Ruth was a Moabite princess of very fine character, who became the great-grandmother of King David. She was dissatisfied with the idol-worship of her own people, and when the opportunity arose, she gladly gave up the privileges of royalty in her land and accepted a life of poverty among people she admired.

Here is how it all came about:

It was in the days when the Judges ruled in Israel. The children of Israel had become lax in their observances of the Torah, and had called G‑d’s punishment down upon themselves. A great famine reigned in the Land of Israel.

There was a certain man in Judah named Elimelech. He was a wealthy merchant who was not used to hunger and poverty, and so he thought he could escape from the misery by moving elsewhere. He therefore took his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, and went to live in Moab.

Ruth became friendly with this Jewish family. She learned to admire their laws and customs. The dissatisfaction which she had already felt at the meaningless idol-worship of her own people now turned to positive objection. And so, when one of the sons asked her to marry him, she was happy and proud to accept. She did not feel any pangs of regret at what she was giving up: her life of luxury at the palace, her royal title, her prospects of wealth and honor in the future. All she saw was the selfishness and mercilessness of her own people, and the difference of the Jews to whom she now had attached herself.

Elimelech and his two sons died, and Naomi was left, a poor widow, not knowing what to do or whither to turn. She therefore said to Ruth and to her other daughter-in-law, Orpah (also a Moabite):

“My daughters, I must go away, and I have decided to return to my hometown, to Beth-Lechem. Things cannot be too good there, and there is no reason why you should suffer too. Take my advice, therefore, and go back to your parents’ homes. Your husbands are dead, and perhaps if you remain in your own country, you may find other men to marry you. I have lost my sons forever, but you are young; you can get other husbands.”

Orpah looked sad, kissed her mother-in-law, and bade her goodbye. But Ruth clung tearfully to Naomi and begged her to allow her to go with her. With these touching words she implored her, saying:

“Entreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy G‑d my G‑d; where thou diest will I die, and there will I be buried; the L‑rd do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.”

Ruth knew full well what she was doing. Naomi had reminded her of the difficulties which confronted the Jew at all times, yet Ruth was adamant in her determination to follow her mother-in-law, and to cling to the faith of her adoption, which had become so dear to her.

The future was to prove that Ruth would be justly rewarded for her high resolve; but even in her poverty, Ruth had no regrets.

It was harvest time as Ruth and Naomi came to the land of Judah. They were both worn out from their journey, and Ruth prevailed upon Naomi to rest, while she herself would go out into the fields of Beth-Lechem and see what she could find to sustain them from hunger.

Ruth entered a field where many men were busy cutting barley, others were binding it into sheaves, while others were piling them onto wagons and carting them away.

A little hesitatingly, but spurred on by her hunger and by the thought that she must get something for her dear mother-in-law, Ruth went into the field and sat down for a while to rest and to see what luck she might have here.

Suddenly she was startled to hear a voice saying to her, kindly and gently: “G‑d be with you, stranger! Come along into the field. Do not be bashful. Gather some ears of corn, and satisfy your hunger!”

It was Boaz himself, the owner of the field, who thus addressed Ruth.

Ruth thanked him and plucked some ears of grain. She then was going to depart, when the same kind voice urged her to stay awhile and gather pe’ah.

“What is pe’ah?” asked Ruth.

“Our Torah tells us that when the owner of a field has his grain cut, he is not to cut the corners of the field, but to leave them for the poor, the needy and the stranger to come and reap for themselves,” answered Boaz.

“How wonderful!” exclaimed Ruth. And so she stayed and cut the corn from a corner of the field, and was then again about to go away.

“You do not need to go yet,” urged Boaz. “Why not stay and benefit from leket (gleanings)?”

“What does leket mean?” again asked Ruth.

“According to our law, if a reaper misses some grain with his scythe, or drops some, he is not allowed to go back to gather that grain, and this must be left for the poor and the stranger,” explained Boaz patiently to Ruth. He was finding her more and more attractive, and thought he had never seen such a noble-looking lady.

Ruth said nothing, but saw no reason for refusing to take advantage of the laws of the Torah, which she herself had so gladly embraced.

When she gathered a whole basketful, she went up to Boaz, thanked him very sincerely for his kindness, and got ready to depart.

“There is no need for you to go yet,” coaxed Boaz. “There is still shikchah (forgotten sheaves) which you can take.”

“The Torah is indeed limitless in its care of the less fortunate ones,” said Ruth. “Now please tell me, what is shikchah?”

“When the owner of a field is taking his load of grain to his granaries, it is possible that he may have forgotten some sheaves in the field. Well the Torah forbids him to go back and get them; he must leave these forgotten sheaves for the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger.”

Ruth was so happy with her good fortune. She had gathered almost more than she could carry. She and Naomi were now well provided for some time. She again thanked Boaz, who made her promise to come again. In the meantime Boaz had made enquiries about the attractive stranger who had captured his heart, and he discovered that she was the widowed daughter-in-law of Naomi.

Ruth was full of excitement as she hastened to her mother-in-law and related all that had happened to her in the fields of Boaz. Naomi was happy that Ruth had been so successful and had found favor in the eyes of Boaz, the wealthy landowner. And so, when Boaz asked her to marry him, Naomi urged her to do so.

Now Ruth was unexpectedly rewarded with wealth and happiness. She and Boaz were blessed with children who became famous in history. She lived long enough to see her great-grandson David, who became the L‑rd’s anointed and beloved king of all the Jewish people.

For Ruth and Boaz had a son named Obed, who became the father of Jesse. And David, as you know, was the youngest son of Jesse.

See the full text of the Book of Ruth in Hebrew and English with Rashi's commentary.