Thursday, February 16, 2017


The Talmud assumes that the Torah must hint to Esther and the Purim story, even though her appearance on the stage of Jewish history did not occur until many centuries later. Yet Esther is so significant a character, and has so much to contribute to our national heritage, that she must be represented somewhere in the Five Books of Moses.

Where do we hear about Esther in the Torah? [It says in Deuteronomy 31:18:] "And I will hide, really hide my face from them." (Talmud - Chullin 139b)

The allusion to Esther in the Torah is a description of hiddenness and despair. As a consequence of the Jewish people distancing themselves from God, God hides His face from them to the point where He is no longer felt in their lives. Of course, God never actually leaves the people, but seemingly random and meaningless events make it appear as if He is no longer there.

The Purim story is set in such a time period. En masse, the Jewish people attended Achashverosh's seven-day feast, indulged themselves in the Persian hedonistic culture, and left Judaism behind. In Heaven, a decree in pronounced:

Satan stood before God and told Him [that the Jews sinned at the feast] and said: “Master of the Universe -- until when will you stick to this nation who remove their hearts from you?”… At that time, God said: “Why do I need this nation for whom I have done many miracles. I will obliterate them from existence…” Immediately God said to Satan: “Bring me a scroll and I will write destruction upon it.” (Midrash - Esther Rabba 87:13)

The hiddenness is about to begin in earnest. For as is well known, there is no mention of God's name in the Megillah at all.

There was a Jewish man in Shushan the capital whose name was Mordechai, the son of Yair… from the tribe of Binyamin… He reared Hadassah, she is Esther, his uncle’s daughter, because she did not have a father or mother. The girl was beautiful of form and appearance, and when her parents died, Mordechai adopted her as his daughter. (Esther 2:5-7)

Esther first appears with two names: Hadassah and Esther. "Hadas" is a myrtle, as the Talmud (Megillah 13a) explains:

Hadassah: myrtle leaves are sweet smelling, and used as a metaphor to describe righteous people. Esther: from the root of "hester," hidden, as she kept her words hidden (when she refused to disclose her nationality when chosen as queen). Also, it is similar to the Persian word "estehar" which means moon/crescent, a reference to her beauty; the nations would see her and say she is beautiful like the moon.

These explanations point to Esther’s beauty (the sense of sight), fragrance of the myrtle (sense of smell) and the hiddenness associated with her name. Perhaps a theme will present itself where Esther will need to use all her senses to grope her way -- through the maze of hiddenness, to a sense of clarity and light.

Esther is Mordechai's cousin, so she comes from the tribe of Binyamin, the son of Rachel. As such, she shares some traits with Rachel and her various descendants. For one, she is "beautiful of form and appearance," which was also a description of Rachel (Genesis 29:17). Esther is actually considered one of the four "beauties" of the world, according to the Talmud (Megillah 15a). Esther’s silence, or ability to hide a secret, seems to run in the family as well:

Rachel excelled in the art of silence (when keeping from Yaakov the
switching of Leah at her wedding). And so did all her descendants hide
information: Binyamin knew about the sale of Yosef and did not tell.
Shaul: "and the matter of the (coronation to) kingship he did not tell.”
Esther: "Esther did not tell of her birthplace or her nation." (Midrash -
Breishit Rabba 71:5)

Silence, or the ability to keep a secret, is a root trait of Esther, inherited from her ancestor, Rachel, who refused to divulge Leah’s secret on her wedding day. This seems to be a skill, or an art, which is not just a result of extreme compassion (as in the case of Rachel), but rather an expression of humility, modesty, and putting oneself aside for a greater cause. When one refuses to reveal private information, it seems s/he is willing to let a higher authority take control of events and not take an active role in changing the course of history. In Esther's case, it is Mordechai's authority to which she concedes:

She did not tell of her nationality or birthplace, because Mordechai commanded her. Esther continued to do as Mordechai told her, as she had done when under his care. (Esther 2:20) Modesty, or tzniut (concealing, covering up) is also mentioned as a family trait of Esther's:
In the reward of Rachel's tzniut, she merited that Shaul descend from her. And in reward of Shaul's tzniut, he merited that Esther descend from him. (Talmud - Megillah 13b)

We see Esther's personality initially taking shape as a beautiful, righteous, modest, retiring, shy and quiet young girl, who grows up as an orphan in Mordechai's house, allowing him to take charge and submitting to his authority.

She had absolutely no interest in assuming a position of royalty, or of making herself public or obvious in any way: When Esther’s turn arrived… to come to the king, she didn't ask for anything. Whatever Hagai… the guard of the women said, she did, and Esther found favor in the eyes of everyone who saw her. (Esther 2:15)
Esther’s approach was the opposite of the other women: They wanted to beautify themselves before the king, but Esther preferred to be looked down upon, so that she could quickly return to the house of Mordechai. 

It is interesting to note that each time the Jewish people confront Amalek, the archenemy of the Jewish people, the battle is led by a descendant of Rachel’s sons Yosef or Binyamin. The first battle -- the Jewish people facing Amalek after leaving Egypt (Exodus 17:9) -- was fought by Yehoshua, the son of Nun, from the tribe of Ephraim, the son of Yosef. The second time was fought by King Shaul, the son of Kish, from the tribe of Binyamin (1-Samuel 15:1-3). And in our story, Esther and Mordechai, from the tribe of Binyamin, confront Haman, the Amalekite.

It seems there is a specific compatibility between the children of Rachel and defeating Amalek, the grandson of Esav.

Rachel was always meant to be Yaakov's wife, as opposed to Leah who was initially destined to marry Esav. As a result, her (Leah's) descendants don't have the necessary strength to be Esav's spiritual nemesis. (Tifferet Tzion - Breishit Rabba 73:5)

The Midrash (Tanchuma - Ki Tetze) describes a moral struggle between Esav and the sons of Rachel. Esav can claim against all the tribes that they are no better than he, since they also wronged their brother, by selling him into slavery and conspiring to kill him. Yet this claim doesn't hold water with regard to Yosef (who was sold) and Binyamin (who was not around at the time of the sale).

In general, it seems that the descendents of Yosef and Binyamin are destined to fight and overcome Amalek throughout the generations. Specifically, Mordechai, from the tribe of Binyamin, has a distinct aversion to bowing down to Haman, while the other Jews rationalized that the danger outweighed any halachic difficulties. As the Midrash (Esther Rabba 87:9) describes:

Mordechai said: "Moshe warned us in the Torah: 'Cursed is the man who makes a statue'… This evil man (Haman) makes himself into an idol! Especially I [should not bow], since I was born in the home of the king (i.e. all the tribes were born outside of Israel, and my ancestor was born in Israel)." Immediately, this was reported to Haman, who sent back: "Your grandfather Yaakov bowed down to my grandfather [Esav]." Mordechai answered: "Binyamin was not yet born at that event."

Mordechai claims he had special reason to stand his ground against Haman: He was born in the "palace" -- God's home, the Land of Israel. His only boss can be God Himself. Furthermore, Haman’s excuse regarding Yaakov bowing down to Esav years earlier was not applicable to Mordechai, since his ancestor Binyamin was not part of that subjugation.

In the Purim story, Esther is taken forcefully to the king's palace. "And Esther was taken to the house of the king" (Esther 2:8). She certainly has no interest in being queen, and even though all the other women decorated and prettied themselves in order to find favor in the king's eyes, Esther remained hidden in Mordechai's house (for three years) until she was finally found and forced out by the king's officers. Even then "she did not request anything" to make herself more desirable.

This must have been a dark, devastating event in her life, especially according to the commentaries which state Esther was actually married to Mordechai.

“Every day Mordechai walked in front of the palace." Mordechai said: “Could it be that this righteous woman should be married to such a despicable man? Maybe something will happen to the Jewish people in the future and she will be in the position to save them.” (Mechilta Beshalach - Amalek 52)

Mordechai felt that if such a tragic occurrence were to happen to such a righteous girl as Esther, something must be brewing in Jewish destiny to necessitate it. Yet Esther doesn't have the benefit of such a hint. She is just spending her days and months in the palace, and -- as commanded by Mordechai -- silently guarding her identity and trying to practice Judaism in secret. Her relationship with Mordechai is not public and she communicates with him though a messenger, one of her servants.

Mordechai becomes aware (through prophecy) of the serious decree against the Jewish people in Heaven and the corresponding decree sent by Haman and Achashverosh to destroy every Jewish man, woman and child. He tears his clothing and wails in the streets of Shushan, "crying a loud and bitter cry" (Esther 4:1). 

Esther hears about Mordechai's strange behavior and sees it as completely uncharacteristic of him and of their tribe. "The queen was very shaken" (Esther 4:4). She sends him clothes to wear and tells him to remove his sackcloth. Esther is not used to such public displays of emotion; Binyamin is the tribe who excels in keeping things silent and hidden. To rip one's clothes and walk through the streets screaming is extremely inappropriate. When Esther is unable to persuade him to calm down, she asks what happened and Mordechai sends the message:

The son of happenstance (Amalek) has come upon us, as it says (Deut. 25:18), "who has chanced upon you on the way." (Midrash Esther Rabba 8:5)

Mordechai tells Esther that Haman is a descendant of Amalek and poses a serious threat to the Jewish people. He asks Esther to "go to the king and beg and request for her nation." Esther at first answers with hesitation: "Everybody knows that if a man or woman goes to the king uninvited, the law is that he be killed. And I have not been called to the king in 30 days" (Esther 4:11, paraphrased).

Esther assumes that she will soon be called to the king, and then she can make the effort to help. Esther did not sense the urgency of the matter, given that the decree was not to be carried out until 11 months later, in the Hebrew month of Adar. Esther figured she had time to act, and why put one's life in jeopardy unnecessarily?

Mordechai replies with a harsh, almost threatening warning: "Don't imagine you might escape in the house of the king out of all the Jews. Because if you are silent now, relief and salvation will come to the Jewish people from another place, and you and your father's house will be lost." (Esther 4:13-14)

It seems that Mordechai is trying to impress upon Esther the imminence of the disaster and the scope of the tragedy, though he cannot convey through Hatach (the messenger) all the details of his prophetic information. He also clarified to Esther that although modesty and silence are normally important traits, there is a time and a place where one has to speak up and take assertive action. By way of a hint, he told her that her father's house was responsible for the tragedy because (King Shaul) didn't get rid of Amalek completely, and it is her mission to fix this mistake. 

Esther didn't take long to get the message. From here on, her personality takes a turn. She becomes the initiator, the active leader, the decision maker and commander. No longer does she blindly execute Mordechai's orders, rather she orders him herself:

"Go and gather all the Jews… and fast for me for… three days and nights, and I and my maidens will do the same. And I will go the king, not according to the law. And if I am lost, I am lost.” And Mordechai passed (transgressed) and did everything Esther commanded him to do. (Esther 4:16-17) "Three days and nights:” these are the dates 13, 14 and 15 of Nissan. Mordechai sent her: “But isn't one of those days the first night of Passover?” She sent back: “Elder of Israel, if there are no Jewish people left, for whom is Passover?” Immediately Mordechai heard and admitted she was right. (Esther Rabba 8:7) "And Mordechai passed:” He transgressed, i.e. he fasted on the first day of Passover(Talmud - Megillah 15a)

Esther concluded that all the Jewish people have to unite in order to avert this catastrophe. So Esther commanded Mordechai to transgress the Torah laws of eating matzah, drinking wine and celebrating the Seder night, and to instruct the entire Jewish people to do the same! Esther is a prophetess and as such can command to break a Torah law on this one-time basis. From here on, she takes upon herself the mantel of prophecy and acts with the decisiveness and courage befitting a queen.

By choosing to accept Mordechai's challenge of going to the king unannounced and telling him about the plot to eradicate her nation, Esther was putting her life at risk for the sake of the Jewish people. But she was doing more than that.

"I will go to the king, not according to the law. And if I am lost, I am lost" (Esther 4:16). [Esther was saying:] “As I will be lost from my father's house, so I will be lost from you, [Mordechai].” (Talmud - Megillah 15a)

According to one opinion in the Talmud, Esther was actually married to Mordechai. Despite having been forced to live with Achashverosh, Esther retained her status as a married woman and -- according to Jewish law – would be permitted to resume being Mordechai's wife as soon as the Achashverosh episode were over. However, at this turning-point, Esther now plans to willingly choosing to approach Achashverosh. She fears this will automatically change the relationship from passive to active, and will consequently forbid her -- as an adulterous woman -- from ever returning to her husband, Mordechai. With the words "I will approach the king, not according to the law," Esther is referring not only the law of the kingdom, but to Jewish law as well.

Esther takes the double-risk, physically and spiritually, for the sake of the greater cause. "If there is no Jewish nation, for whom is Passover?" The entire Torah is for the Jewish people. If they are at risk of annihilation, what other considerations can possibly apply? Esther now sees herself as a catalyst for the redemption. She is no longer as a girl from a specific family with her own individual set of circumstances. She is taking responsibility for the nation.

Esther doesn't proceed flippantly. She is determined to save the Jewish people in the most effective way. First, by having the entire nation fast for three days and nights, she sets the stage for God's mercy and compassion. Then, only on the third day, does she dress up in royal clothes and approach the inner chamber of the king. Rabbi Levi said:
“As Esther approached the house of idols, the presence of God left her, she said, ‘God, Oh God why have You left me’ (Psalms 22). Could it be that You judge me as premeditating and willing, instead of as one who is coerced to transgress?" (Talmud - Megillah 15b)
The Talmud shows us the inner workings of Esther's heart: plunged into complete darkness and not feeling God alongside her. She doesn't have a clue whether what she's doing is approved in the eyes of Heaven. Maybe God considers her act inappropriate? Her prophecy fails her when she needs it most. Physically, too: Esther is going to the king on the third day of fasting. What she most have looked like! She is truly risking her life by going to him in this state. But she understands that the "natural" is not a factor in this equation of salvation. Esther is completely convinced that the situation -- so severe and clearly Heaven-sent -- demands a miraculous turn-about. Esther purposely doesn't wait around for the king to call her on his own and for nature to play itself out.

That night, Esther invites Achashverosh and Haman to a party at her house. At the party, she invites them to another party the next day. Why is Esther behaving this way? Why not rush to get her request over with as soon as possible?

The Talmud and Midrash offer many answers to this question –, in fact. But one shows Esther bent on finding a solution to the root problem (not just the symptom), and places her among the great leaders and strategists of the Jewish

So that the Jewish people will not say: "We have a sister in the house of the king" and consequently will not beg wholeheartedly for mercy. (Talmud - Megillah 15b)

Esther realized that in order to bring about God's compassion, the Jews would need to realize there is no one else upon whom to rely. If they felt that Esther could succeed on her own, they might half-heartedly pray, fast and repent --while deep in their heart relying on Esther to save the day. However, after three days of fasting and praying, if the rumor spread that Esther seemed to befriend the the Jews would wake up, take responsibility for the dire state of the nation, and realize that "We have no one to rely on except for our Father in Heaven."

Also, Esther may have been waiting for some sign from God that this was the right avenue to take. She was still in the dark, acting purely on the basis of her own understanding, and knowledge of God's love from previous experience. But right now, nothing pointed out to her that God was with her and that He would back up her attempt to overcome Haman.

That night, between the first party and the second, Esther received the sign she was waiting for. The sleeplessness of the king prompted him to recall Mordechai's favor of years before. This "coincided" with Haman's approach to the palace, which led to the famous leading of Mordechai through the streets of Shushan in royal garb on the king's horse. Amazingly, Haman, the second in command, was honoring his arch-enemy, the Jew, causing himself such humiliation in the process! This was the miraculous sign that Esther, to show her that at this moment, the redemption had begun.

Although she had strategized, Esther was not certain that inviting the enemies of the Jews to a party was the right way to go. Nor could she know that Achashverosh would react favorably to her. There was a distinct chance that this tactic would arouse his jealousy, allowing him to assume that she liked Haman personally. In such a case, the king would have them both executed. This was a risk she was willing to take, since if that’s how things played out, Haman's decree would also be annulled and she would be saving her people from destruction.

Esther was so busy praying and conversing with God at this second party, that when asked to name the evil executor of the "final solution,” she inadvertently pointed to the king himself:

"An evil man and an enemy is this bad Haman" (Esther 7:6). Rabbi Eliezer said: “This teaches that she pointed at Achashverosh [even as she said: "Haman"] and an angel came and pushed her hand to be directed at Haman." (Talmud - Megillah 16a)

Esther was acting now as a prophetess, speaking the whole truth and nothing but the truth, focusing intently on her goal of reaching a spiritual turn-about which would cause the physical destiny to change as well. She was so aware that real salvation lay only in the heavenly courts that she didn't even realize she was pointing at the person she was speaking to, since in reality, he was an evil enemy as well and she was speaking to God. Natural events and circumstances were just tools to approach "the King of all Kings" and beg for His mercy and compassion.

And so it was: The wicked Haman fell onto Esther, angering the king, who 
immediately ordered Haman to be hanged on the gallows which he had built for Mordechai. It had all come full circle.

After the showdown at Esther's party, the demise of Haman, the reformation of the decree which allowed the Jews to defend themselves in any future war, the incredible victory of the Jewish people over their enemies, and the final hanging of Haman’s 10 sons, there was yet another momentous event: The Jewish people reached such a high level of recognition and appreciation of God that they reaccepted the Torah out of love:

The Torah was (initially) forced upon the Jewish people, as God held the mountain above their heads… Rava said: “However, they accepted it later out of choice, in the days of Achashverosh, as it says (Esther 9:27): ‘The Jews accepted and kept all the words’." (Talmud - Shabbat 88a)

Esther asked to write down this record of events in a scroll. God's hidden but 
unique supervision had to be set down in print, for generations to come, so the nation would have an understanding of how to relate to God in times of complete darkness and despair. What happens when everything looks bleak and you can't find God anywhere, when you don't know if He is approving of your actions or not, or even feel the tiniest spark of holiness or spirituality? That is when you must place your trust in God, and go forward relying on your inner voice of clarity and reason knowing that God never leaves His nation. It is then that you must do everything possible to reestablish the lines of communication between God and the Jewish people.

The Sages agreed with Esther’s assessment, and established a holiday in her merit and a scroll in her name, which will exist for eternity:

“And the days of Purim will not pass from amongst the Jews, and their memory will never cease from their descendants.” (Esther 9:28) All the books of the prophets and all the writings are destined to be cancelled out in the days of the Messiah, except for the Megillah of Esther which -- like the Five Books of Moses and the Oral Law -- will never be nullified." (Maimonides - Megillah 2:13)

It is hard to see the happy ending for Esther, personally. She remains married to the Persian hedonistic King Achashverosh, she never returns to Mordechai (if in fact she was married to him), and in any case never goes back to living a normal Jewish life will all that entails. She is recorded as being the Queen of Persia for years to come and the mother of the next Persian King Daryavesh, who eventually allowed the Jewish people to return to Israel and begin rebuilding the Temple and their independent lives in the Holy Land. Esther is destined to be the Jewish representative in the royal household for the rest of her life, helping her people from afar, saving them initially from destruction and then supporting their cause, spiritually and nationally. Esther sacrificed everything for the bigger cause: The opportunity to live among the people she loved and even her own spiritual fulfillment in this world (and as far as she was concerned, in the next as well), for the cause of good and for the nation of Israel.

In his book, Pachad Yitzchak, Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner explains why certain holidays will cease in the messianic era, except for the story and holiday of Purim. He compares it to two people walking in the dark, each with a mission to find their friend in the darkness. One uses a flashlight and quickly finds his acquaintance, but the other, without the benefit of a light, is forced to use his other senses. Through listening carefully, feeling his way through the obstacles, and even sniffing the air for subtle nuances of scent, he finally learns to recognize his friend. When the sun comes up, the first fellow no longer would need his flashlight and discards it as unnecessary. However, the second person, who has groped his way through the darkness, has developed a skill in the process and sensitized himself to unique aspects that he’d never have realized had he not been lacking his eye-sight. Therefore, for him, even when the sun has risen, he retains the internal richness he has gained, and the relationship with his friend benefits from the intimacy that was reached as a result of the nocturnal experience. Esther had to walk through the dark to find God, without the benefit of open miracles and signs, huge flashes of inspiration or insight. No plagues, splitting of seas, pillars of clouds and fire, or even flasks of oil lasting for eight days. For her, the darkness continued for a lifetime.

But she taught herself and the Jewish people skills which they could use throughout the years of exile and hiddenness: Place your trust in God, to know with a conviction and clarity that God is listening, even when He is deeply hidden. Unite as a people and act to arouse His mercy -- even risk your life --knowing that He will respond to save His people. This sensitivity she developed within herself and the level to which she elevated the Jewish people, will remain within our collective psyche throughout the generations and will enrich us even in the messianic era. In that great era of light and clarity, all the other holidays which posed as mere flashlights throughout the years will no longer be necessary. They will fade into insignificance. Purim and Esther's message, however, will illuminate for eternity.

Friday, February 10, 2017


THE MIDRASH {caption}

This will make clear, at least from the Hebrew viewpoint, the value of the Midrash. It is the last and final word given as "explanation" of the Holy Scriptures. Some Midrashim, or explanations of the Bible, have of course always existed among the Hebrews. The Talmud, consists of such early explanations as were accepted as authoritative and incorporated in the Jewish faith before A.D. 500. During the Middle Ages a large number of such Midrashim were written. Most of these deal with some particular book of the Bible. A studious rabbi would resolve to write a Midrash upon Genesis or upon Exodus and would collect all he had learned upon the theme from earlier teachers. Some studious successor would copy this book and enlarge it, adding a few points culled from another Midrash. Sometimes the new work became known by the reviser's name, sometimes it retained that of the earlier writer. In that way we have often several very different forms of a Midrash, all going under the same name. 
Ruth is the ancestor of King David, and consequently the matriarch of the Messianic line. Who is this woman, special enough to have an entire book in the Bible named for her, which we read, on the epic day on which the Torah was given to the Jewish people? Ruth must have a very important message to convey to us about what it means to be a Jew, to receive the Torah, and to merit royalty.The story of Ruth takes place in the time period of the Judges. This was a difficult time of spiritual ups and downs in Jewish history.
"And it was in the days of the judgment of the Judges": This refers to a generation that judged its own judges... [The Judge] would say, "Remove the toothpick from between your teeth," and [the people] would answer, "Remove the beam from between your eyes." (Talmud - Bava Batra 15b)
The 400-year span of the Judges began after the death of Joshua, who conquered and divided the Land of Israel, and ended with the establishment of the monarchy with King Saul. This period was known for the serious deterioration of the spiritual state of the Jewish nation. Each time a Judge would arise to help restore order for a number of years, inevitably the nation would slip back into its old idolatrous habits and assimilate into the surrounding nations' culture and behaviors, erasing their own unique identity meant to be a light unto the nations. When we meet the characters surrounding Ruth, the Land of Israel has been hit with a famine:
At that time God said: "My children are stubborn. To destroy them is impossible. To return them to Egypt is impossible. I cannot exchange them for another nation. What, then can I do? I must make them suffer and cleanse them with famine." (Midrash - Ruth Rabba, Intro. 1)
It seems that as soon as the Land of Israel was conquered, everyone ran to settle his own portion, work the land, plant vineyards and fields, establish gardens and farms, and in general amass material wealth and creature comforts. The leaders at that time, the heads of the judicial court, the Sanhedrin, were expected to take this opportunity to travel across the country from one border to another, teaching Torah ethics to the populace. The Midrash  describes a kind of mobile Beit Midrash that should have existed in those early years of settling the land, but did not. As a result, the nation became self-centered and materialistic. They quickly forgot the Torah and mitzvot, and deteriorated into moral corruption.Then, when a famine hit, Elimelech from the tribe of Judah – a great and wealthy man with many acres of land and enough produce to feed the entire nation for years – 

Elimelech was among the great scholars and patrons of the nation, and when the years of famine came, he said: "Now all of Israel will come to my door, each with his box (to collect money)." He stood up and ran away from them. 
Besides his lack of generosity, Elimelech severely disappointed everyone's expectations, causing demoralization and loss of hope among the people. He took his family and defected to Moav, where his two sons, Machlon and Kilyon, married Moabite women.
Elimelech and his family left the Jews of Israel in a state of famine and financial crisis. Their escape from responsibility came from a desire to save themselves and their possessions from the difficulties facing the nation. Their self-centeredness was indicative of the level of the Jewish people at that time, each intent on maintaining his own material wealth.
And a man from Beit Lechem... went to sojourn in the fields of Moav, he and his wife and his two sons. (Ruth 1:1)
It started as a "sojourn." Then:
They arrived in the fields of Moav and stayed there. They married Moabite women – one named Orpah, and the other names Ruth. And they dwelt there for 10 years. (Ruth 1:4).
The decision to leave the Land of Israel and avoid helping out led Elimelech's family to deteriorate spiritually to the point where they intermarried with the Moabites:

They didn't convert them... and there was no law yet that allowed Moabite women to enter into the congregation of Israel (even with conversion).
The Torah ostensibly prohibits the Moabite nation from ever entering into the Jewish covenant:
They should not come into the congregation of God, neither Moabite nor Amonite, even the tenth generation should not enter into the congregation of God, forever, because they did not greet you with bread and water on the way when you left Egypt... (Deut. 23:4-5)
After the Jewish people left Egypt, they had to pass by the lands of Moav and Amon. These nations did not attack the passing straggling group of Jewish slaves as the Amalekites did. Yet they were expected to greet the Jews with food and drink, especially since Amon and Moav are descendants of Lot, who owed so much to his uncle Avraham for the care he showed him when they both started out in the land of Canaan. This Amon and Moav did not do, denying the refugees even the most common courtesy. Moav, then, is considered the epitome of self-centeredness and lack of generosity and kindness.
Significantly, Moav is the place where Elimelech and his family felt most comfortable settling. The similarity is striking: Moav avoided feeding the suffering Israelites, who were distant cousins, and Elimelech escaped from feeding his fellow Jews in their time of need. As if to complete the circle, Elimelech's sons then marry Moabite girls!
Seemingly, this is the beginning of the end of this family. Elimelech dies, as do both his sons, and Naomi is left alone with her two non-Jewish daughters-in-law. And yet, at this very moment God opens a window of hope and a second chance. Somehow, out of this family, will eventually come King David – and the Messiah from the house of David.
Naomi, the lone remnant of an illustrious family, decides to leave Moav with its tragic memories and go back to the Land of Israel:
Because she heard that God redeemed His nation to give them bread. (Ruth 1:6)
This entails tremendous courage, to go back – alone – to a country where she will have to face the family and friends she betrayed, to admit she was wrong and has suffered the loss of her husband and sons – and now to try rebuilding her life in a society that feels only animosity toward her.
And she left the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her, and they went on the way to return to the Land of Judah. (Ruth 1:7)
At first, both daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, choose to leave their country with Naomi. This speaks volumes about Naomi's character and about the relationship that existed between this lone Jewish family and the Moabite wives. These girls were both daughters of Eglon, the king of Moav. They left a house of royalty and the status of princesses to connect to this Jewish family, its values and its practices.
And now they are willing to leave their homes, country and culture to go with Naomi to a place where they will be strangers and completely alone, with no husbands and no view of a future. They must have really loved Naomi who – over the ten years of marriage – must have inculcated in them a spiritual value system and Jewish lifestyle to the point where they were willing to start anew with their old widowed mother-in-law.
Naomi tries to dissuade them from coming with her. Initially they refuse to be dissuaded, but as Naomi genuinely convinces them that her tragic life will only tie them down and limit their options for happiness and blessing, one of the daughters-in-law, Orpah, agrees to leave. Ruth, however, is able to see beyond the logic of Naomi's words, to the nuances of love and care.
"Don't, my daughters, because I am bitter and sad for you, because the hand of God has come out against me." (Ruth 1:13)
Ruth, like the matriarchs in the Torah, intuits the deeper meaning in Naomi's words: Naomi really would be happy to go back with someone and not be completely alone. Her words were only meant as a necessary discouragement to one who wishes to convert to Judaism, to make sure their intentions are pure.
In seeing beyond the logic and surface, Ruth exhibits the trait of binah, deeper understanding. She also expresses a deep caring and kindness – the complete opposite of her countrymen and of her husband's family. She prepares to leave all of her own physical wealth and comforts behind to care for an aging lonely woman who isn't even her family anymore, with only spiritual benefits to gain.
"Don't push me to leave you and to go back, for wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you sleep, I will sleep. Your nation is my nation, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. So will God do to me and so He will add (I swear) that only death will separate between us." (Ruth 1:16-17)
This is Ruth's famous statement, which the Midrash tells us is an announcement of her desire to convert to Judaism – no matter what. Naomi, sensing her sincerity, starts explaining to her the basics of Judaism. Being a princess in Moav, Ruth was used to the kinds of entertainment that were not acceptable among Jewish people:
It is not the way of the daughters of Israel to go to theaters and circuses of idol worship, so Ruth said: "Wherever you go, I will go." Naomi said to her: "My daughter, Jewish people live in a house with a mezuzah." Ruth said: "Wherever you sleep, I will sleep." 
Ruth is making it clear to Naomi that she is perfectly ready to leave her old habits of leisure and meaningless entertainment, and adopt a more purposeful, spiritual life.
And it was, as they came to Beit Lechem, the whole city was startled at the sight of them, and they said: "Could this be Naomi?" She said to them: "Don't call me Naomi; call me ‘bitter' (mara), because God has made me bitter. I went full, and God has returned me empty..." (Ruth 1:19-20)
The Midrash says that the whole city had gathered together on that day to attend the funeral of the wife of Boaz, the leader and Judge of the generation. They see Naomi coming back widowed, impoverished, wearing tattered clothes and with a Moabite girl at her side. They are shocked and horrified, and perhaps a little bit pleased at the turn of fate that she was dealt after her family's defection.
Naomi and Ruth settle back in Israel, which has slowly returned to a semblance of normalcy after a 10-year "depression." Though people had suffered due to their lack of consideration and care for others during the early years of settling the land, they have rehabilitated themselves, returning to the path of generosity with the help of their Judge and leader, Boaz.
With regard to Naomi, however, there seems to be a lingering anger and resentment. No one caters to her needs, even though Boaz himself is Naomi's cousin. Boaz could be excused, given that he recently lost his wife, but it seems like the two women are ignored by virtually everyone.
Ruth, a famous princess, who had married into the wealthiest Jewish family around, now offers her mother-in-law:
"I'll go out to the field and collect some sheaves of wheat." (Ruth 2:2)
Ruth doesn't go without obtaining permission from Naomi. She hopes to find someone who will allow her to take the leftover wheat that falls from the crops being collected. This is an obligatory charity that field owners must leave for the poor, but Ruth knows she must still find someone kind and willing. She is humbly submitting to her new station in life, not expecting anything from this nation for which she gave up her past life, and not disappointed in their lack of care for her.
Once Ruth goes out to the field, her behavior stands out as well:
All the women would bow and gather, while Ruth would bend her knees to gather... All the women would flirt with the field workers, while Ruth behaved modestly. All the women would take from among the rows of wheat, while Ruth would only take from what was clearly ownerless. 
Ruth is focused on her goal, behaving as a "rose among thorns," not influenced by the loose behavior of the other gatherers. She also carefully observed the laws of leket (collection for the poor) so as not to accidentally take from the field owners what is not rightfully hers.
Divine guidance leads Ruth to a field belonging to Boaz, Naomi's cousin, and the nephew of Naomi's deceased husband Elimelech. Although Boaz was the greatest sage of the generation and didn't normally come to his field, this day he came and noticed Ruth's uniquely dignified and modest behavior.
"Who is this girl?" Boaz asks of the field workers. Even though he must have heard that his cousin had returned from Moav with a widowed daughter-in-law, he must not have gone to pay them a visit or to offer any assistance. It could even be that his hands-off approach was copied by the other Jews, as he was a leader and role model. If he didn't feel the need to reach out to his own cousins, why should they?
A field worker answers him with subtle criticism:
"She is a Moabite girl returning with Naomi from Moav, and she said: 'I will gather and collect the sheaves of wheat that fall behind the rows,' and she has been here gathering since the morning..." (Ruth 2:6-7)
Don't you know her, the worker asks Boaz? Doesn't everyone in Beit Lechem know this story of the gentile girl who is now supporting her mother-in-law and being forced to gather the remnants of the crops as a poor woman?
Boaz may feel some pangs of guilt as he tries to compensate by being extra kind to Ruth, but he still doesn't take any real responsibility for his relatives. He begs her to stay in his fields, and his workers are instructed to treat her kindly and give her drink from their own well water. He also addresses her with endearment, "my daughter," and tells her that for the wonderful kindness to her mother-in-law, she will be rewarded from God.
And yet, Boaz doesn't seem to get the message. He doesn't realize it is his mission to take these women into his care, to support them and make sure they are reaccepted into the community. The Torah itself commands a Jew to "love the convert" and to leave crops behind for the poor, so really Boaz wasn't even going beyond the call of duty for his relatives. Nor did he ask how Naomi was doing after ten years in Moav and about the fate of his uncle Elimelech and his cousins Machlon and Kilyon.
Ruth doesn't have any better expectations. She, who started out a Moabite princess, now falls on her face and bows down in immense gratitude and appreciation for this small consideration and asks:
"Why have I found favor in your eyes, as I am a gentile?" (Ruth 2:10)
She is so humble and modest that she doesn't even realize her "rights" in this situation. She is full of positivity and is able to see the good in others and in life.
When Machlon and Kilyon, Naomi's sons, married the Moabite princesses, there existed a distinct prohibition to accept a Moabite convert into the Jewish community. How then could Ruth have converted and become a part, albeit not wholly accepted by society, of the Jewish people?
In the days of Boaz's leadership, the Sanhedrin (high court) revealed that the prohibition in the Torah regarding Moabite converts applied only to male Moabites and not to females. The reason was that in biblical times, only the males were expected to go out and greet travelers (the Jewish refugees), and therefore they were faulted for not doing so. However, women who tended to stay at home could not be blamed for not proactively welcoming the passing nation with food and drink.
In Boaz's words of consolation to Ruth, he alludes to the fact that she has, in fact, a future with the Jewish nation.
"God should pay your reward... from Whom you have come to take shelter under His wings..." (Ruth 2:12)
And later, when she implies that she is a stranger and not even worthy of being one of Boaz's servants, he reassures her:
"God forbid, you are not one of the servants (ama'hot) but rather like one of the matriarchs (ima'hot)." 
The Torah tells us:
If brothers abide together and one of them dies and has no child, then the wife of the dead brother should not marry a stranger. Her husband's brother should take her to him as a wife and perform the duty of yibum. And it shall be that her firstborn child will have the name of the dead brother, so that his name not be wiped out from Israel. (Deut. 25:5-6)
The mitzvah of yibum applies when a married man dies and leaves no children. The brother of the dead man (or the next closest relative, if there is no brother), has a special mitzvah to marry the widow. If they subsequently have children, the first son is considered to "fill the void" of the dead brother – inheriting his estate and his portion of land in the Land of Israel. He thus "redeems" the name and memory of the dead man, who otherwise would have no lasting remnant in this world.
Of course, there are ways to get out of this obligation and responsibility, if either the widow or relative are not so inclined, but it is considered a great kindness to the dead to go through with the marriage and the resulting redemption of the land. If the brother refuses to marry his sister-in-law, he then goes through an act of severing the bond, in which he is shamed for not keeping his brother's memory alive.
In this story, Ruth is a widow of a Jewish man who has died and left no children. His brother and father have also died, so that the family, although they may own some land currently, will have no continuity and will lose the land when Naomi dies, unless a close relative marries Ruth and fulfills the obligation of yibum.
Boaz seems to be the perfect choice for the performance of this mitzvah. He is a cousin, part of Elimelech's family. And yet he doesn't even seem to realize that he has a decision to make regarding Ruth.
Naomi sees the great potential in Ruth, and knows she is destined to become integral to the Jewish nation.
Ruth has been frequenting Boaz's fields for two months now, bringing home to Naomi the stray pieces of wheat, happy with her lot, not expecting any more. But Naomi, knowing the Torah laws, and concerned for the future of her widowed daughter-in-law, is waiting for something else – a sign, some news of Boaz's interest in Ruth and her family. Naomi sees the greatness and the potential in Ruth, and knows that she is destined to become an integral part of the Jewish nation in some way. After waiting, praying and hoping, Naomi decides to help matters along with a more proactive plan:
Naomi said to her: "My daughter, I would like you to have a better future. Now, our relative, Boaz... is piling the wheat in the granary tonight. Wash and anoint yourself, dress up and go down to the granary. Don't show yourself until he is finished eating and drinking. And when he lies down, see where he goes to sleep and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do." Ruth replied: "Anything you tell me to do, I will do." (Ruth 3:1-5)
Naomi suggests a rather audacious, even dangerous plan. It's the only choice, now that the harvesting season is over, and Ruth will no longer be going out to the field. Though it is necessary, Naomi suggests it with fear and trepidation. What a risk to Ruth's reputation as a modest Jewish girl! If anyone should see her, or if Boaz is repelled by her behavior, her chances of ever marrying would be greatly limited. However, Naomi knows Boaz's greatness and his descent from the royal family of Judah, and she secretly hopes he would fulfill his responsibility and agree to marry Ruth. The situation only demands a little bit of effort.
Ruth must have been shocked by this idea. She must have had countless questions and doubts, tormented by thoughts of discovery or rejection. And yet she answers simply, with faith in Naomi's Torah perspective: "Whatever you say, I will do."
Ruth went down to the granary, with Naomi's promise that her merit will accompany her. She wisely took clothes with her and changed into them only after her arrival.  Although she complied with her mother-in-law's every word, she kept her wits about her and strategized the best way to go unnoticed.
Boaz wakes at midnight to discover a woman lying at his feet. His initial horror gives way to rationality as he asks for her identity. She answers: "I am Ruth, your maidservant. Spread your wings over your maidservant, since you are a redeemer" (Ruth 3:9). He immediately pulls himself together: "Blessed are you to God, my daughter."
Surprisingly, only now does Boaz realize that he should have initiated this union, and that his prior passivity had caused Ruth torment and shame. He praises her for her willingness to confront him and to marry him only for the sake of the mitzvah of yibum and redemption of the land. He assures her: "You have done more kindness now, in not going after the young men, than your first kindness (to come with your mother-in-law to Israel)." Boaz then promised to make sure she would be taken care of.
Boaz asks Ruth to stay through the night out of concern for her safety, even though he was risking his reputation, and had to resist the temptation to touch her:
All that night Boaz prayed to God: "You know I have not touched her. Please let it be Your Will that it not be known that a woman came to the granary, causing a desecration of God's Name through me." 
Boaz walked Ruth to the town at dawn, gave her a gift of grain and oats to bring to Naomi, and promised to be in touch as soon as he figured out if he is the closest relative with whom she can perform the mitzvah of yibum.
After a short process in court, where a closer relative absolves himself of the obligation to marry Ruth (out of the fear of "sullying" his gene pool by marrying a Moabite convert), Boaz publicly declares that he intends to marry Ruth and redeem their land as well.
Ruth's voice is not heard in this last chapter of marriage and acceptance. Through her marriage to the great leader Boaz, she achieves credibility by virtue of the publicizing of the Jewish law that Moabite women can convert to Judaism, but not Moabite men.
The elders of the nation and Judges in the court respond with a special blessing:
"God should allow this woman who is entering your home to be like Rachel and Leah, who both built the house of Israel... And your home should be like the home of Peretz, whom Tamar bore to Yehuda, from the seed which God will give you with this girl." (Ruth 4:11-12)
The ultimate praise for Ruth is to be like Rachel and Leah, the matriarchs who built the nation of Israel through the birth and raising of the Twelve Tribes. Ruth was to build the monarchy of Israel by marrying into the royal line, a descendant of Peretz, the son of Yehuda.
In his book Simchat HaRegel, Rabbi Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai (the 18th century "Chida"), comments on the similarity between Ruth and Leah and Rachel in another way:
Ruth demanded verbally [that Boaz marry her], just like Rachel and Leah demanded with words. Leah said: "You will come to me tonight," and Rachel said, "Give me children or else I will die."
A proactive assertiveness, a willingness to do whatever it takes to become a part of the creation of Jewish destiny, is a thread that ties Ruth to the matriarchs of the nation.
Boaz married Ruth and she became his wife... and God granted her a pregnancy and she bore a son" (Ruth, 4:5-16). The same night in which Ruth conceived, Boaz died. 
Boaz, an 83-year-old man, fulfilled his purpose in this world by conceiving a child with Ruth, and dies. She, on the other hand, becomes a widow again, this time of the leader of the generation, and pregnant.
Her suffering is not over, but she merits to have a child, raise him with Naomi, to see a future hope for her family and the continuity for Naomi's son's name. Ruth, full of kindness and generosity, even seems to be marrying Boaz for the sake of others. Ruth doesn't voice any opinions or comments until the end of the book recording her life:
The neighbors all named him, saying "Naomi has borne a son," and they called him "Oved"; he is the father of Yishai, the father of David. (Ruth 4:17)
Ruth and Naomi are now full- fledged members of the community, and the other women share in their newfound happiness. Even here, it is obvious that Ruth has given the best years of her life to take care of Naomi, giving her a grandchild and seeing the family line continue.
But Ruth's reward is still forthcoming. The text indicates the direct lineage of King David: Ruth's son Oved is the father of Yishai, the father of David. Ruth deserves to become part of the Jewish royal family which will eventually produce the Messiah, and be an eternal light for the Jewish people and the world.
Ruth herself lived a long, fruitful life, and even merited to see King Solomon, her great-great grandchild ascend the throne:
And he put a throne next to his for the mother of the king (Kings I 2:19). Rabbi Eliezer said: "for the mother of royalty" – this is Ruth. (Talmud - Bava Batra 91a)
Since Moav is considered such a self-centered nation with bad character traits, how could it be that King David and the royal line descended from a member of this nation?
On the verse in Genesis 12:13, "And the nations of the world will be blessed through you," the Talmud (Yevamot 63a) interprets the word "blessed" as "grafted," which shares the same root:
God said to Avraham, "Two good graftings I have to graft in you: Ruth the Moabite and Naama the Amonite (King Solomon's wife and mother of the next king, Rechavam)."
These graftings from Amon and Moav are considered necessary and a blessing of Divine Providence. They are needed for the fulfillment of Jewish destiny. Moav and Amon come from Lot, Avraham's nephew. In fact, they are born from the incestuous union of Lot and his two daughters after the destruction of Sodom. His daughters, thinking they were the only survivors of an apocalypse, figured it was up to them to repopulate the world. They caused their father to become inebriated and each slept with him. The name Moav means "me-av," "from father."
The concept of monarchy did not exist in Israel and it was necessary to take it from Amon and Moav, since the "shell" of Moav is brazenness, as it says: "The pride of Moav is very arrogant" (Isaiah 16:6). King David's soul was trapped in the shell of Moav in order to bring out the concept of boldness from the shells and to elevate it to holiness – to be forceful and brazen for the sake of Heaven. 
Without going into the kabbalistic terms of "shells" and elevating the sparks of holiness from within these shells, suffice it to say that the main character trait of Lot was brazenness. We see how his daughters inherited this audacity to behave in an extremely inappropriate and unnatural manner for a cause they considered important.
However, boldness is a trait that is possible to be used for the right causes, "for the sake of Heaven." After going through a process of purification and refinement through the generations, finally being distilled in Ruth's personality, the trait of holy forcefulness and arrogance are grafted into the foundations of a Jewish monarchy in King David. As it is said (Chronicles II 17:6), "And his heart [King David] was proud (arrogant) in the ways of God." It is necessary for a Jewish king to be forceful and bold when it comes to doing the will of God and ruling over the populace. This is the trait Ruth brought from Moav and elevated for us.
The book of Ruth is read on Shavuot, the holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. We, who were all present as a nation at Mount Sinai, who experienced the revelation of God and became Jews by nature of the overwhelming force of that revelation, have much to learn from Ruth, who converted on her own and whose whole life was dedicated to doing good for others.
This megillah has no laws of purity or impurity, no transgressions and no mitzvot. It is just to teach how much reward comes to those who act with loving-kindness.
The holiday of Shavuot is also the birthday of King David, as well as the day of his death. It is fitting to commemorate on this day his roots and righteous ancestress who merited to be the Mother of Royalty.