Ruth: Bitterness to Hope

Second Chances by Levi MeierRabbi Levi Meier in his book Second Chances: Transforming Bitterness to Hope and the Story of Ruth discusses how the characters depicted in Ruth resemble people we might meet today.

For example, Elimelech:

His name and the names of his sons provide clues as to their character traits. Elimelech can mean “unto me, I am a king” or “to myself, I am king.” Elimelech had two sons, Machlon, meaning, “Ill,” and Kilyon, meaning “Destruction.” It is not clear whether these are their actual names or if this is what the Bible chooses to call them. What is clear is that the Bible intends to convey the message that Elimelech, this arrogant man who had no empathy for others while they starved, has fathered and engendered illness and destruction.

Later Rabbi Meier continues and links Elimelech to someone you might know:

Elimelech exemplifies the kind of head of family who dominates and controls others, who decides what is best for all without asking each of them. Oftentimes what he perceives to be best for all is really best for him.

He then describes people who have “tunnel vision”, who can’t see what is really going around them. They often judge others negatively, and observe only the externals: physical appearance, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. He then describes a doctor who goes on a trip under the name Mr. Smith; when someone on his plane desperately needs medical attention, he at first says nothing. But after a few moments he identifies himself as a physician and saves a life. He realizes the next day that he had “”tunnel vision”, and his “expanded vision enabled him to appreciate the privilege, as well as the responsibility, of his life’s calling.”

In contrast to Elimelech, Naomi is someone who transforms bitterness into hope. The Klausenberger Rebbe, who lost his wife and eleven children in the Holocaust, is a modern day example of someone who suffered unbearable pain and loss and turned his life around. Not only did he remarry and have children, he also dedicated his life to acts of loving-kindness.

Later in the book Rabbi Meier compares Naomi to Job:

Both Job and Naomi lose their possessions and children, without any reasonable hope of perpetuating their family names and lineages. They each complain about how their lives have become bitter, although they realize that God is present in all that occurs to them.


But how is the happy ending achieved in each book? Throughout the story of Job, he and his friends engage in philosophical discussions about the nature of the world and man’s place in it. Their discussions do not lead to any emotional resolution or kindness. Job concludes that he has limited human perspective and must recognize the ultimate wisdom of God.

By contrast, in the story of Ruth, although God does not appear to act directly at all, the kindness of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz become Divine manifestations. The people in the story, performing their many acts of chesed, loving-kindness, help bring about the building of the house of King David.

For more on Shavuot and the Book of Ruth, please see:

I am hoping to do one more post before Sunday night on flowers and Shavuot.

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