(1) And it happened in the days when judges judged. [During the period] before King Shaul reigned, when the generations were administered by judges;1There was no individual judge who could exercise control over all of Yisroel, rather there were many judges. (Malbim) Alternatively, this was a period when God judged the judges (Gra)....
(1) Ephrathites. Important people, and similarly, “the son of Tochu, the son of Tzuph, an Ephrathite,”6I Shmuel 1:1. [meaning] an aristocrat.... Another explanation of “Ephratites,” [they were from Beit Lechem,] because Beit Lechem is called Ephrat.8See Genesis 48:7, “and I buried her [Rachel] on the way to Ephrat which is Beit Lechem.”
(1) Naomi’s husband. Why is this stated again? From here they derived, “A man does not die except for his wife [i.e., she feels the loss more than anyone].9 ([Another interpretation:] And it states, “Naomi’s husband,” i.e., that because he was Naomi’s husband and ruled over her10and she was subordinate to him, therefore the Divine Attribute of Justice struck him and not her.)11
(1) Both. What is the meaning of “also” גַם? First they were struck by financial loss and their camels and their cattle died; afterwards they “also” died.12When God punishes man, He first deprives him of his property, and if he does not repent, God smites him in person. Alternatively, “also” indicates that their death was punishment “also” for having remained outside of Eretz Yisrael.
(1) For I am too old to have a husband. That I should marry him and bear sons, that you would marry them, for they would not forbidden to you [to marry] and you would not be forbidden to them as far as [the prohibition against marrying] the wife of an older brother who died before he was born, for she [the widow] does require a levirate marriage because Machlon and Chilyon were not [halachically] married to them because they were gentiles and had not converted,15 and now they were coming to convert as it is stated, “We will return with you to your people.”16. From now on we will become one people.
(2) For wherever you go, I shall go. From here our Rabbis of blessed memory derived24In Masechet Yevamot 47b that if a [prospective] proselyte comes to convert, we inform him of some of the punishments [for violating the commandments] so that if he decides to renege [from his intention to convert], he can renege; for out of the words of Ruth, you can learn what Naomi said to her. [Naomi said] “We may not venture outside the boundary [of 2000 cubits beyond city limits] on Shabbat.” She [Ruth] replied to her, “For wherever you go I shall go.”25Alternatively, just as you are going to Eretz Yisrael for the sake of your religion, so it is my purpose to go there in order to be able to keep the Torah’s commandments. (Malbim) [Naomi then said,] “We are prohibited to allow a woman to be secluded with a man who is not her husband.” She [Ruth] replied, “Where you lodge, I will lodge.” [Naomi said,] “Our nation is separated from other nations by 613 commandments,” [and Ruth replied,] “Your people are my people.” [Naomi said,] “Idolatry is forbidden to us,”26Although idolatry is forbidden to Noahites, they are forbidden to worship idols only if they do so exclusively, but not if they worship God in conjunction with their idolatry (Torah Temimah) [to which Ruth replied,] “Your God is my God.” [Naomi then said,] “Four [types of] death penalties were delegated to the Beit Din [to punish transgressors],” [and Ruth replied,] “Where you die, I will die.” [Naomi continued,] “Two burial plots were delegated to the Beit Din [to bury those executed], one for those stoned and those burned, and one for those decapitated and those strangled.” She [Ruth] replied, “And there I shall be buried.”
(1) So may the Lord do to me. As He has begun to afflict [me], for His hand has gone forth against me to kill my husband and to cause me to lose my possessions.
(1) She refrained from further discussion with her. From here they derived, “we neither overburden him [a prospective convert], nor are we meticulous with him.”27Masechet Yevamot 47b; i.e., we neither persuade nor dissuade him too much.
(1) So the two of them went on. Rabbi Abahu said, “Come and see how dear the proselytes are before the Holy One, Blessed Is He. As soon as she decided to convert, Scripture compared her to Naomi [by stating, “the two of them...”].28Despite leaving her home and family, Ruth's determination was so strong that Scripture ranks her equally with Naomi.
(2) The whole city was astir. The whole city became astir. They had all gathered to bury the wife of Bo’az, who had died that very day.29Apparently the people of the city were gathered together because “the whole city” learned so quickly of their return. Rashi therefore explains why they had gathered.
(3) Is this [really] Naomi. The hai is vowelized with a chataf because it is in the interrogative. Is this Naomi who was accustomed to travel in covered wagons and with the mules?30Because of the affliction and the hunger that she endured, Naomi’s appearance changed so drastically that they were hardly able to recognize her. Have you seen what has befallen her because she went abroad [i.e., outside Eretz Yisrael]?
(2) Has testified against me. Has testified against me that I had sinned before Him. Another explanation is that the Divine Attribute of Justice has humbled me, as in, “And the pride of Yisrael shall be עָנָה humbled.”31
(22) Thus Naomi returned from the country of Moab; she returned with her daughter-in-law Ruth the Moabite. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
(1) At the start of the barley harvest. The verse speaks about the harvest of the Omer.32The barley for the omer was harvested on the second night of Pesach and offered on the following day.
(1) So she went, and came and gleaned in the field. We find in Midrash Ruth [the question is raised], “Before she had even gone she returned?” For it states, “and [she] came” and afterwards “and gleaned” [i.e., she came back before she gleaned]? Rather, [the Midrash explains] she would mark the roads before she entered the field, and she went and came and returned to the city, in order to make signs and markings so that she would not stray in the paths and she should know how to return.7 Alternatively, Rabbi Eliezer said that she kept on coming back until she found decent people with whom to go. (Masechet Shabbat 113b).
(1) To whom does this maiden belong. Was it the practice of Bo’az to inquire about women? Rather, [because] he saw her modest and wise behavior [he was curious about her. He observed that] two ears she would glean but three she would not glean;8As prescribed by the Mishnah (Pe’ah 6:5). The Torah in Vayikra 19:9 awards the fallen ears of grain and forgotten sheaves to the poor. Thus her exemplary behavior and her knowledge of the law caught the attention of Bo’az and he therefore inquired about her. and she would glean the standing ears while standing and the lying ones while sitting, in order to avoid bending over.9Masechet Shabbat 113b.
(1) So she went down to the threshing floor and she did. She [Naomi] said to her, “Bathe and scent yourself, dress yourself in the finest garb,” and afterwards, “and go down to the threshing floor.” But she [Ruth] did not do so, but [instead] she said, “If I go down when I am dressed up, whoever meets me or sees me will think that I am a harlot.” She therefore first went down to the threshing floor and afterwards adorned herself, as her mother-in-law had instructed.4Masechet Shabbat 113b.
(7) Boaz ate and drank, and in a cheerful mood went to lie down beside the grainpile. Then she went over stealthily and uncovered his feet and lay down.
(1) [Your] earlier [kindness]. That you did for your mother-in-law.12When you abandoned your home and fortune to stay with your mother-in-law. Your last act of kindness, i.e., your willingness to marry an older man to perpetuate your late husband’s name is a greater sacrifice on your part.
(2) As the Lord lives. She said to him, “You are dismissing me with words [i.e., excuses].” He jumped up and swore to her18‘חי ה is the Biblical form of an oath, as in I Shmuel 19:6. that he would not dismiss her with words. Some of our Rabbis said that he swore to his evil inclination, for his evil inclination was inciting him [by saying], “You are not married and she is not married; be intimate with her.” So he swore that he would not be intimate with her except with marriage.
Cynthia Ozick "Ruth" in 'Congregation: Contemporary Writers on the Jewish Bible', Ed. David Rosenberg. Harcourt, Brace & Jovanovich, 1987. Ozick is an American writer, b. 1928.
What "natural" reasons might such a young woman have for leaving her birthplace? Surely there is nothing advantageous in Ruth's clinging to Naomi. Everything socially rational is on the side of Ruth's remaining in her own country...But even if Ruth happened to think beyond exigency-even if she were exceptional in reaching past common sense toward ideal conduct- she need not have thought in the framework of the largest cosmic questions...
...here is what Ruth might have replied:
Mother in law, I am used to living in your household, and have become accustomed to the ways of your family. I would no longer feel at home if I resumed the ways of my own people. After all, during the ten years or so I was married to your son, haven't I flourished under your influence? I was so young when I came into your family that it was you who completed my upbringing. It isn't for nothing that you call me daughter. So let me go with you.
Mother in law, you are heavier in years than I and along in a strange place, whereas I am stalwart and not likely to be alone for long. Surely I will have a second chance, just as you predict, but you - how helpless you are, how unprotected! If I stayed home in Moab, I would be looking after my own interests, as you recommend, but do you think I can all of a sudden stop feeling for you, just like that? No, don't expect me to abandon you - who knows what can happen to a woman of your years all by herself on the road? And what prospects can there be for you, after all this long time away, in Bethlehem? It's true I'll seem a little odd in your country, but I'd much rather endure a little oddness in Bethlehem than lose you forever, not knowing what's to become of you. Let me go and watch over you.
...Your God shall be my God: Ruth's story is kindled into the Book of Ruth by the presence of God on Ruth's lips, and her act is far, far more than a ringing embrace of Naomi, and far, far more than the simple acculturation it resembles. Ruth leaves Moab because she intends to leave childish ideas behind. She is drawn to Israel because Israel is the inheritor of the One Universal Creator.
"At the Crossroad"
by Merle Feld
From essay collection Reading Ruth: Contemporary Women Reclaim A Sacred Story
So much is contained in this moment at the crossroads. First, it seems like such a gift that Ruth recognizes this as a crossroads, that she sees it as a moment of choice, that she sees she has some power to exercise over her future. So much of the time we can't see that about our lives - that in a given moment lies the possibility for change, for taking control, for claiming one's life as one's own. And then Ruth is blessed with further vision: she discovers an organizing principle on which to base her choice. Until this moment on the road, we know nothing of the life she came from, nothing of her life with her husband or his family. We can only imagine what it is she has chosen. Her words are so full of love, animated by a tender yet powerful passion. She doesn't know what's in store for her if she returns to her mother's house, what's in store for her if she veers from that course to walk with Naomi. What she does know is that she cannot ignore the strength of her instinct.
a song in Ruth's voice, by Alicia Jo Rabins/Girls in Trouble
Sometimes the road chooses you
And not the other way around
I don’t know how but I just knew
You would lead me to sacred ground
I was living in a place but it was time for me to leave
I’d lost all of my faith but I was ready to believe
And all the people in the gate
And all the elders they will say
We are the witnesses today to this covenant you make
Generations pass generations come
And now our separate histories are one
The Jewish Social Contract- David Novak
"...the book of Ruth, which describes the person who became the paradigmatic convert to Judaism, the person who could not be persuaded to not become a Jew (Ruth 1:16-18), in later Jewish tradition was selected to be read on the festival of Shavuot, which celebrates the giving of the Torah (mattan torah) at Mount Sinai and, perhaps even more important, the continual reception of the Torah (qabbalat torah) by the Jewish people. (pg. 76)