Ruth, The Moabite, Progenitor Of The Messiah
My good friend, Herb - a full time entrepreneur, part-time bible scholar - called me up the other day. “Hey Ted, who dya know in Hollywood? Any good contacts? I got a great idea for a movie script - a box office bonanza - especially for intermarrieds.”
Turns out Herb had written a movie script. He told me all about it in excruciating detail; The setting is 300 BCE. There’s a dignified, Jewish widow lady - we’ll call her Naomi (maybe played by Susan Sarandon). And she hangs out with her daughter-in-law, also a widow. Ruth is her name and she’s a Moabite. Anyhow, after the two husbands passed on, the mama-in-law tells her daughter-in-law (maybe Gweneth Paltrow) to buzz off. “Go on home to your folks,” she says.
But Gweneth loves Susan. “Listen, Mom,” she says. “I’m sticking with you. Your team is my team and your food is my food. (The Revised Standard Version phrases it more eloquently than Herb; “For where you go I will go and where you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people and your G-d my G-d”.) So they stick together like two wild and crazy girls. They’re harvest groupies; one week it’s barley, the next grapes.
They end up in Judea - Naomi’s hometown - where they encounter Boaz, one of Naomi’s relatives. He’s got a pretty nice spread and remember we’re talking a long time before state, city, and municipal taxes, so Boaz, today, would be tooling around in a Jag. Best of all, he likes Ruth. Right away he asks her to lunch. He knows a great little spot in the fields under a fig tree, he says. The meal is nothing fancy; a plate of figs. Evidently, he's on the new lo-carb diet. He’s playing this strictly low key. He wants to win the winsome widow’s love because he’s Boaz the Mensch, not a hot, Judean developer.
And he does. Ruth and Boaz, in love like two ditzy kids, stand under the Hupah; the wedding canopy, in the same field, I bet, where they had their discreet and non fattening figgy lunch.
Here, Herb paused to catch his breath.
I jumped right in. “Herb, you Meshugina - THAT’S THE BOOK OF RUTH! You can’t sell that. It’s in the public domain. I mean the copyright laws ran out a couple millennium ago!!”
“Ted, do you think anybody in Hollywood ever read the Big Book? Those guys think C. B. Demille created the Exodus plot line.”
I guess Herb’s right. But Hollywood has often dramatized the Old Testament. Samson and Delilah; David and Bathsheva - tales that the film makers of yesterday turned into cinematic epics and mountains of money. Who wouldn’t get sweaty palms thinking of David and Bathsheva splashing in a hot tub in a Jerusalem penthouse. Samson and that cute Philistine girl camping out, down by the river.
But Ruth is different. She is one chaste lady. And as loyal as Delilah is unfaithful. Mothers, this is the daughter-in-law you deserve. The kind that would call every morning and ask how you slept. A daughter-in-law of virtue who never complains about a paucity of raisins in your kugel. (The kind of heroine your Myron SHOULD have married.)
I myself have two daughters-in-law who, even though not Moabites, are as gracious as Ruth. One of them swore as we signed the ketubah allowing her entry into our family that, “your people shall be my people - even your stupid cousins from Chicago.” That’s when I told my boy to sign up.
The other declared with feeling, “Your food shall be my food”. And so it is. She and my son dine with me and Naomi (oops, I mean Shirley) three nights a week.
Beside the picture of a perfect daughter-in-law, we should remember that the strongest message in Ruth, the third of the five Magillahs, is the theme of universal understanding - of brotherhood. Or maybe to be more accurate, considering Ruth’s gender - Sisterhood. Ruth is NOT a Jewess - she is a Moabite. We hated these guys so strongly that we called their native land "Mo - ab", which in Hebrew means from the father. We're reminding the world that they sprang from the union of Lot and his daughters - ugh - in that cave in the suburbs of Sodom and Gomorrah. Remember? It's all there in Genesis. But the Book of Ruth gives a halo of dignity to a representative of those people who were formerly our blood enemies. Such a sentiment in our bible is like the Declaration of Independence bearing a cover photo of George the III with a preamble praising his wisdom and sense of Justice.
Also, don’t forget that the line of the Messiah includes this union of Ruth and Boaz, who beget Obed. And the line continues with Jesse and David. Amazing. Ruth, the Moabite, becomes the ancestress of kings and our Messiah, who will come, say our sages, when the world is pure enough for him. The loving kindness in the Book of Ruth, is maybe step one on the path of purity.