Who's That Girl?By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Elimelech had a relative named Boaz, who was still living in Bethlehem. Ruth told Naomi that she was going to support them by gleaning in the fields. She followed the reapers, picking up the grain, in a field that happened to belong to Boaz. Boaz came to inspect his field and he blessed the workers, who returned the favor. Then, Boaz asked his assistant, “Who’s that girl?” The assistant replied that she was a new arrival, who accompanied Naomi from Moab. And, apparently, Ruth was a hard worker.
Boaz went over to Ruth. “You know what?” he said. “Don’t go work in any other fields. Stay here in my fields, with my girls. I’ll instruct my workers to give you free access, even to their water when you’re thirsty.” Ruth prostrated in gratitude. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. Boaz responded that he had heard all about the kindness she had shown Naomi after the death of their husbands, even leaving her homeland and family to join the Jewish nation. He blessed her and she replied that he had truly elevated her dejected spirit, though she considered herself unworthy of his attention.
Boaz then gave Ruth a simple meal of toasted grain. She finished and got back to work. Boaz instructed his workers to give her access to glean wherever she wanted and not to bother her. He also arranged for the workers to “forget” some sheaves (“accidentally on purpose”) for Ruth to find. Ruth finished her work and brought what she had made during the day back home to Naomi. Naomi asked Ruth about her day and Ruth told her about her encounter with Boaz.
“Praise be to G-d!” Naomi exclaimed. “That man is a close relative of ours!” Ruth told Naomi about all the kindnesses Boaz had extended to her and Naomi agreed that this was a very favorable arrangement. So Ruth stayed on with Boaz’s girls, to glean through the barley and wheat harvests.
So many notes here! First off, Boaz is identified with the Judge Ivtzan. (Ivtzan appears in Judges chapter 12; the connection is made in Baba Basra 91a). Ivtzan ruled after Yiftach (Jephthah). If Boaz is Ivtzan, that places the events of this book at about 2792 (969 BCE). Don’t be bothered that Ivtzan had more than one name; it’s not uncommon. Jacob was also called Israel. Yisro was also called Reuel. Gideon was also called Yerubaal. We do the same thing today: Sean Combs, Puff Daddy and P. Diddy are all the same person. (What? You thought our generation invented doing this?)
The famous question (asked by Talmud Shabbos 113b and cited by Rashi) is why Boaz is asking about women. The answer given is that he was attracted by her unusual wisdom and modesty. (Yes, it seems counter-intuitive that modesty should actually catch the attention of men, but that’s exactly what would attract men like Boaz!)
Finally, you may see the word “corn” bandied about in some older (particularly non-Jewish) translations. Don’t be mistaken into thinking that it refers to what we call corn today (i.e., maize). Our corn was unknown in the Middle East until millennia after this book was written. The word “corn” comes from the same root as the word “grain” and it originally meant grain.