Sefer Rut – the Book of Ruth – is the fifth book in the Ketuvim (Writings) section of the Tanach.
According to the rabbis “Samuel wrote the book which bears his name and the Book of Judges and Ruth.” (Bava Batra 14b)1
The story takes place during the time of the Judges and as such the Book of Ruth was placed after the Book of Judges in the Septuagint. This order was also followed by the Vulgate and later English Bible translations.2
The figure of Ruth is celebrated as a righteous convert to Judaism. She understood Jewish principles and swore to follow halakhah. As a result, this sefer is held in high regard by the righteous converts to Judaism until today.
Sefer Rut is also a megillah which is read in the traditional liturgical cycle of Jewish holidays. Sefer – or Megillah – Rut is read during the festival of Shavuot as an honor to King David – Ruth’s descendent. It is appropriate to read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot for two reasons: First, because Shavuot is a harvest festival and the Book of Ruth gives us a picture of the harvest, and how the poor were treated in the harvest season with sympathy and love. Second, because Shavuot is the anniversary of the passing of King David, who was the great-grandson of Ruth and Boaz, whose story is told in the Book of Ruth. But perhaps the main reason for our reading the Book of Ruth on this festival is because it gives us such a vivid picture of the ger tzedek, a true proselyte. Shavuot is the “time of the giving of our Torah,” and when we received it, we too, like the ger tzedek, pledged to accept the Torah and fulfill its 613 mitzvot.3
Sefer Rut can be divided into four sections:
1. Prologue and Problem (Chapter 1)
2. Ruth meets Boaz (Chapter 2)
3. Naomi sends Ruth to Boaz (Chapter 3)
4. Resolution and Epilogue (Chapter 4)
Prologue and Problem
Chapter 1: The events of this book took place when Israel was under the guidance of the judges just prior to the rise of King Saul. Elimelekh and his family were among the nobility of Beth-lechem who fled to Moab in order to avoid feeding the poor during the famine.4
The two sons – Machlon and Kilyon – married two Moabite women by the names of Orpah and Ruth. The husbands died along with the father after being in Moab for ten years.
Upon the deaths of her husband and sons Naomi and her two daughter-in-laws rose to return to the land of Judah for they had heard that the famine was over and there was food in the Land. Naomi called for her daughter-in-laws to return home and gave them a blessing of being quickly remarried.
Naomi gave both women a parting kiss but each woman remained determined to go to Judah with Naomi. Naomi pleaded with them to return to Moab and their families for there would be no sons from Naomi for the women to marry.
Upon hearing of the coming hardships Orpah gave a parting kiss to Naomi and returned to her family. Ruth however declared that she would stay with Naomi through every hardship and she will become a member of the Israelites and worship God only.
Naomi permitted Ruth to accompany her back to Judah. The people were astonished at how Naomi had fallen from her high position and Naomi insisted on being called Mara – the bitter one. Naomi and Ruth began to subsist upon the gleanings of the harvest for they were a gift from God for the poor.
Ruth meets Boaz
Chapter 2: Naomi’s in-law was Boaz and according to Rashi and the sages, Boaz is Ivzan of Beth-lechem who is the judge mentioned in the Book of Judges (chapter 12). Boaz is a man who has good traits including Torah scholarship.4
Ruth insisted upon gleaning for herself and for Naomi so they would have food to eat and Ruth would perhaps meet someone to marry. Ruth came upon the field of Boaz – something that was providentially inspired.
Boaz arrived at the field and greeted those who were working. He inquired of one of the workers as to who Ruth was for it was apparent that she was a foreigner. The man in charge relayed the story of Ruth returning with Naomi from the land of Moab.
Ruth was a hard worker and had gleaned a large amount from the harvest. She was tired and took a rest in a hut that was placed in the field as a place for the workers to rest.
Boaz went to Ruth and instructed her to stay in the field where she would be protected and not harassed for the overseer trusts her. She is told to stay with the other women who are working and if she feels thirsty she is free to drink of the water that is provided. Boaz then blesses her.
Ruth was grateful to Boaz and thanked him for his kind words and comfort. Boaz invited Ruth to sit and eat with him and the harvesters where she was able to eat her fill.
Boaz took his men to not harass Ruth and to also deliberately leave behind extra sheaves for her to glean for he wanted to ensure that she was well taken care of and could glean what she needed. Ruth took home a large amount of barley and upon being asked she told Naomi that it was the field of Boaz where she had gleaned.
Naomi praised God for He had sent Ruth to the field of Naomi’s relation. Naomi felt that she could rely on Boaz to redeem Naomi’s inheritance so she would not be in need of selling it. Naomi told Ruth to remain in his field where she was safe.
Naomi sends Ruth to Boaz
Chapter 3: As the end of the harvest neared Naomi decided that it was important for Ruth to search for a husband who could take care of her. Naomi had Ruth go to the threshing floor wearing her finest clothes. Naomi knew that Boaz would be spending the night on the threshing floor to guard against theft.
Ruth was instructed to remove the cover from the feet of Boaz (and thus uncovering his shoes) to remind him that he had the obligation of marriage since he is the closest relative to Naomi – and by extension – to Ruth. It was his obligation to marry Ruth or to find a redeemer closer to Ruth who is obligated to marry her.4
Ruth goes to the threshing floor and does as Naomi had commanded. Boaz is startled awake in the night and asks Ruth why she is near him. Ruth explains that he is a redeeming relative and he is required to marry her if there is no other closer redeeming relative.
Boaz praises Ruth for her loyalty and kindness to Naomi. He assures her that he is not immediately rejecting her but must inquire of a nearer redeeming relative who must be given the first chance to marry Ruth.
Boaz had Ruth leave early so her reputation would not be tarnished. He sent along six measures of barley so she did not return to Naomi empty-handed. Ruth returned home and told Naomi what took place. Naomi instructed Ruth to remain at home until Boaz settled the issue for he would not let the matter be unsettled past that day.
Resolution and Epilogue
Chapter 4: Boaz went to the gate where the nearer redeeming relative passed by. Boaz called together a minyan – ten men – to witness the exchange between himself and the relative. Boaz asked if the relative would redeem Naomi’s land to which the relative agreed.
Boaz went on to explain that if the relative redeemed Naomi’s land then the relative would also be in need to marrying Ruth in order to perpetuate the name of the deceased Machlon. The relative did not agree to marry Ruth out of fear for his own inheritance.
Boaz rose and spoke to the minyan. He declared that as of that day he did redeem Naomi’s land and also acquired Ruth as his wife in order to perpetuate the deceased Machlon. The witnesses blessed Boaz and Ruth with many blessings.
Boaz married Ruth and she bore him a son. The name of this son was Oved which means servant – that is, the servant of God.4 Oved would go on to become the father of Jesse who would become the father of David.
1I. Epstein. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. London: Soncino Press, 1949. [http://halakhah.com/pdf/nezikin/Baba_Bathra.pdf]
2“Book of Ruth.” jewishencyclopedia.com. Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906. [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=483&letter=R&search=book%20of%20ruth]
3“Mother of Royalty.” chabad.org. Chabad, n.d. [http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2052/jewish/Mother-of-Royalty.htm]
4Aryeh Kaplan. The Living Nach: Sacred Writings. (New York: Moznaim Publishing Corporation, 1998).