A Blessing on Both Your Houses: Rachel and Leah
By Dr. Yael Ziegler
Shiur #34: A Blessing on Both Your Houses: Rachel and Leah
And the nation in the gate and the elders as witnesses said, God shall place this woman who is coming into your house as Rachel and as Leah, who built, the two of them, the house of Israel, and do valor in Efrat and call a name in Beit Lechem (The House of Bread). And your house shall be like the house of Peretz, who Tamar birthed for Yehuda, from the seed that God shall give you from this young woman. (Ruth 4:11-12)
begins with a man who goes to Moav, abandoning his hometown of Beit Lechem and
along with his literal house, he also abandons his tribal house of Yehuda and
his national house of
the course of the narrative, there is not a single reference to a physical
structure in which Naomi and Ruth live. The setting of
their conversations is deliberately vague. This is especially striking when Ruth
returns to Naomi after her day in the fields of
The expected outcome of the story is that Ruth will not merit the construction of a house for herself or for her deceased husband. Indeed, the goel declines to marry Ruth. In this act of refusal, he evokes the choletz, who renounces the opportunity to build his brothers house. In the words of the wife of the deceased as she removes his shoe, So shall be done to the man who refuses to build the house of his brother (Devarim 25:9). For this reason, the man who refuses to perform the obligatory yibbum forever bears the name, The House of the One who Removed his Shoe (Devarim 25:10). The man who refuses to build a house for his brother has his house renamed to reflect his shameful demurral.
Boaz, the worthier goel, remedies this precarious situation at the close
of the Megilla. The blessing of the witnesses features the construction
of the house of Boaz and Ruth. This house seems to be both a literal and a
figurative one. On the one hand, it is first described as the house which Ruth
is hereby entering (Ruth 4:11). This would appear to connote an actual
structure. At the same time, however, Ruth and Boazs house is modeled upon the
of the house should be read within a broader context as well. In the period of
the Shofetim, the national house is threatened with collapse. The book of
Shofetim weaves together a remarkable tapestry in which the collapse of the
physical structure, the collapse of the house of specific families and
dynasties, and the collapse of
Let us begin with the threat which looms over a physical house. Yiftachs house is the first one threatened with literal destruction. The people of Ephraim are outraged that he has not included them in his military endeavors and they warn him menacingly (Shofetim 12:1), We will burn your house upon you in flames! A similar threat is delivered by the Philistines to Shimshons first wife in a bid to compel her to reveal the solution to Shimshons riddle (Shofetim 14:15): Tell us the riddle, lest we will burn you and your fathers house in fire! Later in the story, Shimshon literally brings down a house, fracturing the supporting pillars and collapsing the roof upon the revelers (Shofetim 16:29-30).
The house is
no longer a safe haven, and it is beginning to wobble, as a symbol of the
teetering societal stability. This becomes painfully clear in the final,
horrific narrative of the rape of the concubine in Giveah. The narrative
illustrates the manner in which the townspeople of Giveah do not welcome guests
or offer anyone refuge in their houses (Shofetim 19:15, 18). After one
elderly man does shelter travelers in his house, the men of Giveah surround the
house and demand that the host relinquish the man who has come into your
house (Shoftem 19:22) so that they can rape him. The house has been
rendered ineffective in its primary role as an asylum and shelter from violence.
This is indicated by the tenfold reference to the house of the host which is
violated by the men of the city. The story concludes with the return of the
guest (and his violated concubine) to his own house. There, the outraged husband
does further violence to the woman (in his house) when he dismembers her body
and sends pieces of it to all of the borders of
Figurative houses, which are family groups, are threatened as well throughout the book of Shofetim. Avimelekh comes to his fathers house and kills all of his brothers, nearly obliterating the dynasty of his father (Shofetim 9:5). Yiftach is expelled from his fathers house and told that he has no inheritance there (Shofetim 11:2, 7). The tribe of Dan threatens Mikha with destruction of his own life and the lives of those who belong to his fathers house (Shofetim 18:25).
It should not
surprise us that the book of Shofetim ends with the near dissolution of
the house of
This theme is
especially highlighted when we consider the role of women in relation to the
house in Shofetim. On two separate occasions, the destruction of the
house is precipitated by the womans departure from the house. The first episode
involves a voluntary exit. Yiftachs daughter leaves her house to greet her
father in celebration. Despite the fanfare, her exit from the house portends her
death, her fathers
tragedy, and the metaphoric collapse of his house. This story
anticipates and ominously foreshadows the final narrative in the book, that of
the rape of the concubine in Giveah. There, a woman does not voluntarily leave
a house, but is actually forcibly expelled from the house, thereby precipitating
its downfall. The house of
The rectification of this situation begins with bringing a woman back into a house. Rabbinic sources appear to note this as well:
God shall place this woman [who is coming into your house (Ruth 4:11)]. R. Aha said: Anyone who marries a worthy woman it is as though he has upheld the entire Torah from the beginning until the end Therefore, Eshet Chayil is written from aleph until tav. And generations will not be redeemed except because of the reward of the righteous women in the generation. (Ruth Zuta 4:11; Yalkut Shimoni, Ruth 606)
the well-known midrash which credits the women in
asserts that the redemption during the period of the Judges begins with Ruth, a
displaced woman who finally enters a home. This act presages the reinforcement
of the wobbling house of
Leah, Who Built the House of
of the witnesses links Ruth to Jewish history. No longer is Ruth an outsider
whose intrusion into
We have previously discussed the connection between the narrative of Ruth (and Naomi) and the story of Tamar. The courage and fortitude of women and their willingness to pay a price for children are often the factor which determines the continued destiny of their line. Why, however, does this blessing create a parallel between Ruth and the matriarchs Rachel and Leah?
considerable amount of attention has been given to the placement of Rachel
before Leah. Some commentators note that she is given precedence because she was
the favored wife and the one in charge of the household. Others note that
Rachel is associated with
I am more interested in why both of these Matriarchs are part of Ruths blessing at all. Perhaps it is Leahs struggle for marriage and Rachels struggle for children that accounts for their presence in this blessing. Just as their efforts were ultimately successful, so Ruth is blessed with a similarly felicitous end. The Targum on this verse suggests that the focus of the blessing is the twelve children who emerge from Rachel and Leah (along with their maidservants). By comparing Ruth to these women, the union of Ruth and Boaz is blessed with fertility. Malbim (Ruth 4:11) is interested in the fact that, like Ruth, Rachel and Leah came from a disreputable background. Despite having been raised in Lavans house, they built a worthy house for themselves and their families. Ruth, whose questionable national identity lurks in the background of this narrative, receives a blessing that, like the illustrious matriarchs, she shall merit a commendable dynasty. Finally, there may be an analogy between Rachel and Leahs roles as matriarchs of the Jewish nation and Ruths impending role as the matriarch of Kingship. All of them are progenitors of the house of David.
In addition to the variety of approaches cited above, it seems to me that the key to this component of the blessing is the fact that Rachel and Leah are joined together. The word sheteihem, the two of them, emphasizes the linking of these two women who struggled so bitterly during their lifetime. Their personal rivalry sets into motion the key rift within the nation, that of the sons of Leah and the sons of Rachel. This historical clash is expressed in many conflicts over the course of biblical history. Consider, for example, the antagonism between Joseph (son of Rachel) and his brothers (of whom Yehuda, son of Leah, functions as leader) and between Saul (of the house of Rachel) and David (of the house of Leah).
in biblical history represents a historic opportunity for union. David, who
emerges from the union of Ruth and Boaz, has the unique ability to rise above
the tribal factions and unify the people. Indeed, despite the clash between Saul
and David and despite the prophetic promise that David will receive kingship (I
Shemuel 16:12-13), David continually resists using violence against Saul.
David searches for unity instead of warfare, as is evident in his willingness to
make peace with Avner (II Shemuel 3). David moves his capital from
the heartlands of Judean territory (Chevron) to the border between Yehuda and
And all of
the tribes of
Radaks comment highlights the mood of unity among the people, implied by their statement indicating their familial connection to David:
We are your
flesh and bones. Even though you are from the family of Yehuda, we are also
close to you, for we are also the sons of
David may have partially achieved the vision of unity in his lifetime. However, two generations later, the nation is once again ripped asunder and divides into two kingdoms. Indeed, the kingdom splits along the fault-line of this historical strife, when Yerovam ben Navat, of the house of Rachel, establishes an Israelite dynasty which is distinct from the Davidic dynasty of the house of Leah (I Melakhim 11-12). This division is catastrophic for the Israelite nation and results in the eventual exile and attendant disaster. Messianic hope for unity continues to rest on the dynasty created by Ruth and Boaz. In some ideal future, a seed will emerge from the house of Yishai (Yeshayahu 11:1) and establish one kingdom. The unity of that kingdom will be certain when the children of Rachel and the children of Leah will cease their hostilities and unite under the banner of the Davidic dynasty:
And the envy of Ephraim will be removed and the troublers of Yehuda will be destroyed. Ephraim will no longer be envious of Yehuda and Yehuda will no longer trouble Ephraim. (Yeshayahu 11:13)
A similar vision appears in Gods words to Yechezkel:
"Take for yourself one stick and write on it, 'For Judah and for the sons of Israel, his companions'; then take another stick and write on it, 'For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim and all the house of Israel, his companions.' Then join them for yourself one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. (Yechezkel 37:16-24)
The story of
Ruth contains within it the potential to mend the rift of Rachel and Leah. These
women can properly construct the ideal house of
This series of shiurim is dedicated to the memory of my mother Naomi Ruth zl bat Aharon Simcha, a woman defined by Naomis unwavering commitment to family and continuity, and Ruths selflessness and kindness.
I welcome all comments and questions: [email protected]
The word bayit can designate both the physical dwelling (e.g.
Bereishit 19; Yehoshua 2:6-8) and a group of familial relationships,
whether it be immediate family (e.g. Devarim 25:9) or the extended
clan/tribe (e.g. II Shemuel 3:6). The term often designates the
descendants of a person and the development of a dynasty (see e.g. I Shemuel
2:35; II Shemuel 7:11-16; I Melakhim 11:38). A broad
use of this term is the house of
 Naomi first sends them to their mothers house (Ruth 1:8), which presumably means a place to find marriage (see e.g. Bereishit 24:28; Shir Ha-Shirim 3:4).
 The one phrase which refers to some sort of house to which Ruth has returned (Ruth 2:7) is unclear. It is possible that the phrase, zeh shivtah ha-bayit meat (she only sat in the house for a little bit) (Ruth 2:7) should be understood as Ruths sojourn in Beit Lechem (see shiur #14 for a different understanding of this phrase). Even if we read the phrase in a manner that situates Ruth in a house, it seems significant that Ruths residing in the house is modified by the word meat, which limits Ruths repose in that house.
 It is possible that we should not expect to find this detail in the narrative. As we know, the Tanakh often records events in a laconic style, noting only those points which are directly relevant. Nevertheless, the larger theme of the house during the period of the Shofetim does appear to be significant, and therefore I have presented the absence of the physical house of Naomi and Ruth as a meaningful, and perhaps deliberate, omission.
 I will now expand upon a theme which I previously developed at some length in shiur #23 in discussing the parallel between Boaz and Shimshon.
 The argument could certainly be advanced in this story that the threatened destruction is not upon the physical house, but upon the family of her father. Needless to say, this threat recalls the story of Yiftach and the tribe of Ephraim.
 It is unclear whether this alludes to a physical structure, or, more likely, to his clan.
 There is some measure of controversy as to whether her father fulfilled his vow in a literal manner and had her killed (see e.g. Ralbag and Radak on Shofetim 11:39). The simple meaning of the narrative suggests that she was indeed put to death (see also Tanhuma Behukotai, Taanit 4a; Ramban, Vayikra 27:29).
 Note the wordplay between the word beito (referring to Yitachs house) and bito (referring to Yiftachs daughter) in Shofetim 11:34. This wordplay suggests how deeply intertwined Yiftachs house is with his only child. There is no continuity of the house without progeny.
 While here I am focused on Ruths role as the tikkun, I cannot neglect to mention that Chana functions in a similar manner in the book of Shemuel. There, the word bayit also highlights Chanas tikkun of the period of the Judges.
 Shemot Rabba 1:12-13. See also Tanchuma, Pekudei 9.
 While there is a fair measure of controversy as to who received these houses (see Ramban ad loc.) and what they actually were (see e.g. Rashi, Shadal ad loc.), and whether they should be considered a reward at all (see e.g. Rashbam, R. Yitzchak Arama, and Malbim ad loc.), the simple meaning of the verse is that the houses were given to the midwives as rewards. For our purposes, the precise identification of these houses is unimportant.
 Tanchuma, Vayeitze 15; Ruth Rabba 7:13; Ruth Zuta 4:13; Rashi and Ibn Ezra, Ruth 4:11.
 See Edward F. Campbell, Ruth (Anchor Bible, 1975), p. 152.
 The midrash notes this as well; see Ruth Rabba 7:13 and see Torah Temima loc cit.
 Jack Sassoon, Ruth: A New Translation with a Philological Commentary and a Formalist-Folklorist Interpretation (1979), p. 154. Note that Ruth herself is named in the second position when she and Orpah are introduced in Ruth 1:4.
Ruth Rabba 8:1 suggests that the witnesses use this example
because of the problem of Boaz marrying a Moavite. Marriage to two sisters is
likewise prohibited (Vayikra 18:18), and yet the union between Yaakov and
the sisters is accepted and produces the foundations of