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Ruth and Orpah


Parsha Halacha - Shavuot

Ruth and Orpah 

A Tale of Two (Very Different) Sisters

Sponsored by Philip and Carine Namiech “in honor of our children Liora, Eytan, and Taly for the daily blessings they bring to our lives”

Parsha Halacha is underwritten by a grant from Dr. Stephen and Bella Brenner and Dr. Morton Berg in loving memory of Stephen's father, Shmuel Tzvi ben Pinchas, and Bella's parents, Avraham ben Yitzchak and Leah bas HaRav Sholom Zev HaCohen.

Shavuot Collection for Families

In honor of Shavuot, I am collecting for local (South Florida) families as well as several in Israel.

May Hashem bless you and your family with a joyful Yom Tov.

May we meet all merit to receive the Torah with inward joy!

The Megillah of Ruth, which is read in many communities on Shavuot, tells the story of Ruth and Orpah who were married to the brothers Machlon and Kilyon respectively. After their husbands passed away, their mother-in-law Naomi decided to move back to Israel. Both Ruth and Naomi began to return with her, but after Naomi encouraged them to return to their families and nations, Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and returned home while Ruth remained with Naomi, converted,[1] married the tzadik Boaz, and became the ancestor of the Davidic dynasty. 

According to the Midrash[2] (see below for other sources), Ruth and Orpah were sisters as both were daughters (or descendants) of Eglon, king of Moav. This article will examine the various opinions on this incident and the differing life choices of these sisters. 

Eglon, King of Moav

Eglon was the king of Moav in the 12th century BCE. He and his nation oppressed the Jewish people for 18 years.[3] He came to an ignominious end when he was impaled by the Jewish leader and warrior, Ehud ben Geirah. Ehud accomplished this by hiding a dagger on his right side and saying that he wished to pay homage to the king. (Ehud was a leftie and kept his sword on his right side; since most people kept their swords on their left side, his was not discovered.) When he told Eglon that he wished to deliver a message from G-d, Eglon stood up out of respect for the Divine message. Since Eglon was very obese (and also unsuspecting), Ehud was able to stab him in the stomach as he stood up.[4]

The Midrash says[5] that as a reward for standing from his chair (throne) to honor G-d, Eglon merited to have a descendant (King Solomon, the great-great-grandson of Ruth[6]) sit on the throne of G-d.

Daughter, Granddaughter, or Descendant?

Although it is clear that, according to our sages, Ruth and Orpah were descendants of King Eglon, there are differing opinions as to the exact relationship. Specifically, I have found three opinions:

1)     Daughter

Some say that the Midrash should be understood literally – that Ruth and Orpah were daughters of Eglon.[7] The Zohar states this view explicitly as it says,[8] “… And she was the daughter of Eglon, king of Moav. When Eglon died, having been killed by Ehud, they crowned a new king and this daughter (Ruth) remained (single) among her people in the fields of Moav. When Elimelch came, he married her (off) to his son.” The Yalkut Shimoni echoes this view and says,[9] “It is regarding the days of Eglon that the verse says ‘And it was when the judges judged… And Elimelech died… (i.e., the story of Ruth)”

2)     Granddaughter 

According to the Talmud in Nazir,[10] Ruth was a granddaughter of Eglon (from his son). 

3)     Descendants 

Many of the commentaries say that the Talmud and Midrash mean that they were descendants of Eglon rather than his daughters or granddaughters.[11] This is based on the teaching of the Talmud that Ivtzan (a judge in the time after Yiftach and before Shimshon, see Judges 12:8-10) was the same person as Boaz.[12] Since Ivtzan’s era was 256 years[13] after the death of Eglon, Ruth and Orpah could not have been Eglon’s daughters. Although one might argue that perhaps Ruth was his daughter and she was very old at the time of Ivtzan, this cannot be the case since Boaz praised Ruth for coming to convert in a timely manner.[14] Presumably, if she was at least 259 years old, this could not be considered a timely manner. (259 is also a very old age to bear a child.)

Support for this view can be brought from the fact that in some sources in the Talmud it says that Ruth was Eglon’s daughter[15] while in others it says that she was his granddaughter.[16] This can be resolved by interpreting all of these sources non-literally, that she was neither a daughter nor a granddaughter but rather a descendant.[17]

Those who contend that Ruth and Orpah were Eglon’s actual daughters (or granddaughters) are of the opinion that Ivtzan and Boaz were not the same person.[18]As such, the time gap between the two is irrelevant. The Midrash[19] which says that Boaz passed away the day after he married Ruth seems to be at odds with the opinion that Boaz was Ivtzan. This is because, according to the view that Boaz was Ivtzan, he married Ruth while his 60 children were still alive, and they all passed away during his lifetime, after he married Ruth. Whereas if Boaz passed away on the morning after his wedding, there was no time for this to take place. As such, this Midrash does not agree that Ivtzan and Boaz were the same person.[20]

What’s in the Names?

The name Orpah comes from the word oref which means the back of the neck. This alludes to how Orpah turned her back on Naomi. Ruth, on the other hand, is related to the word Ra’atah – she saw – alluding to the fact that she “saw” (accepted) the words (lifestyle) of her mother-in-law.[21]

Misplaced Kindness

Although Orpah began to accompany her mother-in-law back to Israel and cried before taking leave from her,[22] when she did return to Moav, she led an extremely corrupt lifestyle and her four (giant) sons became enemies of the Jewish people.[23] It seems that Orpah had the potential to achieve spiritual heights as her sister did but that she misused her spiritual energies which led her (and her family) to a deep spiritual decline.[24]

Orpah’s Violent End

Orpah lived a long life but came to a violent end as according to the Talmud[25] she was killed by Avishai, one of King David’s generals, whom she tried to attack as he was assisting King David in his battle with her son, the giant Yishbi BeNov.

Ruth’s Tranquil Longevity

According to the Midrash,[26] Ruth lived to see her great grandson, King Solomon, ascend to the throne. He made a special chair for her to sit on his right side, behind his throne. 

May We Merit to Live up to our Spiritual Potentials!

[1] See Ruth Rabbah 2:9 that Ruth had not previously converted. See the Artscroll notes on this Midrash who quotes other opinions.

[2] Ruth Rabbah, 2:9

[3] Judges 3:14

[4] Ibid, verse 21

[5] Ruth Rabbah, ibid. In Midrash Lekach Tov on Ruth and Yalkut Shimoni 42 it specifies that the descendant is referring to King Solomon.

[6] See I Kings 2:19 where it says, “King Solomon sat on the chair (throne) of G-d.”

[7] See Rashi on Ruth 1:2 “They (Machlon and Kilyon) were important as we see from the fact that Eglon the king of Moav married off Ruth to Machlon.”

[8] Parshat Balak, 190a

[9] Yalkut Shimoni ibid

[10] Page 23b

[11] Yefeh Anaf on ibid, Tosfot D.H. Bat Beno on Nazir, ibid and other commentaries

[12] Bava Batra 91a. (Both were from Beit Lechem, see Rut 2:4 and Judges 12:8.)

[13] Tosfot says it was more than 200 years. The Yalkut Biurim (In Biurei HaTosfot on Nazir 23b D.H. Bat, quoting the Ra”sh of Desvi) explains that it was actually 256 years. This is how he comes to that number:

●       “The land was tranquil (after the death of Eglon) for 80 years.” (Judges 3:30)

●       “He (Yavin, King of Cana’an) oppressed the Jews ruthlessly for 20 years.” (Ibid 4:3)

●       “The land was quiet (after Devorah’s victory) for 40 years.” (Ibid 5:31)

●       “G-d delivered them into the hands of the Midianites for seven years.” (Ibid 6:1)

●       “And the land was quiet for 40 years in Gideon’s time.” (Ibid 8:28)

●       “And Avimelech ruled the Jews for three years (Ibid 9:22)

●       “And Tola rose up after Avimelech and he judged Israel for 23 years.” (Ibid 10:1)

●       “And Yair rose up after him and he judged Israel for 22 years.” (Ibid, verse 3)

●       “They (the Philistines) battered and shattered the sons of Israel for 18 years.” (Ibid 10:8)

●       “And Yiftach judged the Jewish people for 6 years… and afterwards Ivtzan…” (Ibid 12:7-8)

Thus, the total number of years between the death of Eglon and the era of Ivtzan was 259 years.

[14] Tosfot on Nazir 23b D.H. Bat Beno based on Ruth 2:12 and in Yevamot 48b

[15] Sotah 47a and Sanhedrin 105b

[16] Nazir ibid and Horayot 10b

[17] Reshimot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 96

[18] The Midrash (Ruth Rabbah 6:2) says that Boaz was 80 years old at the time he married Ruth and that he had not yet had children. Since Ivtzan had 30 sons and 30 daughters (Judges 12:9) they could not have been the same person. (Those who say Ivtzan was Boaz understand that all of his other children were born before his marriage to Ruth. See Bava Batra 91a as interpreted by Rashbam.) [Second interpretation of Yefeh Anaf on Ruth Rabbah, ibid.]

See also Ruth Rabbah 1:1 that some say the story of Ruth was in the days of DevorahBarak (and Yael), while others say it was in the days of Shamgar and Ehud. These time periods were several centuries before Ivtzan (see above).

[19] Yalkut Shimoni 608

[20] Reshimot, ibid

[21] Ruth Rabbah, ibid

[22] Ruth 1:7, 9 and 14

[23] Ruth Rabbah 2:20

[24] See Asufat Ma’arachot by Rabbi Chaim Yaakov Goldvicht on Chumash Devarim, page 38

[25] Sanhedrin 95a

[26] Ruth Rabbah 2:3

Wishing you a Chag Same’ach and a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!

Sun, June 23 2024 17 Sivan 5784