Ruth and the Hollywood Ending
The story of Ruth, as is, does not furnish the stuff for romantic Hollywood films, teaching instead about a building an enduring relationship.
Rabbanit Chamutal Shoval is a fellow at the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership at Midreshet Lindenbaum, a division of the Ohr Torah Stone network.
Typical Hollywood films usually follow a standard format and have similar scripts with a typical, to-be-expected ending. Today’s viewers are experts in identifying a meaningful glance transpiring between the film’s protagonists, a slight touch in passing, the right moment for a kiss or walking towards the sunset together.
What is less prevalent among the myriad of romantic films is real discourse; in other words – interpersonal communication. There aren’t many famous scenes depicting a sincere conversation between a man and a woman about long-term plans, or building a future family together.
The Megillah of Ruth offers an alternative model for an intimate relationship. Following their return from the fields of Moab, and after Naomi and Ruth find out that they have a close relative by the name of Boaz, every step taken on their part is carried out with transparency: Naomi informs Ruth that Boaz is a kinsman, and guides her on how to draw his attention to the act of yibbum (wedding the wife of a close relative who died childless so that the deceased’s name will not be obliterated), thus taking her as a wife and rebuilding the family that was almost entirely wiped out.
Ruth, too, upon arriving at the threshing floor in the middle of the night, speaks out openly and says to Boaz: “Behold I am Ruth thine handmaid, spread therefore your skirt over they handmaid for thou art a near kinsman.”
Romantic bells do not sound in the background, nor is there a misty rendezvous on the banks of a river. What we do have here is a young woman who takes her fate in her own two hands, and quite openly and sincerely approaches a man, who is a close kinsman, with the purpose of building a family.
Boaz acts in kind and speaks in earnest. He explains to Ruth that the process may be a difficult one: “And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou say; for all the men in the gate of my people do know that thou art a virtuous woman. And now it is true that I am a near kinsman; howbeit there is a kinsman nearer than I. Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform unto thee the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman’s part; but if he be not willing to do the part of a kinsman to thee, then will I do the part of a kinsman to thee.”
In other words, although Boaz would like to take Ruth as a wife, he explains the procedure sincerely, with the cautious hope that they will get to build a home together.
And, indeed, the only woman in the Bible of whom it is said eshet chayil, a virtuous woman, is Ruth. It is my opinion that some of this virtuous woman’s incredible strength can be attributed to her ability to have a sincere and honest conversation.
Our Sages chose to cite the following story in Midrash Zuta on the Megillah of Ruth. It is a story about another couple that chooses to engage in close and connecting discourse:
“A story is told of a man with a good wife who lost all his money and property. Consequently, he places himself in the service of a field owner. One day, as he was plowing the field, Elijah the Prophet appeared to him dressed as an Arab, and said to him: Seven good years have been bestowed upon you, when do you wish to have them, now or at the end of your days?
“The man answered: Clearly you are a man of powers, but I cannot pay you, so let me bid you leave. But Elijah made a second appearance and then a third, upon which the man said – Let me go and take counsel from my wife. And so the man went to his wife and said to her thus: A man has appeared before me three times and said to me that I have been given seven good years and has asked me when I wish to have them, now or at the end of my life.
“And the wife said – tell him you want them now. Avoiding his sons, he went straight back to the Arab and said to him thus: Give them to me now. And the Arab responded – go straight to your home and even before reaching your gate you will find blessing in your home. Just then, his sons were playing together and digging up earth and had come upon a treasure. [And this treasure sustained them for the next seven years.] As soon as they found the treasure, they called their mother, and soon upon reaching his gate, the man’s wife came out and told him the news. He immediately thanked the Lord Blessed be He and his mind was settled.
“What did his good wife do? She said thus to him: If God has showered us with this kindness, let us, too, deal in kindness, and maybe the Lord Blessed Be He will shower us with extra kindness. And she was true to her words and instructed her youngest son – write down all that we give to others. And so he did.
“At the end of seven years Elijah the Prophet reappeared and said – the hour has come for me to take back what I have given you. And the man said to him: When I first accepted I did so with the consent of my wife, now, too, when I have to give it all back I shall do so with the consent of my wife. So he went to his wife and said – the old man has come back to take what is his.
“She replied thus: Tell him that if he has found more trustworthy people than us to safeguard the deposit, we shall return it immediately. And the Lord Blessed be He listened to their words and saw all the kindness they had done with the money, and added even more to their bounty, as goes the verse from Isaiah “And the work of righteousness shall be peace.” (32, 17) Midrash Zuta – portion 4
The two stories – that of Ruth and that of the “good wife” – make mention of the kindness they did to others.
Similarly, both engaged in open conversation and healthy communication. In both relationships the couple in question takes decisions together, even when these are not easy and the implications for the future are not at all clear.
Scenes depicting deep serious conversations between two people may not lead to a box-office hit, but they really do build a strong and stable relationship that leads, as in the case of Ruth and Boaz, to the birth of David, King of Israel.