Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Story of Ruth

It never ceases to amaze me how Hollywood can take a perfectly good book and change so much of it that by the time the movie is made the only thing it has in common with the book is the name. Nothing shows this more than the Biblical theme movies from the fifties. Although I was too young to go the theatre for anything but a Walt Disney movie back then, I do remember seeing The Story of Ruth on TV. I must have been about eleven or twelve at the time since I saw it on the black and white television set in my parent’s family room. At the time, never having learned Megillat Rut, I was enchanted with the story.
Although it is over forty years since I saw the movie there are parts of it I remember very well. I believe in the beginning that Ruth was a child scheduled to be sacrificed to Molech, the pagan god of the Moavites. She breaks out with a sudden skin ailment and is no longer worthy to be sacrificed.  Instead she grows up to be a priestess in the temple until the time that Naomi’s family enters her life.
There was no need to make Ruth into a pagan priestess. The background that Chazal ascribe to her is just as exotic or more so. According to the Oral Torah Ruth was a princess, the descendant of Eglon, the king of Moav, whom we learn about in the Book of Judges.

In chapter three we learn that the children of Israel did what was displeasing in HaShem’s eyes so he strengthened Eglon and they served him for eighteen years. The children of Israel cried to HaShem and he raised up Ehud to be a savior. Ehud went to the king and told him he had a secret word for him and the king sent all his servants and courtiers out of the room. Ehud declared, “I have a message of HaShem for you”. At the mention of HaShem’s name Eglon stood up and Ehud stabbed him to death. Without their king the Moavites were defeated in war by Israel.
According to Rashi, the classic commentator, the respect that Eglon demonstrated by standing up at the mention of HaShem’s name earned him the reward of having a descendant to sit on the throne of the Almighty, namely Shlomo. Ruth was King David’s great-grandmother and Shlomo, of course, was David’s son. She was the conduit for the reward.   
This is not the only time we learn of honor being given for something one’s ancestor did. When Lavan switched Leah for Rochel, Rochel gave Leah the signs she and Yaacov had agreed on. By doing this she lost her chance to be Yaacov’s first wife, but she did not want to embarrass her sister. For this she was rewarded by having King Shaul and Queen Esther as her descendants.
At first glance I found this totally mind-boggling. What I do today can not only affect my future but the future of my great-great-grandchildren. Then I began to think about my recent ancestors and the affect they had on my life.
The fact that my maternal grandfather, who I never met, took his Jewish family to Leavenworth, Kansas, of all places, insures that I am quite a different person than I would have been had he settled on the Lower East Side. How different my life would have been if my paternal grandparents had decided to flee Germany for Palestine instead of America. The fact that my husband and I made Aliyah with five children means my grandchildren’s lives will be much different from the lives of my cousins’ grandchildren still in America. I pray they will be thankful for the choice we made.
Among the many, many bonuses of living in Israel is that there are so many Torah lectures at my fingertips. For the past decade I have been attending classes of Pearl Borow at the Israel Center in Jerusalem. A talented teacher, her forte is Women in the Bible and it was from her I learned the true story of Ruth.
Megillah Rut is only four chapters long, but those four chapters are full of a story far more fascinating than the Hollywood movie could ever hope to be. Even more intriguing are the many commentaries on the story. Every Shavuot that I hear it read I learn something new. 
May everyone have a wonderful holiday.
Megillat Rut: the scroll with the story of Ruth
Chazal: learned rabbis

1 comment:

Batya said...

Lovely post. I find the simple text of Megilat Rut so clear and fascinating, that's without any "drash."