Ruth: The Woman of Valor
By Dr. Yael Ziegler
Dedicated in memory of Joseph Y. Nadler, z'l, Yosef ben Yechezkel Tzvi.
Shiur #26: Ruth: The Woman of Valor
The Woman of Valor Who Surpassed them All
Over the course of the narrative, Ruth is accorded various appellations, including: Moavite, shifkha, ama, woman, and daughter-in-law. Perhaps her most memorable designation is eshet chayil, a woman of valor. Ruth is the only character in the Tanakh termed as such, and this accolade seems to be reserved for a truly ideal woman. The term chayil suggests Ruths strength, integrity, loyalty, honesty, leadership, and efficiency.
Although Boaz couches this appellation as the opinion of the people in the gate, it is Boaz who calls Ruth a woman of valor. It is therefore of particular significance that this description mirrors the one used about Boaz himself in Ruth 2:1. This equates Ruth with Boaz, suggesting that her behavior sets her on par with the venerable Judean leader. It also hints at their compatibility, and the possibility of creating a marriage between equals.
The description of Ruth as a woman of valor recalls the eshet chayil of Mishlei 31. The description of the ideal wife in that chapter conveys an image of an industrious, kind, noble, dignified woman, whose praise is sung by her husband and children. The image of the eshet chayil in Mishlei 31 coheres well with Ruths persona. Ruths industriousness, indicated by her willingness to work in the fields from the morning (Ruth 2:7) until the evening (Ruth 2:17), corresponds to the predominant description of the hardworking eshet chayil (Mishlei 31:13-16, 18-19, 27). Ruths generosity toward the embittered and impoverished Naomi evokes the eshet chayils generosity toward the poor (Mishlei 31:20). Ruths chessed generally mirrors the eshet chayil, whose chessed is upon her tongue (Mishlei 31:26). Ruth brings good to both Naomi (Ruth 4:15) and Boaz (Ruth 3:10), just as the eshet chayil brings good to her husband (Mishlei 31:12).
The poems minimization of beauty (Grace is false and beauty is vain. Mishlei 31:30) is also intriguing, given our observation that the Megilla never offers any physical description of Ruth herself. The description of the eshet chayil who gets up while it is still night (va-takom be-od layla, Mishlei 31:15) recalls Ruth arising (va-takom) before it is light enough to recognize someone (Ruth 3:14). Key words in our narrative (lechem, naarot, and sadeh) appear in the poem in Mishlei as well, thereby creating an associative connection. Boazs name is actually hinted to in the poem (chagera be-oz motneha), a wordplay which seems to be noted by a midrash. Ruths general outward dignity and wise speech likewise evoke the description of the eshet chayil (Mishlei 31:21-22, 25-26). Significantly, the climax of the poem is that this ideal woman will be rewarded and praised for her acts in the gates (Mishlei 31:31), corresponding closely to Boazs words about the people of the gate (Ruth 3:11). Moreover, the assembly which gathers in the gate in chapter four blesses and praises Ruth (Ruth 4:11-12).
A midrash recognizes the general connection, offering one interpretation of the poem of Mishlei 31 as a reference to Ruth:
"Many women have done valor, but you surpass them all." This is Ruth the Moabite, who entered under the wings of God.
"Grace is false and beauty is vain." [This refers to Ruth,] who left her mother and father and her wealth and went with her mother-in-law and accepted all of the commandments
Therefore, the poem [concludes], "Extol her for the fruit of her hand and let her works praise her in the gates." (Midrash Mishlei 31:29-30)
Indeed, if Ruth is the ultimate eshet chayil, she can anticipate several salient rewards. Apart from the admiring praise of her husband and children (Mishlei 31:28) which, after all, is the goal of Megillat Ruth Ruth will have the honor of a husband who is known in the gates, as he sits with the elders of the land (Mishlei 31:32). This description certainly evokes Boaz (Ruth 4:1-2), who, in calling Ruth an eshet chayil, offers himself (or his like) to serve as a fitting partner for this woman of exemplary character.
Let It Not Be Known
And she slept at his feet until the morning. And she arose before a man could recognize his friend and he said, Let it not be known that a woman came to the threshing floor. And he said, Give me the kerchief which is upon you and grasp hold of it. And she grasped hold of it. He measured six barleys and he placed it upon her and he came to the city. (Ruth 3:14-15)
Boazs concluding acts in this chapter recall his previous acts of piety and magnanimity. While it appears that Ruth rises early of her own accord, it is Boaz who endeavors to conceal the events. Boazs use of the word yada, as in, Let it not be known, is an ironic and resonant conclusion to Naomis attempt to conceal knowledge from Boaz at the beginning of this chapter (Do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking, Ruth 3:3). Boaz refuses to allow himself to be deceived, and instead, insists on his own knowledge. Nevertheless, he is staunchly determined to withhold knowledge from anyone who would misinterpret Ruths conduct.
The lengths to which Boaz is willing to go to ensure secrecy are advanced by a midrash:
And he said, Give me the kerchief (Ruth 3:15). [Though Give is read in the feminine form], it is written in the masculine form. This teaches that he addressed her in a masculine form so that no creature would sense [that a woman is in the field]. (Ruth Rabba 7:2)
To what end does Boaz so assiduously seek to suppress this story from becoming public knowledge? Based on our previous analyses of Boazs behavior, it seems evident that Boaz wishes to preserve Ruths reputation. Boazs concern for Ruth is evident throughout the narrative.
Nevertheless, we should examine two other possible reasons for Boazs quest for secrecy. One midrash suggests that Boazs primary concern is the profanation of Gods name.
And he said, Let it not be known that a woman came
To whom did he say this?
This reading coheres with earlier presentations of Boazs piety and his primary concern with God, as is evident, for example, by the fact that the name of God is the first word that issues out of Boazs mouth in our narrative (Ruth 2:4). Boazs acts are motivated by the name of God, which is constantly on his mind and lips. It comes as no surprise that a midrashic reading assumes that Boazs primary concern is with God.
Rashi, however, adduces one final idea, which is somewhat surprising:
And he said, Let it not be known. This rests upon [the previous words], And she arose before [a man] could recognize [his friend]. He hurried to get up, for he said to himself, It is not honorable for me that it be known that a woman came to the threshing floor. (Rashi, Ruth 3:14)
This reading does not appear to reflect Boazs character as it has been presented in the Megilla thus far. Suggesting that Boaz is concerned for his own honor seems to impugn Boazs character. It does not appear characteristic of Boaz to be so concerned for himself. Why, then, does Rashi suggest that this is Boazs goal? I am at a loss to explain this anomalous interpretation, and I would be happy to hear if any of my readers have an idea to explain Rashis unlikely reading.
As in the previous chapter, Boaz hands Ruth food at the conclusion of their encounter. Unlike the last chapter, however, the goal of this chapter is not to obtain food, but marriage and continuity. Why, then, does Boaz give Ruth food at the conclusion of this chapter? It may well be that nothing that Boaz could offer Ruth could actually represent his intangible offer to obtain for her marriage and redemption. It is possible that Boaz gave Ruth barley as an attempt to mask the nature of her clandestine visit to the threshing floor. If she returned carrying barley, anyone who would see her would assume that her poverty compelled her to work overtime to glean as much grain as she could.
The idea underlying Boazs gift may be explained by a peculiar omission. Unlike in Ruth 2:17, the verse leaves out the unit of measure of the barley which Boaz gives her. Rabbinic sources and contemporary Bible scholars seek the measure intended but not specified in the verse. Scholars reject the possibility that the narrative refers to six ephah of barley (as in Ruth 2:17) on the grounds that it would be prohibitively heavy. An omer (one tenth of an ephah) is deemed to be too small an amount. Most scholars therefore settle on the seah (approximately one third of an ephah), an opinion which is already found in the Targum and Sanhedrin 93b.
This discussion revolves around the attempt to establish the historical reality, the actual quantity of barley that Boaz gave to Ruth. More interesting for our purposes is the literary-theological question: Why does the text omit the measurement? If this is in fact an intentional omission, how does it deepen our understanding of the underlying goals and messages of the narrative? A possible answer is that the text actually means to say that Boaz gave Ruth six barleys that is, six stalks of barley, a miniscule amount! Why would Boaz give Ruth an inadequate amount of grain? Perhaps Boaz wishes to convey to Ruth that he intends to act immediately on her behalf. By giving her grain that will not suffice for even one meal, Boaz means to tell her that before she has finished consuming that grain, he will already have made new arrangements for her provision.
In keeping with the theme of the chapter, I would like to offer another possible understanding. Boaz may have intended the six stalks of barley to have symbolic, rather than pragmatic, value. In other words, he does not give her the barley for her to eat, but rather to symbolize the children and continuity that she will obtain as a result of the events in this chapter. This is the approach of many rabbinic interpretations of this verse:
Why is it written (Ruth 3), He gave me these six barleys? Why six barleys? If it actually means six barleys, is this Boazs custom to give a gift of six barleys? It means six seah of barley. And is it the way of a woman to carry six seah of barley? It means that he gave her a hint that six children will be born from her in the future. Each of them will be blessed with six blessings. These are they: David, Messiah, Daniel, Chananya, Mishael, and Azaria. (Sanhedrin 93a-b)
This symbolic meaning corresponds better with the theme of the chapter and creates another parallel between chapter two and chapter three. In chapter two, after Boaz provides for Ruths long-term sustenance, he offers her a meal, representative of his guarantee to provide food. In chapter three, after Boaz promises Ruth to find her marriage and security, he offers her six stalks of barley, representative of his guarantee to provide her with continuity.
One literary clue which may point to this interpretation is the unusual verb employed to describe Boaz placing food in Ruths possession (Ruth 3:15). The verb, va-yashet, appears once again at the end of the Megilla. Oved, the child born to Ruth and Boaz, is placed (va-teshiteihu) by Naomi in her bosom (Ruth 4:16). It transpires, therefore, that the correspondence between the barley and the child has a textual basis.
The motif of food runs parallel to the motif of children in Megillat Ruth. Both emerge from a zera, a seed, and both are essential for reversing Naomis tragedy. The combination of chapter two (which resolves Naomis problem of lack of food) and chapter three (which resolves Naomis problem of the lack of an heir) together facilitate chapter four, in which the Naomis tragic predicament will find a felicitous resolution.
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]
 We examined the multiple meanings of the word chayil in shiur #12.
 This mirroring of Boaz and Ruth is noted by a midrash in Ruth Rabba 4:1. We will examine the general theme of the mirror imaging between Ruth and Boaz in a later shiur.
 While the simple meaning of this chapter is a poem of praise for an ideal wife, some biblical commentators have interpreted Mishlei 31 as a praise of wisdom (Ralbag, Mishlei 31:10) or Torah (e.g. Rashi, Mishlei 31:10).
 In establishing a relationship between these texts, I am suggesting that this connection is deliberate and meaningful. I will leave aside issues of dating and the related question of which text came first and interpreted the other. I am more interested in the meaning of the parallels and how they impact upon our understanding of Ruth.
 Ruth does not simply act in a good way towards Naomi. She also appears to be the catalyst for transforming Naomis experience from an evil one (Ruth 1:21) to a good one (Ruth 2:22; 4:15).
 Several midrashim use the phrase chagera motneha to describe the manner in which Ruth tied her kerchief on herself in Ruth 3:15 (e.g. Ruth Rabba 7:15). By employing this phrase, the midrash creates a parallel between Ruth and the verse in Mishlei 31:17. This parallel is especially compelling given its use of the word be-oz, recalling Boaz.
 The niphal form of the verb common to both verses further confirms this parallel.
 According to the Matanot Kehuna (a commentary to the Midrash Rabba written by R. Yissacher Ber HaKohen in the 16th century), this midrash is based on a manuscript which has the word hava instead of havi.
 Midrashim amplify Boazs solicitous attitude toward Ruth, bolstering and enlarging its central role in the narrative. One example that we have not yet seen is a midrash which depicts Boaz following Ruth on her journey back to Naomi in order to ensure that no one harms her on the way (Ruth Rabba 7:3).
 Textually, this question is unnecessary, as there are many places in the biblical narrative in which the verb amar describes a persons inner reflections. See e.g. Bereishit 20:11; 26:9; I Shemuel 20:26; II Shemuel 12:22; II Melakhim 5:11. See also Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (1981), pp. 67-69. Alter maintains that thought is almost invariably rendered as actual speech, and he offers several explanations for this phenomenon.
 We discussed this central feature of Boazs persona in shiur #13.
 The phrase ein kevodi, literally, it is not my honor, appears in several midrashim with respect to David. In those midrashim, David finishes the sentence, but in Gods honor. In other words, David uses the phrase to dismiss his own honor in deference to Gods honor. The only other person in midrashic literature who uses this phrase to preserve his own honor is Bilam, a rather unflattering parallel for Boaz.
 The significance of this is implied by the fact that, upon her return to Naomi (in both chapters), Ruth focuses on displaying the gift that Boaz gave her, rather than on recounting her other interactions with Boaz.
 One scholar has suggested that Boaz symbolically covered her with his garment (e.g. Robert L. Hubbard, The Book of Ruth , p. 219). However, this would belie Boazs intention, which is to give the other goel the first opportunity to fulfill his responsibility to marry her.
 See, e.g., Robert L. Hubbard, The Book of Ruth (1988), p. 222. This explanation seems unlikely to me. No young woman would reasonably remain in the fields all night long during the time of the Judges, both because it was dangerous and because any woman outside after dark was suspected of untoward intentions (e.g. Mishlei 7:9-10.)
the exact size of biblical measures is not possible with certainty. Based on
archeological evidence, as well as some textual evidence (see Edward F.
Campbell, Ruth [Anchor Bible, 1975], p. 104), scholars estimate that six
ephah of barley would weigh anywhere between 180-
 Malbim on Ruth 3:15 says something similar to this.
 This reading coheres with a general correspondence between food and children, fertility of the land and fertility of the human, which is an important theme in the book of Ruth and in Tanakh in general.
 Other versions of this midrash may be found in the Targum on Ruth 3:15; Ruth Rabba 7:3; Rashi on Ruth 3:15.
 As noted, this is a ubiquitous and essential theme in the Tanakh. While it is beyond the scope of this shiur to properly develop this theme, one interesting example of this parallel is the manner in which the land of Egypt is represented in the Tanakh as a country both of plentiful food and plentiful fertility (see Shemot 1:7). On the flip side, the land of Israel is a place where man must depend upon God for the land to produce plentiful food (Devarim 11:10-12). Intriguingly, human fertility is also presented as difficult to attain in the Land of Israel. Yaakov must go to Mesopotamia (a land of fertility) or Egypt to produce children easily. It transpires that the Land of Israel requires dependence upon God for fertility of the land and for human fertility as well (see e.g. Bereishit Rabba 45:4), which can account for its centrality in maintaining a suitable man-God relationship.