On-line Tanach Class
Tanach Class: Naami - Part I
This week we began a look at Naami, one of the central characters in the Megilah of Ruth. Not much is known about her, so next week we'll spend a few minutes wrapping up material we didn't get to today, and then we'll go on to our next subject, Achitofel.
The Megilah of Ruth
At the outset we did a quick reading of the Megilah of Ruth to brush up on the basic story; I would recommend doing the same at this point in the email. The rest of the email will take knowledge of the Megilah for granted.
Naami lived during the period of the Shoftim, the Judges. This period began with the death of Yehoshua some 28 years after the Jews entered Israel, and lasted about 400 years, until Shemuel coronated King Shaul.
During this period the Jews went through cycles in which they would leave Judaism by degrees, assimilate into the idolatrous culture around them, suffer to the point where they returned to HaShem, be saved from their enemies, and then begin to assimilate all over again (sound familiar?).
The Judges were an interesting assortment of leaders; some were people of pristine righteousness, while others had a record that was more spotty. Naami lived during the period just before Shimshon (Samson), just before the Philistines began to attack the Jews. This puts her about 100 years before Shelomo built the first Beis haMikdash.
Naami's life actually mirrored the cycles of the Jewish people - she began as a righteous woman, left the Jews to go to Moav, suffered in Moav, and then returned to Israel.
The Midrash (Rus Rabbah 2:5) tells us that Naami was known for her righteousness. Her name, "Naami," is a reference to pleasantness; her deeds were pleasant.
Further, the Midrash (Rus Rabbah 2:12) notes that the Megilah of Ruth uses odd terminology in describing Naami's travels. When Naami leaves Moav to return to Israel, the Megilah mentions that she left the fields of Moav, and went to Israel. As the Midrash also points out in other cases of journeys, there is no need to mention the point of origin; it would suffice to mention her destination. Why mention the origin? In order to indicate that Naami's departure made a tangible impact on that location. Naami was of such righteousness that her departure was significant for Moav.
Naami also makes it on to the Midrashic list of 23 great and righteous Jewish women from Tanach (found in Otzar Midrashim pg. 474).
Naami, along with her family, abandoned Israel to head for Moav in a time of famine. Were they right or wrong for leaving?
The Gemara (Bava Basra 91a) says that Naami's family should not have left Israel. HaShem was angry that they left, and punished them with the death of Elimelech, as well as that of Naami's sons. Similar statements appear in various Midrashim.
This is troubling; the Torah has many cases, such as that of Avraham, Jews left Israel due to famine. What was wrong here?
The Gemara (see also Tosefta Avodah Zarah 4:4) suggests that because Naami's family were Parnisin, supporters of the community, they did not have the right to leave. Their departure had too great an impact on those around them. (See also Rus Rabbah 1:4.)
Given that the departure was wrong, why did Naami leave? The Midrash contains two approaches:
1. It was Elimelech's decision
Rashi on the Megilah of Ruth (1:3) notes that Elimelech died, but Naami did not die. He explains that Naami didn't necessarily want to go. Elimelech bullied her into going along, and so she was not directly responsible.
2. Naami was guilty, too
The second view is that Naami was complicit in the act, despite her righteousness. We find this idea in Rus Zuta 1:2 and 1:20; the whole family was involved, which is why all of them are mentioned by name when they departed Israel - they were all guilty of miserliness and abandonment of their neighbors.
Naami suffered greatly as a result of their departure from Israel. When she returned to Israel, the people of her town said, "HaZos Naami," "Can this be Naami?"
The Midrash (Rus Rabbah 3:6) explains that the name, "Naami," is also a reference to elegance. Naami had once been a woman of wealth and status, and her acts were elegant, refined acts. The people were saying, "Is this the elegant one?" Now she was barefoot, with ragged clothing. (See also Rus Zuta 1:19.)
The Midrash (Rus Rabbah 2:14) also notes that the Megilah mentions extraordinary generosity extended by Ruth to Naami. What was the generosity? When Naami's sons died, Rus and Arpah prepared their shrouds themselves, rather than purchase them, because Naami was now impoverished.
Further, Rus and Arpah forgave the Kesubah debts which were owed to them. [The Kesubah is a marriage contract in which the husband obligates himself and his estate to provide financial support for his wife in the event of divorce or his death. Although Rus and Arpah were not Jewish, the Midrash takes it as a given that Machlon and Kilyon had prepared some sort of Kesubah for Rus and Arpah, their wives.] This shows the great poverty which Naami now experienced.
We also see that the whole town was shocked to see Naami in her state, on her returned. If the whole town turned out, it is obvious that her fall must have been great! (See Jerusalem Talmud Kesuvos 1:1 for an alternate explanation of why they turned out.)
In an another illustration of how far Naami fell, the Gemara (Bava Basra 91a) points out that Naami, as well as her husband Elimelech, was a descendant of Nachshon ben Aminadav, the leader of the tribe of Yehudah. Despite the great merit of her ancestors, she still suffered - even the merit of one's ancestors won't help a person who leaves Israel unnecessarily!
There is still some more to see next week about Naami's Teshuvah and her life after the Megilah, and then we will begin to look at Achitofel.
Have a good week and a Kesivah vaChasimah Tovah,
Tanach Class: Naami Part II, Achitofel Part I
This week we completed our look at Naami, and we began to learn about Achitofel.
As we saw last week, Naami shares some degree of blame for her family's abandonment of Israel for Moav. The commentators understood an element of repentance in her statements upon returning to Israel.
When Naami returned to Israel (end of Chapter 1 in the Megilah of Ruth), the townspeople were shocked at her appearance and asked, "HaZos Naami?" "Can this be Naami?" This is either a reference to her downfall from elegance, or to their observation that a woman whose deeds had been so pleasant now was forced to endure great suffering.
Naami responded, "Kirena Li Marah," "Call me Bitter." As Ibn Ezra notes, she was saying that she was now the reverse of what she had once been. The Midrash reads this reversal as a sign of repentance.
The Midrash (Otzar Midrashim pg. 514, note 20) reads her acknowledged bitterness as a statement that she had made herself bitter in performing evil acts. That Midrash reads the story of Naami as a lesson about the soul and the body, reading Naami's role as the Neshamah, soul, which is inherently pleasant. Her body made her bitter when she sinned, and now she was forced to suffer.
Similarly, the Midrash (Rus Rabbah 3:7) reads Naami's further statements as Tzidduk haDin, acceptance of Gd's judgment. When Naami said, "I departed from here as a full person, and Gd returned me empty," she was not complaining; she was acknowledging what Gd had done to her as justice, much as a person does in saying Kaddish after suffering the loss of a relative. By saying, "Gd did this to me," Naami was admitting that what befell her was Gd's Judgment and not a random event.
Naami receives some measure of recompense in the birth of Ruth's son. We are told (Megilah of Ruth, end of Chapter 4) that Naami took the child unto herself, and she actually nursed the child (see Sanhedrin 19b). Further, we are told that the neighbors identified the child as "Yulad Ben liNaami," "A child is born to Naami," although she was not the mother. This may be taken as a direct restitution of what she had lost. Look at Ruth 1:20, and contrast with her ability to nurse this child in Ruth 4:16; I think the lesson is clear.
At this point we digressed into a series of discussion about Ruth's Moavite status. We then proceeded to learn a bit about Achitofel.
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