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The royal wedding

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A woman famous in her homeland emigrates to marry into a royal family. She will marry into a family that has suffered tragedies and faces an uncertain future. To marry into the family she will need to convert to their religion and will encounter many who despise her and feel she is unworthy of being a royal.
by RABBI STEVEN KRAWITZ | May 17, 2018

The wedding will be celebrated this weekend, but it is not the nuptials of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle. Rather, it is the story of Ruth, a Moabite princess, and Boaz, scion of the royal line of Israel. In shuls around the world, Megillat Ruth will be read on Shavuot – in Israel on Sunday, May 20; in the Diaspora on Monday, May 21.

Both Ruth and Boaz were born into royal families. The events in Megillat Ruth occurred in the era of the Shoftim, tribal judges, during the more than 300 years of decentralised power, in Israel. This era bridged the rule of Yehoshua to that of Shaul, who was first king of a united Jewish nation.

From the time of Yaakov and his 12 sons, it was already established that the tribe of Yehuda would give rise to the royal family. Peretz, the first twin born to Yehuda and Tamar (another storied episode in the history of the royal family), was the next link in the royal dynasty.

Peretz’s descendent, Nachshon had four sons, who lived to enter Israel and fought under Yehoshua to conquer the land.

One of these four sons, the golden boy of the family, Elimelech, was believed by many to be the next link in the royal line. He married the second brother’s daughter, a permitted union.

His niece-bride, Naomi, could have been an orphaned only child. Together they had two sons.

The third brother, Tov, lacked leadership.  The fourth brother, Salman, had died and his surviving son, Boaz, was old. Boaz had lived through great tragedy, burying all his children and his wife in his lifetime.

During a harsh famine, Elimelech flees Israel for the neighbouring kingdom of Moav, a detested cousin nation to Israel. The eponymous founder of Moav was born from a union between Lot, Avraham’s nephew, and his own daughter.

This union occurred after the destruction of Lot’s city of Sodom and Lot’s wife’s transformation into a pillar of salt. In the belief that the entire world had been destroyed, Lot’s daughters decided to have children with their father to save mankind.

Centuries later, the nation of Moav turned against Israel at a time of great need, during the 40 years of their travels in the Sinai Desert, under the leadership of Moshe.

Moav’s taints of stinginess and ingratitude to Avraham’s descendents would never be forgiven: Any male convert from Moav and their male descendents would be forbidden to marry a Jewish-born woman.

By choosing Moav as his bolt-hole, Elimelech showed his lack of leadership and forfeited the kingship. He died in exile.

After his death, both sons married Moabite princesses, but they did not convert. These marriages show the great esteem an enemy nation held the Jewish royal line in. More Divine punishment was meted out against the family: in quick succession they lost all their wealth and both sons died.

Naomi and the two Moabite princesses were left to rebuild their shattered lives. One princess, Orpah, returned to the Moabite court. The other, Ruth, chose to return to Israel with Naomi, who was now broken and destitute.

At this point, the royal line of Israel was facing its greatest crisis: there was no candidate in that generation to continue the dynasty.

Enter Ruth, a convert from a despised nation, tainted by Moav’s stigma, destitute and touched by tragedy. Through the sheer strength of, firstly, her desire to become Jewish, and secondly, her superhuman chesed (kindness), Ruth comes to the notice of Boaz, the old judge-leader of the generation.

Reports of Ruth’s self-sacrifice and chesed had already reached Boaz’s ears, and he guarantees her a secure place among his harvesters to gather grain for herself and Naomi.

After the harvest season, Naomi seeks to secure Ruth’s future by making the sale of her land dependent on the buyer marrying Ruth.

Boaz, the old, childless widower and tribal leader, buys the field and marries Ruth. In many people’s eyes this marriage was to be the ruin of Boaz – taking a wife from the hated Moav nation, even if she had converted.

In fact, Ruth’s great-grandson, David, even after he was king over all Israel, encountered consistent opposition to his rule because of his Moabite great-grandmother.

In truth, Ruth saved the royal line by marrying Boaz and giving birth to Ovaid, father of Yishai, father of David.

During the reign of David’s son, King Shlomo, a seat was placed in the throne room for the mother of the king, superficially a reference to Shlomo’s mother, Batsheva.

The Midrash informs us that the seat was really for Ruth.

 

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