In Ruth 2:8, Boaz invites Ruth to continue gleaning in his field exclusively, adding:
וְכֹה תִדְבָּקִין עִם-נַעֲרֹתָי
"...v'cho tidbakin im na'arotei"
"...and so you shall stay close to my maidens."
וַתֹּאמֶר רוּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּה: גַּם כִּי-אָמַר אֵלַי עִם-הַנְּעָרִים אֲשֶׁר-לִי תִּדְבָּקִין
"Vatomer Ruth haMoaviyah: Gam ki amar elei im hana'arim asher li tidbakin..."
"And Ruth the Moavite woman said: 'He also said to me, "You shall stay close to my young men"...' "
טוֹב בִּתִּי כִּי תֵצְאִי עִם-נַעֲרוֹתָיו
"Tov, biti, ki tetzi im na'arotav..."
"It is good, my daughter, for you to go out with his maidens..."
3 Questions Sparked by These Verses
- (1) Why did Ruth, such a wholesome & truth-seeking person, change Boaz's words when she transmitted them to Naomi?
- (2) And why did Ruth, a paragon & the historic Jewish example of tzniyut (modest dignity & nobility), change the wording to something so lacking in modesty & propriety?
- (3) Why does the text suddenly call Ruth "the Moavite woman"? After all she did & sacrificed out of loyalty to Hashem, Judaism, and her Jewish mother-in-law, why is Ruth suddenly referred to by her ignoble roots & the depraved nation of Moav?
How Malbim Answers These 3 Questions
...in truth, he said to her: "...and so you shall stay close to my maidens."
Only because she was a Moavite female—and over there, they didn't distance themselves from the young men—she didn't understand the importance of taking his words literally.
And she thought his intention was to stay close to his men because the young men were the main priority for her since she thought one of them would marry her.
And that is why it calls her "the Moavite woman" since a bat Yisrael [a Jewish female] would have understood...that he said "with my maidens."
So deriving a marital interpretation from tidbakin isn't crazy.
However, the refined Jewish way to find a husband isn't to hang out with a bunch of guys in the hope that one of them will marry you.
In contrast, Moav, with its more licentious culture, hosted no such separation between males and females. If a young woman wished to hang out with a bunch of guys, then that apparently was fine.
Moreover, Ruth's intention was to find a husband—not to just hang out with the guys.
So to her it made sense.
So though Boaz specified the maidens, Ruth heard it as the young men—which in Hebrew also makes sense because a masculine plural can either mean just males or males & females together.
So maybe she also thought she should be friends with everyone, in addition to finding a kosher husband.
Fortunately, Naomi automatically understands everything.
Regarding 2:22, the Malbim says:
But Naomi understood with her intellect that it would not be good for Ruth to stick with the young men.
Only with the maidens and the female reapers.
And so she said, "It is good, my daughter, for you to go out with his maidens..."—she means to say "not with the young men...so you shouldn't come to arouse suspicion."
Lesson #1: Patience! Change Takes Time. Teshuvah is a Process.
Without even meaning to, Ruth jumps to a conclusion that a bat Yisrael of that time would never make.
I think we can all relate to that.
Even those who are FFB still grow up in an atmosphere permeated by the warped values of their surrounding culture.
Rav Avigdor Miller spent most of his life raising awareness about this & offering the authentic Torah attitudes as a replacement.
Being influenced by our past attitudes is entirely normal.
As we see, even the best person can stumble in this.
And again, it's ironic that Ruth stumbled in precisely the area she excelled:
That's a big lesson right there: No one is immune.
Ruth cared so much about tsniyut, yet because of her background, she hadn't fully integrated the Torah attitude.
Her intentions indicate her goodness: She simply wished to uphold the Jewish value of marriage.
She did not want to hang out with boys. Not at all.
A holy marriage was her goal.
Also, Ruth proved an incredible person. As noted before, the power of her sincere conversion released all the sparks trapped in Moav, which eventually led to their complete disappearance.
Hashem designated her as the progenitor of Mashiach.
Ruth was AMAZING.
Nonetheless, you know what?
Internalizing Torah values takes time.
That's important mussar right there: patience.
Be patient with ourselves & our mistakes & our progress.
And also be patient with others & their mistakes & their progress.
No one is perfect. Only Hashem is Perfect.
Naomi: The Paragon of Pleasantness, Criticism, and Rebuke
So positive, so tactful, so sensitive...
Let's examine what she says, word by word:
"Tov—it is good to..."
Please notice how Naomi doesn't castigate Ruth or shriek: "What?!! Are you trying to give me a heart attack? Do you really mean to hang out with young men like you're some kind of I-don't-want-to-say-what? Are you trying to cause a scandal? Where are your common sense and your womanly wisdom? I can't believe Boaz would suggest such a thing. OBVIOUSLY, you must stick with the girls, not the guys! This is clearly your Moavite mentality coming to fore. You lack the proper Jewish hashkafah. You really need to get rid of all that Moavite baggage you're dragging with you."
Instead, Naomi avoids commenting on Ruth's misinterpretation.
Fascinatingly, Naomi offers NO CRITICISM AT ALL. Not even nicely phrased constructive criticism.
She never tells Ruth outright she was wrong.
Naomi merely notes what would actually be good to do—emphasizing its benefit for Ruth.
Naomi genuinely holds Ruth's best interests at heart.
And as Naomi speaks, she immediately calls Ruth "biti—my daughter."
This displays warmth & feelings of strong connection to Ruth.
Rather than pushing Ruth away for reverting to a Moavite attitude, Naomi brings Ruth in as close to Naomi as possible—a daughter.
Calling Ruth a daughter also affirms Naomi's view of Ruth as the Torah Jew Ruth intends to be—despite the Moavite residue that seeped out for a moment.
In a sense, Naomi also reminds Ruth of who she really is: a daughter of Yisrael and not a daughter of Moav.
Then Naomi offers the gentle directive of going out with the maidens, gently pointing out to Ruth how, by sticking with the girls, no scandal or suspicion would harm Ruth.
In this way, Naomi nicely explains to Ruth WHY she should stick with the maidens.
This is no blind order.
Naomi needs to explain what the Moavite mentality overlooks: WHY a girl should avoid sticking with the guys (even for the purpose of marriage)...
...which also indicates Naomi's ability to judge Ruth favorably.
She understands Ruth's purity of intention.
It just needs some fine-tuning.
And Naomi does it all very nicely, living up to her name of "pleasant"!
Learning from Ruth's Response
The episode ends with 2:23 stating of Ruth:
וַתִּדְבַּק בְּנַעֲרוֹת בֹּעַז
"Vatidbak b'na'arot Boaz..."
"And she stayed close to the maidens of Boaz..."
She never huffs, "Well, how exactly am I supposed to get married if I hang out only with girls ALL the time? Anyway, my situation is different! I'm the only Moavite in the entire country and nobody here likes Moavites. What Yisrael family would allow their son to marry an impoverished Moavite convert—especially when not all the major talmidei chachamim agree that my conversion is even valid? But if these field hands get to know me, then maybe one will take a liking to me, and I'll get a man that way.
"Clearly, rabbis like Boaz don't really understand how things work, especially nowadays and in my kind of situation. All the Moavite self-help gurus explain why the Yisrael way of complete separation between genders is outdated and even hinders marriage—something that Judaism insists is very important! An exception needs to be made here. I think the Moavite pop psychology works in this situation. After all, it achieves the Yisrael goal of marriage. Like, hel-lo? Can we please stop being so close-minded & intolerant here?
Instead, Ruth snaps into action. Without any further ado, Ruth clings to Boaz's maidens.
And that's that.
She listened carefully to Naomi's advice and the reasons behind that advice. She realized Boaz meant what he originally said. And now she understood why.
And with this, Ruth was able to keep propelling herself forward.
Likewise, we also don't see Ruth berating herself, calling herself stupid, or sinking into toxic shame.
She accepts her mistake and MOVES ON, bolstered by her newfound knowledge & awareness.
She reverts to Ruth the Moavite woman for just one moment, then when she listens to Naomi, the text (2:22) immediately refers to her as "Ruth kallata"—Ruth, the daughter-in-law of Naomi.
The minute Ruth shows she's ready to listen, she redeems herself from her mistake—yes, even before she hears a word!
Ruth's mere readiness to listen & learn liberates her from her Moavite residue.
Summary of Main Points
Teshuvah & Self-Transformation
- Self-transformation takes time.
- We need to be patient with our progress.
- We need to be patient with the progress of others.
- Stumbling on our path to teshuvah is NORMAL.
The Art of Rebuke
- View the errant one in the most positive light possible ("my daughter").
- Exude warmth & closeness.
- Avoid focusing on what was wrong.
- Focus on what's right, what's good to do.
- Avoid focusing on the past.
- Focus on how to move forward.
- Point out the benefit of the right way.
- Explain WHY the Torah way is correct & better.
How to Deal with a Fall (especially if you didn't even realize you'd fallen!)
(The following applies to mistakes & sins too.)
- RATZON—You've got to want it.
- Attach yourself to genuinely GOOD mentors—then be ready to really listen to them, even when it's hard or doesn't initially make complete sense.
- Be ready to learn at all times.
- Be open to messages from Hashem (especially since He uses agents to deliver these messages rather than telling us directly).
- Keep an open mind to new & unfamiliar ideas from authentic Torah sources.
- The moment you show yourself to be ready to change already effects a change!
- Avoid self-denigration.
- Avoid self-hatred.
- Avoid despair.
- Avoid drowning in toxic shame.
- Immediately change direction.
- Have faith that Hashem is guiding you at all times.
- Pick yourself up & KEEP MOVING FORWARD!
Yoo-hoo, Moavites! Anybody there? Anybody? Hello? Guess not.
That body of water is known today as Wadi Mujib, but most authorities say it is the Arnon River mentioned in Tanach.