Boaz clearly exhibits romantic interest in Rut in Perek 2 of Megillat Rut. Why then did the relationship fail to blossom into marriage at that point? Why was it necessary for Rut to subsequently take the bold and drastic actions recorded in Perek 3? We are compelled to carefully investigate why the conventional route did not gain traction in Perek 2. The lessons that emerge are critical for anyone involved in helping facilitate marriages.
Boaz, whose interest is piqued by Rut’s diligence, commitment, piety and modesty, approaches Rut with sweet and kind words. Boaz takes the necessary steps to bridge the socio-economic gaps between him and Rut as he attempts to build a relationship. Rut’s response is deeply disappointing. The pasuk records (translation from www.mechon-mamre.org), “then she fell on her face, and bowed down to the ground, and said unto him: ‘Why have I found favor in thy sight, that thou shouldest take cognizance of me, seeing I am a foreigner?’”
This self-effacing approach is hardly the stuff to create a relationship. These demeaning words, which reflect poor self-esteem at best and clinical depression at worst, hardly make for an attractive mate. They are a definite “turn-off.” Boaz makes a second attempt at soothing words that will hopefully stir a more upbeat response. Alas, Rut once again disappoints. “Then she said: ‘Let me find favor in thy sight, my lord; for that thou hast comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken to the heart of thy handmaid, though I be not as one of thy handmaidens.”
Considering this response, it is not surprising that throughout the spring and summer harvest Boaz does not take further interest in Rut, other than to ensure her comfort and easy access to grain gleanings (leket), the Jewish entitlements for the poor.
However, in Perek 3, Rut emerges as a very different person. She boldly enters Boaz’s granary in the middle of the night and when Boaz awakens she tells him, “I am Ruth thine handmaid; spread therefore thy skirt over thy handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.” What a dramatic transformation! Rut has changed into a self-confident and assertive woman. Boaz, for whom Rut is now an attractive mate, eagerly agrees to seek her hand in marriage. Rut is no longer a “chesed project.” She is a woman of substance worthy of a fine man offering her a lifetime commitment.
What is behind this transformation? What held Rut back in Perek 2? One may suggest that Rut was a victim of what may be called “toxic roommate syndrome.” Her mother-in-law Naomi’s depression is apparent from the end of Perek 1 when she asks people to refer to her as “Bitter” instead of Naomi (which means pleasant). Naomi’s depression deeply impacted Rut.
However, when Naomi realizes that Hashem has tilted the scene to facilitate the unlikely connection between Rut and Boaz, Naomi is able to emerge from her depression. This, in turn, has a very positive impact on Rut and allows for her extreme psycho-social makeover.
The lessons for dating are manifold. First and foremost we learn that it is absolutely critical for one to be in proper psychological health in order to be in a position to create a healthy and stable lifelong bond with a worthy member of the opposite gender. One should not date as a form of psychotherapy. One, if necessary, should undergo therapy to be ready for dating.
Secondly, the people with whom one lives may be a hindrance to establishing a healthy bond. Too often one hears of roommates sabotaging fine relationships with agenda-driven advice to discourage a relationship. Beware of a possible toxic roommate!
Finally, just as the relationship between Rut and Boaz was somewhat out of the box, one should be open to connections that are a bit unconventional. For example, my wife Malca and I are fond of joking about our unlikely union of a “Gush guy” and a “Sharfman’s girl.” By contrast, it was horrifying to hear of a head of an Israeli seminary instructing her students to date only young men who attended three specific yeshivot.
Navigating the dating waters can be challenging. Fortunately, our reading of Megillat Rut this past Shavuot made it a bit easier and less intimidating for us. As Sephardic Jews proclaim after Birkat HaMazon, Harahaman Hu Yatzliah Deracheinu—may Hashem make our endeavors successful ones!
By Rabbi Haim Jachter
Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck.