Ruth of biblical fame was originally a Moabite princess. She later converted to Judaism and was the ancestress of King David, and ultimately, the Messiah.

The Torah is not a historical record; it only contains facts that teach us something. Indeed, the word Torah comes from the Hebrew word הוראה – "hora'ah," meaning directive. Therefore, the only facts that we know about Ruth's ancestors are the ones that we can take a lesson from.

Here's what we know about her. She was a granddaughter of Eglon, king of Moab, who himself was a grandson of Balak, king of Moab during Moses' times.1 Ironically, both these kings had hostile relations with the Israelites: Balak retained the anti-Semitic sorcerer Balaam to curse the Israelites (as recorded in Numbers 22-24); Eglon allied with the Ammonites and Amalekites and occupied Israel for eighteen years until he was slain by the Israeli leader Ehud (Judges 3).

Why did these two kings merit having a righteous granddaughter such as Ruth?

The Talmud teaches2: "One shall always occupy himself with Torah and mitzvot, even not for the sake of heaven, as he will come to do so for its sake. For in the merit of the forty-two sacrifices that Balak offered, Ruth descended from him."

The sacrifices were offered to gain G‑d's favor so that He would allow Balak and Balaam to carry out their evil plans. Nevertheless, no matter the intentions, "a mitzvah is a mitzvah." Balak had the merit of having offered sacrifices to G‑d, and he was rewarded.

Eglon also had a specific merit because of which Ruth descended from him. Though he oppressed the Israelites, he still respected G‑d. When Ehud came to him and said "I have a message from G‑d to you" Eglon arose from his chair as a sign of respect. G‑d said, "You stood up from your chair in My honor; I shall establish from you a son who will sit on the throne of G‑d [Ruth's descendants: David, Solomon, and all the monarchs of the Davidic Dynasty]."3

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All the best,

Rochel Chein for