Sunday, June 04, 2006

Why Ruth is My Favorite Megillah

This is obviously a run-off between Esther and Ruth.

Eichah (Lamentations) is beautifully lyrical but is not a great pick-me-up. Song of Songs is either great oriental poetry or really dense and unfocused allegory (take your pick). Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) is great reading if you’re looking for inspiration in composing a good suicide note. (Was Solomon manic depressive, and who DID write that last line.)

So, although it lacks the edge of your seat, white knuckled suspense, and home-run hitting wind-up of Esther, here are my top ten reasons that I love the Book of Ruth:

1. The only slice of life ‘real’ story from the era of the Judges, or really any pre-Rabbinic period.
2. Naomi’s bitter sarcasm.
3. Boaz and Ruth, love at first sight.
4. The great medrash about “Liny po halaylah”, starring R’ Meir and Elisha ben Avuya.
5. Boaz and the birth of the world’s most convenient diyuk.
6. A much better melody than Esther.
7. They really took Leket, Shichichah and Peyah seriously.
8. Those boys in the tribe of Judah just can’t help themselves.
9. The absence of anything supernatural.
10. No graggers.


    Blogger Tobie said...

    I like Ruth because it's so people centric. God is in there, but it's people taking action and fixing their lives, and it's human kindness that is the real moving force of the story.

    June 04, 2006 12:11 PM  
    Blogger Big-S Skeptic said...

    What tobie said. I'm going to write a post about this in the next day because I was also moved by the humanism in Ruth this year. I had noted it many times before, but it never struck me with such force. I usually have Kohelet at the top of my list of Bible-favorites, but Ruth is quickly moving up the rankings. It's just an astounding and amazing piece of story-telling.

    June 04, 2006 1:34 PM  
    Blogger e-kvetcher said...

    Can you elaborate on #4. Also, what's a diyuk?

    Speaking of absence of supernatural, I noticed that the Artscroll Chumash uses the word "fate", a very Greek concept to describe how Ruth happens to go to Boaz's field.

    June 05, 2006 11:10 AM  
    Blogger dbs said...


    I believe that this is in tractate chagigah 14b, which is where the main story about Elisha ben Avuyah is. Elisha, R’ Meir’s teacher, becomes an apostate, though he continues to teach R’Meir torah. Here is the story in a nutshell:

    Elisha is riding a horse on shabbos, with R’Meir walking beside him. Elisha is teaching, and they reach the 2000 cubit limit (the t’chum shabbos). Elisha says “Go back, R’ Meir, this is the t’chum.” R’ Meir says, “Why don’t you repent.” Elisha says “I heard a heavenly voice which said ‘everyone can repent except for Elisha ben Avuyah”.

    After Elisha dies, R’ Meir goes to his grave. He pleads with God to allow him to enter heaven. Receiving no answer to his prayer, R’ Meir throws his tallit over the grave and quotes the promise which Boaz makes to Ruth.

    “Stay the night, then in the morning, if he will redeem you, fine! Let him redeem. But if he does not want to redeem you, then I swear that as Hashem lives, I will redeem you! Lie until the morning.”

    R’Meir is saying (I think), “If God agrees to let you into heaven, then fine. But otherwise, I swear that I will redeem you.”

    To me, it is a beautiful story of the love and devotion of a student to his mentor, in spite of all.

    A ‘diyuk’ is an inference which is made through the choice of a word in the bible (or elsewhere). The Talumd explains the transaction which Boaz makes to marry Ruth as being based on his diyuk in the sentence “A Moabite and Ammonite may not come into the congregation of God”. Boaz points to the use of the word ‘moavi’ as pertaining to males only, not females. Hence, he could marry Ruth. (Sorry, I don’t have the time right now to find the sources.) The other relative of Elimelech disagreed, and therefore refused to marry her.

    Regarding coincidence, or ‘fate’, I get a real kick out of this. The megilla says:

    Naomi had a relative through her husband….his name was Boaz.
    Ruth…said to Naomi “Let me go out…behind someone in whose eyes I shall find favor”
    …and fate made her happen upon a parcel ….belonging to Boaz.

    I guess we all make our own fate, at least to a certain extent.

    June 05, 2006 12:32 PM  
    Blogger e-kvetcher said...

    Thanks dbs,

    It's like I'm R'Meir and you're Acher (no offense implied)

    June 05, 2006 1:24 PM  
    Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

    I missed out on megilah reading this year, (work and oversleeping), so I will have to catch up to it in my spare time.

    Great agadatah about RM and EBA. The thing I like about these medrashim is that they paint EBA as a knowledgable and considerate heretic...what a powerful relationship between mentor and student, to have survived his teachers betreyal of everything that was held above question.....

    June 06, 2006 9:20 AM  
    Blogger Big-S Skeptic said...

    What is also amazing, I think, is that the author(s) or compiler(s) of this agadatah seem to have felt the same way. That is, there must have been a series of compilers who heard this story and said to themselves, "this story is just too important to lose."

    Of course one might wonder why any story about Elisha ben Avuyah remains in the Talmud. Why isn't the existence of Elisha ben Avuyah simply forgotten? Perhaps this is the redemption that R'Meir is speaking of here. In promising to redeem Elisha, he is vowing not to let Elisha be forgotten. He is vowing to preserve Elisha's life and legacy through the stories that have made their way down to us today. In that sense, perhaps R'Meir really did succeed in redeeming his teacher.

    June 06, 2006 11:35 AM  
    Blogger Tobie said...

    I think that the Acher story is tragic as well as beautiful. Because Acher seems to have truly wanted to change and thought that there was no hope for him. Of course, this may be a slant given by the religious compiler, but that idea that Acher hears a Bat Kol telling him "Everyone may repent...except for Acher" always makes me sad.

    June 06, 2006 12:18 PM  
    Blogger anonymous said...

    "The great medrash about “Liny po halaylah”,"

    lini halayla, no "po"

    June 06, 2006 2:51 PM  
    Blogger dbs said...


    I'm flattered :)

    June 06, 2006 3:59 PM  
    Blogger dbs said...


    Very nice drash! Not bad for a skeptic.


    The story is sad - Achair missing his chance for repentence. There is some drash on this. After all, Achair knew 'ain somchim al bas kol'. There are two versions in the talmud about Achair's reasons for heresy, so the whole thing makes more sense as an alagory. I'm not sure what he was realy trying to tell R'Meir, though.


    Thanks. Hurried blogging to blame.


    I missed it too, probably why I misrememberd 'po'.

    June 06, 2006 6:13 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hey- I was looking on line for Rabbi Yisroel Reisman's cd set entitled "My Favorite Megillah" and found this thread. I agree with most of what everyone expressed. You folks might be interested in a song I've written called ... The Ballad of Ruth. Feel free to contact me.

    August 30, 2007 10:42 PM  

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