By Rabbi Tuly Weisz
The Book of Ruth is a story of redemption. By marrying Ruth, Boaz redeems her and her former husband by carrying on his family name, and also redeems the property that belonged to Elimelech and his family. However, the Book of Ruth is not only about the redemption of an individual, but of an entire nation, and even the entire world.
When Ruth confronts Boaz in the middle of the night on the threshing floor and asks him to redeem her through marriage, the concept of redemption is mentioned no less than 6 times:
However, although I am a redeemer, there is another redeemer who is more closely related to you than I. Stay here tonight and, when it will be morning, if he will redeem you then fine, he may redeem you. Yet, if he does not desire to redeem you, I will redeem you. I swear, as Hashem lives. In the meanwhile, lie down until the morning. (Ruth 3:12-13)
These verses refer not only to Ruth’s personal redemption, but also allude to a redemption on a much broader scale.
While Ruth appears to Boaz in the middle of the night, he tells her that the redemption will happen in the morning: “Stay for the night, then in the morning, if he will act as a redeemer, good!… Lie down until the morning.”
The symbolic contrast of night and day are also found in the verses describing the Exodus from Egypt. There, the Bible writes that the liberation took place “in the middle of the night” (Exodus 12:29), yet later on in the same chapter it says that God took them out during the day: “at the end of the four hundred and thirtieth year, in that very day, all the ranks of Hashem departed from the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:41). Similarly, in describing the future redemption of the Jewish people, Isaiah uses the theme of light and darkness to represent exile and redemption (Isaiah 60:1-3).
By contrasting night and day, as the Bible does in these references to national redemption, the Book of Ruth is hinting that the redemption of Ruth will also lead to the redemption of the entire nation of Israel. This becomes clear at the end of the book, which describes the birth of Ruth and Boaz’s child who, in turn, becomes the grandfather of King David, forefather of the Messiah.
Not only does God know that the personal redemption of Ruth will lead to the eventual redemption of the nation, the people of Bethlehem themselves express the hope that the union between Ruth and Boaz will lead to national redemption. After Boaz announces his intention to marry Ruth, the people present respond with the following blessing:
May Hashem enable the woman who is coming into your house to be like Rachel and like Leah, both of whom built the House of Yisrael. May you be successful in Efrat and may you perpetuate your name in Beit Lechem. (Ruth 4:11)
They offer a blessing that Ruth should be like Rachel and Leah, who “both” built up the house of Israel.
Rachel and Leah each had their own challenges in their marriage to Jacob. Leah yearned for her husband’s love and attention, while Rachel struggled to have children. These challenges lead to a rivalry between the two sisters which is expressed in Leah’s response to Rachel’s request that she share the mandrakes found by her son Reuben (Genesis 30:15), and was passed down to the next generation, dividing their children and leading to the contention between Joseph and his brothers. The time of the judges, when the Book of Ruth takes place, was also a time of disunity. The expression, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did as he pleased” (Judges 17:6, 21:25), is repeated more than once, implying that because there was no king to serve as a unifying force, there was a culture of “every man for himself.”
Nevertheless, Rachel and Leah are both credited, together, as being the mothers of the entire nation. The blessing bestowed upon Ruth and Boaz alludes to a calling for national harmony, which was sorely missing at that time. The people pray that this union will ultimately unite the nation, the precursor for redemption.
David, the great-grandson of Ruth and Boaz, understood this need for unity. Despite descending from the line of Leah, he avoids using any violence towards King Saul, who sought to kill him. In his attempts at reconciliation with the family of Saul, he befriends Saul’s son Jonathan and marries his daughter Michal. Later, when he became king, he moved his capital city from Hebron, in the center of the territory of Judah, to Jerusalem, which sat along the border of the territory of Benjamin.
David’s attempts to unify the nation were initially successful, and when he became king he was recognized by “all the tribes of Israel” (II Samuel 5:1). However, two generations later, the nation was again divided when ten tribes pulled away from the Kingdom of Judah and formed their own Kingdom of Israel. But the hope for national unity has never been lost, and the prophets foretell of a time when the nation of Israel will again be reunited under the leadership of David’s primary descendant, the Messiah.
When Ruth and Boaz’s child is born, the women bless the baby with the hope that his name be perpetuated throughout all of Israel (Ruth 4:14). Naomi, not Ruth, raises the child. And it is the women who name the baby, not the mother. All this signals that the child, his name and his destiny, belong not to his immediate parents, but to the greater nation that he will serve.
The Book of Ruth ends with the genealogy of King David. Only a monarch who has inherited the kindness and compassion of Ruth and Boaz can bring about real national unity and the ultimate redemption.