According to the Midrashic account, Ruth was a member of the Moabite aristocracy, daughter of King Eglon, who was himself descended from King Balak (he of Bilaam’s talking donkey fame).
In the early era of the Judges, severe famine struck Israel and a wealthy property tycoon named Elimelech controversially decision to abandon his hometown of Bethlehem and move to the fertile plains of the Transjordan.
Once there, Elimelech’s two sons Machlon and Kilyon, marry Ruth and her sister Orpah respectively. As if forsaking their brethren wasn’t enough, Elimelech’s family completes their treachery by marrying into the household of the oppressive, viciously anti-Semitic Eglon.
This cold-hearted betrayal contrasts with the selfless loyalty displayed by Ruth. The wheel of fortune turns against the family as Elimelech and his two sons perish in quick succession, leaving Ruth and Orpah widowed and destitute.
Naomi, Elimelech’s wife, sees no recourse other than to return to Bethlehem and place her hope in reconciliation with her old neighbours.
She urges her daughters-in-law to do the sensible thing and return to Eglon’s estate, where they can live in comfort as Moabites. Orpah readily agrees. Ruth vehemently refuses.
“Where you go, I shall go. Where you sleep, I shall sleep. Your people is my people, your God is my God. Where you perish, I shall be buried.”
With these hauntingly poetic words, Ruth reaffirms her commitment to Naomi’s wellbeing, and the Jewish people as a whole.
Her dedication and self-sacrifice become the Biblical paradigm of selflessness.
To this end, she merits to become the matriarch of the Davidic dynasty. And it is entirely non-coincidental that it is Ruth whose words are used to avow a marriage: “Until death do us part”.
Rabbi Eli Birnbaum is director of YP Education at Aish UK
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