Ruth and Naomi: Resolution
By Dr. Yael Ziegler
Dedicated in memory of Joseph Y. Nadler, z'l, Yosef ben Yechezkel Tzvi.
Shiur #27: Ruth and Naomi: Resolution
And she came to her mother-in-law. And she said, Who are you, my daughter? And she told her all that the man did to her. And she said, He gave me these six barleys, for he said to me Do not come empty-handed to your mother-in-law. And she said, Sit, my daughter until you will know how the thing will fall, for the man will not be silent until this thing is completed today. (Ruth 3:16-18)
Naomis Final Words
This final conversation between Ruth and Naomi follows the same basic pattern of the previous chapter. Ruth returns home from her encounter with Boaz and answers Naomis questions regarding her day. She shows Naomi what she brought home and Naomi offers a hopeful interpretation of the meeting, along with some helpful advice for Ruth. Naomis anticipation in chapter three is more immediate and grounded than her excited reaction in chapter two. She refers to Ruths impending knowledge (ad asher teidin) and speaks of events drawing to a conclusion on this very day. Naomis confidence in the immediate resolution appears to be based on Ruths description of the events, especially Boazs conduct (all that the man did to her).
Nevertheless, Naomis final words express a mixture of certainty and uncertainty. While she is surely confident that there will be an immediate resolution of the events, there is a still a fair measure of uncertainty regarding the question of how redemption will be attained. Indeed, the identity of the redeemer himself remains unknown. Thus, Naomi offers a vague description of events to come, instructing Ruth to wait patiently and see how events will transpire: Sit, my daughter until you will know how the thing will fall.
The idiom, How the thing will fall, is unique to this narrative.
Presumably, this expression means to convey how the matter will turn out. The
use of the term to fall in anticipation of something positive echoes and
repairs Ruths earlier wretched falling on her face (Ruth 2:10). Ruths
prostration occurs in response to Boazs decency, at a time when Ruth is not
being treated well in
The expression recalls God, who several times is described in the Tanakh as One whose davar (word) does not fall. While the narrative plot of Megillat Ruth is driven by human characters, we have noted several times the manner in which God participates in propelling the story in a positive direction. God is depicted as the prime provider of both food and children in the narrative, thereby making it clear that He is the source of Boazs ability to redeem. The expression in this verse how things will fall may also allude to Gods involvement in the narrative. This is indicated by the Targum, which expands upon the verse: 
Stay, my daughter, with me in the house until you know from the court how it will be decreed from heaven and how the matter will be resolved. (Targum, Ruth 3:18)
Naomis statement invites us to recall the real redeemer in this story, God. Naomis final words in the narrative express not simply utter confidence in Boaz that he will take care of things that very day but also utter confidence in God, who will ensure that things will fall into place. Now the women must wait and see how Boaz and God will, respectively, facilitate the end of this narrative.
Who Are You, My Daughter?
We have noted several times that questions of identity constitute a leitmotif in Megillat Ruth. Boaz twice asks after Ruths identity, once when he initially sees her and once when he awakens to find someone lying at his feet in the middle of the night. His question, Who are you? (mi at?) is echoed by Naomis identical query, when Ruth returns early the next morning: "Who are you, my daughter (mi at biti? 3:16).
Naomis question is peculiar for many reasons. While some interpreters have read this as a genuine query, suggesting either that it is too dark to see Ruth (Malbim, Ruth 3:16) or that Ruth is on the other side of Naomis door when Naomi asks the question (Ibn Ezra, Ruth 3:16), it seems unlikely that Naomi is asking after Ruths actual identity. After all, Naomi sent Ruth off to the threshing floor the previous evening, and she has certainly been anxiously awaiting Ruths return. Naomis use of the word biti confirms that she is well aware of who stands before her when she asks the question. Finally, Ruths answer suggests that Naomis question was not merely one of identity. Therefore, we must offer an interpretation beyond the simple meaning of the words.
It seems likely that Naomi intends to ask not who are you, but what are you? What is your status? Are you now a married woman? The word mi can on occasion mean what, an interrogative which is usually denoted by the word mah. This interpretation of the question is supported by a rabbinic reading:
And she came to her mother-in-law. And she said, Who are you, my daughter? Did she not know her? However, she said to her, What are you? [Are you] single, or a married woman? She said to her, Single. And she told her all that the man did to her. (Ruth Rabba 7:4)
I would like to add two literary points to this discussion. First, the query itself is intriguing, as it combines both intimacy (my daughter) and estrangement (who are you?). Naomis uncertain approach to Ruth may convey her reservations about sending Ruth off to the threshing house in the first place. It also evokes Naomis conflicted approach to Ruth, her Moavite daughter-in-law. More significantly, as we noted, Naomis question mirrors Boazs query at the beginning of the chapter (Ruth 3:9). We have seen several instances of mirroring between the characters of Boaz and Naomi. For example, both Boaz and Naomi shield Ruth from harm and instruct her to cleave to the young women in the fields. In that case, Naomis treatment of Ruth follows Boazs treatment of Ruth. Here, too, Naomis query seems to be triggered by Boazs earlier query. This may indicate that it is Boazs decision to ask after Ruths identity and regard her as a person that facilitates Naomis capacity to do so as well. Naomis ability to recognize Ruths person-ness presages that of the nation, who will likewise take Boazs cue and accept Ruth into the Jewish nation. 
Ruths answer to Naomis question in chapter 3 parallels her response to Naomis question in chapter 2: And she told her all that the man did to her (Ruth 3:16). In chapter two, however, Ruth told Naomi that which she did with the man (Ruth 2:19). The description of the events in chapter 3 seems more precise; it is Boazs initiative towards Ruth which functions as the fulcrum of the chapter. But what exactly does Ruth mean? What did Boaz do to Ruth? This phrase often means to do something for someone and not to them. Indeed, that appears to be the general thrust of Ruths words, as she informs Naomi of all that Boaz did on her behalf, without burdening the text with repeated details. Ostensibly, Ruth is referring to Boazs recognition of her, his praise of her, his solicitous protection of her, and his promise to provide her with a goel.
In a final reversal of the expected events of this chapter, Ruths description of the days events point to its unexpected conclusion. Naomi had originally instructed Ruth to lie next to Boaz and, He will tell you (yaggid lakh) that which you should do (taasin) (Ruth 3:4). Upon Ruths return, she informs Naomi (va-tagged la) that which the man did to her (asa la ha-ish) (Ruth 3:16). This turnaround conveys to Naomi that her design did not go precisely as planned. Ruth has become the one who tells (as we noted in her bold instructions to Boaz to cover her with his wings), and Boaz has become the one who does something on her behalf.
Ruths Final Words: What Did Boaz Say to Ruth?
When Ruth returns to Naomi, she cites Boazs concern for Naomis well-being: These six barleys he gave to me, for he said to me, Do not come empty-handed to your mother-in-law. However, we must note that the words Ruth attributes to Boaz do not appear in the actual textual exchange between them. There are several ways to interpret this previously unmentioned speech. It is not that unusual for the biblical text to present information (including direct speech) long after the fact of its occurrence. One example of this appears in Ruth 2:7. In answer to Boazs initial query regarding Ruth, the overseer of the reapers cites Ruths speech. However, the narrative itself recorded no such speech of Ruth; the first time we hear of it is in the overseers citation. This is simply one form of speech-telling employed in biblical narrative. Events are generally not related in full, but only presented on a need-to-know basis. In this reading, Boazs words regarding Naomi are recounted only when Ruth addresses Naomi.
Nevertheless, this type of introduced speech retains a certain tone of ambiguity and should therefore be regarded with a fair measure of suspicion. Indirect presentation of statements may point to a narrative implication that the character has fabricated someone elses speech. It is therefore the readers duty to examine whether this may be the case in our narrative and why the text appears to allow for this possibility.
It is possible that Ruth unwittingly fabricates Boazs speech. Ruths selflessness is so pronounced that she consistently takes herself out of the narrative. Indeed, all that Ruth does, she does for Naomi, and all that Ruth receives, she receives on Naomis behalf. It may well be the case that even if Boaz did not actually say this to Naomi when he handed Ruth the barley, this is what Ruth heard when she received this gift. Ruth has abrogated her own needs so completely that she perceives herself solely as a vehicle for obtaining Naomis needs.
An interesting textual parallel rounds out Ruths speech, indicating the extent to which Ruth is concerned here with Naomis needs. Naomis embittered speech to the townswomen had conveyed the enormity of her loss: I left full and God returned me empty (reikam) (Ruth 1:21). Naomis emptiness is a reference both to her lack of food and her loss of children, family, and continuity. This emptiness resonates throughout the continuation of the narrative, and all of Ruths actions appear to be a bid to fill Naomis terrible emptiness. When Ruth cites Boaz, she employs the same word for empty, Do not return empty (reikam) to your mother-in-law (Ruth 3:17). By using this word, we observe Ruths awareness of Naomis predicament and her deliberate efforts to repair it. In providing Naomi with these six barleys, Ruth offers Naomi both food and the promise of continuity. Ruths words here are all the more significant, as they are the last ones which Ruth utters in the text, and they represent her long-range objectives in this narrative.
Alternatively, Ruth may consciously alter Boazs communication. We have observed
that Naomi and Boaz do not meet in our narrative. In fact, Boaz seems to ignore
Naomi her presence, her tragedy, and her poverty. Instead, Boaz focuses his
concern on the virtuous and honorable Moavite woman whose actions are above
reproach. I have suggested that Boaz, like the townspeople, harbors resentment
against Naomi for abandoning
It is Ruth who is responsible for giving Naomi food which was given to her by Boaz, and now it is Ruth who will provide for Naomis continuity by transmitting the promise (and the barley, the symbol of the promise) that Boaz gave to her. For Ruth, however, it is not sufficient that she provide for Naomi that which Boaz gave her. Ruth also mediates between Boaz and Naomi in an attempt to heal their fractured relationship. When Ruth misquotes Boaz, she may be consciously indicating to Naomi that Boaz seeks her welfare, even if this is not precisely true. In this way, Ruth seeks to achieve reconciliation and mend the rift between Boaz and Naomi.
as healer of rifts is significant, inasmuch as Ruths ultimate task is to
produce David, who will establish a stable monarchy. The institution of monarchy
is designed first and foremost to repair the divisions which characterize the
nation during the period of the Judges and Shauls rule. The factional divisions
of the nation deteriorate into civil war, both at the end of the book of Judges
and after Shauls death. Davids ability to unify the splintered nation is
highlighted by his first act following his anointment by all of the tribes (II
Shemuel 5:1-3). In a deft demonstration of his desire for unity, David moves
his capital from his secure stronghold in the Judean hill
Chapter Three: In Summation
This chapter revolves around the problem
of obtaining continuity. Its key word is goel (redeemer), which appears
seven times in the chapter. Like the previous chapter, on the surface, this
chapter resolves Naomis predicament. However, on a deeper level, this chapter
also contends with Ruths difficulties as a Moavite seeking acceptance in
Naomis predicament is straightforward.
The demise of all of the members of Naomis family leaves Naomi with the problem
of the long-term survival of her line. Her sons are dead, her Moavite
daughters-in-law unmarriageable in
This chapter also resolves one problematic
issue with regard to Ruths Moavite origins. The Moavites are known for their
licentious behavior. Moav was conceived
in an act of incest between
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]
 E.g. Yehoshua 21:43; 23:14; I Melakhim 8:56; II Melakhim 10:10. Apart from Achashveroshs instruction to Haman (Esther 6:10), which is surely an ironic play on the manner in which Achashverosh equates himself with God, this phrase is not used about any other person in Tanakh.
 See also Ibn Ezra, Ruth 3:18.
 The Peshita, the Syriac Targum, contains an answer to the literal question: And she said to her, I am Ruth. It stands to reason that this is a later addition, motivated by the textual problem of the omission of an answer to Naomis straightforward question.
 E.g. Shofetim 13:17; Amos 7:2, 5.
 This reading also appears in an early (first century BCE) fragment of a manuscript found in Qumran, Cave 2. Instead of mi, who, the manuscript reads, mah, what. See Edward F. Campbell, Jr., Ruth (Anchor Bible, 1975), pp. 40-41, 129.
 We have examined the complex nature of Naomis relationship with Ruth in shiurim #9, 14, 19, 22.
 I have suggested that Naomis role in the narrative is to mirror the people (see e.g. shiurim #8, 11, 18). In this schema, Naomis recognition of Ruth bodes well for the nations ability to accept and embrace Ruth.
 This corresponds to the structural parallel between chapters two and three, which we noted in shiur #21.
 We described this irregular formulation in Ruth 2:19 in shiur #19.
 Ibn Ezra comments that Ruth is specifically referring to Boazs promise.
 George Savran, Stylistic Aspects and Literary Functions of Quoted Direct Speech in Biblical Narrative (PhD Dissertation, 1982), has examined this phenomenon at length.
 See Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (1981), p. 66; Adele Berlin, Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative (1983), pp. 96-97.
 A situation in which the indirectly presented speech is almost certainly a fabrication is found in I Shemuel 19:17.
 That Naomis emptiness also refers to the loss of her children is suggested by the midrashic reading (Ruth Rabba 3:7, cited by Rashi, Ruth 1:21), which explains that Naomi was literally full, namely pregnant, when she left Bethlehem.
 In shiur #26 I explained that the symbolic meaning of this barley may be designed to convey that Ruth intends to give Naomi not just food, but children and continuity.
 See shiur #18.
 Boaz uses Naomis words (karov and goel) in Ruth 3:12. Nevertheless, his use of these words differs from Naomis perception: There is a redeemer (goel) even closer (karov) than me.
 We noted similarly (in shiur #21) that the parallel structure of chapters two and three reveals a flowchart in which Boaz provides for Ruth, while Ruth then provides for Naomi. Structurally, Ruth functions as a mediator between two parties who appear incapable of direct communication.
 We noted that the one occasion in which the midrash casts an unfavorable light on Boaz is in the matter of how he indirectly provides food for Naomi. See Ruth Rabba 5:6.
 This is reminiscent of the well-known midrashic portrait of Aharon, who would heal rifts between people by informing each party that the other party sought reconciliation (see e.g. Avot De-Rabbi Natan 2:24).
 While this conduct is not given as a reason that Moavites cannot enter the congregation of Israel, it may well be that the reference to hiring Bilam to curse Israel (cited in Devarim 23:5 as a reason that the Moavites are forbidden to join the Jewish nation) is also connected to the licentious conduct of the Moavite women. After all, the incident involving the seduction of Israel by the Moavite women occurs immediately following Bilams attempt to curse Israel. Rabbinic sources connect these incidents (see e.g. Rashi, Bamidbar 25:1).
 See shiur #22.