Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rebecca's Camels, Ruth's Sheaves: Exploring Biblical Parallel

In yeshiva, I discovered that separate Biblical narratives often seem reminiscent of one another. A 'gleaningly' obvious example is the stories of Rebecca and Ruth. Two key phrases appear in both stories: (1) until entirely finished (Gen. 24:19, Ruth 2:21), and (2) Blessed is... God, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead (Gen. 24:26, Ruth 2:20). Both are tales of a young woman (na’ara in Hebrew) who leaves her family for marriage and becomes a matriarch of the Jewish nation. But is there a deeper connection?

Interestingly, there is a very specific parallel at a major turning point in both stories. In each case, a seemingly chance encounter guides the heroine to her eventual marriage to a relative. Abraham’s servant stands by a well and devises a test to decide upon a suitor for Isaac (that the girl should offer to give drink to his camels as well as himself). Not only does the first girl to come along do exactly as he describes, but she also just happens to be a relative of the family! Similarly, Ruth goes off to glean among the fields, hoping to find food for herself and her mother-in-law, and it just so happens that the field she chooses belongs to a relative of her father-in-law - a man that can fulfill her obligation as a widow by redeeming her! It comes as no surprise, then, that it is precisely these two “coincidental” events that provide the context for the two parallel phrases mentioned earlier.

Aside from having similar plotlines, do the stories share a common moral theme? Consider again the blessings uttered by Abraham’s servant and Naomi: Blessed is... God, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead. Why is God’s kindness so appropriate in these stories? The answer is obvious. Both heroines are portrayed as being exceptionally kind. Rebecca merits to marry Isaac because her heart is sensitive even to the plight of animals; Ruth becomes mother of kings through her tireless refusal to leave Naomi (and give up on continuing her husband’s line). For both women, it is their own extraordinary dedication to kindness, or chesed, that earns them special attention and guidance.*

Or in other words...

*My full analysis of these passages was published in 2001 as part of UPenn's Torah Journal. You can download it here.

1 comment:

  1. Chaval, I can't listen to the video (music) but I really like the dvar Torah. Thanks.