Ruth was not of the tribe of Israel, but from the Moabite nation. The Moabites were enemies of the Israelites; nonetheless, this did not stop Ruth from making her mark on Judaism.
Ruth was the wife of an Israelite man who had come to settle in her land of Moab. He had arrived with his father and brother when their own land was struck by famine. Although the Israelites and the Moabites had been enemies, the family settled comfortably in the new land.
It came to pass that the father, Elimelech, died, leaving his wife Naomi with her two sons. The sons grew to marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Ruth did not follow the laws of Moses, yet she happily accepted her husband’s ways.
When the two brothers also died, their mother Naomi was devastated. Ruth and Orpah remained with Naomi in her house. The three women grew very close, remaining attached despite their devastating loss.
Naomi, overcome by her situation, decided to return to her homeland. She naturally included her daughters-in-law in her plans.
During the journey to Bethlehem, Naomi was overcome with the burden the girls would carry, being uprooted from their homeland. She told them to turn back towards Moab. Orpah listened, yet Ruth refused. She did not want a second Moabite husband, for she wanted to live as an Israelite.
Ruth’s story emphasises the power of female friendship and the Divine Feminine, which Ruth and Orpah recognised in Naomi. Ruth found in her mother-in-law a spirit that was unknown to her own people.
Ruth answered Naomi’s request to turn back, “Do not urge me to leave you or to turn my back from you. For wither thou goest, I will go …Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16-17) Ruth’s loyalty towards her husband’s people clearly went beyond the bounds of family duty. She was prepared to give up everything she knew to go to Bethlehem with Naomi.
When she arrived in the new land, Ruth gathered the grain that had been dropped on the ground in order to feed herself and her mother-in-law. Because Ruth arrived in Bethlehem at the harvest time, her book is traditionally read on the harvest festival of Shavuot.
Naomi chose to settle in a field that belonged to her relative Boaz. According to Biblical law, he, as a relative of Ruth’s late husband, was obligated to marry Ruth in order to carry on the family line. Ruth and Boaz married, producing a son called Obed, the grandfather of King David. Thus the importance of every Jew is emphasised in Ruth, a convert to Judaism who eventually produced a king of Israel.
Ruth’s example illustrates the power of love. Her inexplicable connection to the Israelites was based on an intense love, which led her to embrace the ways of the Hebrew Bible and become immortalized within it. Ruth’s story of a love that knew no cultural confines is retold each year amongst Jewish people. That she was not Jewish by birth became irrelevant once she found the Divine spirit in her heart.