According to one of the Sages, the Book of Ruth was written in order to teach the great reward for doing acts of kindness. Kindness is a point of pride amongst the Jewish people, the hallmark of Abraham and something that every Jew must aspire to. In fact, Maimonides writes that loving-kindness is something that is built into the genetic makeup of a Jew, and if a Jew displays a lack of kindness, or cruelty, his lineage should be called into question. On the flipside, the antithesis of kindness is repugnant to God, so much so that the people of Moab were prohibited entry into the Nation of Israel because of their national miserliness (Deuteronomy 23:5). What is surprising about the Book of Ruth is that the lesson of kindness is taught from a most unlikely source: Ruth the Moabite.
After Naomi begs her daughters-in-law not to follow her back to the Land of Israel and gives them compelling reasons to leave her, Orpah does what most people would do. She takes the easy way out, returns to her father’s house and goes off to live a life of anonymity. Ruth, on the other hand, answers the call in one of the most beautiful statements of faith and allegiance in the entire Bible:
“Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
From these first words uttered by Ruth we see that although she is a descendant of Lot, Ruth displays more affinity to Abraham, who himself left his family and homeland behind in order to travel to the Promised Land, and is the epitome of kindness. Unlike Lot who chose wealth and comfort over morals and values, Ruth turns her back on a life of comfort and instead chooses something greater: a chance to join the Jewish people and to follow the Jewish God.
In addition to choosing God and the Jewish people, what makes Ruth so special is her outstanding acts of loving-kindness. Time and again throughout the book she displays the traits of selflessness and kindness. In the first chapter, she leaves her homeland and everything familiar to her behind in order to accompany her aging mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Israel. After Ruth enters Israel, we see that despite her allegiance to God and the Jewish people many are reluctant to embrace her. This is reflected in the fact that throughout all four chapters of the book she is repeatedly referred to as a Moabite, despite her conversion. Yet Ruth only continues to impress us with her unusual spirit.
When they arrive in Bethlehem, Ruth realizes (chapter 2) that the only way they would survive is if she would line up with the other paupers for charity handouts in the fields of the wealthy landowners. This must have been embarrassing and demeaning, yet Ruth volunteers to relinquish her dignity and gathers crops in the field to obtain food for herself and her mother-in-law.
Her selfless and unwavering commitment to Naomi continues through chapter three, when Ruth obediently follows her mother-in-law’s unusual instructions to lie at Boaz’s feet in the middle of the night. Boaz acknowledges Ruth’s selflessness and kindness in the fact that she is willing to marry an old man in order to perpetuate the name of her deceased husband, rather than pursuing a younger husband. Finally, in chapter four, after Ruth’s dreams have come true and she has security through marriage and a child, she immediately gives the child to Naomi to raise. By giving up her maternal rights, the selfless heroine once again gives of herself for the sake of her mother-in-law. In each of the four chapters of the book, Ruth repeatedly sacrifices her own personal interests through her acts of generosity and kindness.
The Book of Ruth ends by emphasizing Ruth’s great reward for her selfless dedication to her mother-in-law and her late husband. She gives birth to a child who becomes the grandfather of King David, making Ruth the ancestress of the Davidic dynasty as well as its future descendant, the Messiah.
Casting her lot with the Jewish people was certainly not an easy thing for Ruth to do. It meant giving up everything familiar to her and often being treated as an outsider. But she recognizes that there is something unique about the Jewish people, and she picks kindness and chosenness over comfort. She receives a great reward for her kindness, and ultimately finds that the benefits of her decision far outweigh any of the challenges and discomforts that she experiences along the way.
Ruth’s words and actions set her on the path of royalty, and have inspired the faithful for hundreds of years. While she certainly deserved this great reward for her extreme kindness, why did God choose for King David to descend from a Moabite convert? Most other nations would have chosen a king with a perfect pedigree and impeccable lineage? The lesson of King David’s humble origins is a powerful one. Ruth teaches us that salvation and redemption can come from unlikely sources. No matter what our background is, we all have the ability to play a great role in history and make a difference in the world if we align ourselves with the God of Israel, the People of Israel and the Land of Israel.