"...We're Gonna Go Through It Together!"By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
The following story, we are told, occurred in the days of the Judges, that is, after the death of Joshua, who led the Jewish people into Israel, but prior to King Saul being anointed. At some point during that period (which lasted around 300 years), there was a famine in the land. A man named Elimelech took his wife and sons from their home in Bethlehem, in the portion of Judah, to Moab. Elimelech died, leaving his wife, Naomi, and the two sons, Machlon and Chilyon. The boys married Moabite wives, Ruth and Orpah, respectively. After about ten years, Naomi’s sons also died, leaving her and their wives. The famine long since over, Naomi decided to go back to Israel.
Naomi’s daughters-in-law both accompanied her, though she encouraged them to return to their homeland and move on with their lives. Both women refused to leave her, insisting that they would stay with her. But Naomi was tenacious. She told her daughters-in-law that she had no more sons for them to marry. Even if she could have more sons, there would be a ridiculous gap in their ages, making marriage unrealistic. No, Naomi said, it would better for the girls to reutrn to Moab and look for new husbands. They all cried at this and Orpah relented, returning to her homeland. But Ruth insisted on sticking by Naomi, saying that she would go wherever Naomi went; Naomi’s people would be her people and Naomi’s G-d would be her G-d. Ruth said that she would die where Naomi dies and that G-d should smite her if anything less than death can separate her from Naomi. Naomi saw that Ruth’s mind was made up, so she stopped pressing the matter.
When they reached Bethlehem, the people were amazed to see Naomi. “Is that Naomi?” they asked one another. Naomi replied, “Don’t call me Naomi (which means pleasant), call me Marah (which means bitter) because it has been a very bitter time for me lately. I left here wealthy and with a family, but I return with nothing.” Naomi and Ruth settled in Bethlehem at the start of the barley harvest.
There is some question as to Ruth and Orpah’s status at the start of this chapter. Did they convert to marry Machlon and Chilyon? If so, was the conversion valid? There are many interesting ramifications according to the different views, but it is apparent that whatever Ruth’s status was before, she sincerely converted (or affirmed her sincerity) when she accompanied Naomi. From Naomi’s actions we derive that a potential convert should initially be discouraged, but we stop when they refuse to be swayed.
Finally, a famous Gematria: Jews have 613 commandments; non-Jews have 7. By converting, Ruth accepted upon herself an additional 606 commandments. This is reflected by the numerical value of Ruth’s name, which is 606.