The opening scene of the final chapter finally reveals who Boaz has been all along.
Boaz went up to the gates and sat there... he summoned ten great men from the elders of the city and told them to sit down with him.(Ruth 4:1-2)
The elders were, from the Torah onwards, the judicial authority. The gate was the place where biblical judgement took place, and the first to sit down was the head of the elders.In other words, Boaz was one of those very ‘judges’ that were mentioned in the opening line of the story.
Either way, in the opening scene of the chapter, it is not Boaz who takescentrestage, but the other redeemer.In front of the senior court of the elders he is offered the opportunity to purchase back the lands that had once belonged to Elimelech. He says thatheis willing. Then he is told thatif he truly wants to perform redemption, then he must also marry Ruth the Moabite.
This seems to be a law without precedent. It iscertainlynot what is directly proscribed in Torah. Yet it seems to be related to the fundamental principle of ‘redemption’.The redemption of land is, in fact, explicit in Torah. Every member of Israel has a part of the Land of Israel. If they have tosealit then they lose he place to which they belong. They become dislocated and exiled. A person without a land.When the family member buys it back, they are genuinely redeemed. The family will be able to return to their eternal portion of Israel.The responsibility to redeem falls upon the shoulders of the closest relative, but so does the mitzva ofyibum. We have already seen that he pure Torah concept ofyibumcannot apply inthis case as none of the relatives were brothers of the deceased, but the concept behindyibumis almost identical to the concept behind ‘redemption’. One is about restoring the family to itseternal land; the other is about restoring the eternity of the family itself. If the family will die out, then there is not much point to the ancestral land.
Anyone who redeems the land but not the family is not doing much redemption at all. To the contrary they may well be motivated byself-interest. After all, when the last member of the family dies, the land will move to them as the closest relative!
Of course, the redeemer could have claimed that he would have been perfectly willing to marry the true widow of the family, Naomi, if she would have been able to have had children. But she no longer can. And the only other living relative, Ruth, married Naomi’s son inMoav, under Moabite law. It was an intermarriage and is not considered a marriage at all as far as laws of inheritance of the land of Israel goes.
Boaz is fully aware of this line of reasoning, and he makes sure that the reasoning is incorrect:
Boaz said: ‘on the very day that you acquire the field from the hands of Naomiand from the hands of Ruth the Moabite...’(Ruth 4:5)
There are twoanomaliesbuilt into this sentence. The first is thattheredeemer could not possibly be buying it ‘from the hands of’ Naomi nor Ruth! Heis buying itforthem, notfromthem! The secondanomalyis the reference to Ruth the Moabite. The land has never belonged to her at all’. What can the meaning of this be?
A plausible line of reasoningis that he is emphasizing that even though someone else has indeed bought the land, nevertheless the land never fully belongs to the buyer. Whatever relationship the new buyer has, there is a relationship that is far deeper than legalities and transactions when it comes to the relationship with ancestral land. The connection is indelible; it will always really be Naomi’s land. But by the same token he is telling the redeemer that there is another relationship that has attained a similar status – and that is Ruth and Naomi. Their relationshipis one of total identity. It runs so deeply, that we can no longer speak of the owner of this land being Naomi. The land is now to be identified with a relationship; it belongs to ‘Naomi and Ruth the Moabite. The act of redemption is the act of recreating Naomi’s family and Naomi now lives in the context of a relationshipso deep and so interdependent, that it is indeed possible to bring her family back to life, and to restore their lineage.
When redemption is understood in that way, then it will indeed be meaningless if he does not also choose to marry Ruth.
The redeemer now faces adilemma. He wants to buy back the ancestral land. His motives may have been genuinely charitable. Butwhat Boaz is now telling him is that the Torah’s law of redemption is not about charity. Charity is nice but it is not enough.As Ruth taught, in charity finance is given, and dignity is taken.But if the redeemer wants to genuinely fulfil what the Torah intended with redemption, then he will need to engage in a quasi-yibum.He will need to give of his future to someone who is dead. That requires a rising above ego into a world where it is not about who is in control. It is not about who takes and who gives. It is about a place of connection that is way deeper than all of that. It is a place where our identity can be truly at one with that of another. But it is simply inaccessible to someone still holding on to their own little ego.
In this case the redeemer had another problem. Ruth was a Moabite. There was a Torah prohibition against marrying any men fromMoav. It never been clarified as to whether thatprohibitionalso applied to Moabite women.Boaz had gathered the elders in order to rule decisively on that issue.Hemade it clear to all of them that Ruth was a Moabite so that anyone who objected could raise it. The text never tells us whether there was any discussion or debate that arose as a result.If there was, then it must have been concluded with a decisive ruling because the offer stands. The redeemer not onlycanmarry Ruth, butmustdo so if he is to genuinely be redeeming this land.
Yet even if the marriage were permitted, there were still apparent societal taboos against marrying a stranger. The Torah is clear that we must love the immigrant, the stranger and the convert. But the opening chapter told us of the flaws of the people in respecting and fulfilling Torah law. All along there have been numerous hints as to theway in which the townspeople gossiped and made Ruth feel anoutsider. Boaz has worked hard to try to get people to see the Divine spark within each person. Butthe redeemer still worried about his own reputation.
The redeemer replied: ‘I amcannotredeem it myself; I could destroy my own inheritance!...’(Ruth 4:6)
A simple reading suggests that his rejection of Ruth isbecausehe is afraid of the long-term reputational damage to him, and to his futuredescendants. They will bestigmatisedforever. But the specific word choices tell us that there was much more going on.The Hebrew word ‘louchalli’literally mean ‘I cannot redeem it for me!’. The redeemer had been willing to be charitable. But it had always been about ‘me’. It had always been abouthisneeds andhis achievements.Apart from any reputational issues,there was the problem of marrying someone to give birth to another person’s children.His inheritance will be shared amongst children who go under someone else’s name. He is scared that he would destroy his own inheritance!
There is a painful irony that the one person who cared so deeply about his own reputation and his own eternity, is remembered only for his failure to rise above his ego and his reputation.He is actually referred to as ‘Plonialmoni’which is the Hebrew equivalent of ‘Mr. Anonymous’. The woman he rejected for fear of reputation and inheritance, becomes the mother of the greatest inheritance of all – the King of all of Israel and ultimately theMessianicredeemer.
Boaz steps in and announces that he himself will step up and restore both the land and the family; he will marry Ruth.But he makes sure that the town is going to fully understand all of the implications and lessons that come with this decision.
Boaz said to the elders and all the people, ‘You are witnesses todaythat I have acquired... all thatbelongsto Elimelech,MachlonandKilyon.I am also marrying Ruth the Moabite, wife ofMachlon, to be my wife in order to restore the name of the deceased upon his inheritance, so that the name of the deceased will never be lost amongst his brothers, nor from the gates ofhis place. You are witnesses today!’(Ruth 4: 9-10)
For Boaz it was crucial that the whole town witness and absorb all that had transpired. They needed to see firsthand that it was genuinely possible to perform such an act of redemptionto genuinely transcend the ego and genuinely be restoring the name, land and lineage of the dead. ButBoazwanted the people to absorb the lesson that he himself had learned fromRuth. That to do so does not involve dissolvingnor shrinking of self. Removing the ego does not leave a smaller self; it allows for a deeper, more expansive identity.
At first it may have come as a shock to the people. But as they processed the whole event, andabsorbed all the lessons learned, something happened to them.Rather than reject Ruth, they embraced her.In fact, they did far more than that. They began to absorb just how incredible Ruth really is. Theyrealisehow Ruth’s ideas and attitudes can rebuild the brokenness of society and the very fabric of the nation itself.In a sense she would be a matriarch of a people reborn!
The people at the gate, and the elders, all declared: ‘We are witnesses! May Hashemoffer the gift of[Ruth]who is joining your home to be like Rachel and Leah, both ofwhombuilt the house of Israel!’(Ruth 4:11)
It is hard tooverstate the significance of all that is contained in these words.Throughout Israel’s history the nation struggled with coming from two mothers, Rachel and Leah. It was the children ofLeah who had sold Joseph (Rachel’s eldest child) into slavery. Centuries later, when the kingdom splits, itis between a Southern Kingdom whose kings come from Judah of Rachel, and a Northern Kingdom whose kings come from Joseph of Leah. The national schism rarely has moments of healing, and the prophets tell us that the full healing of these two parts of Israel are the key to bringing about redemption.
But the first glimpse of reconciliation has just happened. The town of Bethlehem of Judah, the descendants of Leah, have acknowledged that it isbothmothers – both parts of the people – who have been essential to building the nation. That acknowledgmentput aside ego and tribalism.As soon as that ego and tribalism are put aside, something remarkable takes place.No longer is it a competition between who is more important or significant. All of a sudden Israel is bigger than one family or another. All of a sudden,we are one people like one body. A body does not have competing parts. Each needs torecognisethe value of each other. That attitude seems to have overcome the residents of Bethlehem. Not only are they now able torecognisethe value ofRachel as well as Leah. In fact, they are able to do something even more remarkable – for the first time ever they make Rachel primary, putting her beforetheirown mother Leah!
Rachel was the ‘fundamental’ wife inasmuch as it was because of her thatJacobhad marriedinto Lavan’s family in the first place. EvenLeah’s children would eventually acknowledge the fact. Boaz and hiscourt were from the tribe of Judah[child of Leah] and [the people] said ‘like Rachel and like Leah...’ putting Rachel before [their own mother] Leah.(Rashi,Bereishis31:4)
The people alsorecognisethe deep significance of the fact that their very existence as descendants of Judah, is owed to this very type of relationship:yibum! After all it wasayibumact initiated by Judah’s own daughter in law that produced the child Peretz who was the immediate ancestor of Boaz and his townsfolk.
‘...and may your home be like the home of Peretz, whom Tamar bore to Judah!...’ (Ruth 4:12)
Ruth's ego-transformative view of the world have brought about a transformation oftheway that we view relationships. It has brought about a healing of localxenophobiaand national tribalism. If the story ended hereit would be an incredible achievement, teaching us a lesson worthy of being recorded and learned forever. But the story does not end here.After all the whole point of the marriage and redemption was to bring Naomi’s family back to life.
Hashem gave her conception and she gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi: ‘Blessed be Hashem who did not withhold aredeemer for you today! May his name be proclaimed throughout Israel! He will restore your soul, and sustain you in your old age, for your daughter in law who loves you is better for you than seven sons!’ (Ruth 4:13-15)
The depth of Ruth’s love is so strong that when she takes the child and nurses it, it is as if it is not her at all, but Naomi. Ruth has become the ultimate surrogate. Her ego has been so transcended that her childreally isNaomi’s child.
Naomi took the child... and she became his nurse! All theneighbours...declared‘a son has been born to Naomi!’(Ruth 4:16-17)
For a moment it seems as if Ruth has gone altogether. As if her sacrifice had really involved a total loss of self. But that would violate the whole point of creation. God created a world to give to us. The goal of life is to dissolve ourself-centredego,but not to dissolve our sense of self. Rather it is to deepen and expand hat self through layers of expanded identity. As we leave our ego, we discover the love of others and build family. As we go deeper, we find the love of Israel, and ultimately all Adam-kind. Ultimately, we find ourselves moving from loving ourneighbouras if we are one big self, to loving the Creator of all existence. Ruth has not disappeared. The ego of Ruth has gone altogether. In its place she has become the mother of the whole nation. Hername has left the final verses of the story; it has become the name of the whole story.
What she has taught us transformedBethlehemthere and then, and it transformed Israel ever after. Until Ruth, having a king would be the same as having dictator.The Hebrew word for a monarch with dictatorial power ismoshel.Instead what we seek isamelech–a person who is able to transcend their own personal ego, and help unify and integrate the entire nation,eachtribebecoming a vital organ, eachcommunityan essential tissue, and each individual a crucial cell, in the integrated body of Israel. There is one family whose essence embodies that ability. It is the family of Ruth.
...they called him Oved. He is the father of Yishai who is the father of David.(Ruth 4:17)
The final five verses form an epilogue, tracing the seed of Judah child after child through Boaz to David. The ancestral lineage is restored. Israel haswithin it the answer to the challenge ofSedom. It has the key to healing all relationships, including the relationship with Hashem Himself. We have the key to the ability to receive Torah itself; the dynamic man-God relationship that is the essence of the Oral accompaniment to the WrittenTorah.If we can onlyinternaliseall that Ruth brought to the people, then collectively we can be the redeemer, bringing backRuth’s seed, and the seed of David to bring healing to the world as theMoshiachHashem.
May we merit to see the world restored, speedily in our days.
Indeed, the true seniority of Boaz can be seen in his subsequent ruling on the permissibility of and Israelite marrying a Moabitess. Someone capable of interpreting the Torah resolving somethhing that controversial, would usually be expected to be a major judge widely recognised throughout Israel. The Book of Shoftim (Judges) tells us of just one such judge who lived in Bethlehem, and that was Ivtzan who is described as having an enormous family. The Talmud (Bava Basra 91a) records a tradition that all the members of Ivtzan’s family died. Apparently, his new name represents a new identity and new-found strength. Literally the word ‘Bo-az’ would translate as ‘in him lies strength.’
See Rabbi M. Miller, Rising Moon, pp.307-310 for a development of this theme.
He made sure that he declared that he had personal interest, and that is the redeemer would not step forward then he was next in line: ‘If you will redeem, then redeem! but if you will not redeem then tell me... for there is no-one else to redeem apart from you and me who comes after you.‘ (4:4) That statement would effectively have recused himself from any debate about the issue and allowed the elders to have delivered a supportive ruling with no bias.
Rabbi Daniel Rowe is the Executive Director of Aish UK. He holds a BA in Philosophy from University College London and an MPhil in Philosophy from Birkbeck College. He studied for a decade in Israel in various Talmudic institutes and is considered one of the most dynamic Jewish speakers in the UK, teaching in campuses, communities and schools across the country.
Rabbi Rowe is known for his ability to tackle difficult topics and has numerous videos and articles online. In 2016, Rabbi Rowe took part in a live televised debate with a leading atheist, dubbed "The God Debate".
Rabbi Rowe has played an instrumental role in the creation and development of many organisations and initiatives such as the Forum for Jewish Leadership, the Aleinu Conference and Shabbat UK.