July 14, 2024
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Rut and the Redemptive Sounds of Silence

Human nature is such that we feel the need to respond and defend our positions when we have been criticized. Knee-jerk reactions are common, particularly when some aspect of ourselves is misrepresented. Knowing when and when not to respond is a dance that we play during our daily interactions. The matriarch of the Davidic dynasty, Rut, is representative of an individual who chose to remain silent despite discomfort and who maintained composure during difficult times. Perhaps this is because her entire existence epitomized selflessness and devotion to another human being and to her new religion. For her, there was no need to defend her positions or prove any points.

Rut’s dedication to her mother-in-law, Naomi, and to the Jewish people in the most unassuming and private manner is what brought about the seeds of Mashiach and the potential for our ultimate redemption. Rut is an enigma in today’s society where privacy is rare and luxury-seeking and focus on self is lauded. Her pure devotion is breathtaking in its magnitude. Rut makes a conscious decision to thrust herself into poverty and social isolation and submits to her personal “Sinaitic revelation” despite excruciating challenges.

The beginning of Rut’s journey is fraught with physical and emotional sacrifice. Naomi returns to her hometown of Beit Lechem with her recently converted Moabite daughter-in-law, Rut, after having abandoned her kinsmen during a time of famine. Their initial reception was that the people whom she has abandoned came out to behold the spectacle of the once-aristocratic Naomi who is now a pauper with nothing left but her daughter-in-law, the Moabite. The Navi records only their shock, “The city was astonished, and the women said, ‘Is this Naomi?!’” Naomi stoically faces the townspeople that she had wronged by abandoning them and admits publicly that she has accepted God’s punishment. Rut and Naomi are then left alone. Sadly, however, there is a glaring omission from this narrative. The Megilla does not record anyone offering her emotional or physical support. The townspeople look at the pair in disbelief and they simply disappear.

Rav Yehoshua Bachrach, in his classic work “Ima shel Malchut” highlights the isolation that Rut and Naomi felt as they return to Beit Lechem. He posits that by the Megilla telling us that Rut and Naomi returned at the “beginning of the barley harvest” it is highlighting the intense loneliness that the two women felt. The Land of Israel had been recently beset by famine with accompanying deprivation. The famine has ended and Naomi arrives during the first harvest of the season. The residents of Beit Lechem are busy tending their fields and there was a celebratory atmosphere pervading the area, as dry, parched land is replaced by lush, green fields and as despair is replaced by relief because of the abundant produce. There is a contrasting scene, however; the image of Rut and Naomi, two poor and widowed women who are alone and starving, living on Naomi’s barren plot of land that had not been tended, and subsisting on nothing. To add insult to injury, no one has offered them comfort or support. Naomi was suspect because she abandoned her people, and she was avoided because she had returned with her daughter-in-law who came from the despised nation of Moav. (Alshich).

At this point, Rut, a former princess, could have turned back. It is one thing to relinquish material comforts; it is quite another to give up on the feelings of belonging. Rut had every reason to feel utter disillusionment from the lack of outreach by the people whose religion she recently joined—the nation that is famously characterized by kindness. We hear no hesitation, and despite the cold reception, Rut remains committed to the Jewish people and attentive to her mother-in-law. Her focus is laser sharp and Rut does not allow her mind to wander and question.

The Alshich points further to Rut’s composure when explaining the interactions between her and Boaz, the owner of the field on which Rut collected the leftover shafts of produce to sustain herself and Naomi. Upon arriving to his field, Boaz notices Rut and in response to his query regarding her identity, his field workers respond, “She is a Moabite woman, who returned with Naomi from the fields of Moav.” By repeating the word “Moav” the workers are hinting to Boaz that she is a Moabite, she hails from a detested nation and she did not deserve any attention from an individual as righteous as Boaz.

In direct contrast to the field workers who offer Rut words of derision, Boaz puts Rut at ease by offering her food and moral support. The Alshich explains that Boaz was comforting her in response to the insults of his workers. Boaz detected Rut’s dignity in her ability to withhold a retort and maintain her grace despite the comments. He let her know that he has heard the verbal abuse hurled toward her—but he has also heard her silence. “One who suffers insult, and does not insult back; one who hears their shame and does not listen… about him it is said, ‘And those who love Him are like the sun when it comes forth in its might.’” (Gittin 36b-quoted in Alshich). Rut’s regal essence radiated outward, despite the superficial trappings of being on the lowest societal social strata. Maintaining dignity in the face of insult requires commitment and bravery, the result of which is salvation of the highest order. Boaz, who is introduced as a “gibor chayil” (a man of valor), and whose name itself signifies strength (Bo-Az—in him is strength [Me’am Loez]), had the insight to see within Rut the qualities that were worthy of royalty. Boaz’s ultimate marriage to Rut brought about the recognition that Rut was not to be ignored or rejected, rather she should be regarded as nobility. (Boaz publicized the heretofore unknown tenet that the prohibition of Moabites marrying into the Jewish nation referred to males and not females.)

Whereas Rut and Naomi were shunned upon their arrival to Beit Lechem, the Megilla ends with the scene of their being enveloped with words of encouragement. Those who initially avoided them reached such a level of forgiveness that they now shower them with blessings due to Rut’s monumental acts of kindness that brought hope and revival to Naomi’s family. The once-distant residents have allowed themselves to slowly inch closer and peer into the depths of Rut’s goodness.

Rut, through her unassuming but bold actions in supporting her mother-in-law, maintaining her commitment to her new religion as well as ignoring the insults that were directed to her became the mother of royalty. In our society where nothing seems private, and loudness is mistaken for strength, the story of Rut gives us pause to contemplate the need for silence, to attend to those who are not necessarily in the limelight and to value those who may not always have a quick response. Victory does not always have its source from the loud and outspoken. Quiet acts of grace may ultimately facilitate the clarion call of perfection. Megillat Rut begins with the dire condition of famine and loss. It ends with the promise of hope and renewal and the birth of the potential of the ultimate salvation, as Rut begets the seed of Mashiach. The sounds of silence were indeed heard.

By Aviva Orlian

 Mrs. Aviva Orlian teaches a weekly Tanach class in the Monsey community and has been giving shiurim on various topics in the greater New York area. Mrs. Orlian is also a practicing speech-language pathologist.

 

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