a pasuk, the Sages explain that it is there to allude to something additional and sometimes the added item may be equal in prominence to the subject mentioned in the pasuk. This can be illustrated from the dialogue between the prophet Shmuel and King Shaul. When Shmuel reprimanded him for not decimating all of Amalek, he responded “ki yareiti et ha’am” — “for I feared the people.” The Midrash explains that with that extra word “et,” Shaul meant that did he not wipe out Amalek because he feared et— Do’eig (chief of Sanhedrin, I Samuel 21:8) who was equal to ha’am — the entire community (I Samuel 15:24, Rashi).

Similarly, the Targum reasons that “et amo” — means something in addition to “amo” — His people — and something of equal prominence. Therefore, the Targum explains that Hashem remembered the honest judge Ivtzan who was the righteous Boaz. He was equal in prominence to the people and in his merit and thanks to his prayers Hashem gave food to the people. Only Malachim — Angels — could know how Hashem reached His decision.

(אגרת שמואל – חלק בני יהודה מר' שמעון חביליין ז"ל)

ותלכנה בדרך לשוב אל ארץ יהודה
They went on the road to return to the land of Judah. (1:7)

QUESTION: The word “baderech” — “on the road” — is superfluous. It could have just said they set out to return to the land of Judah.

ANSWER: The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Remez 601) comments that “they went barefoot and their bodies touched the ground.” Perhaps the Midrash is offering this to explain that the extra word baderech is to emphasize that due to their poverty they went barefoot and their bodies physically felt the road while walking.

However, the words of the Midrash “they went barefoot and their bodies touched the ground” are redundant?

The Megillah is teaching the extent of their piety. According to halachah (Orach Chaim 75:1) it is forbidden for a woman to publicly expose parts of her body that are normally covered. The two woman were terribly impoverished. The soles of their footgear was very worn out. In order not to expose their feet they wore shoes covering the back and upper part of their feet. However, due to wear and tear the bottoms of the shoes were entirely worn out and missing. Thus, “they went barefoot” only to the extent that “their bodies touched the ground,” that is, the bottoms of their feet touched the ground.

(אגרת שמואל)

יעשה ה' עמכם חסד כאשר עשיתם עם המתים ועמדי
May Hashem deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me. (1:8)

QUESTION: Since Naomi was talking to two women, she should have said “imachen” (עמכן), and “asiten” (עשיתן), which is the feminine plural?

ANSWER: According to the Midrash Rabbah (Ruth 2:14) the kindness Naomi was referring to was the fact that when their husbands died they busied themselves with their shrouds and burial. According to halachah (Even Ha’ezer 89:1) the husband is obligated to provide for his wife’s burial, but there is no corresponding halachic obligation for the wife.

Since in performing their acts of kindness they acted like men, she made note of this by addressing them in the masculine gender. Her blessing to them was that for emulating men they should be blessed with male children who would be noted for their uniqueness. Ruth gave birth to a son Oved, who served (avad) the Master of the Universe with a perfect heart (see Targum 4:22). Orpah begot four sons who were renowned as mighty warriors. [They fell by the hand of David and his servants.] (See II Samuel 20:22, Sotah 42b).

(משיב נפש)

לכנה שבנה אשה לבית אמה. יתן ה' לכם ומצאן מנוחה אשה בית אישה
Go return each of you to her mother’s house. May Hashem grant that you may find security of you in the house of her husband. (1:8-9)

QUESTION: Why did she first tell them “her mother’s house” and then “her husband’s house”? Why is the word “umetzana” — “you may find” — without the suffix hey (ומצאנה)?

ANSWER: Naomi prophetically knew all along that her daughter-in-law Orpah was a phony and that Ruth was very sincere. She also knew that in the end their true colors would be revealed: Orpah would leave her and Ruth would cling to her.

However, in order that they not sense anything, Naomi addressed them both together and endeavored to persuade them both not to convert.

The words “ishah lebeit imah” — literally means “[a] woman in the house of her mother,” and “ishah beit ishah,” literally means “[a] woman in the home of her man.” Thus, based on her knowledge of the final outcome, in her heartfelt talk to the both of them to return, she said in a disguised way to Orpah that “she should go to her mother’s home.” To Ruth she then continued as though she was talking to the both of them and therefore said “lachem” — “you” — in plural. Then, in a disguised way she said to her “umetzana” (without a hey) which is singular, but indistinguishable in its spoken form from the plural. She was saying, “You (Ruth) should find security, a women in the home of her man. Your contentment will be that you will ultimately marry a venerable person and be the ancestor of a distinguished family.”


ומצאן מנוחה אשה בית אישה
That you may find security, woman in the house of her man. (1:9)

QUESTION: The term “metziah” — “find” — applies to something lost; should not Naomi simply have said “[may Hashem grant that] you have security (contentment) in your husband’s home”?

ANSWER: According to Psalms (89:21) Hashem says, “matzati — I have found — David, My servant.” The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishit 41:4) remarks: “Where did Hashem find him? In Sodom, for it is written: and your two daughters who are to be found” (Bereishit 19:15). Lot’s older daughter was the mother of Moab, and David’s great grandmother was Ruth the Moabite. Lot and his family were almost lost in the evil and decay of Sodom. At the last minute, however, Hashem saved Lot for the sake of his noble descendant, David. Thus, David was found, so to speak, in Lot’s daughter in Sodom, centuries before his actual birth.

As explained (see above piece) these words of Naomi were directed specifically to Ruth. Hence, the words “And you shall find contentment” refers to David. Naomi was telling her that through the man she would marry she would have eventually a great-grandson [David] who would be a source of immense contentment to her.


העוד לי בנים במעי
Do I still have sons in my womb. (1:11)

QUESTION: The word “banim” — “children” — does not apply to a fetus in the embryonic stage; she should have said “Do I have an uber — fetus — in my womb?”

ANSWER: Naomi’s reference to the womb was allegorical. She was saying to them, “Have I grown-up sons, whom I have kept hidden in my womb [like a fetus that is hidden] without your knowing it, whom I can suddenly produce so that you can marry them?”

Accordingly, she gave them two arguments: “Firstly, I have no other grown-up sons for you to marry now. Secondly, even if I were to marry again and succeed in bearing children it would not make sense for you to wait so long and be widows.”


הלהן תשברנה עד אשר יגדלו הלהן תעגנה
Would you wait for them until they are grown up, would you tie yourselves down for them? (1:13)

QUESTION: Since she was talking to widows about possible new husbands, shouldn’t she have said halahem (הלהם) — for them — in masculine instead of halahen (הלהן) which is feminine?

ANSWER: The common practice is that a man marries a wife who is a few years younger than him. There are also rare exceptions where the wife is a few years older. Ruth and Orpah were two grown and mature women. In fact, according to the Midrash (Rabbah 4:4), Ruth was then 40 years old.

Naomi expressed herself in feminine to allude to them, “If you are waiting for me to conceive and then waiting until the boys I may bear will be of marriageable age, you will be so much older than them that you will be perceived as the man in the marriage and they will be perceived as the female. This is totally out of place and I strongly discourage it.”

(אגרת שמואל)

הלהן תשברנה עד אשר יגדלו הלהן תעגנה לבלתי היות לאיש
Would you wait for them until they are grown up? Would you tie yourselves down for them and have no husbands? (1:13)

QUESTION: She could have just said “will you wait for them until they grow up and tie yourselves down and have no husbands, why is the world “halahein” — “for them” — repeated twice? Also, instead of “halahein (הלהן) in feminine she should have said “halahem (הלהם) in masculine?

ANSWER: The word “halahein” is not referring to the boys that may be born, but rather to the reason they shouldn’t wait for her to have children.

The first usage of the word “halahein” refers to two reasons not to wait. Naomi was saying, “Firstly, even if I were to marry today and immediately become pregnant, there is no guarantee that I will have a son. It may turn out that halahein tesabeirnah — all your anticipation for nine months was for a girl!”

Secondly, the word halahein could mean “for their saying “hein” — “yes.” “Thus,” she argued, “even if I had a son you couldn’t marry him until he grows up and consents. Would you wait until he grows up and says ‘hein’ — ‘yes’? It is illogical, because there is a chance that he may say ‘no.’ ”

The second “halahein” was addressed specifically to Ruth. According to the Midrash Rabbah (4:4) she was then forty years old. Naomi said to her, “If I marry it would take about a year until I have a child. If it is a boy, you would have to wait at least another thirteen years until he grows up and is eligible to marry you. By then you will already be fifty five years old.” The word “hein’ (הן) — has the numerical value of 55. Naomi, thus said to Ruth, “halahein” — “would you wait until you are hein (הן) — 55 years old and have no husband? — it doesn’t make sense!”

(נפלאות חדשות – כסף צרוף)

כי מר לי מאד מכם כי יצאה בי יד ה'
I am more embittered than you for the hand of Hashem has gone forth against me. (1:13)

QUESTION: Apparently the hand of Hashem had gone forth against all of them, so why was she embittered more than them?

ANSWER: A hand has five fingers. The term “yad” — “hand” [of Hashem] connotes a five-fold punishment. (See Haggadah Shel Pesach concerning the number of plagues the Egyptians received at the sea.)

Naomi said to them, “Unfortunately, we were all stricken, but I received His full hand. Five calamities have befallen me. I lost my husband, I lost my two grown sons, I was pregnant and lost my baby, and I was very wealthy and now am stricken with poverty. Indeed my heart goes out for you two ladies for losing your husbands, but since His hand has gone out against me and struck me with five disasters, I am more embittered than you.”


ותשנה קולן ותבכינה עוד
They raised their voices and wept again. (1:14)

QUESTION: Why previously (1:9) is the word “vatisenah” — they raised up [their voice and wept] — spelled with an alef (ותשאנה) and why is the alef omitted now (ותשנה)?

ANSWER: The Midrash Rabbah (Ruth 2:20) homiletically links the word “vatisenah” to “tashash” (תשש) — “to be weak.” The missing letter is an indication that now they wept so much that eventually their strength diminished.

* * *

Alternatively, in the beginning they both cried over the realization of the tragedies that had befallen them. They were now childless widows and would have to consider starting their lives anew with other husbands. At this interval, however, it was the proposed parting that evoked their emotions. Ruth earnestly loved Naomi and “davkah bah” — clung to her tenaciously. She wept bitterly about Naomi’s endeavors to separate from her, but Orpah, on the other hand was quite content to leave; she sufficed with giving her mother-in-law a good-bye kiss. Her tears were merely crocodile tears, and her cries lacked true emotion. The missing alef alludes to the sincerity missing in Orpah’s crying (in contrast to Ruth).

(בשורת אליהו)

ותשנה קולן ותבכינה עוד
They raised their voices and wept again. (1:14)

QUESTION: It says already “they raised their voice and wept” (1:9). What provoked their crying a second time?

ANSWER: Naomi said to them “Mar li me’od mikem” — “I am more embittered than you” (1:13). Had this meant that the tragedies they experienced had caused her bitterness, she would have said I am embittered “aleichem” — “over you” — i.e. “over your anguish and pain.” Therefore, they understood this as an accusation, “I am very embittered on account of you.” She blamed her bitterness and the tragedies of her sons on them. She attributed her misfortunes to the fact that her sons had married non-Jewish women.

The first time they cried it was on account of Naomi’s imminent departure. Now, after hearing that she held them responsible for her calamities and that they were being made scapegoats, they were terribly hurt and cried a second time.

(אגרת שמואל)

ותשנה קולן ותבכינה עוד
They raised their voices and wept again. (1:14)

QUESTION: The word “od” (עוד) — “again” — is superfluous?

ANSWER: When Ruth and Orpah insisted on remaining with Naomi, she pleaded with them to return to their family, saying “Ha’od li banim be’mei’ai” — “Have I more sons in my womb who would become husbands to you” (1:11).

Now since she started her plea to them with the word “od” they raised their voice and cried because of “od” — the fact that she had no children for them to marry and that they had to go elsewhere to find husbands instead if being her daughters-in-law.


ותאמר הנה שבה יבמתך אל עמה ואל אלהיה שובי אחרי יבמתך
And she said, “Behold your sister-in-law returned to her people and to her god, go follow your sister-in-law. (1:15)

QUESTION: The word “shavah — returned” — seems to indicate that Ruth and Orpah had already converted when they got married (see p. 198). If so, what Orpah did was against halachah, because once a Jew always a Jew. Why would Noami advise Ruth to follow Orpah?

ANSWER: Cognizant of her poverty and the embarrassment that she might endure upon returning to Bethlehem, Naomi wanted to spare her daughters-in-law any suffering. Therefore, she encouraged them not to accompany her but rather to go live with their mothers. She hoped that as descendants of the royal family of King Eglon they would benefit from the family estate and at the same time maintain their Jewish identity and observance.

Orpah disappointed her terribly. She made it known that she appreciated Naomi’s advice, but would go a step further. She would repudiate her conversion and return to her original religion. Noami, was not happy about this, but of course, there was nothing she could do about it.

There is a rule in Hebrew grammar that the word “achar” (אַחַר) — “after” — denotes that the event or subject is close to the previous one. In contrast, the word “acharei” (אַחַרֵי) is used for “after” — in reference to a situation where there is a distance between one event or subject and the previous event or subject. (See Bereishit 15:1, Rashi.)

Naomi was very careful in her advice to Ruth. After mentioning to her the sad fact that Orpah returned to her people and her god. She wisely told her to “return acharei — after — your sister-in-law. Go back with her to your native people, but be careful and stay acharei — distant — from your sister-in-law. Do not emulate her in any way. Do not compromise in your religious commitment and observance.”

(חלק בני יהודה)

אל תפגעי בי לעזבך לשוב מאחריך ... עמך עמי ואלקיך אלקי
Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back from following you ... your people are my people, and your G‑d is my G‑d. (1:16)

QUESTION: Her saying “le’azveich lashuv mei’acharayich” — “to leave you to turn back from following you” — is a redundancy. If she leaves Naomi, obviously Ruth will not be following her?

ANSWER: The Yalkut Reuveini in Parshat Vayeishev writes in the name of the Kabbalah Sefer Hatemurah (which is credited to the Tannaic Sages Rabbi Yishmael Kohen Gadol and Rabbi Nechunya ben Hakanah) that the soul in Ruth was originally the holy soul of a Jew and because of sin it was reincarnated and ended up in a non-Jew. This soul was the soulmate of Boaz’s soul. Once the soul achieved all it needed to rectify, the time was ripe for it to become united with Boaz. Thus, he was Divinely inspired to have the Sanhedrin popularize the law that the preclusion of Moabites from joining the Jewish people applies only to the males of Moab, hence setting the stage for his marriage to Ruth.

The word “tifge’ee” is from the root “pega” and can refer to a fatal occurrence (see Shemot 5:4 Rashi). Ruth’s statement can now mean the following: “I was reincarnated as a non-Jew in order to rectify a certain soul and then I was supposed to convert to Judaism. If I don’t convert now, the only way for me to become united again with my people is to die and return again at a later date as a Jewess. Therefore, I beseech you, al tifge’ee bi l’azvich — do not cause me to leave you now by my dying — lashuv — and have to return again [to this world] mei’acharayich — after you will no longer be here anymore. Please realize that ameich ami — your people are my people, your G‑d is my G‑d — in reality I have a common link with you and yearn to be actually united with our people.”

(שמחת הרגל)

"כי אל אשר תלכי אלך"
“For wherever you go I will go.” (1:16)

QUESTION: According to halachah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Dei’ah 268:2) a prospective convert is informed of some difficult and some easy Torah laws. Therefore, the Midrash Rabbah (2:22) says that Naomi told Ruth, “It is not the custom of daughters of Israel to go to theaters,” to which she responded, “For wherever you go I will go.”

Why did Naomi particularly select this halachah?

ANSWER: Torah teaches the way of life for the Jew. Its teachings apply to the time before one is born till after one dies. Unfortunately, many people observe some of the traditions they find pleasant and enjoyable, but avoid committing themselves entirely to the ways of Torah. For instance, some will eat challah and gefilte fish on Friday night, but not observe Shabbat according to halachah. Some will eat latkes on Chanukah and blintzes on Shavuot, but fail to light the Chanukah menorah or otherwise fall short of accepting the Torah in its entirety. Some come to synagogue to hear the beautiful voice of the chazzan, but not to actually pray to Hashem or listen to the Torah reading.

Naomi, in preparing Ruth for her conversion, was conveying a basic principle about Yiddishkeit: Torah and mitzvot should not be viewed as a theatrical performance, and one should not observe only what is pleasant or intriguing. It is a way of life which demands full dedication at all times and under all circumstances.

Ruth, fully comprehending her mother-in-law’s message, responded, “For wherever you go I will go.”

(הרב פנחס מרדכי ז"ל טייץ)

עמך עמי
Your people are my people (1:16)

QUESTION: According to the Gemara (Yevamot 47b) Ruth said this in response to Naomi’s statement “We are commanded to observe 613 mitzvot.”

Many Jews are part of our people and, unfortunately, don’t observe mitzvot. Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for her to say, “your Torah shall be my Torah”?

ANSWER: The letters of the Hebrew alef-beit are also used as numerals. Alef is one, and tav is 400. Afterwards, the final letters of מנצפך are the numbers from 400 to 900 (see Sukkah 52b, Rashi). Thus, the final chaf is 500, making the word ameich (עמך) the numerical equivalent of 610. When adding to this the three letters of the word the total is 613. Thus, her response was articulate: “Ameich — the 613 [mitzvot] you observe — will also be mine.”

(אגרת שמואל - לקוטי אמרי א-ל על חמש מגילות מר' יחזקאל מאיר מבגדאד בשם ספר עיר מקלט)

* * *

Alternatively, since a considerable number of mitzvot apply only to some members of the Jewish people or certain situations and settings (e.g. those pertaining to kohanim, the king, and those who live in Eretz Yisrael), it is literally impossible for every Jew on his own to fulfill all the 613 mitzvot. Nevertheless, when Jews are united, they are considered one entity. Thus, through togetherness, they fulfill all the 613 mitzvot and share the rewards. Hence, Ruth appropriately responded, “Just as you fulfill all the mitzvot through ameich — being united with, and a part of ameich — your people — as a whole — likewise ami — they will all be my people and I shall be united with them.”

(עי' ודברת בם שמות כ"ד:ז)

באשר תמותי אמות ושם אקבר
Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. (1:17)

QUESTION: Throughout her proclamation she constantly stated “Whatever you do I will do,” so when she said “Where you die I will die,” why did she merely conclude “and there I will be buried” and not “wherever you will be buried I will be buried?”

ANSWER: From this dialogue the Gemara (Yevamot 42b) derives that if one expresses a desire to become a proselyte, he should be acquainted with various Torah laws and punishments, so that if he is likely to change his mind, he will do so immediately. From Ruth’s response it is deduced that Naomi told her various laws and also enumerated the four forms of capital punishment which are meted out to one who violates Torah laws.

Regarding those who are put to death by Beit Din, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 46a) says “The convict was not buried in his ancestral gravesite. Rather, there were two cemeteries set aside for the use of the court; one for those who were beheaded or strangled, and one for those who were stoned or burned. The convict, then, was buried alongside those executed by the same method. Later, when the flesh of the corpse had decomposed, they would gather the bones and bury them in their proper place; i.e., the convict’s ancestral plot.”

Hence, Ruth’s responses were very exact and appropriate. When, for instance, Naomi told her “we have laws restricting the distance we may go on Shabbat,” she responded, “Wherever you go, I will go.” When she told her of laws that apply to a Jew’s place of lodging, she responded, “Where you lodge, I will lodge.” Upon hearing of the possible deaths that face a Jew for violating Torah, she responded, “By whatever mode you will die, I will die,” i.e., I am prepared to face the same death you may face for capital offences.

Cognizant, that unlike Noami she had no Jewish ancestry, she intentionally said “and there I will be buried” instead of saying “where you will be buried, I will be buried.” Because even if Naomi would, G‑d forbid, be buried in a Beit Din cemetery, it would only be temporary. After decomposing, her bones would be moved to an ancestral grave, while Ruth, not having Jewish ancestry, would forever remain buried there.

(פרח לבנון סי' קצ"ז – בשם ר' שלום יצחק ז"ל לעוויטאן)

כי המות יפריד ביני ובינך
If anything but death separates me from you. (1:17)

QUESTION: Why did she stress that only death could sever the bond between them?

ANSWER: According to the Gemara (Shabbat 88a), when Hashem revealed Himself to give the Torah to the Jewish people He suspended the mountain over them, and threatened “If you accept the Torah fine, but if not, your burial will be there.” (See p. 26 for various explanations as to why this was necessary.)

In preparing Ruth for conversion, Naomi informed her of many Torah laws which she would be obligated to observe.

Ruth responded that she was ready to undertake everything and match Naomi in her meticulous observance of Torah and mitzvoth. However, she said, “There is a major distinction between you and me which expresses itself in one word — death. You accepted Torah and mitzvot only under the threat of death, while I am accepting everything happily and wholeheartedly under my own volition.”

(חתם סופר)

ותרא כי מתאמצת היא ללכת אתה ותחדל לדבר אליה
When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped arguing with her. (1:18)

QUESTION: What convinced Naomi that Ruth was serious about Judaism?

ANSWER: The famous Tannaic Sage Reish Lakish (Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish) in his youth knew much Torah. He later cast off the yoke of Torah and forgot much of his studies and engaged in thievery (Bava Metzia, Tosafot, 84a). The Gemara (ibid.) relates that one day Rabbi Yochanan was swimming in the Jordan river. Reish Lakish who was then a highwayman, saw him, and jumped into the Jordan river after him. Rabbi Yochanan beheld this display of vitality and said to him, “Your strength belongs to the Torah!” Reish Lakish said to him, “Your beauty belongs to women!” Rabbi Yochanan then said to him, “If you will repent your ways, I will give you my sister in marriage who is more beautiful than I.” Reish Lakish accepted.

When he wanted to return to retrieve his clothes he was unable to muster the strength to do so. Rashi explains that even though Reish Lakish had not yet begun his studies, he had nevertheless accepted the yoke of Torah. This alone made him lose his power and courageous strength. [The Torah tends to weaken the (physical) strength of its students — Sanhedrin 26b)].

Ruth expressed a desire to embrace Judaism. Naomi was discussing with her Torah details. Her intent was to make her aware of the restrictions she would undergo by becoming a Jewess.

The root word of “mitametzet” is “ometz,” which means strength and courage. Ruth was a young vibrant girl pulsing with vigor and vitality. Her walking was swift and robust. Suddenly, things changed and she became sluggish and weak. Naomi observed that “mitametzet hi lalechet itah” — Ruth had to make a special effort to gird herself with strength to be able to keep up walking with her. Naomi interpreted Ruth’s weakened status as a clear indication that she sincerely resolved to accept the yoke of Torah. Therefore, she ceased all further attempts to dissuade her from embracing Judaism.

(שמחת הרגל – הגר"א)

* * *

Alternatively, Ruth was overwhelmingly convinced about converting and anxious to do it as quickly as possible. Therefore she walked with exceptional vigor and speed to the extent that “vateireh ki mitametzet hi lalechet itah” — “[Naomi] saw that she [Naomi] had difficulty keeping up with her.” Observing this proved to Naomi that Ruth was absolutely sincere in her decision and therefore she realized that now she had reached the point where she no longer needed discouragement but on the contrary, loving acceptance.

(בשורת אליהו)

ותלכנה שתיהם עד בואנה בית לחם
And the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem. (1:19)

QUESTION: The word “sheteihem” — “the two of them” — is extra?

ANSWER: Orpah now parted ways with Naomi and Ruth. Though Orpah had a small distance to go to reach her home; nevertheless, she lacked self esteem and abandoned herself to promiscuity (see Midrash Rabbah 2:20).

Naomi and Ruth had a long distance to go from Moab to Bethlehem and they were concerned that they might encounter a compromising situation. Knowing their righteousness and concern, Hashem made a miracle that throughout the entire distance only the two of them were on the road and there were no other people in whose company they would feel uncomfortable.

(אגרת שמואל)

ותלכנה שתיהם עד בואנה בית לחם
And the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem. (1:19)

QUESTION: In plural the difference between the masculine and the feminine is that the masculine ends with a mem while the feminine ends with a nun. Since we are talking here of two women, instead of sheteihem it should have said sheteihen (שתיהן)?

ANSWER: The roads from Moab to Eretz Yisrael were not very safe for the woman traveling alone. They could be easy prey to wayfarers. For protection they disguised themselves as men during their travel until they reached the border of Bethlehem. Then they changed back to their regular feminine garb and entered the city.


* * *

QUESTION: If so, it should have said sheneihem (שניהם) which is the plural for two males?

ANSWER: Since in reality they were really two woman and only disguised as men, the verse therefore says sheteihem which is a mixture of feminine and masculine.


עד בואנה בית לחם ויהי כבאנה בית לחם
Until they came to Bethlehem and it came to pass when they arrived in Bethlehem. (1:19)

QUESTION: Why the extra hei — instead of bo’anah (בואנה) it should have said bo’an (בואן)? Likewise instead of kebo’anah (כבאנה) it should have said kebo’an (כבואן)?

ANSWER: As explained (above) Naomi and Ruth are referred to as “sheteihem” (שתיהם) “the two of them” in masculine because of their disguising themselves as men during their travel. The numerical difference between sheteihem (שתיהם) — two of them — in masculine and sheteihen (שתיהן) — two of them — in feminine, is ten. The Megillah seeks indicate that this existed only during their travel but upon arriving they changed back to their female garb and they were once again sheteihen (שתיהן). Therefore, the Megillah added the two extra “heis” which together total ten.


ותהם כל העיר עליהן ותאמרנה הזאת נעמי
The whole city was agitated concerning them, and the women said: “Is this Naomi?” (1:19)

QUESTION: Since they were wondering “Is this Naomi,” it should have said that the city was tumultuous “aleyhah” — “over her” — in singular; why does it say “aleihen” — “over them” — in plural?

ANSWER: Naomi was originally a beautifully aristocratic woman (see Yalkut Shimoni, Remez 601) and Ruth too was an exceptional beauty (Midrash Rabbah 4:4). When the two of them appeared in Bethlehem, the townspeople beheld before them two women, one older and the other younger. The older lady had some resemblance to Naomi, but viewing her careworn appearance they were doubtful whether she really was Noami.

Therefore, there was much tumult and commotion aleihem — over them — who was the real Naomi. Many concluded that, undoubtedly, the young beautiful looking lady was Naomi and the older lady was her maid or some sort of assistant. They weren’t, however, altogether sure, since Ruth, although beautiful, did not exactly resemble Noami. Therefore, in puzzlement they said one to another “Hazot Naomi?” — “Is this one [Ruth] really Naomi, or is the older lady Naomi?”

Perceiving their bewilderment, Naomi identified herself to them and told them of the terrible plight which caused her haggard appearance.

(בית יעקב – מר' יעקב הכהן ז"ל טראב – מסולתן, ראב"ד ביירות)

Alternatively, the pasuk is saying that two things happened when they arrived. Firstly, unaware that they had walked disguised as men, the people of Bethlehem were amazed, aleihen — how the two women undertook to travel such a dangerous road on their own. In addition, shocked by her physical deplorable state, they exclaimed in puzzlement “Is this — tattered woman — Naomi?”


אל תקראנה לי נעמי קראון לי מרא
Do not call me Naomi [pleasant one]; call me Mara [embittered one]. (1:20)

QUESTION: In Hebrew, the word “Mara” — “bitter” — ends with a hei (מרה); why here does it end with an alef?

ANSWER: In Aramaic, the word “mara” means a “shovel” as the Gemara relates (Taanit 21b) concerning a man who would regularly lend out “mara v’chatzina” — “a shovel and a pick” for burials.

The Gemara (Yevamot 65b) says that even though a woman is not obligated in the mitzvah of procreation, if her husband is sterile she can sue for a divorce, because she can claim that she needs a “cane and a shovel” for her burial. I.e., she needs children so that they will support her in her old age (cane) and tend to her burial (shovel).

With the alef in the word “mara,” which can mean “a shovel,” Naomi was alluding of the terrible plight that had befallen her. Normally, children are the shovel which make possible the burial of the parents. “Unfortunately,” she was saying, “I have become the shovel. I buried my both sons.”

(בשורת אליהו – ועי' רבינו בחיי פ' בהעלותך "כל מלה שסופו ה' ונכתבת באלף, הכוונה להגדיל ולהדגיש את המובן כגון "והיה לכם לזרא" (במדבר י"א,כ) זרה מאד.)

Alternatively, “marah” — “bitterness” — is indeed spelled with a hei. Here, however, it is spelled with an alef, since the difference in numerical value of hei (5) and alef (1) is 4, indicating that the bitterness she experienced was the loss of four things dear to her: her husband, her two sons, and her wealth.

(שמחת הרגל)

וה' ענה בי וש-די הרע לי
Hashem has testified against me, and the Al-mighty has afflicted me. (1:21)

QUESTION: Why did Naomi employ the Name “Sha-dai” when describing her bitter situation?

ANSWER: The people were in utter shock when they saw Naomi’s tattered appearance, especially when they heard what had befallen her. The question everyone asked was “why”?

Naomi, responded with a lecture in faith. She explained that Hashem reveals Himself in many ways. His different Names are expressions of different forms of Divine revelations. Among these is His Name “Sha-dai” which means “sufficient.” He is the Al-mighty because He provides in sufficient measure the needs of all the earth’s inhabitants. (See Bereishit 17:1, Rashi.)

“You will recall” she said, “about ten years ago our Holy Land was struck with a famine. Out of concern that all the impoverished would beleaguer our home begging for help, emptying our coffers and warehouses, we fled the country and moved to the fields of Moab. This was a grave sin. We questioned Hashem’s capability to provide enough for us and for the people, and we were punished measure for measure. So when we thought that we had enough for ourselves and we needed to preserve it, He showed us that all that we have is only thanks to His generosity. Moreover, He is capable, when he so desires, of taking it away.”

(משיב נפש)

* * *

Alternatively, by employing this Name Naomi was expressing her gratitude to Hashem for sparing her. She said, “Really I am no better than my husband and sons. I deserve the same punishment as they. However, we have a G‑d who is capable on one hand of punishing, while on the other hand, He says She-dai — “enough” — i.e. He set limits to the punishment. (See Bereishit 43:14, Rashi.) After He afflicted me with numerous misfortunes, He said She-dai — that it is enough — and He spared me.


ותשיב נעמי ורות המואביה כלתה עמה
And Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, together with her. (1:22)

QUESTION: This is entirely superfluous since it already said that she arrived in Bethlehem and held a conversation with the people there?

ANSWER: When the people recognized Naomi and were astonished by her appearance, she humbly told them that from now on they should address as “Mara” because of all that had befallen her (1:20). The Megillah is now telling us, that regardless of her request “vatashav Naomi” — she returned to her original name of Naomi. The reason for this is because when they saw the beautiful gem — Ruth — whom she had brought with her to their community, she won back their admiration and respect and they were convinced that she had retained her good qualities and pleasant personality.

(אגרת שמואל)

והמה באו בית לחם בתחלת קציר שערים
They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest. (1:22)

QUESTION: The Targum explains that “they arrived on Erev Pesach, and on that day the Jewish people are permitted to harvest for the Omer, which consisted of barley.”

This is enigmatic — the Omer was harvested on the 16th of Nissan, the day following the first day of Pesach and not on Erev Pesach which is 14 Nissan?

ANSWER: There is an opinion in Gemara (Menachot 72b) that even if the Omer was not harvested in the designated time, it is kosher. According to that opinion, the harvesting of the Omer does not supersede Shabbat.

Perhaps the Targum concurs with that opinion. The Targum also opines that they arrived on Erev Pesach and that it was on Thursday. Pesach was thus on Friday and the day after Pesach, when the Omer offering was to be made (16 Nissan), was on Saturday. Since it was not permissible to harvest for the Omer on Saturday, the Omer harvest that year took place on the preceding Thursday, which was then erev Pesach.

(שו"ת בית שערים או"ח סי' רל"ח מר' עמרם ז"ל בלוהם)

והמה באו בית לחם בתחלת קציר שערים
They came to Bethlehem in the beginning of the barley harvest. (1:22)

QUESTION: Of what significance is the date of their arrival?

ANSWER: According to the Midrash (1:6) they arrived on the day when everyone assembled together for the reaping of barley for the Omer, which was offered on 16 Nissan (see also Targum).

The Midrash Rabbah (Vayikra 28:6) says “Let the commandment of the Omer never seem as a trifling one in your eyes, for as a result of the fact that the Jews will perform this mitzvah upon their arrival to Eretz Yisrael, Avraham merited ownership of the land of Canaan. The merit of Omer stood the Jews in good stead in the days of Gideon (Judges 7:13). The same merit stood them in good stead in the days of Chizkiyahu (Isaiah 30:32). It also helped them in the days of Yechezkiel (Ezikiel 4:9). And it was the same merit that helped them in the days of Haman.” Accordingly, the observance of the mitzvah is a means by which the Jewish people merit salvation and redemption.

The Megillah of Ruth is not just a compilation of events of chesed, conveying the great reward in store for acts of kindness. It also describes the final link in the making of the Davidic dynasty from which Mashiach will emerge. The closing pasuk of the first chapter is also the introduction to the next three chapters, that relate the forming of the union between Boaz and Ruth which was the prelude to the ultimate appearance of Mashiach.

The Megillah is telling that Ruth, (through whom will come about the ultimate redemption of Klal Yisrael and their “return out of the fields of Moab” — exile — to Eretz Yisrael”) arrived when the Jewish people were preparing for the Omer offering. Just as this has been a mitzvah through which the Jews merited deliverance throughout history, likewise, thanks to merit this mitzvah, the way was paved for Ruth and Boaz to bring about the arrival of our redeemer, Mashiach Tzidkeinu.

(משיב נפש – עבודת עבד)