producers-circle

Did King Solomon Pen A Hidden Commentary On Ruth?

Eishet Chayil: What Does Feminine Valor Look Like?


Rabbi David Fohrman

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.

Read More

Please sign in or sign up to comment.

Transcript

Hi, folks. It's nice to see you. This shiur will be in English. For those of you who are expecting Hebrew, I trust that you will strain yourselves to understand. It's nice to see you all. I was invited to talk to you by Rabbi Taragin who's an old friend going back to camp days. You can ask him about those stories one of these days, but it's a great pleasure to be able to see you and get a chance to chat with you. Rabbi Rhein suggested that I tell you a little bit about Aleph Beta. For those of you who don't know about it, but if you are interested in this talk and would like others like it there's hundreds of hours of audio on all the different parshot hashavu'a (weekly Torah portions), as well as many other areas of Tanach and holidays at Aleph Beta. Those of you who have heard about Aleph Beta, raise your hands. Well, it's just about everybody. So no more need be said. You can find it all at AlephBeta.org.

I have not that much time to tell you something that should take about double the time to do. So I'm going to, kind of, talk quickly and get through as much of it as I can and I imagine I'll be leaving you with some tantalizing loose ends for you to try to uncover on your own, too.

What I'd like to talk with you about is something I began working on about three years ago or so when I was here for Shavuot (Pentecost), standing in line in Beit Avi Chai, waiting to hear Benny Lau speak. As I got closed out of that experience, I happened to have a Tanach in my hand and I was looking through stuff and I noticed something remarkable. It was so remarkable that I remember that feeling of turning to the other 30 people standing in line with me who also got closed out of listening to Benny Lau and telling them I know you're disappointed, but let me show you this. It'll change your life. It's just incredibly dramatic.

What I saw was something in Eishet Chayil (Woman of Valor), the last perek (chapter) of Mishlei (Proverbs). I really want to learn through Eishet Chayil. A lot of us have the custom to sing this. You sing it at peoples' houses. You sing it at home. You don't quite know really what you're singing. I want to try to give you a perspective on this that is dramatic and I guess I should accompany this with a warning. Which is, if this talk works, you'll never see the Eishet Chayil the same way again. If that scares you, and you'd like your previous view of Eishet Chayil, this would be the time to leave, but if you want to come along for this adventure let me try to show you what I'm talking about.

Let me begin with a question. In Eishet Chayil, Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon) seemingly, the author of Proverbs -- Eishet Chayil is, of course, the very last chapter of Proverbs -- the question is what was he doing? We, today, use Eishet Chayil as a, sort of, ode to the woman of the household. It's unlikely that that's what Solomon was thinking. Right? It wasn't that he was designing a Hallmark card to, you know, whatever woman; fill your blanks in, but what was he thinking? Seemingly he was trying to create some sort of picture of an ideal Jewish woman, but one basic question, I think, faces us. The question is was King Solomon talking about a particular person or not? In other words, was he talking about somebody or was he talking about nobody? Let me explain what I mean by that.

One possibility is that Solomon was talking about his ideal picture of a Jewish woman. He was painting that ideal picture for you and he was painting it, sort of, out of his imagination. He was giving you what he thought was a picture of an abstract, you know, perfect Jewish woman. So it's not like he has a particular person in mind. He's giving you a vision of an ideal. That's possibility A.

Possibility B is yeah, he is, kind of, talking about an ideal, but he's actually talking about one person. He's talking about a particular person. Either someone he knew or somebody in Jewish history, until that point and he's using her as the ideal.

Let me just, sort of, take a poll. I'd like to ask you all to vote on this. No abstentions are allowed so you have to vote. I know you don't know, but just take a guess of what you think. Option A, he's giving you this picture of an ideal and option B is he's talking about a particular person. All right?

All in favor of Option B; he's talking about a particular person. Raise your hand. Okay. All in favor of Option A; he's creating an ideal picture of a Jewish woman, okay. So Option A has it by about 65 to 35 and I will confess that I too, believed as you did, Option A people for a long, long time. Until that night in Beit Avi Chai.

Let me ask you four questions that I think begin to cast some aspersions on the possibility of Option A. First of all, even the phrase, the beginning phrase, Eishet Chayil, it's such a strange thing. If you were given one adjective by which to describe the ideal Jewish woman, if you were King Solomon, himself and you were creating a pianto to a perfect Jewish woman and you knew that the first word was going to be eishet (woman), you were just looking for the second word and you could only choose one word to describe her -- eishet x -- right? Give me the word. What would you come up with? What virtue? How would you describe her? The Woman of --

Audience Member: Torah.

Rabbi Fohrman: The Woman of Torah mi yimtza, right? Anybody else? A woman of wholeness, of wholesomeness, a temimut who can find. Anybody else?

Audience Member: Chessed (kindness).

Rabbi Fohrman: An ishah ba'alat chessed (a woman of kindness) who can find. There are a lot of nice things you can say. King Solomon doesn't say those things. He doesn't say a woman of kindness who can find. He doesn't say a woman of modesty who can find. He doesn't say a woman of wholesomeness who can find. He doesn't say a woman devoted to Torah who can find. Instead he says "Eishet chayil mi yimtza?" Let's just translate chayil. Chayil --

Audience Member: Valor.

Rabbi Fohrman: -- valor. By the way, the other thing that chayal means, of course, is --

Audience Member: Soldier.

Rabbi Fohrman: -- soldier. It's a very militaristic word. Valor on the battlefield and it's strange because he's describing a woman. It's like the most masculine adjective you could possibly use to describe a feminine ideal. Really remarkable. Which, by the way, is kind of interesting; especially nowadays. If you think about, historically, where we are as the Industrial Revolution upended feudalism and agricultural society and gave way to the Information Age, one of the things we grapple is with is women's roles. You know, what does it mean to be a Jewish woman? One of the questions front and center is how does being a Jewish woman relate to classical, masculine virtues among them strength, power, valor?

It's, kind of, interesting that King Solomon tells you that that's what he's going to describe. He's going to describe a picture of feminine strength which is, kind of, remarkable. It's something which we might want to pay attention to. What does he think about a woman being strong? What does feminine strength look like?

Anyway, "Eishet chayil mi yimtza." It's a strange way to begin one of these poems, but that's how Solomon begins it, but let's move on. It's in alphabetical cross-text so let's move on in the alphabet to a couple of other troublesome verses. Verse Nun. If you're a woman, how would you feel about Verse Nun? "Noda bashe'arim ba'alah veshivto im ziknei aretz." Her husband is a famous guy, very well-known in the gate. He hobnobs with all the chashuv (important) guys over there, all the ziknei aretz. He sits with them and chats with them over coffee.

If you're a woman, talk to me, how are you feeling now? This is your Woman of Valor, right? Hello, anybody? What's the issue here?

Audience Member: This is not embarrassing?

Rabbi Fohrman: One minute. When I ask you a question, you're supposed to respond. Okay? That's how it works.

Audience Member: It's just about the woman.

Rabbi Fohrman: It's not about her. I thought this is about me. What is this -- it's nothing to do about her. You're telling me the picture of an ideal woman is that her husband is famous? That people know him? That he hobnobs with political, important people? Like, why would you even say that? That's not a nice thing to say. That her virtue depends upon that? It's even a question mark whether his virtue depends upon that. I mean, you can even argue whether that's a great thing for anybody, but assuming it is why would her virtue depend on how famous he is? How well-known he is? It's a strange kind of thing.

Audience Member: Can I respond to that?

Rabbi Fohrman: You can.

Audience Member: Like when you have famous people, people who are like prominent -- let's say rabbanim (rabbis) in the society. They're busy all the time. So, I think, that is like a virtue of the woman that her husband is busy all the time and, yet, she still has all the other virtues that he describes and she's able to, like, work with that.

Rabbi Fohrman: So you're saying despite the fact that her husband is.

Audience Member: Yes.

Rabbi Fohrman: But it doesn't sound like a despite the fact. It sounds like oh my gosh, like, look at her husband. This is the amazing thing. "Noda bashe'arim ba'alah veshivto im ziknei aretz." It could be, but it sounds like it --

Audience Member: You get a lot of these like secular famous people -- in secular society -- who their marriages are destroyed and their wives leave them because they're always busy.

Rabbi Fohrman: Right. I hear you. So she has to balance it. It's part of the balancing game? It could be. I'm, by the way, going to somewhat minimize your questions. I'm sorry. It's just in the interest of time. It's about double as long what I have to tell is about the time that I have so I'm going to keep it down a bit.

Let me move forward to Shin. If you're a woman, how do you feel about this? "Sheker hachein v'hevel hayofi ishah yir'at Hashem hi tithallal." Beauty, charm is meaningless, beauty completely nothing, the only thing that matters is a woman who fears G-d. Now, don't get me wrong. A woman who fears G-d is great; definitely very important. But here you are singing this to the woman of the household "Sheker hachein," charm means nothing, beauty doesn't mean anything (singing). Like, how are you feeling if you're a woman? Because it's like oh, really. So I should have worn a paper bag? Like, that's what you mean? Like, really nothing. You mean like nothing. You could say it's not that important, but nothing, meaningless? Aren't we going a little bit too far?

By the way, the Chumash (Pentateuch) itself doesn't even seem to agree, right? Look in Bereishit (Genesis). Do we have any indications about the Pentateuch's value on beauty, charm? Anybody? We hear about it all the time. All of the Imahot (mothers) are described as strikingly beautiful. Why would the Torah waste time on something that means absolutely nothing? So, Shin, a little strange.

We have a problem with Aleph. We have a problem with Nun. We have a problem with Shin. Let's go to Reish. What's wrong with Reish? You see if Solomon was talking about a particular person, Reish isn't so bad, but if he's talking about no one, if he's talking about an ideal that he created in his mind, think about Reish for a moment. "Rabot banot asu chayil v'at alit al kulanah." What's wrong with this verse?

Audience Member: It's second person versus third person. He's speaking now to the --

Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. So who are the rabot banot? "Rabot banot asu chayil," think about what this actually means? "V'at alit al kulanah," who's the v'at (you) under this interpretation? Under interpretation A, who's the you?

Audience Member: The Eishet chayil.

Rabbi Fohrman: The Eishet chayil. Which means his imaginary, Barbie doll, perfect Jewish woman, right? So think about what this means? "Rabot banot asu chayil -- v'at -- alit al kulanah." You see the problem here? Many actual women have acted with valor, but none even come to the toenails of my imagined picture of the ideal Jewish woman. That's not a nice thing to say. That's a really mean thing to say. That's the ultimate left-handed compliment. What you're saying is no actual Jewish woman, rabot banot who have done, asu chayil -- done the actual chayil in the world have even approached my ideal of what I think a woman's chayil should be.

Well, just because you created a Barbie picture in your head that nobody actually lives up to, so what's the use in that? That seems like -- do you understand the problem here? This is just not a nice thing to say.

Audience Member: If Eishet chayil is about a real person, it's still not a nice thing to say either. Also, a ton of other woman tried to reach this person, but they were never able to.

Rabbi Fohrman: But at least it's not inherently demeaning. In other words, to say Mom, you're the world's best mom. Nobody takes offense to that. You're the world's best mom is my way of saying I think you have so much virtue, you're the best, right? But if I say about my Barbie doll picture of someone that's the world best mom, but there is nobody who approaches that it just seems a strange kind of thing.

Audience Member: Could it be just the ideal between a man and a woman or a man's view of his own wife. So it's still a general ideal.

Rabbi Fohrman: So the question is what is Eishet chayil? Is Eishet chayil talking about a man's view of his wife or is it talking about a wife? It's talking about this woman, right? It's an ode to her. It's not so much talking about his perspective on her, but okay.

Let me ask you this. Let's at least consider Option B, the less popular option, the option that 35 percent of you suggested. Option B is Solomon was actually, in creating this ideal, wasn't creating it out of his head. He was talking about someone. Now, here's why this makes a difference. Because if he was talking about someone the 64,000 earlier question would be?

Audience Member: Who.

Rabbi Fohrman: Who, who's he talking about. If we could figure out who he was talking about, what would you do then?

Audience Member: (Interposing 00:15:30.)

Rabbi Fohrman: Well, you would want to go back to that story, if there is a story about this mystery Jewish woman and compared to what King Solomon is saying it's like what take does he have on her. And more, you would sort of begin to interpret everything that Solomon was saying in the context of that story. It would matter who she is. In other words, you couldn't separate King Solomon's words from that person. He might even be commenting and telling you something about who she is. You'd want to know.

So, could that be true? Could he be talking about a particular person and if he would be, how would you know who it is? How would you know who it is? What would you look for?

Audience Member: You would look for someone who was an eishet chayil (woman of valor)?

Rabbi Fohrman: You would look for someone who is a woman of valor and who might that be?

Audience Member: Deborah.

Rabbi Fohrman: It's not Deborah, it's not Yael.

Audience Member: Ruth, It's Ruth.

Rabbi Fohrman: You avoided striking out there. That's right. It is Ruth. How do you know? Because, believe it or not, the term, the phrase eshet chayil, aside from appearing in Proverbs, appears one other time in all of Tanach, but only one other time. The only other time it ever appears is in Boaz's second conversation with Ruth where he says "v'atah biti al tir'i, kol asher tomri e'eseh lach ki yode'a kol sha'ar ami," everybody knows "ki eshet chayil at," that you are a woman of valor.

Fascinating. There was an actual woman described as a woman of valor and it was Ruth. If you think about Ruth, she wasn't just anybody to Solomon, right? Who was she?

Audience Member: A great-great grandmother.

Rabbi Fohrman: A great-great grandmother. He's talking about his great-great grandmother who he might have even known. He's saying she is the model of the perfect Jewish woman. Now here a tantalizing possibility emerges. If somebody asked you -- you're on a plane to America or whatever and somebody stops you and says so, you read any good commentaries on the Book of Ruth lately? I'm starting the Book of Ruth. So you say, yeah, Yael Ziegler written this great book, it's amazing. Then somebody else says, no, but there's more classic stuff. There's Rashi and there's the Ha'emek Davar and the Malbim has this thing on Ruth. You should really read that.

What if you said there's actually a hidden commentary on the Book of Ruth and it's the oldest known commentary and no one knows about it. What if Chapter 31 in Proverbs is the oldest known commentary on the Book of Ruth and no one even knows. That would be a big deal, wouldn't it? It's a hidden commentary on the Book of Ruth, written by none other than King Solomon himself. The great-great grandmother, the woman.

That would be remarkable because in Eishet Chayil you might just find his own personal perspective on who this woman is which is amazing because if you think about learning Tanach, one of the problems with learning Tanach is you never really know these people. Who are these people. What were they like? It seems so impossible to ever know, but here you might actually know. You might be getting one man's personal portrait of a prominent biblical figure. You might be getting his commentary on the book. That's pretty cool.

Audience Member: Isn't Solomon's commentary on his grandmother all about the first verse which says it's l'muel?

Rabbi Fohrman: Well, Divrei L'muel, that's true. So you're saying, well, according to some commentaries l'muel is a pseudonym for King Soloman there, depends on how you understand that. We're not going to have time to get into the first verses there, but they are worth reading once you do this. They're always worth reading, but look at this and then come back to those first verses in light of all this, it's pretty remarkable.

There's this tantalizing possibility that he was talking about Ruth, but I don't think we've still proven it. It just seems possible. It seems likely. It seems suspicious, but again how would you know? What you would need to do is, kind of, go through Eishet Chayil and see, does this actually work? Is this really talking about Ruth?

What I want to suggest to you today, in the time that we have left, is that it's not just the case that King Solomon simply stuck in this phrase eshet chayil as a lone wolf reference to Ruth in Proverbs 31, but in fact the entire song, the entire piece of Eishet Chayil is nothing less than a line by line commentary on the Book of Ruth. It actually goes in order. The beginning of Eishet Chayil is going to be talking about the beginning of the Book of Ruth. The middle of Eishet Chayil is going to be talking about the middle of the Book of Ruth. The end of Eishet Chayil is going to be talking about the end of the Book of Ruth. All these verses are in order.

It's quite remarkable, if that's really true, so let's just sort of test and see could it actually be. What would this mean? Let's go through Eishet Chayil a little bit on a line by line basis and see what it could mean. Eishet chayil means -- so "rachok mip'ninim michra," rachok mip'ninim michra is exceedingly complex. I'll try to get back to this at the end when we'll be able to see it. What we're looking for is actually word play and double entendres within Eishet Chayil. So there's a pshat (simple explanation) in Eishet Chayil, but there's a whole other level of Eishet Chayil which is playing up the Book of Ruth. Let me begin to show you what I'm talking about.

"Batach bah lev ba'alah v'shalal lo yechsar." Just to translate the words. "Her husband's heart trusts in her, v'shalal, spoils of war, lo yechsar, will not be in short supply. What could this mean in the context of the Book of Ruth? "Batach bah lev ba'alah," if the woman is Ruth, so who is ba'alah? Who is her husband?

Audience Member: Boaz

Audience Member: Mahlon.

Rabbi Fohrman: So we have a debate. Some of you are saying Boaz, and others of you are saying Mahlon. Who's right? The Mahlon people are right because Boaz is her husband at the end of the book, but we're at the beginning of Eishet Chayil so at the beginning of Eishet Chayil it has to be Mahlon. So, "batach bah lev ba'alah," her husband's heart trusts her, Mahlon's heart trusts in her. That's such a strange thing to say, isn't it, because we don't know much about Mahlon, do we. He's just the guy who dies. That's basically all you know about Mahlon; he shows up, marries Ruth, dies.

So, what would it be? How can we come along and say, wow, her husband heart trusts in her so much. We don't know anything about Mahlon in the Book of Ruth. How would we know that that's true? Let's keep on reading. "G'malhatu tov v'lo ra," because there's a hint here. She will do good for him and not evil "kol yemei chayeha," all the days of her life. You think that's a strange thing, Mahlon just shows up and dies so how could she possibly do good to him all the days of her life and most of the story Mahlon's dead. What, boys and girls, mostly boys, does this really mean?

Again, our theory could be wrong, it could be it was nothing to do with Ruth, but if it has to do with Ruth what could it mean, "batach bah lev ba'alah"?

What could it mean "g'malhatu tov v'lo ra kol yemei chayeha"? By the way, you noticed that kol yemei chayeha as opposed to kol yemei?

Audience Member: Chayav (his days).

Rabbi Fohrman: His days, because he dies. Which suggests that even after death, she's good to him.

Audience Member: She sticks with Naomi...

Rabbi Fohrman: It could be, if you think about it, that Mahlon has interests that stick around after he dies. One of those interests is who's going to take care of his mom and clearly Ruth is interested in doing that so she's good to him by being loyal to his mother, but there could yet be another way that she's good to Mahlon.

Audience Member: She continues his lineage?

Rabbi Fohrman: Which is she considers his legacy. In other words, if you think about it he's dead, but if you think about every person, there's a past, present and future. The past is my mom, the present is me, the future is my kids. I might be dead, but I still have interests; my mother, my legacy. If you think about it, Ruth tends to both of those. That's really the core of the Book of Ruth. What makes the Book of Ruth a book, which is to stay a story with a beginning, middle and end, rather than a day in the life of Beth Lechem, just a bunch of random happenings, is the quest for yibum (levirate marriage), the quest for some sort of continuation of a legacy. Even in some sort of extra-halachic way because did the Book of Ruth before Shavuot a little bit, anybody? Sort of, kind of, right.

For example, if you're reading the Book of Ruth, if you get up to verses like these when Naomi says go home, right, so listen to what those verses are like. Verse Eleven. "Vatomer Naomi shavnah b'notai, lamah telachnah imi," go back, my daughters, why should you go with me? Ha'od li banim b'mei'ai? Do I have children in my womb? What's she talking about? Do you understand what she's talking about?

Do I have children -- because Mahlon and Chilion are dead. There are no brothers through which levirate marriage could happen. Do I have children in my womb "v'hayu lachem la'anashim, who could be husbands for you? Shavnah b'notai, go back, my daughters, "ki zakanti mihiyot l'ish," I am too old to be with a man "ki amarti yesh li tikvah gam hayiti halaylah l'ish," because even if I were to have hope of having children, "v'gam yaladati banim," even if I were to conceive and even if I were to have male progeny "halahem tisabarnah," will you stick around, growing old, waiting for them "ad asher yigdalu," until they grew up, "halahem te'agenah," would you be chained to them, "l'vilti heyos l'ish," to not be with a man. "Al b'notai," don't my daughters "ki mar li me'od," because that would be too bitter for me.

What she's talking about this whole time? She's talking about the quest for levirate marriage. There's an understanding that that's one of the thing that Ruth wants, which is to carry on -- she's loyal to her dead husband. Think about levirate marriage. One of the reasons why it's such a great act of kindness, why Boaz will himself, in the second speech, describe it as a great act of kindness, "hei'tavt chasdech ha'acharon min harishon," is because if you think about levirate marriage it is -- it's like when you're dead you're not really dead because when you're dead you still have interests that you want taken care of. Those interests are the people you leave behind so that a mother -- you've still got no kids. Your legacy is going to be destroyed.

Go back to the very first words of Eishet Chayil for a minute. Eishet chayil, a woman of valor. Define valor. We award medals of valor. Almost every society has a medal of valor. What do you award a medal of valor for? What do you get a medal of valor for? The highest citations of honor, the congressional medal of honor. What do you get these things for.

Audience Member: Giving up of yourself to save someone else?

Rabbi Fohrman: Right. Putting yourself at extreme risk for the sake of someone else. Someone else. What kind of someone else, usually?

Audience Member: Someone in danger.

Rabbi Fohrman: Someone in danger. A vulnerable comrade, a wounded soldier. The masculine version on valor is on the battlefield, when you will not leave a wounded soldier and you will risk your life to be able to carry a wounded soldier safely off the field of battle. Let's talk about feminine valor. Feminine valor as described by Ruth where the battlefield is life and you can die and somehow you're still not dead because you still have interests

By the way, if you think about the very first yibum-like act that we know about in the Torah we go back to Judah and Tamar, Chapter 38, Genesis, and even Tamar -- the guy who dies -- isn't it interesting. What's his name? Does anyone remember Tamar's first husband?

Audience Member: Shelah?

Rabbi Fohrman: That's her third.

Audience Member: Er.

Rabbi Fohrman: Er. What does Er mean? Ayin-Reish. Awake. Isn't that a strange word for a dead guy. The only thing that happens to him, much like Mahlon, is that he dies. By the way, Mahlon's a strange name for a dead guy, isn't it? Mahlon, what does it mean?

Audience Member: Sickness.

Rabbi Fohrman: Sickness, disease. Chilion's a strange name. What does it mean? Destruction. What interesting names for twins. Here little disease, come over here. Here little destruction. Er, all of these names are weird, but they all point to levirate marriage, right? Think about it. What's the difference between Mahlon and Chilion? How come Chilion is named destruction, but Mahlon is only diseased. Disease means there's hope for being resuscitated, right? Why? What's the difference between Mahlon and Chilion by the end of the story?

Audience Member: (Interposing.)

Rabbi Fohrman: Levirate marriage -- Chilion. Orpah turns back. There is no levirate marriage for Chilion so his legacy is destroyed, but Mahlon's isn't. His is on life support. It's like he's dead, but he's not really dead, he's only diseased. He's alive, but still on life support. He's vulnerable, he's a wounded soldier on the field of battle, much like Er, six generations ago in Boaz's life. Er, even though he was dead, he was awake. He was the knight of the living dead. He could come back, Er could, he could get his legacy back.

Feminine valor might well be when you have a man and he's dead and you're married to him, but you still remain loyal and you carry him off, literally, off the field of battle and "v'shalal lo yechsar." The masculine version of spoil, the kind you and I know, the spoils of war, the gold and silver that you take off the battlefield, that's a feminine version of spoil. The wounded soldier is a guy who just dies and still has interests. Those interests have nothing to do with gold and silver. The only interests you have are what?

Audience Member: Legacy.

Rabbi Fohrman: Legacy, children, it's the only thing that matters. "Shalal lo yechsar." "Eishet chayil," this woman of valor, "mi yimtzah v'rachok mip'ninim michrah." "Batach bah lev ba'alah," his heart trusts in her, which is he can trust her to look after his interests even after he dies, "v'shalal lo yechsar," there will be spoils of war, he will emerge victorious, there will be a legacy that comes from him. "G'malhatu tov v'lo ra," she does good to him, she's loyal to him all the days of her life, not all the days of his life because he's dead, but long after he's dead she's in it for him.

"Darshah tzemer u'fishtim," Four, "vata'as b'chefetz kapehah." What does it mean? "Darshah tzemer u'fishtim," she seeks out wool and fine linen. By the way, it's tzemer u'fishtim, interestingly enough are the two ingredients of?

Audience Member: (interposing.) Kil'ayim (prohibition of mixed wool and linen.)

Rabbi Fohrman: Kil'ayim, interestingly enough and perhaps the tzitzis. It's interesting that you have those two things coming together. If we have time we'll talk about that a bit later, but "darshah tzemer u'fishtim," she seeks out wool and fine linen and vata'as, she makes out of it b'chefetz kapehah, what she will out of her own hands. It's like she's weaving something with this wool and fine linen.

I want to play a little game with you here. I want to look at the verb that we're talking about here; vata'as, she's making something. What is she making? Let's take a look at this verb vata'as and chart its appearances in Eishet Chayil. After Four when else does la'asot as a verb appear in Eishet Chayil? What's our next occurrence with any verb of la'asot, asah?

Audience Member: "Sadin asa'sah vatimkor."

Rabbi Fohrman: Before that? "Marvadim astah vatimkor." Fine blankets she's making. Then next verse, two verses later; "sadin astah," she's making sheets. Then, finally at the very end. "viyehaleluha bashe'arim ma'ase'hah," when asah becomes a verb, that her deeds proclaim her greatness in the gates. One wonders who those are because it's as if her deeds are being personified. Add it all up and there's a story being told by these verbs, these four verbs. It starts with the wool and fine linen, she's making something. What's she making?

Audience Member: Blankets?

Rabbi Fohrman: She's making blankets. She's making sheets. Finally there's her deeds that proclaim her -- what was she making? It's a family show here, but it sounds like she's making what? A bed, right? She's making a bridal bed or euphemistically what is she making?

Audience Member: A future.

Rabbi Fohrman: A future. She's making levirate marriage. She's making children. She's creating levirate marriage out of nothing, where you would think it's impossible because remember what Naomi says. Shavna b'notai, go home, this is impossible and Ruth will not be deterred. At the very end of it her deeds are her children from this act of levirate marriage who go and proclaim her greatness in the final stanza. Until then she's making this bridal bed, "vata'as b'chefetz kapehah." What an interesting choice of words.

In literal meaning it means and she makes what she will with her hands, but look at the word b'chefetz and in the context of levirate marriage what's special role does the word chefetz play. Think back if you've ever learned Tractate Yevamot, or if you've ever gone through the Book of Deuteronomy, shnayim mikra v'echad targum, and you come across that chapter of levirate marriage in Parshat Ki Tetzei. Where does chefetz come up within the chapter of levirate marriage? Does it come up? It comes up a couple of times, doesn't it? It's when the potential yavam does not desire the yavamah. Isn't it interesting that in the Torah's actual narrative of levirate marriage it's actually a narrative of failed levirate marriage. It doesn't happen. It ends in chalitzah (removal of shoe under Levirate law). Do you remember the story? "ki yeishvu achim yachdav," when brothers sit together "u'ben ein lo," and they have no child. One of them dies there's a commandment upon the brother to marry the widow of the deceased, but there's always the possibility he might demur. He might say no. What if he says "lo chafatzti l'lakchah," I'm not interested in her?

The Torah says when that happens the elders of the city, the elders come and they say, but that's not right. You can do a mitzvah. You can carry on the legacy for your brother, but he says no, lo chafatzti, I'm not interested. Again, there's that word chefetz.

Isn't it interesting that in the levirate marriage saga, as the Torah tells it, who's the one with all the power?

Audience Member: The man.

Rabbi Fohrman: The man. Does the woman have any power in classic levirate marriage? No. She might want to do levirate marriage, but if the man says no she can't force him. This is a story in which she is powerless. She tries. She goes to the elders. Nothing helps. She cannot force this recalcitrant brother to perform levirate marriage in the classic story of levirate marriage. When he said no, that recalcitrant brother, the language was "lo chafatzti l'lakchah," I'm not interested.

Now listen to King Solomon telling you another story of levirate marriage. "Darshah tzemer u'fishtim," she's seeking out wool and fine linen and she makes with it what she will, but what's the word for will? She makes out of it what she desires. "Vata'as b'chefetz kapehah." Do you understand the double entendre in the phrase? In simple explanation she's weaving together wool and fine linen, but on another level of meaning the material that she's making the bed out of is something else. "Vata'as b'chefetz kapehah." What is she making the bed out of? Chefetz, which is the classic word for?

Audience Member: Denying.

Rabbi Fohrman: Denying levirate marriage. Did Ruth ever face denial of levirate marriage? Did she ever face a roadblock, someone standing in her way?

Audience Member: Yes.

Rabbi Fohrman: Who?

Audience Member: Ploni Almoni.

Rabbi Fohrman: The truth is she faces three roadblocks. The very first roadblock she faced was a nice person. Naomi herself was the roadblock. Naomi said forget it, it's not going to happen. Shavna b'notai, go home. The first one who needs to be convinced is Naomi and Ruth does it in spades with a speech on that lives on in the annals of time as only Hamlet's does; and to be or not to be, wither thou goest I will go. "va'asher telchi eilich -- ba'asher tamusi amus v'shamah ekover," this is amazing stuff. She overcomes Naomi's objections and Naomi says fine, you can come.

After that, how is there ever going to be levirate marriage. There's this guy, Boaz, but he sees her and he never really proposes marriage. It gets really complicated. There's this other guy, Ploni Almoni, he can't be bothered. Ploni's not interested. Nothing's happening. It's all one big roadblock. Somehow Ruth makes it happen. "Vata'as b'chefetz kapehah." She makes what she will out of her own hands, but she's taking literally rejection, chefetz, and spinning levirate marriage out of that.

"Hayatah ka'aniyot socher mimerchak tavi lachamah." We're towards the end of Chapter One now of the Book of Ruth. "Mimerchak tavi lachamah," reminds you of what? We're after the stage where Naomi has tried to say no to her, but Ruth has barreled past that. She's overcome that objection. The next thing that happens? What's the next scene in Ruth? Where is she heading now?

Audience Member: Back to --

Rabbi Fohrman: She's heading with Naomi to?

Audience Member: Beit Lechem.

Rabbi Fohrman: Oh, back to -- where's it all happening?

Audience Member: Beit Lechem.

Rabbi Fohrman: Beit Lechem. Isn't that interesting? "Hayatah ka'aniyot socher mimerchak tavi lachamah." Do you hear the double entendre? What's the words in Ruth for Naomi heading to Beit Lechem. End of Chapter One. Does anyone have them there?

Audience Member: (Interposing.)

Rabbi Fohrman: Vatelachnah and then?

Audience Member: "Shteihem ad bo'anah Beit Lechem."

Rabbi Fohrman: Oh, "ad bo'anah Beit Lechem." Translate those words. Until bo'anah, until they together came towards Beit Lechem. They're coming a long way. All the way from Moab, right? Now listen to King Solomon. "Mimerchak," from afar "tavi lachamah." Do you see the double entendre. From afar, tavi, same language as ad bo'anah, on the approach, they're approaching lachmah. When you put the Heh after lachmah what does it mean?

Audience Member: Towards.

Rabbi Fohrman: They're approaching towards Beit Lechem. It's his version of that verse. "Vatakum b'od laylah," so she gets up in the middle of the night. What are we talking about here? We were at the end of Chapter One, where are we now?

Audience Member: Chapter two.

Rabbi Fohrman: Presuming we're at the beginning of Chapter Two, does she wake up in the middle of the night in Chapter Two? I thought that was at the end of the book. Does she wake up in the middle of the night in Chapter Two? Take a quick look at Chapter Two and tell me, does she wake up in the middle of the night. "Vatakum b'od laylah," for what purpose? "Vatiten teref l'beisah," to give food to her household. Is she interested in giving food to her household at the beginning of Chapter Two.

Audience Member: Yes.

Rabbi Fohrman: Yes. Isn't that what Chapter Two is all about. They have a problem before even, they're starving, these poor people coming back to Beit Lechem. What happens? What happens? How do you know she gets up in the middle of the night? Do you remember that strange conversation between Boaz and the farmhands? Boaz talks to the farmhands, that farmhands talk to Boaz. What happens in that conversation. When the farmhands talk to Boaz about Ruth, one of the things that they say is "vta'amod me'az haboker," she's been here since before the crack of dawn. She's been there since she woke up in the middle of the night to come here.

She woke up in the middle of the night to come here. "Vatakum b'od laylah vatiten teref l'beisah," to give food for her household, "v'chok l'na'arotehah," and she gives law to her na'arot (young girls.) That's weird. Ruth doesn't have any young girls. What kind of law does she give to them? What could that possibly mean.

Audience Member: Boaz does.

Rabbi Fohrman: Boaz does. Isn't that interesting. What is Solomon saying? Here you begin to say the depth of Solomon's explanation in the Book of Ruth. Let's go back and actually look in Ruth at the language that Boaz is commenting on now with "vatakum b'od laylah vatiten teref l'beisah v'chok l'na'arotehah."

What actually happens in Chapter Two? I could challenge you. I could tell you nothing of consequence happens in Chapter Two. It could have been much more concise because this whole long thing is one conversation between Ruth and the farmhands and everything. I mean, see her and it could have been much shorter. What was happening in that conversation. Lets' take a look at the conversation and see if we can figure it out.

Looking into Chapter Two for a minute. "U'l'Naomi mod'a l'ishah ish gibor chayil mimishpachat Elimelech u'shmo Boaz." By the way, listen to that description of Boaz, isn't that interesting. What's the only thing we hear about Boaz?

Audience Member: He was an ish gibor chayil.

Rabbi Fohrman: Ish gibor chayil. There's chayil, but it's not talking about her, it's talking about him. So the first time we meet Boaz he is a strong man of valor. Later on he's going to call her chayil. It's as if he's giving his description to her. Let's talk about him. This guy who is a strong man of valor, his name is what? Boaz. What does Boaz mean? Bo-az.

Audience Member: Strength.

Rabbi Fohrman: In him is strength. He's a really powerful guy. Masculine power. He's powerful on the battlefield. He's economically powerful. He's got this field, right? He's this guy, Boaz. He's a very powerful guy and along comes Ruth on the scene and she talking to Naomi. They're poor, they're destitute and Ruth says the following. "Vatomer Rut haMoavi'ah el Naomi." What's extra in the verse? And Ruth, the Moabite, then says to Naomi.

Audience Member: Moavi'ah.

Rabbi Fohrman: Moavi'ah. If by the beginning of Chapter Two you don't know that Ruth is a Moabite, you haven't been paying attention. So why can't the Torah just say vatomer Rut? Why vatomer Rut haMoavi'ah? It must be it's relevant to the story now to know that she is a Moabite. Why is it relevant to the story?

Audience Member: A stranger to the land.

Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. Think about what's happened and think about her plan. Here's her plan. "Vatomer Rut haMoavi'ah el Naomi elchah na el hasadeh," let me please just go into a field "va'alaktah vashibolim," I'll gather the forgotten sheaves "acher asher emtza chen b'einav," maybe I'll charm someone. "Vatomer lechi biti," so she says go, my daughter. What law does Ruth seem to want to be able to take advantage of here?

Audience Member: Leket, shichachah and pe'ah.

Rabbi Fohrman: Leket, shichachah and pe'ah, the laws of the gifts for the poor. These Jews, they have these laws which is that if you're poor you can go on the field, you won't be destitute, you can actually eat something. Let me go like the other Jews and take some of these shibolim (sheaves). Notice that the Torah goes out of its way to say "vatomer Rut haMoavia'h," Ruth, the Moabite, says this. Ruth, the Moabite, has this idea. What problem is there with her plan.

Audience Member: No one knows she's poor.

Rabbi Fohrman: She may not be eligible. She's not Jewish. How do know she can do this?. Now Ruth seems to be aware of this because Ruth says something which doesn't belong here if all she's going to do is take advantage of something which legally has rights to, leket, shichachah and pe'ah. Listen to her plan again. "Elcha na el hasadeh va'alaktah vashibolim acher asher emtza chen b'einav," What's her plan?

Audience Member: If she's not entitled to it. (Interposing.)

Rabbi Fohrman: She's going to use charm. She knows she might not be entitled to it, but look, what do I have to lose. Let me go in the field and I'm a nice charming woman, maybe I can charm someone into letting me stay there. That's the plan. "L'chi biti," Naomi says, go, give it a try. Maybe I can charm someone into letting me stay there. Naomi says. Go, give it a try. She goes in the fields. "Vayakar mikreh," and she ends up, just so happens, in Boaz's field. Boaz spies her and says, who's that girl? By the way, exactly the wrong question for her, right. That was a bad question. Who's that girl? So the farmhands begin to report. What are the farmhands saying in their report? Let's see what they say.

"Vaya'an hana'ar." By the way, here's the na'ar. Remember in Eishet Chayil? Right, Eishet Chayil over here, Ruth over here. In Eishet Chayil, remember that Ruth we were talking about -- "vatakam b'od laylah vatiten teref libaytah v'chok l'na'arotehah." We just so happen to be, in a place in Ruth, right now, where -- the only time in Ruth where na'arim (lads) actually show up. These farmhands are the lads. So let's hear what happens, this lad tells Boaz. What does he tell him when Boaz says, who is this girl?

So "vay'an hana'ar hanitzav el hakotzrim." Now put yourself in Boaz's shoes. If you're hearing this from the lad, what do you do? "Vayomer", so he says, "na'arah mo'avia'h hi." Oh, that girl. She's from Moab. "Hashavah im Na'ami m'sdeh Moav." She got back with Naomi from the fields of Moab. "Vatamar", she says to herself. "Alaktah nah v'asafti va'amarim." I'll clean up, I'll gather all these sheaves from the forgotten sheaves. "Acharei haketzarim," I'll tail after the farmhands. "Vatavo," and she came, "vata'amod mei'az haboker v'ad atah." She's been here since before the crack of dawn all the way until now. "Zeh shivtah habayit m'at." Except for like going in the house and using the facilities for a few minutes, she's just been here the whole time. That's who she is, sir. If you're Boaz, what's the expectation you do now? What do you do? Yeah, you go over, excuse me, ma'am. Could I see your green card please? Right. It's like, I'm so sorry, you're from Moab, aren't you? Well maybe you might find a nice Moabite field, this is really reserved for Jews. I'm sorry, we're going to have to ask the farmhands to escort you out. That's the expectation of these farmhands. Listen to Boaz's actual response.

"Vayomer Boaz lena'aro hanitzav al hakotzrim," So Boaz talks to the lad who's in charge of all the harvesters. I'm sorry, we got to that already. "Vayomer Boaz el Rut." So Boaz then approaches Ruth. He says, "Halo sham'at biti," I've heard about you, my daughter. "Al telchi lil'kot because'sadeh acher." Don't go and collect in any other field. "Gam lo ta'avuri mizeh." Don't leave this field behind. "V'choh tidbakin im na'arotai." You can continue tailing after my farmhands. "Einayich basadeh asher yekotzrin vehalachtah achareihen." You can just keep your eyes on the field and just walk right behind them. "Halo tziviti et hane'arim l'vilti nageich." You don't have to worry about them. I've commanded them not to touch you. Not to molest you, not to harass you.

"Vetzamt", and if you're thirsty, "vehalachtah el hakeilim," you can go to the water fountain "veshatit mei'asher yeshavun hane'arim." You can take from the water that those farmhands, they collect for themselves. Yeah, just take from their water. Right. I mean, she's blown away. "Vatipal al panehah," and she falls on her face. "Vatishtachu artzah," and she bows before him. "Vatomer eilav," and she says to him. Listen to these words. "Maduah matzati chein be'einechah lehakireini, va'anochi nachriyah." How is it that I've found such charm in your eyes that you should recognize me, when I'm really a gentile, to be truthful about all of this.

Now, when you're reading this, you, the reader, knows more than Boaz. What do you know more than Boaz that would change your attitude when you're reading this verse? "Madu'ah matzati chayn be'einechah lehakireini, va'anochi nachriyah." Oh my goodness! How I've charmed you so. How could I have ever found so much charm in your eyes that you would treat me so nicely, even though I'm a gentile? (pause) Well, that's there. You're a step too soon. What do you know just from reading Ruth?

Audience Member: That's what she's trying to do.

Rabbi Fohrman: This was her plan. Right, she comes along with, oh, I can't believe I found such charm in your eyes. Why have I found such charm? But remember, over here. So it's like, let me go onto the field, I bet I can charm someone into letting me stay here. That's like, oh wow, how did I ever charm you! So she bats her eyelashes, right. This was her plan. She's being a little disingenuous. By the way, it gets to an interesting question. "Eishet chayil mi yimtzah." A woman of strength, who can find? One of the great questions is, what does feminine strength really look like?

Well, if you ask Ruth and Naomi in this conversation over here, in the beginning of Chapter 2 which says, I'm destitute, but maybe I can charm someone into letting me stay in the field, you might say feminine strength looks like?

Audience Member: Deception.

Rabbi Fohrman: Deception. I mean, to be not so terrible about it, you can say it looks like chein. It looks like charm. It looks like batting your eyelashes and getting some guy to go for you. Right, because guys will do that. If you're a woman and you want to use power so use womanliness and use femininity to get your way with things. That's one possibility. It seems to be what Ruth thinks happened when she says, "maduah matzati chayn be'einechah." How have I found chein in your eyes? "Va'anochi nachriyah." Listen to Boaz's response. Ask yourself, does Boaz agree.

Here's what Boaz says. "Va'yan Boaz vayomer lah," and Boaz says to her. "Hugeid hugad li kol asher asitah et chamateich." It was told to me, everything you've done for your mother-in-law. I know who you are. I know you came back with Naomi. I know what you did for her. How you took care of her "acharei mot ishech," after the death of your husband. "Vatazvi avich ve'imeich." How you left behind your father and your mother. "Ve'eretz moladitech," and your birthplace. "Vatelchi el am," you went to a nation. "Asher lo yada'at temol shilshom, " that you didn't know yesterday and the day before. Sure sounds a lot like who?

Audience Member: Abraham.

Rabbi Fohrman: You're like Abraham. You've left everything behind. You've come to this other nation. You've done it for good reasons. You've done it to cleave to God. You've done it to take care of your mother-in-law. You're a master of kindness like Abraham. You want God like Abraham. Therefore, "yeshalem Hashem pe'aleich." Let God reward you acts, what you've done. "U'tehi maskurteich sheleimah." Let your reward be complete. "Mei'im Hashem Elokei Yisrael", from the God of Israel. "Asher ba'at lechasot tachat kenafav." That you've come to find repose beneath His wings. Remember those words. "Asher ba'at lechasot tachat kenafav." They'll be important -- that you've come to find repose beneath His wings.

So what is Boaz saying? Does he agree? Here's the thing about chein. Chein, which comes from the word chinam, means something free. Something you don't deserve. By definition it's something you don't deserve. Boaz comes along and says. You think you don't deserve this? You deserve this. Look at you. You've taken care of your mother-in-law. You've left everything behind to come to this field. You deserve this. Let God reward you for what it is that you've done. He doesn't buy the argument from chein.

Ruth, for her part -- she can't even believe what he's saying. Listen to her response. Ruth's response to him. "Vatomer emtzah chein be'einechah adoni." Let me continue to find favor in your eyes. "Ki nechamtani." You've made me feel so good. "V'chi dibartah el lev shifchatechah," and you've spoken so nicely about me and I'm just your servant. "Va'anochi lo ehyeh kedushah'achat shifchotechah." I'm not even -- like, I don't even come to the toe nails of one of your servants.

She doesn't buy it. She thinks it was all chein. There's a debate now, between Boaz and Ruth. What does feminine strength look like? What happened here in the field. Boaz says, that wasn't what it was. I responded to your power. Now go back to Eishet Chayil, King Soloman. "Sheker hachein v'hevel hayofi, ishah yira'at Hashem hi tithallal." It's like, who's talking. That's Boaz. Boaz is saying, no. In the context of the Book of Ruth, it wasn't your beauty. It wasn't your charm. It was your seeking out God and your conviction that I responded to.

Therefore, it's almost like you can hear Boaz say -- almost as if this Boaz's words. When she says,"madu'ah matzati chayn be'einechah lehakireini." How have I found chein, charm in your eyes? You know what the opposite of charm is? Chayil. Spell it almost the same way, by the way. His response to "maduah matzati chein be'einechah." You ask me, Ruth -- how did I find chein, in your eyes -- in my eyes, Boaz. I'm asking you something. "Eishet chayil mi yimtzah." It isn't about chein, it's about chayil. It isn't about you, making chein. It's about me finding chayil in you because "sheker hachein vehevel hayofi."

So therefore, Six. "Vatakom be'od laylah." She gets up in the middle of the night. "Vatiten teref lebaytah." To give food to her household . Vechok lena'arotehah," and decrees to her lads. The only time we have lads in the Book of Ruth is here. Who are the lads? They're the farmhands, the workers in the field. They weren't her farmhands. They were Boaz's farmhands. So what's Solomon telling you by saying that she gave "teref lebaytah vechok lena'arotehah," and decrees to her farmhands. How is Boaz reading this?

Audience Member: She deserved it.

Rabbi Fohrman: Yes, and in effect. What happens in the end of the story? Remember what happens? Think of the power structure in this story. She enters the field. What does the power structure look like? Who's the most powerful guy in the field? Boaz. Who's the second to the most powerful guy in the field? The head of the harvesters. Who's the third most powerful guys in the field? The other harvesters. Who's the fourth, the last most powerful guy in the field? Ruth. She's all the way at the bottom.

By the end of the story, who's the most powerful guy in the field? Boaz. In a way, almost Ruth. Why? Because what does Boaz say about her? You? You think you're nothing? If only I could be like you. I admire you. You're everything. He puts her on a pedestal. Almost even above him. Then what does he tell her? Yeah, don't worry about those farmhands. You can just boss them around. Walk right behind them. Don't worry about anything they say. They can't touch you. I told them they can't touch you. Drink their water. Do whatever you want. She's the one in charge. You see what happened? He completely inverted the power structure in the field. He's taken her from being a nothing, into being an everything. He said, the chayil that you see in me, I see in you.

Seven. "Zamemah sadehah vatikacheihu." I'm kind of out of time with you guys, probably. Just about out of time with you guys. "Zamemah sadehah vatikacheihu mipri chapehah natah karem." So let's do this quickly. Zamemah, for those of you , right -- what does zamam remind you of? Eidim zomemim, right? Two people conspiring. There's a conspiracy involving a field. Why? What's the problem? There's ploni almoni, he's not acting. Maybe if you, like, bait him with a field and then say you can't have the field unless you get the girl.

So there's this plot, "zamemah sadehah vatikacheihu." A plot involving the field, that if you take the field, you take the girl. Vatikacheihu, later on becomes for a word for marriage. "Ki yikach ish ishah." It's also the word for marriage in the Book of Ruth, when Boaz marries Ruth. "Chagrah e'oz matnehah." What does this mean? The oz sure sounds a lot like?

Audience Member: Boaz.

Rabbi Fohrman: Boaz. Okay. "Chagrah be'oz matnehah", right. In simple explanation it's she ties with strength, her waist. If it's "chagrah b'oz matnehah", and Boaz is ba-oz. Then what does it mean?

Again, it's a family show of boys and girls. Where are we holding now in the Book of Ruth? Right, we've gone through Chapter 2, we're up to Chapter 3. What happens in Chapter 3? The night in the granary. What happened that night in granary? You're about to get King Solomon's take on what happened that night in the granary. What did happen that night? "Chagrah b'oz matnehah." Here's one possibility.

One possibility is -- is it that she has his way with him? Again, it gets back to the question of, what is feminine power. Now -- and it gets back to the debate between Ruth and Boaz, right. Ruth thinks it's chein. Boaz thinks it's chayil. Well, what's the truth? This night is going to be the truth. What's going to happen here? Is she going to powerfully have her way with him? I mean, that's what the language even sounds like. "Chagrah b'oz matnehah." She grabs hold of him. Almost like she ties her waist to his. Is that what happened? Did she, you know, almost force herself upon him? "Vata'ametz zero'atehah", and her arms were strong. Like she grabbed him and didn't let him go and her way with him right there. Is that what happened?

Listen carefully to what King Solomon tells you and you'll learn what really happened that night. What does it mean, "chagrah be'oz matnehah vata'ametz zero'atehah?" Let's go back to the Book of Ruth and then come back to Eishet Chayil and I'll let you go. Back to the Book of Ruth, let's read what happens. We're in the beginning of Chapter 3. "Vatomar lah Na'ami." So Naomi says. Okay, we're going to make this work out. See, here there's a problem. Because, Boaz, even though he's a nice guy and even though he admires her, he knows what she needs. Levirate marriage. He has not acted. He has not proposed marriage. The woman is halachically powerless. So she's stuck, as we saw before. Time goes by and she's still stuck.

So Naomi says. You know what, you're not as stuck as you think. Here's what you're going to do. I want you to go -- I know that Boaz is going to be celebrating his harvest tonight in the field, in the granary. Verachatzt, I want you to take a shower. vesacht, and anoint yourself with oil. "Vesamt simlotayich," and put on your best dress. "Veyaradt hagoren," and go down to the granary. "Al tevadi la'ish." Don't tell anybody that you're there. "Ad kaloto le'echol velishtot." Until he finishes eating and drinking. "Vayehi beshachvo," and then when he goes to sleep. "V'yada'at es hamakom asher yishkav sham." You should take note of the place that he goes to sleep. "U'ba'at," and you should go to him. "Vegilit margelotav," and you should uncover his feet.

By the way, uncover his feet -- in the context of levirate marriage, what does that sort of sound like?

Audience Member: Taking off his shoes.

Rabbi Fohrman: A little bit like chalitzah, taking off his shoes. A little memory before -- "vata'as becheifetz kapehah." She's going to make what she will out of rejection, out of chalitzah. She'll take chalitzah and spin it into levirate marriage. Here too, you're going to like, uncover his shoes. Almost a symbolic act of chalitzah. We'll see what happens. There'll be a levirate marriage at the end of this, won't there. "Veshachavt," you go to sleep right next to his feet. "Vehu yagid lach et asher ta'asun." He'll take it from there. What is she proposing, Naomi? What's supposed to happen that night in the grain field?

Audience Member: Levirate marriage.

Rabbi Fohrman: How? Boaz hasn't been active. Boaz has been saying no. We don't know why. Maybe it's because there's someone in line. Maybe it's because he can't be bothered. Maybe it's because he doesn't like Mahlon. As much as he thinks Ruth is great, Mahlon left in times of famine. Who knows why. For whatever reason, he's not interested. So what is Naomi saying? What's going to happen?

Audience Member: She'll deceive him.

Rabbi Fohrman: She'll deceive him. She'll seduce him. Not like it never happened. I mean, have we ever had a situation where there was like this levirate marriage sort of waiting to happen. Man kind of wasn't interested, but the woman was interested. Did the women ever take anything in their own hands before? Oh, we've heard that before. Back in Tamar-land, six generations ago. Who came from that? Perez. Who came from Perez? Boaz. So it's all in the family. That definitely happened. Then she's a Moabite. Where does Moab come from, for that matter? Oh, the daughters of Lot. What happened with them?

They thought the whole world was coming to an end. They had to carry on the legacy of the whole world. Father wasn't interested so they got him drunk. You know, it's like, you got them on both sides of the family. Naomi seems to say, well look. Let's see what she can do. So what happens?

"Vayehi beshachbo." He goes to sleep. Sorry -- so what happens? So she says, I'll do whatever you say. "Vateired hagoren." So she goes down to the grain pile. "Vata'as kechol asher tzivatah chamotah." She does exactly as Naomi says. "Vayochel Boaz vayesht." Boaz eats and he drinks. "Vayitav libo." He's a little tipsy, which means he's vulnerable. If he's a little tipsy it also means she can have her way with him. Also, what does that sort of, kind of remind you of in the history over here?

This is like, the daughters of Lot. Right, they drank right before that act. "Vayitav libo, vayavo lishkav bek'tzei ha'areima," and she goes to sleep by the side of the grain pile. What a strange word for grain pile, areimah; Ayin-Reish-Mem-Heh. Sure sounds a lot like?

Audience Member: Arum.

Rabbi Fohrman: Which could either mean? Deception or?

Audience Member: Nakedness.

Rabbi Fohrman: Or tricky nakedness which might be exactly what is happening here. It's like every sign is pointing towards seduction. "Vatavoh balat," and she comes quietly. Look at that word for quietly, boys and girls. "Vatavoh balat," how do you spell that? Lamed-Tet. Sure sounds a lot like?

Audience Member: Lot.

Rabbi Fohrman: Lot. right. We've seen this movie before. "Vatavo balat", so she comes quietly, just like, you know -- she's a daughter of Lot. "Vatiga'al margelotav", she uncovers his feet. "Vatishkav", and she goes to sleep. "Vayehi bachatzi halaylah," but then, in the middle of the night "vayecherad ha'ish vayilafeit." The man wakes up and he trembles. "V'hinei ishah shochevet margelotav." There's a woman who's sleeping there. Now what does that remind you of? A man who trembles. "Vayecherad ha'ish." Where else in Tanakh is there a man who trembles with that language of vayecherad? Isaac, in Genesis, 27, in the story of Jacob's deception of Isaac. When does Isaac tremble? When he finds out -- at the moment that Esau comes back, the moment that -- oh my gosh, something's going on that's not supposed to be going on. "Vayecherad Yitzchak charadah gedolah ad me'od vayomer,"and he says, what's going on?

Now there' s this what's going on moment for Boaz? What's going on? Vayecherad. It's another deception story, isn't it? Going back to the great-granddaddy of all deception stories, Jacob's deception of Esau.

When I talk about Jacob's deception with Esau and Isaac, sometimes I call it the goats and coats story. Right, a story of goats and coats. There's this guy. He takes the goat, slaughters the goat, brings it to his father. Wants to make sure he's not recognized so he takes the coat from his brother, puts them on himself. With the goat and the coat he goes to his father and says, do you recognize me. Father doesn't really recognize him. He gets the blessing. The truth is, that's not the only goats and coats story. That's just goats and coats one. In the next generation there's goats and coats two.

That stars Jacob too, except this time, Jacob is not the perpetrator of goats and coats. He is its victim. When's our next goats and coats story? The sale of Joseph. In the sale of Joseph brothers slaughter a goat. They put the blood on the coat. They bring the goat's blood on the coat to the father and they say, do you recognize this? Just like the last story, except this time, the victim of that deception is Jacob, the perpetrator of the first deception. Kind of like, what goes around, comes around. Goats and coats is not quite done, isn't it? That's just goats and coats two. In the next generation, there's goats and coats three.

Where do we meet goats and coats three? Again, a situation where a perpetrator is going to become a victim. Where's goats and coats three? Who's the perpetrator? Main perpetrator in the story of the sale of Joseph, the one who's idea it is to sell him.

Audience Member: Judah.

Rabbi Fohrman: Judah. Yes. Chapter 37. What happens in Chapter 38? Judah and Tamar. What happens in Chapter 38? Again there's a deception. A woman dresses up and deceives the perpetrator of the last story, Judah, and says okay, I'm going to seduce you this time, but you know, I'm a harlot. So what are you going to pay me?

So he says. I don't know, a goat? He says, I would give you a goat but I don't have any. You know why he doesn't have a goat? Because he killed it in the last story, right. So I'm goat-less. What am I going to give you? So he says, I don't know, I could give you a coat, right. So no goat, coat? So she says, okay, I'll take your coat as collateral until you can find a goat. That's what happened. The question is, is he ever going to get back his coat, if he gives her the goat? So he tries to give her the goat so he can get back the coat. That's goats and coats three.

What about goats and coats four? All of these deception stories, one after another, where what goes around, comes around. You can never really call it an end. It always keeps on happening. Now, six generations after Judah and Tamar. Are we looking at goats and coats four, another deception story. Here comes Ruth and there's a man who just happens to be named, Boaz. How do you spell Boaz? Oh, isn't that interesting? His name just happens to be goat. So he's going to be the goat. You know what, when she proposes marriage to him, "uparasta kenafechah al amatechah," the word for kanaf is actually coat.

So she's talking about spreading your coat over me. The goat would spread the coat over her. It's goats and coats four. Except, there's only one difference. Because in goats and coats one, two and three, it was all about deception. Now, here comes the moment of truth. Vayecherad. The moment where the deception either happens or doesn't happen. The moment when feminine power will be tested. What is it? She -- the disagreement between her and Boaz. Her idea -- feminine power lies in chein, charm. His idea -- feminine power lies in strength. Along comes Naomi and says, well, he's not acting. Use your charm. So she goes along and she's going to seduce him. Now let's read what happens.

If you were the girl in this situation, carrying out your mother-in-law's instructions, what would you do? He wakes up. He trembles in the middle of the night. What does he say?

Audience Member: "Bruchah at."

Rabbi Fohrman: That's right. This little tipsy guy realizes there's an "ishah shochevet margelotav, vayomer mi at?" He says who are you? An interesting question, by the way, considering goats and coats one. Because what happened in goats and coats one. What did Isaac say? That exact same question, only in the masculine, not the feminine. "Mi atah, beni?" Who are you, my son? What did Jacob answer? "Anochi Eisav bechorechah." With the lie. I am Esau, your son.

By the way, you're going to hear that same anochi right now. Interestingly, if you were Ruth and there's this man and he wakes up and says. Oh, who are you? If you're going to carry out Naomi's words, what are you going to say? It doesn't matter who I am. Go back to sleep. Leave this to me. Right? That's what you would say. What does Ruth say? Ruth's answer. "Vayomer, mi at. Vatomer, anochi." I am. Not "Eisav bechorechah." "Rut", I am Ruth, "amatechah", your maidservant. Not the firstborn on top but the maidservant on the bottom. Someone who doesn't really matter.

By the way, isn't it interesting? She's telling the truth. It's like Naomi's watching what are you even doing? You're telling the truth? You're going to give him a chance to say no? But that's what she does. "Anochi Rut amatecha." Interestingly, before when she called herself a servant, she had used the word shifchah, "v'anochi lo eheye k'achad shifchotayich," now she changes the word and says "anochi Rut amatecha" but amatecha has another meaning too. Doesn't it? How do you spell it? Aleph-Mem-Taf. Amatecha, what's the other meaning? I am Ruth, your truth. This isn't about deception. I am who I am.

Now I am putting your theory to the test. In what does feminine power lie? In charm or in something else. In the power of a case. And the next words she says are I am Ruth your maidservant "u'parasta k'nafecha al amatecha ki go'el atah." Now remember kanaf has two meanings. It can mean coat but what else can kanaf mean? What did it mean earlier on in the Book of Ruth? Wings. Spread your wings over me "ki go'el atah. "

Why did she say that? How did she pick up those words? Because it turns out she's quoting from Boaz himself. When did Boaz talk about spreading wings? When he talked to her about what he hoped Hashem would do for her. You're such a good person Ruth. "Y'shaleim Hashem pe'oleich," let God reward you, "u'tehi maskurteich sh'leimah", let God's reward be fulfilled to you, "me'im Hashem Elokei Yisrael asher ba'at lachasot tachat k'nafav," that you sought repose beneath His wings.

Why do you think Ruth would use those same words now when she says "u'parasta k'nafecha al amatecha," spread your wings over me? What's she really saying?

Audience Member: She agrees with him that that's the true --

Rabbi Fohrman: And? Yes?

Audience Member: It can come from you, like are you going to stay sacred to your word or not.

Rabbi Fohrman: This is the man who wasn't acting, for whatever reason it was, knew what she needed and did not act, but had blessed her and said you're such a righteous person, my brachah to you is that God should take care of you. Let God spread His wings over you. Let Him give you a full reward and now she comes to him after he knows what she needs and hasn't acted and she says "u'parasta k'nafecha al amatecha," why don't you spread your wings over me? What case is she making?

She's saying if it's good enough for God, isn't it good enough for you? If your idea is that God should spread his wings over me, do you know how that would happen? Do you know how God would take care of me? The only thing I'm really missing after I have food is to have a legacy for my dead husband and you're the one who can help make that happen. If you think God should take care of me by spreading His wings over me, maybe it's time that you spread your wings over me and marry me.

Now listen how King Solomon sees this and with this I'll let you go. "Chagrah b'oz matnehah," it's as if she's binding her waist to him, but how? Vat'ametz z'ro'otehah, and her arms are strong, but what could that even mean? That night she's a woman, he's a powerful warrior. She's going to beat him in arm wrestling? Her arms are going to be able to hold him down and he can't break free? How did she express her strength?

The key lies in the words vat'ametz -- vat'ametz z'ro'otehah, her arms were strong. Turns out vat'ametz, King Solomon's words for strength of arms, actually appears earlier in the Book of Ruth. Where does the phrase imutz, strength, ever appear in the Book of Ruth? Do you remember where?

Audience Member: "Vatereh ki mitametzet."

Rabbi Fohrman: "Vatereh ki mitametzet." It was at the beginning. It's when Ruth faced another roadblock. The roadblock of Naomi. When Naomi was saying no. How did she surmount that roadblock? With the greatest speech ever given. whither thou goest, I shall go, "va'asher teilchi eileich." Right? I will go with you. I am not giving up and Naomi, vatereh, she saw, ki mitametzet, that she was strong. That she would not be denied. "Vatechdal l'daber eilehah", she didn't say no.

The same thing now happens to Boaz. Boaz sees her strength and therefore, King Solomon, vate'ametz z'ro'oteheh, her strength lies in her words. In her convictions. Therefore, "ta'amah ki tov sachrah lo yichbeh balailah neirah." This all happens at night.

"Yadehah shilchah bakishor," -- how does it go? "Kapah parsah le'ani." "Kapah parsah le'ani." Isn't that interesting? The word parsah? The word parsah was the word she used to describe what she wanted him to do. Spread your wings over me. Quoting him when he said let God spread your wings over me, but now King Solomon says when she was marrying him kapah, her hand, parsah le'ani, was extended to a poor person. Yadehah shilchah la'evyon, she was stretching out her hand to a vulnerable person who couldn't take care of himself. Who is that? What was she doing with this marriage?

It wasn't just for her. It was for Machlon. Right? Machlon is the ani. Right? She's taking care of him and his response atah biti al tir'i," do not fear my daughter, "ki yode'ah kol sha'ar ami ki eishet chayil at, everyone knows you're a woman of valor. Atah biti al tir'i becomes the very next verse in Eshet Chayil. "Atah biti al tir'i," "lo tira l'beitah," a playoff of the words.

I can't take you through the whole thing. I'm out of time, but let me leave you with this thought. In the end Ruth seems to be convinced. It's a different view of feminine power. Ruth breaks the chain of deception. A chain that goes back six generations. Goats and coats four will not end in a deception. It's a whole different ballgame. Through this not only will Machlon have a legacy, but kings will come and one of those kings will write about this story.

His name was Solomon. Isn't it interesting his name is Solomon? "Kamu banehah vayashruhah ba'alah vayehalelah," her children come up and sing her praises. Who is that if not Solomon singing about her in this song and isn't it interesting that his name is Shlomo? Because Boaz, in his brachah, had said let God reward you for what you've done. Let your reward be complete from God and the word for complete?

Audience Member: Shleimah.

Rabbi Fohrman: "U'tehi maskurteich shleimah mei'im Hashem Elokei Yisrael," let your reward be shleimah, how do you spell shleimah? Shin-Lamed-Mem-Heh. Shlomo looks at that and says what? Did someone call my name? You're talking about me.

I'm the reward. When Boaz was talking about reward, what's the real reward that no one can even imagine? A Jewish king with the greatest of empires coming from the attempt of this one Abraham-like girl who's seeking to keep the legacy of her dead husband alive. Who defines a vision of feminine strength in the eyes of Solomon and in the eyes of Boaz and is being held up as an example for generations of what feminine power could possibly be like.

I will leave you with those thoughts.

Read More