Like all such bib­li­cal lists, the final vers­es of Ruth list male progeni­tors. How­ev­er, pri­or to those last few vers­es, the nar­ra­tives offer what some have sug­gest­ed is a female geneal­o­gy as well, one whose allu­sions offer even greater insight into the sto­ry of King David’s birth. In this scene, in which Ruth is mar­ried to Boaz, the names of cer­tain female bib­li­cal hero­ines are evoked:

And all the peo­ple that were in the gate, and the elders, said: We are wit­ness­es. May God make the woman that is com­ing into your house like Rachel and like Leah, those two who built the house of Israel; and be wor­thy in Ephrat, and be famous in Beth­le­hem; and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, of the seed which God shall give you of this young woman.” So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife; and he was inti­mate with her, and God gave her con­cep­tion, and she bore a son. And the women said unto Nao­mi: Blessed be God, who has not left you this day with­out a redeemer, and let his name be famous in Israel. And he shall be for you a restor­er of life, and a nour­ish­er for you in your old age; for your daugh­ter-in-law who loves you, who is bet­ter to you than sev­en sons, has borne him.” And Nao­mi took the child, and embraced him, and became his nurse. And the women her neigh­bors gave it a name, say­ing: There is a son born to Nao­mi”; and they called his name Obed; he is the father of Jesse, the father of David. (4:11 – 17)

This is the only time in the entire Bible where char­ac­ters are blessed through the invok­ing of female char­ac­ters. Ruth is men­tioned as an ana­logue to none oth­er than Rachel and Leah, two foun­da­tion­al bib­li­cal women, moth­ers and wives. In this rad­i­cal accep­tance of a stranger, a Moabite wid­ow becomes an hon­orary bib­li­cal matri­arch. In the coda of Ruth, the invo­ca­tion of Rachel and Leah, as well as Tamar, is more than a sim­ple ref­er­ence to mem­o­rable female bib­li­cal char­ac­ters. All three of these ear­li­er women, along with the daugh­ters of Lot, have been sub­tly allud­ed to over the course of Ruth’s tale. All of them, like Ruth, ensured the via­bil­i­ty of their fam­i­ly line through per­sonal sac­ri­fice in the form of bedtricks” of vary­ing degrees of decep­tion and moral­i­ty. After flee­ing the destruc­tion of Sodom, the daugh­ters of Lot made their father drunk and slept with him, there­by pro­duc­ing Ammon and Moab, the lat­ter of which is Ruth’s ances­tor (Gen. 19). Leah was switched for Rachel on Jacob’s wed­ding night (Gen. 29:25) and the two sis­ters often fought over their hus­band, once trad­ing a night with Jacob for man­drakes (30:16). And Tamar dressed as a veiled har­lot and slept with Judah (ch. 38).25

How­ev­er, as con­tem­po­rary schol­ar Ruth Kara-Ivanov Kaniel empha­sizes, Ruth and Boaz’s sto­ry stands both among and beyond those ear­li­er narratives.

In con­trast to the mas­cu­line list, which is sum­mar­i­ly histor­i­cal,” the fem­i­nine list is por­trayed as hersto­ry” and as part of…Boaz and Ruth’s wed­ding scene. This list func­tions as a con­nect­ing link for the for­mal clos­ing of the book and a dis­po­si­tion to recast for­bidden actions into an expres­sion of bless­ing” is promi­nent in it. Absent here is the unfor­giv­ing ter­mi­nol­o­gy found in the orig­i­nal sto­ry: the fig­ure of the qedeisha or the pros­ti­tute at the entrance of Enaim, the prob­lem­at­ic rev­e­la­tion at Boaz’s feet, and the hesi­tation of the redeemer to cor­rupt his inher­i­tance, the threat of the world’s anni­hi­la­tion in the sto­ry of Lot’s daugh­ters and their aban­don­ment to be raped in the begin­ning of the sto­ry of Sodom, the pover­ty, calami­ty, and death that accom­pa­ny Ruth and Tamar, the clash­ing of the sis­ters Rachel and Leah. All of these are trans­formed into uni­fied har­mo­ny in the mouths of the con­grat­u­la­tors at the city’s gate. (Holi­ness and Trans­gres­sion: Moth­ers of the Mes­si­ah in the Jew­ish Myth [Boston: Aca­demic Stud­ies Press, 2017], 14)

Through their men­tion in this sto­ry, these ear­li­er women are woven into the fab­ric of Israel’s roy­al his­to­ry, and their sac­ri­fices reach an apex in Ruth’s actions. Where­as those ear­li­er sto­ries were tales of deceit, lack of knowl­edge, seduc­tion, and trick­ery, Ruth’s bedtrick” at the thresh­ing floor was a call to action that neces­si­tat­ed recog­ni­tion and aware­ness on the part of the indi­vid­ual actors, and that result­ed in ful­ly legit­i­mate, legal­ly cer­ti­fied” mar­riage. From Lot’s daugh­ters’ incest, to Rachel and Leah’s wed­ding night switch, to Tamar’s dis­guised har­lotry, we have pro­gressed, final­ly, to a pub­lic mar­riage cer­e­mo­ny at the city gates of Beth­le­hem. Through Ruth, those ear­li­er episodes are thus redeemed, affirmed, and cel­e­brat­ed. Maybe this is why the male genealog­i­cal list that ends the book begins with the name Perez, which means breach.” Dar­ing to breach pro­pri­ety for the sake of fam­i­ly, these women not only ensured the con­tin­u­a­tion of their fam­i­ly line, they pro­vid­ed nation­al salvation.

By telling the sto­ry of King David’s geneal­o­gy through the Book of Ruth, the text is offer­ing a nuanced frame­work for think­ing about our own his­to­ry, both nation­al and famil­ial. As psy­chol­o­gist Dr. Lisa Miller has demon­strat­ed, the abil­i­ty for fam­i­lies to artic­u­late their strug­gles and chal­lenges builds resilience among their mem­bers. Through the tale of a for­eign, mar­gin­al­ized wid­ow, whose per­son­al risk mir­rors that of oth­er bib­li­cal moth­ers, we are remind­ed of the sac­ri­fices that sus­tain the con­ti­nu­ity of the Jew­ish peo­ple. We are remind­ed of the abil­i­ty of kind­ness to heal. And we are remind­ed of the pow­er of fam­i­ly, both bio­logical and beyond. Ruth’s sto­ry inspires us to meet the chal­lenges of our own cir­cum­stances. Through the tale of com­mu­nal open­ness to a dis­con­nect­ed stranger, we are giv­en the keys to redemp­tion. After all, it is the even­tu­al off­spring of Lot’s daugh­ter, Rachel and Leah, Tamar, and Ruth, with a fam­i­ly blood­line of strug­gle, alien­ation, and foreign­ness, cou­pled with self­less ded­i­ca­tion to con­ti­nu­ity, who is unique­ly suit­ed to lead the Chil­dren of Israel and bring the nations of the world clos­er to God. Like Moses, whose virtues and lead­er­ship abil­i­ties were devel­oped through his frac­tured, for­eign expe­ri­ences in both Egypt and Mid­i­an, Ruth too embod­ies the mar­gin­al figure’s mes­sian­ic capabilities.

It is through our own striv­ing to sur­vive and flour­ish along­side our imper­fec­tions, strug­gles, and feel­ings of dis­con­nect­ed­ness that we will even­tu­al­ly repair a frac­tured world. To quote Rab­bi Tzadok HaKo­hen in his dis­cus­sion of the Mes­si­ah in his book Tzid­kat HaTzadik (#111), the low­est will become the highest.”

This is why Ruth is the prog­en­i­tor of the Mes­si­ah, because the Mes­si­ah is the ulti­mate meishiv nefesh (Ruth 4:15), restor­er of life and dig­ni­ty when hope seems lost…to restore the name (Ruth 4:5) is to reach across the gen­er­a­tions, and across inter­per­son­al divide, and at times across the divide between aspects or peri­ods with­in one’s own self, in active recog­ni­tion, pro­vok­ing true trans­for­ma­tion. That is what com­pas­sion­ate redemp­tion means…in the end, Ruth reminds us that noth­ing is more beau­ti­ful than friend­ship, that grace begets grace, that bless­ing flour­ish­es in the place between mem­o­ry and hope, that light shines most from bro­ken ves­sels. What else is the Mes­si­ah about? (Nehemi­ah Polen, Dark Ladies and Redemp­tive Com­pas­sion: Ruth and the Mes­sian­ic Lin­eage in Judaism,” in Scrolls of Love: Ruth and the Song of Songs, ed. Peter S. Hawkins and Lesleigh Cush­ing Stahlberg [New York: Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2006], 6974)

In our striv­ing to embody the val­ues inspired by Ruth, may we mer­it the writ­ing of the next chap­ter of the Jew­ish sto­ry. May we, as individu­als, as mem­bers of our fam­i­ly, and as mem­bers of the Chil­dren of Israel, bring the world com­pas­sion­ate redemption.

Adapt­ed from It’s in the Gene(alogy): Fam­i­ly, Sto­ry­telling, and Sal­va­tion” in Glean­ings: Reflec­tions on Ruth (Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty Press and Koren/​Maggid Pub­lish­ers, 2019), edit­ed by Rab­bi Dr. Stu­art W. Halpern

Dr. Stu Halpern is Senior Advi­sor to the Provost of Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty. He has edit­ed or coedit­ed 17 books, includ­ing Torah and West­ern Thought: Intel­lec­tu­al Por­traits of Ortho­doxy and Moder­ni­ty and Books of the Peo­ple: Revis­it­ing Clas­sic Works of Jew­ish Thought, and has lec­tured in syn­a­gogues, Hil­lels and adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion­al set­tings across the U.S.