Ruth was a Moabite princess of exceptional righteousness who converted to Judaism and became the great-grandmother of King David.
Ruth’s connection to the Jewish people began when she married Mahlon, an Israelite man who had fled famine in Judea and settled in Moab with his parents and brother. Within ten years, Mahlon, his brother Chilion, and their father Elimelech were dead. The only ones left of this once-wealthy and prominent family were Elimelech’s widow Naomi, and her daughters-in-law Ruth and Orpah.
Meanwhile the Judean famine had ended, and with no reason to remain in Moab, Naomi decided to return to her homeland. She said a tearful goodbye to Ruth and Orpah, with whom she was very close. Both of the young women told their bereft mother-in-law that they wanted to stay with her, but Naomi urged them to return to their own people, remarry and start families. Orpah followed this sensible advice, but Ruth refused to leave Naomi’s side. In one of the most emotional moments in the entire Hebrew Bible, Ruth told Naomi “where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.” (Ruth 1:16-17)
A beautiful princess of Moab, Ruth could have remained in the land of her birth, married a wealthy man, and raised a family. Instead this kind and gentle soul chose to throw her lot in with an elderly woman who was no blood relation to her and move to a foreign land. When Ruth and Naomi moved to Judea they were paupers, dependent on the gleanings of the field left for the poor, as per Leviticus 23:22. While gleaning, Ruth was careful to keep her body covered, displaying more modesty than the other female field workers toiling in the hot sun.
Ruth’s modesty and loyalty to Naomi caught the attention of Boaz, the wealthy widower and prominent judge who owned the fields where she was gleaning. Boaz married this righteous convert, but died on his wedding night, when their son Obed was conceived. Obed became the father of Jesse, the father of King David. This Moabite princess who sacrificed everything to be a Jew lived to see her great-grandson become King of Israel, and had a special place by his throne.
Ruth is the very paradigm of kindness and faith. Not only did she merit to become the great-grandmother of the king, but according to our sages the Messiah will be her direct descendant.
For her surpassing righteousness, we honor Ruth as this week’s Thursday Hero.
Image: Ruth and Naomi by William Blake (detail), 1795
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