Did King Solomon Pen A Hidden Commentary On Ruth?
Eishet Chayil: What Does Feminine Valor Look Like?
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
Eishet Chayil is the ode to feminine gifts, written by King Solomon in the final chapter of Proverbs, and sung every week, at the Friday night Shabbat table. For generations, many of us have been singing this song every Friday night at our Shabbat table, singing to the woman of the house and extolling her praises. Rabbi Fohrman recorded this live audio in Alon Shvut, Israel, in which he aims to understand the essence of what a "woman of valor" really means.
For indeed, the very notion is odd. Valor is often thought of as a masculine virtue – signifying bravery, on the battlefront, or otherwise. And yet, King Solomon uses this phrase when describing what he calls the most important of feminine gifts. Why? Rabbi Fohrman argues that Solomon, in the song of Eishet Chayil, hides a theory of a vision of unique feminine power and strength.
Eishet Chayil, A Woman of Valor, is the 31st chapter of the book of Mishlei, Proverbs and it's traditionally sung on Friday nights. But sometimes the words that are the most familiar to us are the ones that we least understand. In this recorded lecture, Rabbi Fohrman offers a bold and radical interpretation that might just change the way you read this most familiar of songs. Enjoy.
What if I told you that not far from Qumran, in a cave in the Judean desert, overlooking the Dead Sea, there was another piece of pottery and inside it there were other scrolls. Archeologists, in looking at the scrolls and then piecing them together, found what they believed to be the oldest known commentary on the Book of Ruth.
It's a commentary that, as the archaeologists have been working on it and have been dating it, was found to actually have been composed within four generations of Ruth herself. It is of unimpeachable integrity, represents the most authoritative commentary that we have now on the Book of Ruth, more authoritative than any of the rishonim (first ones), than any of the Midrashim. More direct.
And most remarkably of all, the author was identified as someone who actually knew Ruth and was writing the commentary on her story. The author was identified as King Solomon. If such a thing were ever found, you'd want to read it, right?
The story I just told you is only slightly not true. But the part of it that's true, I believe, is that we have that commentary and it exists. The only thing is, it's been undiagnosed the whole time. You've been singing it every Friday night. It is the 31st chapter of the Book of Proverbs. It's Eishet Chayil (Eishet Chayil).
What I hope to show you tonight is that Eishet Chayil is the hidden, mysterious commentary on the Book of Ruth, on King Solomon's great-great-grandmother. What I want to show you is that this isn't just a theory. It's actually true. In other words, it's not just maybe.
In the beginning of this talk, it was, sort of, maybe. What I want to show you tonight is, kind of, two things. The first thing I want to show you is, slowly, over the evening, that this isn't just a theory. It's really probably true. The second thing I want to show you is the implications of that.
Because if we do have that, and it's really a commentary on the Book of Ruth, what I want to show you is that it's all chronological. The beginning of Eishet Chayil actually is a commentary on the beginning of the Book of Ruth, the middle of Eishet Chayil is a commentary on the middle of the Book of Ruth, and the end of Eishet Chayil is a commentary on the end of the Book of Ruth. It's all in chronological order, every last verse, from Aleph right to Tav. It takes you in chronological order.
The first thing I want to show you is that it's true. But the second thing is, why do I care? I care because of two things. Because it perhaps offers us unparalleled insight into the Book of Ruth by Ruth's own great-great-grandson. It offers us unparalleled insight into someone else too. Into King Solomon. This is how King Solomon saw her. This is why he thought she was important.
That's amazing. To have that sort of intimate insight into who she was in his eyes, and therefore, what I know about her and what I know about him. If this is true, the payoff is huge. The question is, is it true?
Let me ask you four questions about Eishet Chayil. Eishet Chayil is one of those things that we sing every Friday night but folks have different relationships to it.
I met somebody, not too long ago, on a trip that I was taking in Montana, Glacier National Park. He confided in me, a very learned man, that his mother, who was a very learned woman, hated Eishet Chayil. Just hated it. On her deathbed, she left the request that if the only thing you can think to say about me comes from Eishet Chayil, just don't say anything at all.
But this fellow came to a version of the talk that I'm giving you now and said I'd love to have you come back on my mother's death anniversary to deliver this talk to her family and friends, because I'm only sorry that she didn't hear it in her lifetime. It could have redeemed the book for her.
The four questions I want to ask you about Eishet Chayil are the following. I want to begin, before asking those four questions, by asking you, just in general, how you've related to Eishet Chayil; it's a song many of us sing Friday night.
I have this question to ask you. When you sing that song, when you think about its authorship, when you think about what King Solomon had in mind, there are, sort of, two possibilities and I'm wondering which one you always thought it was.
Possibility number one is that King Solomon was talking about his idea of a perfect Jewish woman. He was constructing an image in his own mind of what the qualities of the ideal Jewish woman would be. That is option number one.
Option number two is that he was actually talking about a particular person. Yes, secondarily, it functions as an image of some wonderful Jewish woman. But he's actually composing an ode to a particular person.
So think about your own experience with Eishet Chayil. Which did you think it is? Was it hey, he's talking about his vision of what the perfect Jewish woman is? He's creating in his own mind what he thinks it should be. He's not talking about anybody in particular. He's just talking about this ideal Jewish woman. Or B, he's talking about somebody in particular.
A or B? All in favor of B, raise your hand. Okay. All in favor of A, raise your hand. Okay. Very good. So the As have it about four to one.
I have to confess to you; I was an A for a long time. I'm an alcoholic and I'm always -- I was an A for a long time. Until I started to ask a couple of questions. Let me share with you a couple of questions.
It's an alphabetical acrostic. It begins with Aleph and ends with Tav. Let's go through it, more or less. Let's start with Aleph.
Imagine you were writing an ode to the paragon of Jewish femininity or a picture of what perfect Jewish femininity would look like. You were a poet and you decided it would be really cool to have an alphabetical acrostic, get through every letter, and you settled on your first word. You've got your first word down. You think it would be great to start with a woman of. But you just need the second word, and you want a single word that will, in a single word, encompass the most important feminine value or trait that you can imagine in the Jewish world. A woman of X. What is X going to be?
English, Hebrew, I don't care. Give me some ideas, I have writers' block. I'm writing this. What would you tell me? A woman of -- a woman who does what? Give me something, a single word, a single idea.
Audience Member: Mercy.
Rabbi Fohrman: Mercy. Merciful. Kindness. A woman who is a mistress of kindness. A compassionate Jewish woman. A woman of substance. A woman of strength. A wise woman, maybe, who sees from afar. So there are a zillion things you can imagine. If you come from some quarters in certain schools, you could say a modest woman, maybe. You could.
Audience Member: Not in this crowd.
Rabbi Fohrman: So you can imagine a lot of -- a modest woman. You can imagine a lot of things you could say. But listen to what Solomon says.
"Eishet chayil mi yimtza." Valor. It's possibly associated with -- in Modern Hebrew, it's come to mean soldier. Militaristic overtones. Not any kind of strength, but powerful, brazen, militaristic kind of strength. It sounds like the most masculine of qualities that you could possibly imagine. Here comes Solomon, ascribing that as the paragon of values that he wants his vision of perfect Jewish femininity to express. Remarkable.
And this is the theory that I want to suggest to you tonight, kind of the answer to question number one about Eishet Chayil, what's the deal with Eishet Chayil? What you take from just that, if nothing else, what that seems to suggest is that Solomon has something particular up his sleeve here. And it's kind of radical.
What I think he's doing, what I want to argue to you he's doing, is that he is specifically writing this not to just give any old portrait of Jewish femininity. He wants to portray a particular thing. He's interested in a particular question. The question is, what does feminine strength look like? What does feminine strength look like? What does feminine power look like?
We all know what masculine power looks like. Masculine power is classic. If I ask you what is masculine power, what is masculine valor? It's valor on the battlefield, you know, all of that. Combat and AR-15s and UZIs. You just name it.
What is feminine strength? Is there such a thing, uniquely feminine strength? What would that look like and why would it be wonderful if you could figure out what it looked like? That, I think, is what he's trying to figure out in these verses. How is he trying to figure them out? Let's work on that.
Before that, I want to get to three other questions about Eishet Chayil. Going down the list, we talked about Aleph, let me talk to you about three particularly troublesome verses. Group therapy session here.
Nun. You ever wonder about Nun? I'm talking mostly to the women in the room. Your husband's singing this to you or your father's singing this and you're, kind of, thinking I wonder what the deal with this is. "Nodah basharim balah b'shivto im ziknei aretz." Her husband is well known in the gates of the city, inasmuch as he sits with the elders of the land. He's a big politico. He hobnobs with the high and mighty.
Anyone have a problem with Verse Nun being included in Eishet Chayil? Anybody? It sits well with all of you? Yeah. Go on. I'm listening. What's your problem? How about if she was sitting there? I get it, that's a good problem. How can you compose an ode to a woman and have a verse that doesn't talk about her at all, but talks about her husband? What's that about? Are you telling me that the quality of a perfect Jewish woman is that, unless you're married to a guy who is very politically connected, who sits in the gates, you haven't quite made it as a Jewish woman? It doesn't sound like a nice thing. Just saying. Putting it out there. Just give me a second to just lay it out there for you. Verse Nun is problematic.
But it's not the only problematic verse. Let me make life even harder for you for a minute. Let's go to Verse Shin. "Sheker hachein v'hevel hayofi ishah yirat Hashem hi tithalal." At face value, it sounds kind of nice. Who can argue with "ishah yirat Hashem hi tithalal?" A woman who fears God is to be praised. But "sheker hachein v'hevel hayofi" sounds like the lady does protest too much. You know what I mean? To say that charm is valueless, is false, that beauty is to be completely disregarded, it just doesn't seem to matter.
It's like, you know, I don't know about you but if I'm the wife, my husband is singing this to me sweetly Friday night, I'm a little offended. Do you know what I mean? Just a little bit. It's, like, do you want me to come downstairs in a paper bag? Is that what you're saying? To completely discount beauty and to say it's worthless? It's not as important as fear of God, but to go that far? It just seems like a stretch.
And it doesn't even seem true. If you think about the Bible, the Bible takes great pride in lauding the beauty of all of the matriarchs, mostly. So it sounds like it's a value, it's a thing. It's maybe not the thing, but it's a thing. So what's the deal with Shin, "sheker hachein v'hevel hayofi?"
But the real kicker is Resh. Think about it. All you A people out there in the room, those who said that he's talking just in his head, not about any particular person, just about what the feminine picture looks like. Let's talk about Resh. "Rabot banot asu chayil," many women have done acted valorously, "v'at alit al kulanah," but you, you, are far greater than any of them.
Now think A for a moment. Just really meditate upon A, and now think about the Resh verse. Tell me, just group therapy session, if you have any problems with the Resh verse. What does it actually mean if you're an A? "Rabot banot asu chayil," many actual women who have lived have acted valorously. "V'at," but you. Who is you? You is no one. Who is you? You are the figment of my imagination. That's who you is.
But the figment of my imagination is the paragon of wonderful femininity. Her, "alit al kulanah," is far better than any actual Jewish woman who ever lived. That's not a nice thing to say. It's just not. It's the ultimate left-handed compliment to every single Jewish woman who has ever lived. Nobody can come close to my Barbie doll picture of the perfect paragon of Jewish femininity. Who would say that? How could that possibly be a compliment? It's just nasty.
Audience Member: But we hear it all the time.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. I get it. So you're a victim of the lullaby affect. I talk about the lullaby affect in my first book. Read the introduction to The Beast that Crouches at the Door.
The lullaby affect is the propensity we all have to fall asleep to these things. In other words, if you actually listened to the lullaby, you'd have a lot of questions. "Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop/when the wind blows, the cradle will rock/when the bough breaks, the cradle will fall/and down will come baby, cradle and all."
Now, you can get a kid to fall asleep to this because they're not listening to the words. It's just a song, so you get used to it after a while. But if you stopped and actually thought about what you were saying, you'd be horrified. You'd have some questions. Like, who put the baby on the bough? How far off the ground was the cradle? When the bough broke, did anyone call 911? Do you know what I mean? And who put the cradle on the bough in the first place? Was it the mother and was the mother trying to kill the baby? And why are you singing this song to me, mom? There are a lot of questions here.
Here, too, we sing it. So the problem with singing it is that you don't pay attention to the words after a while. It's just a song. But if you just stop, it's, like, no, what is he saying? What is he actually saying?
I want to suggest to you, because of these three questions, that maybe let's go with B. Let's go with option B. Because option B holds the possibility of redeeming all three of these questions. Let me explain to you why.
If Solomon was talking about a particular person, somebody who he really wanted to write an ode to, so then it's not offensive to say "rabot banot asu chayil v'at alit al kulanah." He's talking about a particular woman he admires and he's saying you're the most amazing woman I've ever seen. You won't get shocked if people say something like that.
And if he says "sheker hachein v'hevel hayofi ishah yirat Hashem hi tithalal," it could be that that's understandable in the context of her story. What was her story? Tell me her story and I'll tell you what it means, "sheker hachein v'hevel hayofi."
Similarly, even "noda basharim balah b'shivto im ziknei aretz." It's not a paragon of what the perfect Jewish woman should be, but it's important to her story somehow and it enlightens something about her story, which may actually tell you something about her in some kind of interesting way.
So the question is, what about me? Could it be me? Could he be talking about a particular person? Then the question is, which particular person? What particular person is he talking about and how would you know? How would you know?
You'd know, maybe, by looking at how he begins. "Eishet chayil mi yimtza." What a strange thing to say about a woman, a Eishet Chayil.
And then I can ask, well, that phrase that he chooses, did he just make it up or did he get it from somewhere? In other words, if you look elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, does the phrase ever appear? It turns out that it does. It appears one other time and one other time only. When it appears, it describes a particular person and not just any particular person. Who does it describe? It's Boaz talking about Ruth.
"V'ata biti al tiri," and now, my daughter, do not fear. "Kol asher tomri e'eseh," everything you say I will do. "Ki yodei'a kol sha'ar ami," because everybody in the gates knows, "ki eishet chayil at," that you are a Eishet Chayil.
Those are the words that Boaz chose to laud her. And now, her great-grandson chooses to begin with those words. And now, if that's true, the Qof phrase starts to mean something dramatic, doesn't it? "Kamu baneha vaye'ashruha balah vayehalelah." So her husband might have praised her, but what about her children? Her children get up and praise her. Well, who were those children? It's King Solomon himself. I mean, he's one of those children. He is fulfilling what he's talking about. And he's holding up Ruth as this paragon of a Eishet Chayil.
Now, if this was the only piece of evidence, you could walk out of here and say well, that was kind of interesting. Fohrman has an interesting theory. He thinks that maybe Eishet Chayil -- I don't go for the whole dramatic introduction, about the pottery and those things, but, you know, maybe. Maybe.
But if you had to bet your house on it, like if it was literally double or nothing on your house, you might want to think twice about it. I'm not so sure. It's interesting that there's only one Eishet Chayil in the Hebrew Bible and it just happens to be his great-great-grandmother. Suggestive, but I don't know yet if I would take the bet.
What would you have to see to make you take the bet? You'd have to see more. Show me more. So what I want to show you now is the more. I want to show it to you for two reasons. The first reason is so we can have confidence in the theory. But the second reason is because the reason why there's more isn't just so we can discover who this is talking about. The reason why there is more is because more adds information. He's actually telling you something. He's not just passively writing about Ruth. He's writing about Ruth in a bold, dramatic, and daring way.
Not only is this the oldest commentary on the Book of Ruth, I want to suggest, it's also the boldest and most daring commentary that we have on the Book of Ruth. He has a very unique perspective on what was going on in this book and he's telling you about it in Eishet Chayil.
So let's try to read it verse by verse and see if we can go through. Unfortunately, I do have to give you fair warning. Fair warning is I'm not going to keep you that long tonight. I'm not going to speak for more than about an hour and a quarter in total. In order to do this talk to completion, to go all the way through Eishet Chayil, is about five and a half hours. I know because I've timed it. I'm going to talk fast but I'm not going to be able to get through all of it. Just saying.
But I'll get through enough of it that I think you can have confidence in the theory and begin to see what he's saying. Then, I'll leave it as a challenge for you, to decipher the rest at home on Friday night with your friends around the Sabbath table. It's a fun thing to do.
Okay. Let me go through it and let me show you how I think Eishet Chayil is structured just so we can understand. The way I'm going to argue Eishet Chayil is structured is that there's an introduction, there's a body, and there's a conclusion. The introduction is where Solomon makes an opening statement about Ruth, which is bold and encompassing. This is the single verse, "Eishet chayil mi yimtza v'rachok mipninim michrah," who can find a Eishet Chayil and her worth is far above rubies, or her worth is far above pearls.
That's the introduction. What's he saying in the introduction? We'll have to figure it out, but that's the introduction. From there, I want to argue, the body of Eishet Chayil begins.
The body is not a general statement about Ruth, as was the first verse. The first verse draws on themes from the Book of Ruth everywhere. You're going to find the first verse is very complex, drawing on a number of themes throughout the book to make an introductory open statement.
After that, begins a line-by-line commentary starting with Bet. If you ever want to know where you're up to, you can just, kind of, look over the Book of Ruth and you can figure out basically where you are. We're halfway through the first chapter or three quarters of the way through the first chapter. You're going to see, he's just going to go through the book and explain it to you. Until he gets to the end, where he's going to make a concluding statement about Ruth, which again is going to draw on themes from the whole book.
Let's begin with Bet. Eishet Chayil is a statement which draws on Chapter 3, which is where Boaz says this about her. "Eishet chayil mi yimtza." But to truly understand his opening statement, it's very complex, we have to take it apart, we need to know more about what he says in the body. When we understand more about what he says in the body, the opening statement will become clearer and clearer.
So the question is, it would be one thing if he wants to say Eishet Chayil, that Ruth is a Eishet Chayil, but why does he say "eishet chayil mi yimtza," a Eishet Chayil who can find? What's the deal with that question? Moreover, why does he then say "v'rachok mipninim michrah," her worth is far above rubies, or pearls? Where did he get that phrase from? Is there anything in the Book of Ruth that he's talking about? Why would that be an important thing to say about someone like Ruth? All of those questions we will talk about, but not now. Let's go to Bet and we'll come back to Aleph.
Okay. Bet is "batach bah leiv balah," her husband's heart trusts in her, "v'shalal lo yechsar," and spoils of war will not be in short supply. Just translating the words.
Now, when you read that, you think what a strange verse. What in the world does that mean? Even forget Ruth. What in the world do those two parts of the sentence even have to do with each other? I begin by saying her husband's heart trusts in her and then I end by saying and spoils of war won't be in short supply.
I can totally understand why you're talking about spoils of war, if you were talking about valor. Because valor is a battlefield kind of word. But I still don't get what that has to do with her husband and what that has to do with her husband's heart's trust in her.
Okay. But now let's go to Ruth for some answers. Let's say we're talking about Ruth. Let's put the jigsaw puzzle together. By the way, each one of these verses is its own jigsaw puzzle. There's an Aleph to Tav jigsaw puzzle. Why? Because that's the name of the book, boys and girls. It's called Proverbs for a reason. Proverbs just means I'm going to give you a bunch of puzzles. That's what he says, "divrei chachamim v'chidotam" at the beginning. The words of the wise and their riddles. He's spinning riddles for you.
His first riddle is the Bet riddle. "Batach bah leiv baalah v'shalal lo yechsor." So you've got to put your jigsaw puzzle hat on. So you say okay, let's say it's Ruth. If it's Ruth, who is the husband who is being referred to in Bet? Who is her husband? Boys and girls, when I ask you a question it's not a rhetorical question. You're supposed to answer the question.
So you say the answer is Boaz. Wrong, because Boaz is her husband at the end of the book. But we're not up to the end of the book; we're up to the beginning of the book. In the beginning of the book, who is her husband? Mahlon is her husband. Great.
Which just makes the verse more puzzling. Because, boys and girls, what do we know about Mahlon? Nothing. We just know the guy just dies. That's all we know about him. He marries her, dies. That's basically all you know about Mahlon.
So it's kind of weird that King Solomon should take this, sort of, bold leap to try to describe the unique relationship that Ruth and Mahlon would have had by saying Mahlon, you should know, his heart really trusted in her. How would you even know that? There's nothing in the book that shows you -- Mahlon's like a stick figure. He just marries her and dies.
If he marries her and dies, what's the other possibility? The possibility I want to suggest to you is here is Solomon taking his first bold move in interpreting the Book of Ruth. Let me suggest the problem that I think he's trying to suggest.
It's the most basic problem in the Book of Ruth, which is what's the story about? Let me explain what I mean by that. For a long time, I, to tell you a personal story, as a yeshivah guy growing up in wherever I grew up, California and then in New York, had a problem with the Book of Ruth. Because every Feast of Weeks would roll around and you'd learn it, but it always left me cold. Why? Because I couldn't even understand the story.
It was just a bunch of stuff that happened in Bethlehem. It's just almost like a still-life of a day in the life of Bethlehem. That's how you could read the Book of Ruth.
To explain, I took a course a while back. It was an online course. I recommend it. It's MasterClass. MasterClass Online Classes. This is Aaron Sorkin from West Wing talking about screenwriting. Aaron Sorkin says how do you know, if you have a story, that you can write a movie script for it? How do you know if you've got a good story?
He says if you had a crazy cross-country trip and you come along and you say I want to write a movie about my crazy cross-country trip, he says I'd love to hear about your crazy cross-country trip but you don't have a story. That's not a movie. Don't even try.
In order to have a story, there are two elements that you have to have in every story. What are those two elements? They are intention and obstacle. Intention. Someone's going to want something really badly. It doesn't matter what you want; you have to want it really badly. I need to get to Philadelphia. Why? The girl of my dreams is in Philadelphia, I need to propose to her. Or there's this job interview, this perfect job in Philadelphia. I have to get to Philadelphia.
But there's an obstacle. I don't have any money on me. I left my wallet at home. The only train is leaving in five minutes. I only have $10 on me. I can't afford it. How am I going to get to Philadelphia?
Now you've got a story. You have an intention and you have an obstacle. The story is about the resolution of this formidable obstacle standing in the way of this intention, and everything else in the story, all of the character development, everything that happens, you can hang around the conflict between this intention and obstacle.
Let's apply that to the Book of Ruth. What's the intention and what's the obstacle? It's very hard to see. You just read the book and it's, like, okay, so once upon a time there were these guys and they started off to Bethlehem and then they went to Moab for some reason. They got married. They died. They had this mother-in-law. The mother-in-law's going back. They figure they want to accompany her. One goes, one stays.
Then, when they come back, they're starving for a little bit. They go to a field. She finds a guy, seems like a nice guy. A little bit of romance starting. The guy doesn't pick up on it for a while. There's this weird kind of sketchy story with the grain pile in the middle of the night. Not really sure what happened there. And everything seems to work out in the end. They get married, seem to live happily ever what. And guess what? King David comes from them, so who can complain?
But that's not a story. That's just a day in the life of Bethlehem. What's the intention? What's the obstacle? What lies at the heart of the story? What is the intention?
King Solomon is getting to that question in this very first verse in the body. "Batach bah leiv balah v'shalal lo yechsor." Her husband's heart, Mahlon, trusts in her, and "shalal," battlefield booty, battlefield spoils, will not be in short supply.
Here's the problem. The only thing we know about him is that he dies. He dies young and then he's out of the picture. So what can "batach bah leiv balah" mean? There's no time for it. He's already dead in the third verse of the book. So what can it mean? What's the only option available?
It doesn't mean her husband's trust in her when he's alive. It means her husband's heart trusts in her when he's dead. After he's dead, that's when. The intention is levirate marriage. That's right. That is the intention. The obstacle is, how could it ever be?
You might say if you're dead, you're dead. You're out of the picture. But it's not true. A dead guy still has interests. The problem is he can't look after them anymore.
Now, the interests of a dead guy are different than the interests of live people. There's no greater illustration of the differences between the interests of the dead guy and the live guy than the single Hebrew word "shalal," spoils of war.
If I'm alive, what are spoils of war? It's gold, it's silver, it's jewelry. It's this hoard of wealth that I can pillage and take off the battlefield. But now my question is, if I'm dead, what matters to me? What are the spoils of war? Gold doesn't matter anymore, silver doesn't matter anymore, and neither does jewelry. I can't take any of that with me. What is my only interest, after I die, left in this world?
The answer is my name. The answer is my legacy. The answer is children. It's the only thing that matters. Mahlon died young. There were no children. He still has an interest. The interest is his legacy, which is about to be destroyed. The portion in the Bible that deals with this is the portion of yibum (levirate marriage), "lo yimach et shmo b'Yisrael."
The word for levirate marriage appears in the Book of Ruth. It's what Naomi is talking about with Ruth as Naomi tries to dissuade her. Listen to what Naomi says. You can see it right here in your source sheets, halfway down the first page. "Vatomer Naami lishtei chalotehah leichnah shovnah," guys, go back home. "Ya'as Hashem imachem chesed," let God do good to you, "ka'asher asitem im hameitim v'imadi."
"Yitein Hashem lachem umetzena menuchah ishah beit ishah vatashak lahen vatisenah kolan vativkenah. Verse 10. "Vatomarnah lah," no, we want to go back with you. So Naomi says the following, "shovnah v'notai," go back, "lamah teilachnah imi," why should you come with me? Listen to her words. "Ha'od li vanim b'mei'ai v'hayu lachem la'anashim," do I still have any children left that could be for you husbands?
What's she talking about? She's talking about levirate marriage. What is levirate marriage? Levirate marriage is the law that says when a man dies before his time and he dies childless, there is an obligation upon the brother of the deceased.
Seemingly, this is an extended form of levirate marriage. It is not a law form of levirate marriage, but an extended form of levirate marriage. Parenthetically, Nahmanides, in Chapter 38 of Genesis, talks about this. He talks about an extended form of levirate marriage, which was accepted customarily in the time, which is larger than just brothers.
But this is what Naomi says. She says, do I have any children that you can marry? Because there is a commandment upon the brother of the deceased to marry the widow. The child that they would have, "v'hayah habechor asher teileid." You'll find that it as the last piece on Page 3 in your sheets over here. You can follow along with me. "V'hayah habechor asher teileid yakum al sheim achiv hameit," the child that was born is going to get up, is going to be a living legacy for the name of the brother who's dead. "V'lo yimacheh shemo miYisrael," his name should not be blotted out from among Israel.
Now, the tragedy of levirate marriage is that it's very male-dependent. And, if you look at what happens in this story in Deuteronomy, Chapter 25, you'll find that, even in the Bible's paradigmatic vision of levirate marriage, the intention is actually foiled and it doesn't actually come out. Because the story that the Bible tells you is actually not a story of successful levirate marriage, but a story of failed levirate marriage.
You find it in the next verses. Just read with me for a second. "V'im lo yachpotz ha'ish lakachat et yevimto." What if the man just doesn't want to do it? What if the brother just doesn't want to take his widow and carry on his name? "V'altah yevimto hash'arah." Well, at that point, the woman is supposed to go up to the gates and she goes to appeal to the zekeinim, to the elders. "V'amrah," and she says, "mei'ein yevami," my brother-in-law is not interested. He's withholding himself. "L'hakim l'achiv sheim b'Yisrael lo avah yabmi," he just doesn't want to do it.
V'karu lo ziknei iro." At that point, the elders come and they call out to him. "V'dibru eilav," and they try to speak to him, speak sense to him. But "v'amad v'amar." But he's recalcitrant and he just says, "lo chafatzti l'kachtah." No. I'm sorry. I'm not interested. "Lo chafatzti," I don't want to.
Now, you have to, sort of, wonder, by the way, what's going on here? Like, why is the Bible telling you this whole story? It seems to me, what's interesting in the Book of Ruth, later on you'll find that Boaz will talk about Ruth as a paragon of kindness for her loyalty to her dead husband. If you think about levirate marriage, levirate marriage really is the most concentrated act of kindness you can imagine.
Why? Because think about it. Again, who's the most vulnerable person in the world? The most vulnerable person in the world is a dead guy. He's still got interests in this world, namely legacy, but he can't look after them anymore. Who is the closest person in the world to you? Your brother. What is the most precious gift you can ever imagine giving to someone, the most intimate gift you can imagine ever giving to someone? A child. Your very own child. To share your own child with someone, your own legacy with someone.
When the most vulnerable person in the world is also the closest person in the world to you, and you give the most intimate of gifts to fulfill his need for legacy, it's the most concentrated form of kindness that you can possibly imagine.
But here's the thing. People who are the closest to you are often the people who annoy you the most. Right? Brothers, you either love them or you hate them. You know what I mean? You're either close or there's this rivalry that gets going. The problem is, what happens when there are brothers who are rivals and one of them died? You kind of feel like you should do the right thing and carry on his legacy, but you can never really forgive him for stealing your crayons. You know what I mean? What do you do?
So here's this guy who, sort of, passively aggressively, without even explaining himself, is, like, no. "Lo chafatzti," I'm not so interested. Along come the elders. But please. His legacy, it's dying on the ground. No. "Amad v'amar ... lo yachpotz," I'm just not interested.
This is the tragic story of failed levirate marriage. The Bible ends by saying, if this happens, so, "v'nigshah yevimto eilav l'einei hazekeinim v'chaltzah na'alo mei'al raglo," she takes the shoe from off his feet, "v'yarkah befanav, "spits in his face. "V'antah v'amrah kachah yei'aseh la'ish asher lo yivneh et beit achiv," this is what's done to the man who won't build up his brother's house. It's a shameful kind of thing.
So now, go to the Book of Ruth. This is what Naomi's talking about. She's saying your request for levirate marriage, for your dead husband to carry on his legacy, is doomed to fail. This is the intension and the conflict, the intention and the obstacle. It's just not going to work. "Ha'od li vanim b'mei'ai," do I still have children in my womb, "v'hayu lachem la'anashim," that could possibly be husbands for you?
Verse 12. "Shovnah v'notai," go back, my daughters. "Ki zakanti mihyot l'ish," I'm too old to get married. "Ki amarti yesh li tikvah," because, even if you would say that I have some kind of hope, "gam hayiti halailah l'ish," even if you would say that I would be with a man tonight, "v'gam yaladeti vanim," and even if you would say that I would conceive and successfully bear children, "halahein tesabernah ad asher yigdalu," would you grow old waiting around for them to grow up?
"Halahein tei'ageinah," would you be chained to them that whole time? "L'vilti heyot l'ish," to wait around for them and to not remarry anyone else? "Al benotai," no, my daughters, "mar li me'od mikem," that would be too bitter, "ki yatz'ah vi yad Hashem," God doesn't want it. Not interested.
This was the speech of Naomi. So now, King Solomon, "batach bah leiv balah," her husband's heart, even after death, can trust in her. What is trust? If you think about the word trust, trust is when I put myself into your hands because I'm vulnerable and I can no longer control the situation and I say you can. I trust you to control the situation that is out of my control.
That's exactly the situation that Mahlon is essentially forced into. His only chance for legacy is not his to control. It lies with her and she's loyal to him. "Batach bah leiv balah," her husband's heart trusts in her and, therefore, spoils.
What is spoils? It's no longer silver and gold. There's masculine war and there's feminine war, as it were. In masculine war, what is valor? If you think about valor in classic masculine war, if you think about medals of valor, if you go to Mount Herzl and you look at the soldiers who died for the highest commendation and the highest medals that they got in battle, if you go to Arlington National Cemetery and you look at the soldiers who died and had the congressional Medal of Honor for valor, what is the greatest act of valor in war? What do you do?
It's when there's a wounded comrade on the battlefield and I put myself at risk to be able to save them and take them off the battlefield. That's masculine valor.
You know what feminine valor is? Feminine valor, Solomon said, is when the battlefield is called life and the person isn't wounded. The person's dead. And you risk everything in the life that you have for your loyalty to their legacy, to ensure that, even the loser in the great battle of life, the one who dies without name, the one who dies with his legacy at risk, who's wounded, as it were, on the battlefield of life, that he has a chance, too. That you bring him off the field and that he can be a winner and the spoils he will have.
But what's the only interest you have? What's the only spoils that matters now? It's not riches. It's children. His heart trusts in her. Somehow, she is going to have the legacy to keep his name alive in the world. Therefore, "gemalatehu tov v'lo ra kol yemei chayehah," she does good to him and not evil, "kol yemei chayehah," all the days of her life.
What's the implication there? All the days of her life and not his, because he's dead. But still, even as he's dead, all the days of her life, she does good to him and not evil.
For those of you who know the Book of Ruth pretty well, listen again to the beginning of that phrase in Gimel. "Gemalatehu tov v'lo ra." Focus on the word "tov" there. She does good for him and not evil. What does that remind you of in the Book of Ruth, the word good flashing out to you in bright lights? Anybody?
We're referring now to the scene in which good appears, at the climactic moment of the book. It is Verse 13 in Chapter 3. Let's read it together. Let's actually just set the scene so we understand what 's going on.
"Gemalatehu tov v'lo ra," in a way, is the litmus test of Ruth's intentions. In order to see it, all you have to do is put yourself in Ruth's shoes and imagine you're her. You are Ruth. You're dedicated to somehow find the missing legacy for your husband.
By the way, let me just say something really fast about this missing legacy and this idea of, "shalal lo yechsar." The notion that it's almost as if Mahlon is wounded on the battlefield is strange, because normally when you give your life for someone, you give your life for someone who's not dead already but someone who's wounded on the battlefield and you bring them back. It's strange. He's dead, but it's almost as if he's being treated like a wounded person.
It's fascinating because, in levirate marriage, that's actually the way the Bible seems to conceive of it. Dead people are usually dead with the exception of if they died without children. In other words, normally when a guy dies, his marriage is over. But, if he didn't have kids, his marriage actually isn't over. It's just, kind of, on life support. The way levirate marriage actually works is that, if the brother of the deceased would marry the widow, he would actually step into his prior brother's marriage, which is almost, like, on life support.
What's one of the first examples of levirate marriage you ever find in the Bible? Chapter 38, the story of Judah and Tamar. In the story of Judah and Tamar, who's the guy who dies young? What's his name? Er. Er is actually a pretty strange name, if you think about it, especially for a dead guy. What does the name Er actually mean? Awake. What a strange name for a dead guy. It's kind of spooky. It's like the Night of the Living Dead. Do you know what I mean?
He's not awake. He's dead. But the answer is Er is awake. Why? Because he died without children. So, if you can have a child for Er, what are you, sort of, doing? You're bringing back Er. You know what I mean?
You see it with Mahlon and Chilion, too. You ever get confused as to who married who? Honestly. Did Ruth marry Mahlon? Did she marry Chilion? You have a hard time keeping it straight. You know what an easy way to keep it straight is? Think about the names of these guys. Mahlon and Chilion. What do the names mean? Let's actually translate them. Mahlon. Sickness, disease. Chilion. Destruction.
What interesting names for a bunch of kids. Come here, little Sickness. Hey, Destruction, come back over here from down the aisle. What's going on? But there's something about these names. Why do you think Destruction was called Destruction and Sickness was only called Sickness?
Who was Chilion married to? Orpah. What happened to his legacy? She went back. The minute she goes back, his legacy is destroyed. But Mahlon? Mahlon's dead, but he's like on life support. You know what I mean? Because there's a chance. He's sick, he's diseased, but you can save his legacy. It's dying on the vine, but you can save it.
For those of you who are a certain age, if you've seen Princess Bride -- I don't know if you guys have seen movies over here. But do you remember that scene when the hero dies halfway through? The kid is listening to this and he's like, how could the hero die? It's impossible for the hero to die. Grandpa, the hero can't die. So he says relax, I see you're getting a little nervous. What, should we stop reading here? No, like, keep on reading.
So they go to Miracle Max, the miracle worker. The miracle worker looks at the dead guy and they say, could you do anything for him? Well, I've seen worse. What do you mean seen worse? Look, there's dead and there's dead dead. He's dead, okay? But he's not dead dead. He's not, like, completely dead. Did I get it right? Mostly dead. He's mostly dead. Well, what's mostly dead?
That's the levirate marriage kind of dead. Mostly dead. So here is Mahlon. He's mostly dead. So Mahlon is mostly dead. So, "gemalatehu tov v'lo ra." So what is this moment of "gemalatehu tov," this litmus test for Ruth's intentions? It goes like this.
Put yourself in Ruth's shoes. Here you are. You're dedicated to the memory of your dead husband. You want to help him. Naomi says no, but you persevere and you figure there must be some way to make this happen. You go back to Israel with her, hoping against hope there'll be some way to marry somebody from the family and, somehow, keep the legacy of your dead husband alive.
All of a sudden, as Providence has it, whose field do you stumble into but Boaz? You find out that Boaz is from the family and he kind of likes you. Do you know what I mean? He's nice to you in the field. So you can see the romance beginning. He's really nice to her. Everything's great. Ruth returns home to Naomi and tells her the story about how she met Boaz. She says, Boaz? Boaz is our relative.
At that point, what does Naomi say? You're Ruth. When you go to bed that night, when you say Hear O Israel that night, what do you say? Thanks to God. It was Providential. I didn't know how it was going to happen, but now, I see how it's going to happen. The Lord smiled upon me. I can already see the plan. Boaz is going to marry me. There's going to be this chance for levirate marriage. It's going to be great. You're thinking and it's good because I didn't know who I was going to marry. I was just trying to carry on the legacy of my dead husband. But he's a nice guy. It's great. It's romantic. It's wonderful.
By the way, if you think I'm just making this up, this is basically what Naomi says to her. Naomi says, "baruch Hashem asher lo hishbit lach go'eil hayom," thank God Who has not held back a redeemer from you. There is some hope for you. It's Boaz. So that's the plan. You've got it all figured out.
That night, at the grain pile, you go to Boaz. Here's the deal. Here's the trick. The problem is as nice as Boaz was to you in the field, the thing is he knows who you are and he knows why you're here. He knows that you want levirate marriage and he knows, presumably, that he could do it. But he doesn't act. Days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months and he doesn't act.
So now, you're Ruth and you're thinking, what's the deal with this? He seems to like me. He's not acting. How come he doesn't like me? And all sorts of thoughts go through your head. What do you think? I'm a Moabite and maybe he hates Moabites. There are all sorts of problems. I don't know, but for some reason he's not acting.
So you go to him that night and you put it on the table. Listen to his response. "Ata biti al tiri," don't worry. I see what you're saying about levirate marriage. It's going to work out. "Kol asher tomri e'eseh lach," everything you say, I'm going to do for you. Everyone knows you're a Eishet Chayil.
You're thinking wow, that's wonderful. Happy ending. I see the white horse riding off into the distance. The sunset and the music.
But then, Boaz has one more thing to tell you. Listen to his next sentence. You're Ruth. What are you thinking as he says his next sentence? "V'ata," but now, "ki amnam," I do need to tell you one thing. "Ki im go'eil anochi," it's true that I can perform this act. But, "gam yeish go'eil karov mimeni," there's somebody else who you don't know about who's first in line.
All of a sudden, you figure it out. That's why he wasn't acting. He wasn't acting because he didn't have the first right. Somebody else did and that somebody else wasn't acting. He was the one who was holding things up.
"Lini halailah," Boaz says sleep here tonight. "V'hayah vaboker," in the morning, "im yigaleich," if that guy acts, I'll give him the chance to act. If he acts, "tov yigal," then he'll marry you. Fine. That's how levirate marriage will come about. "V'im lo yachpotz l'ga'aleich." Listen to that word, "yachpotz." What does that remind you of? "Lo chafatzti l'kachtah," back in the portion of levirate marriage. "Im lo yachpotz," but if he doesn't want to perform levirate marriage, just like it says back in Deuteronomy, "Im lo yachpotz l'ga'aleich,” then, "u'ge'altich anochi chai Hashem shichvi ad haboker," then I will act.
You're Ruth. How do you take this? What's your stomach doing now? You didn't know about this other guy and he says hey, I'd love to help you out, Missus, but just want to let you know I am not the first in line. But don't worry. In the morning, we're going to go to Mr. First-in-Line and, if he wants to do this, then perfect.
How are you feeling? I don't know. Sort of, perfect for you, maybe, but not so much because I don't know this guy. It's all fine and nice when I'm in the fields of Moab to have this dream to carry on my husband's legacy. But practically, when we get down, I was thinking you. Thanks to God, you're a nice guy. It's excellent. There's some chemistry here, a romance. It's wonderful. Money, a field, the whole nine yards.
Now, there's some guy and you say, "Im yigaleich tov." Because, lady, what are you interested in, legacy or legacy? So he can perform it. So you think but I don't even know this guy.
Yet, Ruth is still willing. Ruth goes along with that plan, which means had Ploni Almoni said yes, she would've taken that. Which means, what really was her motivation at the end of the day? It really was loyalty to her dead husband. It was that above everything else. Therefore, "gemalathu tov v'lo ra."
That word, good. That word which sunk her heart as she listened to it is the word that expresses the purity of her intentions towards him. She does kindness to him, does goodness to him, "v'lo ra kol yemei chayehah," all the days of her life and not his life.
Dalet. "Darshah tzemer u'fishtim vata'as b'cheifetz kapehah." The riddle of Dalet. She seeks out wool and fine linen, "vata'as b'cheifetz kapehah," and makes what she will out of her hands' work. What in the world could this have to do with Ruth? I don't see Ruth looking for wool and fine linen. What in the world is Solomon talking about? This can't be talking about the Book of Ruth. Or can it? The riddle, I believe, can be pieced together if you focus on the verb and draw the line and connect the dots.
The verb is and makes. "Darshah tzemer u'fishtim vata'as b'cheifetz kapehah." She seeks out wool and fine linen and makes what she will with her hands. The $64,000 question is, what is she making with wool and linen? The answer can be found later on in Eishet Chayil. The way you find it is by connecting the dots with that verb, and makes.
Look at all the other examples of that verb later on in Eishet Chayil. Where else do you find the verb makes after Verse Dalet? What's the next occurrence of makes? "Marvadim asetah lah." Mem. I'll translate it in a moment. After that? "Sadin asetah vatimkor." Samekh. I'll translate in a minute. After that? Resh. "Rabot banot asu chayil." After that? Tav. The very last word. "Vihaleluhah basharim ma'aseha." That's it.
Now, connect the dots from beginning to end. Let's start with Dalet and you'll see what she's making. Dalet. She begins with, "darshah tzemer u'fishtim," she seeks out wool and fine linen and she's making what she will out of them. Hm, that's interesting. That does seem to be linsey-woolsey, doesn't it? She's not Jewish or whatever she is. What do you expect from a girl from Moab? So, "darshah tzemer u'fishtim," she seeks out wool and fine linen and she's making something, but what is she making?
Mem. "Marvadim asetah lah," she's making fine blankets. Oh, very interesting. Now, "sadin asetah vatimkor." What's she making? Sheets. Okay, boys and girls, it's a family show, but what's she making? She is not making a tent. What is she making? She's making bedding. So now, what is she making?
Audience Member: Babies.
Rabbi Fohrman: That's right. It's a family show. But the next one is, "rabot banot asu chayil." What is "chayil" a code word for? Levirate marriage. Here's the thing. Many people stand in the way of levirate marriage in this story and it's not just Boaz and Ploni Almoni. Who's the first person who stands in the way of levirate marriage? Naomi. Naomi tells her to go home. It's not going to happen.
Through all of those, Ruth plows through and, somehow, out of rejection, spins levirate marriage. It actually happens, but she did it in contrast to the levirate marriage story in Deuteronomy. In the levirate marriage story in Deuteronomy, the woman is thwarted. She has no answers. She goes to the elders of the city. There's nothing they can do for her. That was in Deuteronomy, but it's not in Ruth. In Ruth, she encounters person after person who says no and she make that into a yes.
Now, listen. Listen to the words. "Darshah tzemer u'fishtim vata'as b'cheifetz kapeha." What a double entendre. "B'cheifetz," she makes what she will, that's what "cheifetz" means, out of her hands. Out of pure will, she spins it. The reason why it's a double entendre is -- go back to Page 3 of your source notes, go to the portion of levirate marriage and tell me how the word what she will is used in the portion of levirate marriage.
What does what she will always mean in the portion of levirate marriage? "Lo chafatzti." I'm just not interested. Who says it? It's the guy who rejects you. "Lo chafatzti l'kachtah," I'm just not interested. But the elders of the city plead with him. No. "Lo yachpotz ha'ish," he's just not interested. He's just not going to do it. With that single word for rejection, no, the passive-aggressive, "lo chafatzti l'kachtah."
The first person who says no is Naomi at that moment in the first chapter. Along comes Ruth and, out of that no, she spins levirate marriage. That turns into a yes. She gives the most powerful speech known in the history of Western literature that lasted all of two verses. The best speeches are the shortest ones. Unfortunately, this is a little long. The best speeches are the shortest ones. Lincoln's Second Inaugural is five-minutes long.
Ruth's whither thou goest speech, through which she turns around Naomi, was all of two sentences long. But for some reason, it was the most powerful words almost ever spoken in the annals of Western literature. And it turned her around.
The question is, what was the secret of that power? Because this is the beginning, I believe, of what King Solomon sees as uniquely feminine power, what she said in that speech. What was so powerful about that speech? But whatever it was, it turned a no into a yes and made her spin, literally, cloth out of nothing. She was "vata'as b'cheifetz," she took rejection and she spun it into levirate marriage.
As you go further, "yadeha shilchah vakishor v'chapeha tamchu falech," one hand is holding the distaff and the other hand is holding the spindle. She's making something. Mem, she's making blankets. Samekh, she's making sheets. She's creating levirate marriage out of nothing. Finally, "rabot banot asu chayil." The "chayil" is done, there's levirate marriage that's done.
Finally, what are the products of that levirate marriage? Children. And at the very end, "vihaleluha basharim ma'aseha." Who praises her in the gates? It's what she's made. What has she made? She's made children. Her children will get up and praise her. Again, "kamu vaneha vaye'ashruha," it's Solomon praising her in the gates. The makes takes you all the way through.
"Darshah tzemer u'fishtim vata'as b'cheifetz kapeha. Haytah ka'aniyot socheir mimerchak tavi lachmah." Okay.
Now, we were halfway through Chapter 1, because we were up to the part where Naomi's saying no. Out of that no, Ruth spins a yes. So my challenge for you is, what is Verse Heh talking about? The riddle in Heh. "Haytah ka'aniyot socheir."
What a strange thing to say about Ruth. Ruth is like a merchant vessel, like a merchant ship. It's not very romantic. Like a ship? She's travelling on dry land. Why would you say that about Ruth? What a strange thing to say. "Haytah ka'aniyot socheir mimerchak tavi lachmah." She brings her bed from afar.
But, boys and girls, there's an elaborate double entendre going on Heh. There's a riddle going on in Heh. Can you piece together the riddle? Hint. It's easier to piece together if you start at the end of the sentence, "mimerchak tavi lachmah." Scan the end of Chapter 1 and tell me what you think "mimerchak tavi lachmah" just might mean.
Maybe it's referring to Bethlehem. Because where is she going at the end of Chapter 1? She's going to a place that just happens to be called Bethlehem. Now, look carefully at the verses and see if you can find the verse, the specific verse, that "mimerchak tavi lachmah" is patterned after. After the great speech, the whither thou goest speech. Look at Verse 19.
"Vateilachnah shteihem," they both went, "ad bo'anah Beit Lechem," until they approached Bethlehem.
Now, in Hebrew, when you want to say you're approaching a place, there's a quick way to say it. How do you do it? You add a Heh to the end of the place. So what could "mimerchak tavi lachmah" possibly mean? She's going towards Bethlehem. "Ad bo'anah Beit Lechem."
What's the root of "bo'anah?" Coming towards. Now look at Eishet Chayil. "Mimerchak tavi." What's the root of "tavi?" Approaching. Same thing. She's coming, she's approaching Bethlehem.
Now, why "mimerchak tavi lachmah," from afar? Where is she coming from? She's coming from Moab. She's coming from afar. She's approaching Bethlehem.
Now, "haytah ka'aniyot socheir." Why do you think she just might be "ka'aniyot socheir?" Think about the double entendre of the verbs of that very verse. "Vateilachnah shteihem ad bo'anah Beit Lechem vayehi k'bo'anah Beit Lechem." The playoff of "bo'anah" would be, Alef-Nun-Heh, ship. It's as if it's just a play on words, boys and girls.
But why would she be like a ship? Go back to what Naomi said to her, when Naomi said no. Why should you wait around for the kids and be chained to them? Oh, chained to them. What is a chain in nautical literature? It's that which keeps you in place that you can't move. It's the anchor chain. Later in Talmudic literature, an igun (a woman chained to her marriage) is a ship's anchor chain. So she's like a merchant ship.
What did she do? She wasn't chained. She might have been chained, but her power was so strong that she rips her anchor from its stead and just goes, because she's going. "Ad bo'anah Beit Lechem," until she goes into Bethlehem. She overpowers all opposition.
"Haytah ka'aniyot socheir mimerchak tavi lachmah. Vatakam b'od lailah vatitein teref l'veitah v'chok l'na'aroteha."
What do you think the riddle of Vav is talking about? She gets up in the middle of the night. There are three parts. "Vatakam b'od lailah," she gets up in the middle of the night. What do you think we're talking about?
You think we're talking about the night at the grain pile, but you're wrong. That's too far away. We're just finishing the end of Chapter 1. That's in Chapter 3. We're not up to Chapter 3 yet. It's got to be something at the beginning of Chapter 2.
In the beginning of Chapter 2, does she get up in the middle of the night? Go to the rest of "vatakam b'od lailah." Why is she getting up in the middle of the night? "Vatitein teref l'veitah," she's feeding her household.
Does that remind you of anything in the beginning of Ruth's Chapter 2? Absolutely. Before Ruth could attempt questions of levirate marriage, she's got another problem to deal with. Starvation. They're poor. They have no food. That is the beginning of Chapter 2.
She gets up in the middle of the night, Solomon says. How does Solomon know that she got up in the middle of the night? Can you tell how he read the beginning of Chapter 2 to come to that conclusion? What's the proof that she got up in the middle of the night to try to feed her family? You see it in the conversation that Boaz has with the farmhands. It's an important conversation.
Audience Member: "Vata'amod mei'az haboker."
Rabbi Fohrman: That's it. Right there. "Vata'amod mei'az haboker." She's been here, sir, since before the crack of dawn. She was here from before the crack of dawn. When did she get to the field? When did she get up? "Vatakam b'od lailah," she got up in the middle of the night.
But King Solomon has something remarkable to say about this verse, because listen to what he says. He doesn't just say she got up in the middle of the night to feed her household. Listen to how he describes the feeding of her household.
"Vatakam b'od lailah vatitein teref l'veitah." Let's translate those words literally. She gives "teref l'veitah." Boys and girls, what does that mean?
Audience Member: She was a lioness.
Rabbi Fohrman: She was a lioness. Again, very powerful. But the question now is, what is feminine power made of? And this is the issue. What does feminine power look like? There is one model in her confrontation with Naomi, but there's a competing model too. There is an intention and there's a conflict. There's a battle going on over the soul of feminine power, and you're about to see another possible vision. The vision of the lioness.
"Vatitein teref l'veitah." What does "teref" literally mean? Prey. Torn-up prey. The way a lion tears up prey.
That's not a nice way to think about what Ruth is doing. She's just collecting in the field. What could be more docile than collecting in the field?
But along comes Solomon and says don't you misunderstand. She wasn't just collecting in the field. She was on the hunt. She was a lioness. She was going to take what she could get and she didn't care about what was right and what was wrong. She didn't care about what she was allowed to get and what she wasn't allowed to get. She was like a lioness, who if she could have it, she was going to get it.
Where does Solomon get this from? Why would he describe her that way, "vatitein teref l'veitah?" The answer is read Chapter 2 carefully and you'll see exactly what Solomon was talking about. This is the other model of feminine strength. Let's read it.
Chapter 2. let's start from Verse 2. "Vatomer Rut haMoaviyah," and Ruth, the Moabite, said to Naomi.
Now, just stop even there. There's something strange about that introduction. We're in Chapter 2. If you're trying to conserve words and you're the author, what word could you have taken out here?
Audience Member: Moabite.
Rabbi Fohrman: Moabite. If you don't know she was a Moabite by now, you haven't paid attention. This is Chapter 2. So why do you have to repeat that? Why couldn't you have just said "vatomer Rut el Naami?" It must be that her being a Moabite is an issue here. It's important for this part of the story. Let's see why.
"Vatomer Rut haMoaviyah el Naami," so Ruth, the Moabite, says to Naomi, "eilchah na hasadeh," I have an idea, let me go please to this field. "Va'alaktah vashibalim," I'll go collecting the sheaves, "achar asher emtza chein b'einav," after I find favor, charm, in the eyes of the master. "Vatomer lah," and she says, "lechi biti," go my daughter, what a good idea.
There's something extra in that verse, that she didn't need to say. What is it? The part about "emtza chein b'einav." What was that about? She says let me go and collect in the field. Now stop. Why would she go collect in the field? What law is she relying on? The law of gleanings. There is a law that, in Jewish fields, you can go, if you're poor, and you can collect. She's poor, she should go and collect.
You don't need special permission. You just go. So why does she have to say, "asher emtza chein b'einav," after I find favor, after I find charm, in the eyes of the owner of the field? You don't need that. You can just go. So put two and two together. What is happening here? What is her concern? Her concern is her identity.
"Vatomer Rut haMoaviyah," Ruth, the Moabite, was talking. You're Ruth when you worry about it. You're starving. You can't afford to take any chances. What are you worried is going to happen in that field? You're going to get there, and what's going to happen? You're going to be asked for your identity papers. Someone's going to say, excuse me, are you new to town? Who are you and where are you from? You're going to say you're a Moabite. Moabites don't have the best pedigree with the Jewish people. You're not supposed to marry them. She's a Moabite. What is she worried is going to happen? Excuse me, you're in the wrong field. Maybe you should go back to Moab.
So she's got a plan. What's her plan? And here's the alternative vision of feminine power. What's she going to do? The answer, in a word, is charm. I'll charm the master of the field. Bat my eyelashes a little bit and I'll charm him. I can charm him and he's not going to ask me for my identity papers. It's like, yes, you don't have any droids, you can keep on going right on, from Star Wars.
That is the plan. And now, think about this. What is she thinking? She's thinking I might not be entitled to this grain. But I'm starving and I'm going to take it anyway. I'm going to hunt. I'm going to hunt through charm.
So along comes Solomon and says, you know what she's really doing here? "Vatitein teref l'veitah," she's looking for prey. The prey is going to be the man and she's going to get her grain one way or the other, and the power that she's going to use is something called charm.
Now, Solomon has something to say about charm when it comes to Eishet Chayil. He dedicates a whole verse to it. What does he say about charm? "Sheker hachein v'hevel hayofi." Where does that come from? Solomon doesn't think much of charm, but this is another version. Maybe charm is what feminine power lies in. But charm is false, so what about doing something false, what about doing something illegal?
So let's see how this thing plays out. So this is her plan. I'll use charm. Here we are in Chapter 2. Vateilech vatavo vatelakeit basadeh acharei hakotzrim vayiker mikreh chelkat hasadeh l'Boaz." She's in Boaz's field. Boaz comes and sees the head farmhand. "Vayomer Boaz l'na'aro hanitzav al hakotzrim." Verse 5. He says," l'mi hana'arah hazot," who is that girl?
Now, that already isn't such a good sign. I want to know who she is. So the head farmhand clears his throat and gives the following speech. "Vayomar," oh, her, "na'arah Moaviyah," she's a Moabite lass. Now, already, that's bad news. That's not a good way to start the conversation. Oh, her? She's a Moabite.
"Hashavah im Naami misdei Moav," she's come back with Naomi. "Vatomer," and she said to herself, "alaktah na v'asafti ba'amarim," I'll go, but I'm not just going to collect. "Asafti ba'amarim," I'm going to gather all of these sheaves. "Amarim" are serving as a sheaf's-worth. I'm going to gather all of these servings. I'm going to hoard. I'm going to take all this stuff. She's going to gather, "acharei hakotzrim," she's going to tail us. Right behind those who are picking, she's going to be right there taking whatever she can.
"Vatavo," and she's come." "Vata'amod mei'az haboker v'ad atah," sir, she's been here since before the crack of dawn, all the way until now. "Zeh shivtah habayit me'at," except for resting in the house for a little bit.
That's the speech. If you're Boaz, what do you expect to happen right now? Boaz is going to go over to her and say excuse me, ma'am, I hear you're from Moab. It's time to let some Jews go collecting in the field, or something like that. But what actually happens?
What actually happens is he goes straight to Ruth. "Vayomer Boaz el Rut halo shama'at biti al teilchi lilkot b'sadeh acheir," I have one thing to say to you. Don't go collecting in any other field. "Gam lo ta'avuri mizeh," don't leave this field, "v'choh tidbakin im na'arotai," stay with my lads. "Einayich basadeh asher yiktzorun v'halacht achareihen," you can tail right after them, you don't worry about them. "Halo tziviti et hane'arim l'vilti nageich," I have commanded them not to harass you, not to bother you.
"V'tzamit," and if you're thirsty, you don't worry about that either. "Halacht el hakeilim v'shatit," you can go to the water fountain and you can drink, "mei'asher yishavun hane'arim," from that which they draw for themselves.
Ruth is listening to this and what's her response? Listen carefully to Verse 10. "Vatipol al paneha vatishtachu artzah," she falls upon her face and bows to the ground. "Vatomer eilav," she says to him, "madu'a matzati chein b'einecha l'hakireini v'anochi nachriyah," oh, how do I find such favor in your eyes, that you would recognize me when I am in fact a stranger?
Now, that sounds like a nice thing to say. Except, the only thing is, you, the reader, know something. Don't you? When she says "lamah matzati chein b'einecha l'hakireini," oh, how did I ever find such favor in your eyes, what do you know that Boaz didn't know? That was the plan. Do you remember that? That was her plan. Her plan was I'm going to charm somebody. I'm going to charm the owner of the field. And it's working. So she looks, and with these doe-eyes, she just says oh, I can't even believe it, sir, how did I ever find such favor in your eyes? I can't imagine how that could have possibly happened.
And again, this is a war, this is a battle. What is feminine power? At this point, Ruth is thoroughly convinced that feminine power lies in charm. Listen to Boaz's response to her.
Charm comes from the word chinam, free. It doesn't come from anywhere. It just is. It's undeserved. It's what you get by just oh, I'm charmed. It doesn't come from anywhere. But listen to what Boaz says.
"Vaya'an Boaz vayomer lah," Boaz answers her and says, "hugeid hugad li kol asher asit et chamoteich," you think I don't know who you are? I know exactly who you are. "Hugeid hugad li kol asher asit et chamoteich," I know, I was told everything you did for your mother-in-law, "acharei mot eisheich," after the death of your husband. I know you.
"Vata'azvi avich v'imeich v'eretz moladeteich," I know how you left behind your mother and your father and you left behind your birthplace, "vateilchi el am asher lo yada'at temol shilshom," to come to a nation that you never knew yesterday or the day before. You risked everything to come here.
"Yeshaleim Hashem pa'aleich," and therefore let God reward you for what it is that you've done. Let Him reward you for your deeds. "U'tehi maskurteich shleimah," and let your reward be complete, "m'eim Hashem Elokei Yisrael," from the Lord, God of Israel, "asher bat lachasot tachat kenafav," the Lord, Who you've come to seek repose beneath His wings.
Because, remember what she told Naomi? "Ameich ami veiLokayich Elokai," your nation is my nation, your God is my God. I want you. I want everything about you. I'm coming with you. I know who you are and I know what you did. You expressed loyalty to your husband, you left everything behind. You came to a place that you didn't know before.
And what does it remind you of, leaving your mother and your father and leaving your birthplace to go to a land that you didn't know about, that you are shown? That is what kind of language? That's Abraham. We had someone like that before. He's talking to her as if she's Abraham.
What does he do with it? You wouldn't know it, but he's thoroughly rejecting her argument. You think this is about charm? You come to me and you say "madu'a matzati chein b'einecha l'hakireini," how did I find favor in your eyes? You think this is undeserved, that this just comes out of nowhere? This isn't undeserved. I know who you are, I know what you did, I know what you sacrificed. You deserve this. "Tehi maskurteich shleimah," let your reward be complete from God. "Yeshaleim Hashem pa'aleich," may God reward you for your deeds. There was no charm. You deserved this.
The power of your deeds speaks to you. That is your power, who you are. Don't shy away from that. It has nothing to do with charm.
What's her response? She just can't believe it. "Emtza chein b'einecha adoni ki nichamtani." That's such a nice thing for you to say, sir. I just hope I continue to find favor in your eyes. "V'chi dibarta al leiv shifchatech v'anochi lo ehyeh k'achat shifchotecha," I don't even deserve this. I'm not even as good as even one of your maidservants. But that's such a nice thing to say. Thank you very much.
The stage is set for a conflict. Who is right? She's not convinced. She still thinks, oh no, maybe that was charm. Him, that wasn't charm. I know who you are. This is your reward that you should get for who you are.
By the way, he promises her reward from Who? "Yeshaleim Hashem pa'aleich," let God reward you for what you've done. "U'tehi maskurteich shleimah mei'im Hashem," let your reward be complete.
Boaz's blessing, did it ever come true, that her reward was complete from the God of Israel? Did it ever come true? How do you spell "u'tehi maskurteich shleimah," let your reward be complete? Shin-Lamed-Mem-Heh. Who is writing this? What does Solomon think her reward was? Her reward was him. Generations later, I'm the reward and I'm standing up and praising you. Boaz talked about me.
Back to Vav. "Vatakam b'od lailah," she gets up in the middle of the night. "Vatitein teref l'veitah v'chok l'na'aroteha." And now, having understood this -- by the way, "v'chok l'na'aroteha" is crazy. "Chok l'na'aroteha" could mean, in the literal meaning, that she gives food to her maidens. But in the double entendre, "chok" simply means law. It's as if she's giving laws to who? To "na'aroteha," to her lads or to her maidens.
Now, it's strange because the only lads that you see in the story are Boaz's farmhands. But they're men. They're men. All of a sudden, along comes Solomon and he switches genders on us and he talks about her giving laws to her maidens. Why? Why was she giving laws to them?
The answer, I believe, is that, first of all, Solomon is looking at the power structure of the field. When she enters that field, what was the power structure of the field? Who was the most powerful guy in the field? Boaz. Who was the second most powerful person in the field? The head farmhand. Who were the third most powerful people in the field? The farmhands. Who were the fourth most powerful people in the field? The regular poor people who aren't Moabites. Who were the fifth most powerful people in the field? The people who shouldn't be there at all, the Moabites.
Ruth is at the bottom of the totem pole. But by the end of this story, where is Ruth in the power structure? At the top of the totem pole, even above the head farmhand. Because what does Boaz say? "Halo tziviti et hane'arim," I commanded all the farmhands, "l'bilti nageich," no one can touch you. You're at the top of the field. You get the fruits of whatever they collect. Don't worry. You don't go anywhere else. This is your reward.
So what Boaz is actually doing is he's inverting the power structure of the field, such that the farmhands are under her. That is "vatitein … chok l'na'aroteha." It's as if she's the one calling the shots with the farmhands. So much so, that it's as if there's a gender switch. Because which, boys and girls, is the weaker sex? So what's happening to these big, burly farmhands? It's as if they're being feminized. It's as if Ruth controls them, as if these big, burly guys are nothing but some damsels that she's going and ordering around.
And by the way, how did Solomon know to make the switch? Because there's one point in this, when Boaz starts talking about her power over the farmhands, he says "choh tidbakin im na'arotai." In the Book of Ruth, Boaz changes the genders. Solomon, picking up on that, it's as if he's feminized them. You don't see the maidens here. It could be that they were there, but if you read it through, it sounds like it's the same people the whole way through. So I think that's what Boaz is doing. You can argue with me, but it seems to me that that's what's happening.
Let's continue. I just want to take you through two of these more and then I just want to -- I'll take you through enough to, sort of, get you through the argument that Solomon is making about feminine power, and then I'll leave you to, kind of, see what you can see from the rest.
"Zamemah sadeh vatikacheihu." What does this verse possibly mean? Let's go back to the beginning of Zayin here. "Zamemah sadeh vatikacheihu," she plans concerning a field, "vatikacheihu," and she will take him, "mipri chapeha natah karem," from the fruits of her hands she will plant a vineyard.
Now, the word "zamemah," which means plans, that's a funny word. Wouldn't you think? Now, what does "zamemah" remind you of, if you know Biblical Hebrew? The only time you have it is in connection with a certain kind of witnesses. Not the right kind of witnesses. Eidim zomemim, plotting witnesses. Witnesses who plot. Witnesses who plot to do something illegal, who plot to do something false.
Okay. What in the world is going on? It sounds like there's a plot here, a plot that concerns a field. But in the end, it concerns not just a field. "Vatikacheihu," it concerns a man. A man that she's going to take. What's her plot? She's going to plot about Mr. Fields.
Who is Mr. Fields? Boaz. It's like Boaz isn't acting after a while. So how come Boaz isn't acting? Days stretch to weeks and weeks stretch to months. Finally, Naomi teems up with Ruth. How many witnesses do you need, by the way, to make collusive witnesses? Two of them. And together, they hatch a plot. They are plotters. But they plot to do something illegal. What's the plot?
The plot leads in to that sketchy night at the grain pile. Here, again, the question is, what is feminine power? So Naomi's got an idea of what it is. Let's take a look at the plot going into that night at the grain pile. So we are in Chapter 3.
Naomi says, you know, I know he's going to be celebrating the grain harvest tonight. Here's the plan. "V'rachatzt," I want you to go and take a shower, "vasacht," and anoint yourself with oil, "v'samt simlotayich," and put a nice dress on, "v'yaradet hagoren," and go down to the grain pile. "Al tivadi la'ish," don't tell anyone. This is just between us. "Ad kaloto le'echol v'lishtot," until he finishes eating and drinking.
"Vihi b'shachbo," and when he goes to sleep, "v'yada'at et hamakom asher yishkav sham," you should take note of the place that he's sleeping, "u'vat," and you should go there, "v'gilit margelotav," and you should uncover his feet, "v'shachavt," and you should sleep, you should lie down right next to him.
"V'hu yagid lach eit asher ta'asin," and he'll take it from there. He'll tell you what to do. This is the end of the plot, my daughter. Go.
Now, if the book ended here and you had to play what happens next, it's a family show and we can imagine what Naomi is suggesting here. It's not so fitting. It feels a little sketchy. It feels like a plot.
Again, what is feminine power? This is one model. Feminine power might start with charm but it doesn't end there. It can go all the way to seduction. If the man still doesn't do what you want from him, but you are high, mighty, and noble and you have good ideas and he's going to say no, you can always take matters into your own hands. Here's how you might do it and this is the plot.
But there's something about the plot that there are issues with. It's almost as if you're plotting. It's not plotting just to do something false. Plotting means something you shouldn't even do.
By the way, I forgot to tell you, but getting back to "sheker hachein v'hevel hayofi," which is Solomon's indictment of using charm in this kind of way. Think now about the first verse of Eishet Chayil. You can begin to say what the introduction meant. What did Ruth say that first moment when she met Boaz? "Madu'a matzati chein b'einecha l'hakireini," why did I find favor in your eyes? Now go back to the first verse of Eishet Chayil, and what is King Solomon really saying? "Eishet chayil mi yimtza." He's paraphrasing Boaz.
You know what Boaz said to her, when he answered her about charm, when she said how did I ever find such favor in your eyes? He said, do you think this was about charm? This wasn't about charm. This was about who you are. This was about your valor. You asked me, how did you find favor in my eyes? I answer you, how did I find valor like you? Because he's later on going to say about her, "ki yodei'a kol sha'ar ami ki eishet chayil at." What he says is the kind of valor you have is rare.
The issue isn't how you found favor. The issue is how I found valor. Which is the introduction to the book, the introduction to Eishet Chayil. "Eishet chayil mi yimtza."
Collusive witnesses. What punishment do collusive witnesses get? "Va'asitem lo ka'asher zamam," you do to them as they plotted to do. Is King Solomon saying something that we should pay attention to, when he accuses Ruth and Naomi of being collusive witnesses? If they were collusive witnesses, what punishment would they get? They would get the same thing done to them, that they sought to do. Very interesting.
What did they seem to do that they would get the same thing done to them? Listen to King Solomon's description of it. "Zamemah sadeh vatikacheihu," they plotted concerning the field, but then they were going to take him. The idea is Mr. Fields has wealth. He's got fields. They're going to get two for the price of one. Because if this seduction campaign works, who are you going to snag? You're going to snag Mr. Fields. You get a husband and field all in the same boat. Two for the price of one. What could be better than husband plus field?
So Mr. Fields is being nice to you in the field, but now he's not just being nice to you. You're going to own the field because you're going to be Mrs. Fields. So "zamemah sadeh," it's a plot concerning a field, but it's not just concerning a field. "Vatikacheihu," you're going to get the man. And plus, you'll get your legacy and all that.
But the plot gets foiled, as we'll see. What's the only time the collusive witnesses get their punishment? If you learnt Tractate Lashes, you know something about collusive witnesses. What do we say? "Va'asitem lo ka'asher zamam … v'lo ka'asher asah," you do to them as they plotted to do, but only if their plot was arrested before it came to fruition. Not if they actually managed to carry it out.
In fact, Ruth's plot with Naomi was arrested, as we will see, before it comes to fruition. And therefore, the punishment that King Solomon is suggesting, "va'asitem lo ka'asher zamam la'asot" would actually apply. What punishment do they actually get? So if you read the text you will see a delicious kind of "ka'asher zamam la'asot" playing out with Ruth, exactly as King Solomon suggests.
Here's the problem. Why hasn't Boaz been acting? We finally find out that it's not because she's a Moabite and it's not because he doesn't like her and it's not because he's not interested in helping her. It's because there's someone else gumming up the works. It's the other guy who stands first. It's Ploni Almoni.
Ploni Almoni is Mr. Passive-Aggressive, recalcitrant guy, the same guy we talk about in the portion of levirate marriage who basically says no, I'm not interested. How does Ploni Almoni say no? Ploni Almoni doesn't even give you the dignity of doing chalitzah (taking off ceremony). You know where Ploni Almoni is? Busy. He can never be found. You can never get Ploni Almoni to sit down and hang out with you.
So how do you get Ploni Almoni to sit down? Boaz knows that. Ploni Almoni isn't even acting. If he would do the taking off ceremony, maybe Boaz could act, but he's just not even doing anything. How do you even get Ploni Almoni?
So if you look at the beginning of Ruth, 4, so he says look, I'm going to settle this tomorrow. Either he's going to act or I'm going to act. I'm going to force the issue. How does he force the issue? Look at the beginning of Ruth, 4.
"U'Boaz alah hasha'ar," Boaz goes up to the gates. What does that remind you of in the portion of levirate marriage? You remember? "V'altah yevimto hasharah," the woman is supposed to go up to the gates and talk to the elders. How is this story different? The man goes. Oh, the man goes up to the gates. What kind of man is he? Let's look.
"Vayeishev sham v'hinei hago'eil over," and Ploni Almoni is passing by on a grocery shopping trip. "Asher diber Boaz." Guess what Boaz says next. "Surah," hey, don't go grocery shopping. Come over here. "Shevah po," sit down right here, Mr. Ploni Almoni, we have business to take care of. "Vayasar vayeisheiv," he sits down.
What's the next thing he does? "Vayikach asarah anashim miziknei ha'ir," he takes 10 men from the elders of the city. Which elders of the city? The ones that we're talking about in the portion of levirate marriage, that the woman plaintively talks to, can't help her. But now they can help her. Because who's talking to them? Boaz, a man. And what kind of man.
The 10 people that are convened, he takes them from the elders of the city and says "shvu po," sit down. We're convening you right now to settle some business. What does King Solomon have to say about why he was successful? Because who was Boaz? Verse Nun. "Noda basharim balah b'shivto im ziknei aretz," a man who was known, who was a politico, "b'shivto im ziknei aretz," when he sits down with the elders of the city.
He has the political power, the gravitas, to make this happen. He forces the issue. Now, how does he force the issue? He forces the issue by knowing that Ploni Almoni is being recalcitrant. He's just not interested. He's not interested in building up his brother's name. But he has to force the issue and get him to do something. So he does it by dangling a field in front of him.
So the first thing he says is "chelkat hasadeh asher l'achinu le'Elimelech," Ploni Almoni, you know there's this guy, Elimelech who is our brother, he's got a field. "Machrah Naomi hashavah misdei Moav," and Naomi sold it. "Va'ani amarti," and I thought I'd just let you know that someone's going to have to buy that field and someone's going to have to redeem it from the family. You have first dibs. Do you want to buy it or should I buy it?
Now, at that point, he says you're the first one, "anochi acharecha," I'm behind you, so I'm asking you, do you want to do it? Ploni Almoni says sure, I'll take the field.
Now, what's Boaz's next move? "Vayomer Boaz." Oh, I forgot to mention something, Boaz said. Did I mention that "b'yom kenotcha hasadeh miyad Naami," that the day you buy the field, you get two for the price of one? You get the girl. "Eishet hameit kanita l'hakim sheim hameit al nachalato," you're going to get the girl, too, so that you can continue and that the name can have a legacy. The field comes with the girl.
Now, at that point, what does Ploni Almoni say? Oh, I forgot, I totally can't do this, Ploni Almoni says. "Lo uchal ligal," I don't think I can do that. "Pen ashchit et nachalati," lest my own legacy somehow be tarnished.
And you begin to see, somehow, he's worried. Somehow, he thinks he can't do it, he doesn't know, he's not interested in doing it. But Mr. Passive-Aggressive has finally at least said no, clearing the way for Boaz to be able to act.
Boaz has acted by dangling the field and then saying you get two for the price of one, you get the girl along with the field, a delicious kind of "ka'asher zamam la'asot." Because what was Ruth trying to do in the seduction attempt? She was going to get Mr. Field, two for the price of one. She was going to get the field with the guy to boot, through seduction. In the end, the seduction plot gets foiled, but Boaz dangles two for the price of one. Field plus girl. You get the girl for free, along with the field.
Now, here's the problem. What does this say about feminine power? If I wanted to be a skeptic, King Solomon recognizes, there's an argument against the argument King Solomon is making.
King Solomon, quoting Boaz, says Ruth is amazing, she's powerful, she's the most deserving person in the world. Her power of her actions and who she is, is everything. Look at what she's done, look at what she stands for. That's her power. What she talks about in her speech to Naomi, this isn't about charm. It is about her implicit power of her persona and her gravitas.
Great. That sounds really nice. But at the end of the day, how did she get married? She was the tagalong item to the field, two for the price of one. And remember there's that moment where he takes off the shoe, "zot lefanim b'Yisrael," this is how they would do it. They'd take off the shoe and that's when the transaction -- okay.
Along comes Solomon at the very beginning, "eishet chayil mi yimtza," a Eishet Chayil who can find? She's very rare, and therefore, she's worth everything. But there's this problem. She was bought in this two-for-one analogy. How would you look Ruth in the eye and explain how she's so valuable if in the end she got bought, so to speak, and she was the free thing that went along with the field, because that's the only way you could get Ploni Almoni to act?
Solomon explains it to her. "V'rachok mipninim michrah." It's an elaborate double entendre. On the one hand, it means her worth is far above rubies. But now talk about "rachok." Where did Solomon use the word "rachok" in the body? Remember? When did he use that idea of from afar? "Mimerchak tavi lachmah." "Mimerchak," the girl from afar. So who is "rachok?" "Rachok mipninim michrah" means the one who is afar, i.e., the Moabite girl who comes from afar.
"Mipninim michrah," her worth. What's "michrah?" "Michrah," Mem-Chaf-Resh-Heh, where does it appear in the Book of Ruth? "Hasadeh asher … machrah Naami." It's the field that was bought, the two for one thing, that she rode on top of.
"Rachok mipninim michrah." Why "mipninim" of all things? Pearls or rubies. Why them of all jewels? It's a double entendre. What word in the Book of Ruth does "pninim" remind you of? "Pninim" doesn't appear, but it sure is pretty close to another word in the Book of Ruth. "Pninim." Anybody? "V'zot lefanim b'Yisrael al hagulah v'al hatmurah." This was the way it was "lefanim," in the olden days of Israel. "Shala fish na'alo," you would take it off the foot and you would actually make the transaction.
Now, there was one transaction and two things were acquired. There was the girl and the field. It was two for the price of one. So even though it was one transaction, it was like two. So instead of "zot lefanim," how would you take "lefanim" and make it into two? You would add a Nun and you would make it "pninim." That's the double entendre.
So in essence, his answer to her is I know, Ruth, what's bothering you. That transaction's bothering you. It didn't feel so coveted getting bought along with the field. Your little collusive punishment didn't feel so wonderful. Let me explain something to you. Don't think of it as you're worthless and you were bought along with the field. There is another alternative in how you think of it. Your worth might have been far above rubies.
It's the old MasterCard commercial. Remember the MasterCard commercial? One of the best commercials ever made. The guy at the ballgame. Popcorn, $12. The hotdog, $16. The program, $24. The baseball, $35. But a day at the ballpark with your kid, priceless. For everything else, there's MasterCard. That was the commercial. And it was an amazing commercial, because what the commercial said was there are things in life that you buy, but there are things in life that you don't buy.
And the reason why you don't buy the other things is not because they're worthless. It's because there is no money that can buy them. Because they're priceless. This is the argument that King Solomon is making to Ruth.
You might think that you're worthless in that transaction. You know why you couldn't be paid for? Because you were priceless. That "rachok mipninim michrah," the one from afar, the girl from Moab, was worth more than could possibly be assessed in this two-for-the-price-of-one deal.
So "zamemah sadeh vatikacheihu mipri kapeha natah karem." I'm going to close with these last verses, which take you to the heart of that sketchy night at the grain pile.
"Chagrah b'oz matneha vate'ameitz zero'oteha." In unfurling the riddle of Het, "chagrah b'oz matneha," she binds up, what does "b'oz" remind you of in the Book of Ruth? It sure sounds a lot like Boaz. A little double entendre there. So what would "chagrah b'oz matneha" mean? It's a family show, so we're not going to get into this, but you can use your imagination. Literally, as if she's binding her waist to Boaz. It's as if she's forcing him upon her that night.
Then, if you take the next part of the verse, "vate'ameitz zero'oteha," and her arms are strong. It's almost like she's grabbing him and giving him no way out. Is that what happened that night in the grain field? It's not what I see in the text. What in the world is Solomon talking about?
Solomon knew how to read. What was Solomon seeing in that night of the grain field? This is the resolution of what feminine strength means. This is the climax. This is what separates the men from the boys, or girls from the women, or whatever metaphor you want to use, about what real feminine strength is.
Naomi has one vision, and that vision seems to be seduction. But there is another answer. What happened that night at the grain field? Whatever happened, in the words of Boaz, "vate'ameitz zero'oteha," her arms were strong. It's as if she forced him with her arms.
But she doesn't grab him. What does she do? The answer lies in the word "vate'ameitz," her arms were strong. Go into the Book of Ruth and tell me where you can find that word. "Vateire ki mitametzet." Where does that word appear? That word appears all the way back in Chapter 1, in a different story involving feminine power. The very first story that we saw. The whither thou goest speech between Ruth and Naomi.
When Ruth makes that powerful speech, when Naomi is convinced, what are the words? "Vateire," Naomi saw, "ki mitametzet," that she was strong, "vatechdal ledaber eileha," and she stopped saying no and she allowed her to come. She saw strength there.
King Solomon comes, takes that same word from the story of Ruth and Naomi, and transposes it onto the story of the grain pile in the middle of the night. He says, do you know what happened that night? "Vate'ameitz zero'oteha," her arms were strong, once again. The same strength that she evinced with Naomi, she ends up evincing in the story of Ruth and Boaz. What did Solomon see? Let's look at the story and with this I'll let you go.
We're going to pick up the story from Verse 5 in Chapter 3, which is where we left off. "Vatomer eileha," so Naomi says, "ko lasher tomri eilai e'eseh," whatever you tell me, I will do. And that's what she does. "Vateired hagoren," she goes down to that grain pile in the middle of the night, "vata'as kechol asher tzivatah chamotah." She gets dressed up, she takes a shower, the whole thing.
"Vayochal Boaz vayeisht," and Boaz drinks. "Vayitav libo," he gets a little tipsy.
Now stop. If we go with what Naomi is suggesting, the fact that "vayitav libo," he's a little tipsy, what does that mean? If she wants, she can have her way with him now. Because he doesn't really have all his faculties. He's a little drunk that night. "Vayitav libo."
"Vayavo lishkav biktzei," and he goes to sleep at the edge of the grain pile. But what a suspicious word for grain pile, don't you think? How do you spell it? Ayin-Resh-Mem-Heh. It sure sounds a lot like nakedness or wiliness.
Aram could mean two things. It could either be naked or it could mean deceptive. Here, it could well mean both. Because what does Naomi seem to have in mind? Seduction is about the confluence of nakedness and deception.
So here he goes to sleep by the side of the grain pile, but a grain pile with overtones of nakedness and seduction. "Vatavo balat." What a strange word for silence. Where does Ruth come from? She comes from Moab. But where does Moab come from? Lot. How do you spell Lot? Lamed-Vav-Tet. She just happens to "vatavo balat," Lamed-Tet. Very quietly. Almost as if we've seen this movie before. The time when someone was drunk. When the woman had high and mighty motives and wanted to save the world, but the man wouldn't go along with it. And the woman took matters into her own hands, because he was drunk.
It's almost like when Naomi approaches Ruth and says you know, if you have noble motives and he's saying no, you can always take matters into your own hands. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. After all, it is all in the family. This has happened before. And by the way, it didn't just happen on your side, Ruth. It happened on his side too.
Because where does he come from, this Boaz man? He's a descendent of Perez. And where did Perez come from? Perez came from Tamar and Judah, when Tamar had high and mighty motives but the guy just wouldn't go along. So what did Tamar do? She resorted to seduction. Sometimes a woman has got to do what a woman has got to do. You have it on your side; you have it on his side. So what's wrong with a round three? That's the plot.
"Vatavo balat," she comes in silence, "vategal margelotav," and uncovers his feet, "vatishkav," and she sleeps. And if you stop the book right here and you ask what happens next, you'd assume that it's going to be seduction. But look at the next verse.
"Vayehi bachatzi halailah," and then in the middle of the night, "vayecherad ha'ish," the man trembles, "vayilafeit," and he trembles greatly.
Stop. When's the last time you remember in the Bible a man trembling like this? Who trembled like this, "vayecherad ha'ish?" Isaac trembled. When did Isaac tremble? He realized who it was that was standing in front of him.
The story that's about to unfold in Ruth is a deception story, a seduction story. What's the great granddaddy of all deception stories in the Five Books? It's the story of Isaac and Esau. And the moment of realization was when there was somebody who couldn't see, all of a sudden, trembles with the realization that the person in front of him is not the person he thought it was. That's when Isaac trembled. And now, once more, "vayehi bachatzi halailah," when Boaz can't see, not because he's blind like Isaac but because it's dark, "vayecherad ha'ish," the man trembles with recognition.
"Vayilafeit v'hinei ishah shochevet margelotav," here's this woman sleeping at his feet. "Vayomer," and he says, "mi at," who are you.
Now, speaking of Isaac, does that remind you of anything in that story? What did Isaac say when he wasn't so sure? "Mi atah bni," who are you, my son? Now, what was Jacob's answer, his deceptive answer, to "mi atah bni?" "Anochi Eisav bechorecha," I am Esau. The great granddaddy of all deceptions. "Asiti ka'asher dibarta eilai," I've done just as you asked of me.
Now, Ruth has also done as someone's asked of her, but not him. Her mother-in-law. She asked of her. When Jacob answers, "anochi Eisav bechorecha," listen to what Ruth answers.
"Vayomer mi at," who are you? Look at her first word. "Anochi." It's the same word. And the question is, what's she going to say?
Now, if you had seduction on your mind, and the guy's a little drunk and he woke up in the middle of the night and you're really going to carry out Naomi's plot, what should you say? It doesn't matter who I am. Go back to sleep. That's what you would say. But what does she say? She doesn't say that.
"Anochi," I am, "Rut." I am Ruth. She doesn't know why he's saying no. Maybe she's a Moabite, maybe he doesn't like her, but she comes out with the truth. "Anochi Rut." And what's the next word? "Anochi Rut amatecha," I am Ruth, your maidservant.
But interesting, before she says "achochi lo ehyeh k'achat shifchotecha," a different word for maidservant. Now she switches it. Because there's a double entendre here. What does amatech mean besides maidservant, Aleph-Mem-Tav? Truth. I am Ruth, and what am I doing? I'm telling you the truth. There is no deception here. I'm not going to seduce you. I will look you in the eye and I will tell you who I am, even though that might be the end of the whole plot. Everything might go down in flames right now. But here's the truth. I am Ruth. Now listen to her next words.
"U'parasta kenafecha al amatcha," and spread your wings over me, your maidservant, "ki go'eil atah," because you can redeem me. This is a proposition of marriage. "U'parasta kenafecha al amatcha," this is what I would like from you, spread your wings over me.
Why is she using those words? Because he's saying those words. When did he say those words? The first time in the field, when he met her. What did he say to her? He said the Lord, God, let Him give you reward. "Asher bat lachasot tachat kenafav," that you've sought to find repose beneath His wings.
What does she say? She's using the power of her words. What is the power of her words? She takes his words and said listen to what you told me in the field. When you said it wasn't about charm, when you said it was about me and what I stood for, you gave me a blessing. You said that God should give me reward. You said that God should take care of me, because I sought repose beneath His wings.
And now I just ask one thing of you. It's not really something I need. It's something my dead husband needs, and that's why I'm asking this of you. "U'parasta kenafecha al amatcha," spread your wings over me. That's what you asked God to do. If it was good enough for God, it should be good enough for you. If this is what you think God should do, you're in a position to do it. So now ask yourself, is God ever going to do it? How is God going to do it? Namely, through you.
It's the old story of the helicopter. You know the helicopter story? The guy who is drowning, the guy who is in the flood at the top of the roof. The helicopter comes to save him and he's praying to God to save him and he tells the helicopter to go back because the Lord is going to save him. And he dies. He goes up to Heaven and he says God, I was praying for You to save me. Why didn't You save me? God says, Who do you think sent the helicopter?
The story with Boaz is, if you think God should save me, if you think God should take care of me, who do you think you are but the agent of God? So maybe God's acting through you, so maybe you should act.
If you're Boaz, what are you going to say? "Vate'ameitz zero'oteha," her arms were strong. The same strength as with Naomi. What is feminine power? It's different than masculine power. How does masculine power work? Masculine power works by envisioning a conflict, by envisioning two people locked in what we can charitably call a zero-sum game.
A zero-sum game is a conflict where there is only one winner, to the extent that I win, you lose. How do I win a game like that? I bulldoze you. I muster as much brute strength as I possibly can to overcome you and to destroy your vision and destroy everything you stand for. That's one kind of strength.
But there is another kind of strength, and it's not necessarily charm and it's not necessarily beauty. It's a different kind of strength. It's the strength of "vate'ameitz zero'oteha." It's the strength of Ruth's speech to Naomi and Ruth's speech to Boaz.
It's the strength that says it may look like a zero-sum game, it may look like my interests are in conflict with you and you are standing in my way and the only thing I can do is bulldoze you, but I'm going to show you something that you can't even imagine. I'm going to show you that deeper than the tactical interests that have you aligned over here and me aligned against you, there's a deeper strategic confluence of values between you and me. And at the deepest values of our lives, we are actually aligned. What I want is actually what you want.
Listen to what Ruth says to Naomi. What was the power of her speech? It looked like you're standing in my way. Ruth says let me tell you something. "Asher teilchi eileich," wherever you go, I'm going. You can't stop that. "U'va'asher talini alin," wherever you sleep, I'll sleep. "Ameich ami veiLokayich Alokai." Everything that you are, I want. You are my role model. Everything about you. It's not just my husband. I can't imagine leaving you. How could you turn me back if what I'm attracted is to you and your deepest values? How is she going to say no to that? So she doesn't. She goes.
"Vateire ki mitametzet," she sees that she was strong. That is feminine valor. That is feminine strength. And it happens again with Boaz. Boaz is saying no. She doesn't know why Boaz is saying no. She says, look at your values. Forget me. Look at you. What did you say to me? You said that I was valuable. You said that God should give me this reward. You said this. You are in a position to be able to actualize what you said God should do for me. How can you say no? And he doesn't say no.
"Chagrah b'oz matneha vate'ameitz zero'oteha," she didn't seduce him. She showed him that his values were aligned with her. And this is the moment that Boaz answers and says "v'atah biti al tiri," do not be afraid, "ko lasher tomri e'eseh," everything you say, I will do. "Ki yodei'a kol sha'ar ami," because everybody knows, "ki eishet chayil at," that you are a Eishet Chayil.
This is King Solomon's vision. This is what it means to be a Eishet Chayil. This is the picture that he's painting.
The hour is late. We're only halfway through. You have here your work cut out for you, to figure out the rest of it. But this is a beginning. I think you don't necessarily have to find it in the jars of chumrah to be an incredible find. What you have here, in the song that you literally sing every Friday night, in the lullaby whose words you sometimes don't listen to, is actually the boldest, most radical interpretation of the Book of Ruth and its implications for an incredibly modern dilemma. What does feminine strength mean?
Strength has gone through all kinds of changes in the world. For a long time, it was muscles, it was power in the field. And then the industrial revolution changed that. Machines did the work. And the information revolution changed that. When information and computers did the work, leading to an issue of, what does this thing look like?
In a world in which computers are powerful, what does the balance of power between men and women look like? What does feminine power look like? And Solomon, 3,000 years before our time, gives you his personal answer to that question. An answer worked out through his great-great-grandmother.
He thinks he is the product of that, and he feels it's not Boaz who has to stand up and praise her, he has to praise her. He has to hold up his great-great-grandmother as the paragon of what it is that true femininity can strive for and a kind of vision of power that goes beyond conflict and is far more powerful than simply being a bulldozer. That is the kind of vision of feminine strength I think he's holding out to us. And I think it's the beginning of what he's trying to tell us in Eishet Chayil, and I trust that you guys on your own will find the rest.
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