Getting really close to the culmination of Sefirah and still counting, I’m glad to say. Hope the same is true for you…
This week I’m delivering a second shiur on Ruth, and as I prepare it I keep mulling the way that we see ourselves, perhaps our best selves, perhaps our wished-for selves, in this heroine. Here are four diverse examples:
Boaz, a person of wealth and generosity, says of Ruth (3:11) כי יודע כל שער עמי כי אשת חיל את – which may be translated, “Everyone knows that you are a woman of generosity.” [For more on translations of chayil, listen to the audio of the shiur I expect to teach tomorrow night, “Ruth as the Eishet Chayil.” Link to appear here when it is available, Gd-willing.]
John Keats was victim of a life of pain and loneliness, and in his Ode to a Nightingale he described those same traits in our heroine: “The sad heart of Ruth, when sick for home she stood in tears amid the alien corn.”
Juan Valera, who adores the greatness of a pure heart, writes in Pepita Jimenez, “I bestowed on them the sweet humility and the devotion of Ruth.”
And Richard Beer-Hofmann, in his Der Junge David (this translation comes from Liptzin’s “Beer-Hofmann’s image of Ruth,” which appeared in Jewish Bible Quarterly 19:4, Summer ‘91), sees Ruth offering advice to her great-grandson, King David. The words he puts in her mouth reflect his own views on Death:
Your end, like the end of all of us, is ultimately to become dung of the earth.
Perhaps a legend, a song, a melody, remembered for a while and wafted away before long.
And yet, like Gd’s stars circling in their assigned orbits above us, you - David - must complete your course here below, carrying on your assigned destiny.
I don’t know that any of these observers overreach; all of their visions are borne out in the woman at the center of the megilah we read on Shavuot. I’m just fascinated by their identification with a person whose moment on the biblical stage is brief, whose lines are terse, and whose role is so veiled in hints and mystery.