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The Book of Ruth – Respectfully Rewritten for Today

In this translation, I focused mainly on Ruth’s relationships. Of course, there are a million deep, brilliant lessons in the Book of Ruth. This particular translation/re-written text is for the study of relationships in the Book of Ruth. However, the only creative license I really took was the coffee and cheesecake. (They probably ate onions with pita and olive oil and drank tea.)

Shavuot 5783 – 2023

The Story of Ruth

[Respectfully re-written for today.]

Rabbi Susan E. Lippe

In the days of the Judges, there were times of chaos and times of peace. During a time of chaos and hunger, Naomi and her husband took their two sons to live in the Land of Moav. (Ruth 1:1, 2) Naomi’s husband died in Moav. Her sons grew up and married Moabite women. Years passed. When Naomi’s sons died, she was left with two daughters-in-law and no grandchildren. Naomi decided to leave her daughters-in-law in Moav with their families of origin. Naomi planned to move home to Bethlehem in the Land of Israel alone. (Ruth 1:3-5)

Naomi told her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah: “Turn back. Go home to your parents.” Both daughters-in-law answered: “No, no. We are staying with you.” Naomi said: “You have to go home to your families. You belong here in Moav. I will go home to my own people as well.” Naomi tried three times to convince them to leave her alone. (Ruth 1:8-13) Orpah kissed and hugged Naomi goodbye and went home. (Ruth 1:14) 

Ruth refused to leave Naomi. She said: “Do not ask me to leave you. You are my family now. I won’t let you go to the Land of Israel alone. Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you call home, I will call home. Your God will be my God. Wherever you will die, I will be buried there too.” (Ruth 1:16, 17)

Naomi did not argue with Ruth. She didn’t say anything. They walked all the way to the Land of Israel together in silence. (Ruth 1:18, 19) After their long walk in the desert, they arrived in the town of Bethlehem, in Judah,  in the Land of Israel. The people of Bethlehem met them at the gate of the city. Visitors were rare. First one old friend and then another recognized Naomi. They rushed to embrace her. They exclaimed: “Is that you, Naomi? Welcome home, Naomi!” (Ruth 1:19b)

Naomi responded: “Please do not call me Naomi. That name means pleasantness. I do not see anything pleasant in my life. I feel sad and lonely.” Ruth and the women of Bethlehem told her: “We are with you. You are not alone.” Naomi answered: “I feel lonely. I feel sad. I feel angry and bitter. I’m so bitter that you should call me Mara, the Hebrew word for bitterness.”  (Ruth 1:20-21) Naomi’s old friends could not make her feel better, but they could not make themselves call her Mara either. 

Ruth followed Naomi to her old home. It was empty. They only owned what they had brought with them across the desert. They had no food left. In the morning sun, Ruth and Naomi realized that they had reached Bethlehem during barley harvest time. (Ruth 2:1) Silently, Naomi thought to herself: “One of these days we should probably look for the fields of my third cousin Boaz. Today I’m too tired, hungry, and sad to go look.” (Ruth 2:1)

Ruth went to look for a job on her own. When Naomi went back to bed, Ruth walked towards the fields. She tried to get a job harvesting barley, but the workers laughed at her. (Ruth 2:2, 3)

Boaz stopped by during a coffee break. Boaz saw a young woman sitting alone nearby, while all the workers were drinking coffee or tea and sitting in the shade together. Boaz asked the foreman: “Who is that sad woman?” Laughing, the foreman answered: “That is the woman who came with Naomi from the Land of Moav. She wanted to work here. Can you believe it?!” (Ruth 2:4-7)

Boaz did not laugh with the foreman. Instead he walked over to Ruth and introduced himself. He told her: “I heard that you travelled with my cousin across the desert. You came with her to Bethlehem, far away from your land, your language, your people, your family. You are welcome here.” (Ruth 2:8, 9)

He cleared his throat and said very clearly, loud enough so all his staff could hear: “Ruth, you are a good daughter-in-law and a good friend. God must have guided you to my field. You will be safe here!” Ruth was confused. She asked: “Why are you being so kind and generous? You don’t even know me!” (Ruth 2:10) Boaz looked around to make sure everyone was listening. Then, he responded: “You belong here. When the staff eats, you are welcome to eat. When the staff gathers grain, you are welcome to gather grain.” (Ruth 2:8-11)

Ruth praised him and expressed her gratitude. (Ruth 2:13) While Ruth helped herself to coffee and some cheesecake, Boaz told all of the men who worked with him: “God commands the People of Israel to leave the corners of their fields for anyone who is poor and hungry. God forbids us to take any grain we drop to our own barn. Remember to leave the corners of my fields unharvested. Also, if you drop some extra grain for Ruth and other hungry folk to take home, you will be rewarded.” (Ruth 2:13-16)

At the end of that first day, Ruth went home to Naomi with a full belly and as much grain as she could carry. When Ruth came into the house, Naomi looked up and asked: “Where have you been? What’s all that?” Ruth answered: “I went to look for a job, and I stumbled upon the fields of your generous, gracious cousin Boaz! He offered me food and a safe place to gather grain.” For the first time in a long time, Naomi felt grateful. She praised both Boaz and God. (Ruth 2:17-21)

Every day until the harvest ended, Ruth gathered grain in the fields of Boaz. She felt safe now that she was friendly with Boaz, and she no longer felt hungry. Ruth worked hard. When they saw how hard she worked, the workers who had laughed at her changed their minds. Every evening, she took care of Naomi – bringing her food and keeping her company, even though Naomi did not acknowledge her.

On the last day of the harvest, at the end of the workday, Naomi welcomed Ruth at the door to her house. Naomi displayed the presents she had prepared for Ruth – new clothes, new sandals, a comb, and some soothing lotion for her hands, which had suffered from daily gleaning, gathering, and carrying. Naomi sent Ruth to seduce Boaz into rescuing them from poverty. (Ruth 3:1-4)

Ruth felt nervous. Yes, she had clean new things to wear, her hair was tidy, and her hands smelled pretty.  However, her job was over. She did not know what would happen next. How would she even find food for Naomi? She went to Boaz’s giant barn. She could hear Boaz’ familiar laughter through the open door. Ruth timidly peeked into the barn. She didn’t want to be a seductress. Nervously, she tried to follow her mother-in-law’s instructions. (Ruth 3:5-7)

When he saw her, Boaz welcomed her. “Don’t be afraid!” he told her. He listened to her talk about taking care of Naomi and how nervous she was about where she would work next. Again, he told her: “Don’t be afraid! I will help you! You are my friend, and Naomi is my family.” Boaz sent her home with six measures of barley. (Ruth 3:8-15)

Boaz talked to everyone in town. He had a lot of questions. “Who is working in fields that Naomi used to own before she left? Who is making sure that Naomi and Ruth are safe in Bethlehem? Is Ruth dating anyone?” He checked around – from the little kids playing in their yards all the way up to the mayor and the elders at the gate. No one wanted to buy Naomi’s fields. No one wanted to be responsible for welcoming a poor, bitter old friend into their families. No one had asked Ruth on a date. Boaz was glad. (Ruth 3:16-4:12)

So Boaz and Ruth became more than friends. They dated, and then they married. Boaz and Naomi became more than cousins. Since Naomi was Ruth’s mother-in-law, she became Boaz’s mother-in-law too. With God’s help, Boaz and Ruth became parents to a little boy. (Ruth 4:13) All of her old friends celebrated with Naomi when she held the baby. She did not ask them to call her Mara anymore. Naomi’s grandson eventually became the biological ancestor of King David, achieving the ultimate Israelite family status. (Ruth 4:14-21)

The End.

You can get the Hebrew text of the Book of Ruth online on Sefaria.org (They also include an English translation and many commentaries and teachings – old and new!)

From Sefaria: The Book of Ruth is one of the five megillot (scrolls), part of the section of the Hebrew Bible called Writings, and is traditionally read on the holiday of Shavuot. It tells the story of Ruth, a widow of Moabite origin who insists on staying with her widowed, Israelite mother-in-law, declaring “wherever you go, I will go… your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (1:16). Ruth’s loyalty leads her to the field of her kinsman, Boaz, whom she ultimately marries. Together they have a child, who later becomes the grandfather of King David.

Note: Most people would never teach Ruth without addressing two important factors – the pledge Ruth makes to Naomi (Ruth 1:16, 17) and the meaning of chesedchet-samech-dalet – often translated as lovingkindness. While these are invaluable to the Hebrew Bible and to the Jewish People, I have chosen to focus on what Ruth can teach us about relationships this year. I don’t want Ruth’s many amazing lessons to be overshadowed by her most best-known contributions.