At the very least, it’s ‘bound’ to be interesting . . . (‘im lo l’mala mizeh.’)
This Shabbat, in synagogues around the world, Jews will begin their study of the biblical Book of Numbers.
The Book of Numbers contains some of the most important and consequential tales of Israel’s journey through the wilderness. The story of the spies. The rebellion of Korah. Balaam and his talking donkey, to name but a few . . . . but before going too deeply into ‘Numbers,’ we will first alight upon the importance of this entire story . . . the ever timely, Book of Ruth, in all of its implications:
~ a bereft and landless people, an obscure route forward, a journey home ~
Addressing Ruth as “my daughter,” Boaz, tells Ruth to remain in his field.
- The narrator within the book of Ruth repeatedly links Ruth to the ‘field.’ Ruth goes to the “field” to glean and happens to end up in the “field belonging to Boaz” (2:3). When Boaz asks who she is, his servant identifies her as “the Moabite” from “the fields of Moab.” (This is not limited to this passage alone but serves almost as ‘bookends’ throughout the entire book itself.)
- Chapter one identifies Ruth as coming from “the fields of Moab”(1:1, 2, 6, 22),
- And in chapter four, Boaz ties her to the field of Elimelech, indicating that the kinsman who redeems ‘this field’ will also acquire “Ruth the Moabite as a wife” (4:3-6).
Are not Boaz’s fields a symbol of the Land of Israel and Ruth’s ‘assimilation into’ and among Boaz’s ‘young women’ (and then ful’filled’ by Boaz, literally) as an act of her ‘becoming Israel’ — of the Judean tribe, as she becomes a Judean, — or in our reckoning, she becomes Jewish — at least as we now understand it.
Perhaps the very motif and the very reason we have linked her story to ours is that we too came to Mount Sinai, bereft — and from there, we managed to find fulfillment with a certain Torah — and only then did we manage to continue on our journey, knowing a little ‘better’ how to care for ‘the fields of the land,’ and through those teachings, for each other.
Yes, a people redeems a land, and in the process, redeems each other.