We are studying Ruth 1:6-11, 14-18 for Sunday, August 11. This is the opening of the story of Ruth, in which Ruth makes her famous vow of loyalty to Naomi and the two women return to Bethlehem. [Notes on the text are here.] Here are a few questions about the text we might want to think about or discuss in class:
When we come to v6, what do the circumstances of the introduction in verses 1-5 add to our understanding of the story? (For instance, do we feel sympathy for Naomi? For Ruth and Orpah? Do we have any ideas about God, or about what may have been going on in Judah?) In other words: what are our thoughts and feelings about the characters at this point? Why?
Do we have impressions of the characters in the story – Naomi, Ruth, Orpah? What are they? Where do those impressions come from?
How significant is it that Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah are all widows? Can we think of any place(s) in scripture that talk about widows? (E.g., Exodus 22:21-23; Deuteronomy 10:17-19; Deuteronomy 24:17-24; Deuteronomy 25:5-10; Deuteronomy 27:19)
If we recognize that YHWH has made special provisions for widows and orphans in Torah, does it affect our understanding of this story? How?
The text does not tell us why Ruth clings to her mother-in-law, or makes her declaration of loyalty – that is, it doesn’t give us any insight into Ruth’s “psychology.” Does this matter? Why, or why not, do we think?
Do we ourselves make any assumptions about why Ruth would do this? What are they? Where do those come from, do we think?
This text uses the words “return” or “go back” MANY times. Why, do we suppose – is there something this language is meant to make us think of or feel? What?
How is the trip to Bethlehem a return for Naomi? For Ruth?
Is Ruth a hero? Why, or why not? A savior? Why, or why not? A character model – someone we should try to imitate? Why, or why not?
My favorite commentary on the book of Ruth is that of Rabbi Zeira, recorded in Ruth Rabbah, that the book is written “to teach us the greatness of the reward for acts of lovingkindness.” If I think of this story as a human story, I can imagine all kinds of specific human circumstances that could have led up to the events related in the book of Ruth; I can imagine a lot of ways to read the lines and to interpret the characters. But I think Rabbi Zeira is right, and that, it seems to me, provides us with a key to how we need to imagine those scenes and those characters. Whatever they may have been like in real life, what has lasted is that they acted as exemplars of lovingkindness.