The Story of Ruth
Ruth was a woman from a prominent and wealthy Moabite family who married one of Naomi’s sons. Naomi’s husband, a wealthy man, had taken his family out of the land of Judah during a famine to avoid being put in a position where others would come to him and beg for food. This tarnished his family’s name.
After Naomi’s husband and sons died, Naomi decided to return to the land of Judah. Naomi urged her daughters-in-law to return to their own mothers and remarry. One daughter-in-law heeded her advice, but Ruth refused to leave Naomi’s side.
Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you sleep, I will sleep. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus and more may the Lord do to me if anythign but death parts me from you. — Ruth 1:16–17
Ruth returned to Judah with Naomi — a woman whose family name had been disgraced. Ruth took care of Naomi, going to fields to pick the wheat that had fallen off the stalks and had been left behind for charity.
Eventually Ruth married Boaz and had a baby, which redeemed Naomi’s legacy. Ruth’s legacy is that she is the great-grandmother of King David.
What We Can Learn From Ruth
Here are two lessons from the story of Ruth.
Lineage vs Legacy
As Micah Goodman points out, in the Torah and the other books that make up the Jewish canon, the stories about people typically begin with an introduction to their geneology — their patriarchal lineage. Even the Book of Esther — the only other book in the canon named for a woman — begins with Esther’s genealogy.
The implication of beginning with the genealogy implies that the son (and it’s almost always the son) carries forth the status of his father and grandfather and so on.
But what if you don’t come from a family of status or privilege?
Ruth was a foreigner who came with bad yichus – the Yiddish word for lineage. Yet through her voluntary choice to accept the Torah, she became the model for conversion and earned a place in history as the great-grandmother of Kind David.
In the Book of Ruth, the genealogy comes at the end. We remember Ruth not for her lineage but for her legacy.
The lesson we learn from Ruth’s story is that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what your family history is. Your lineage need not define your future. You can make choices that change your trajectory and set you on a path to a new destiny.
Family of Origin vs Family of Choice
Ironically, Ruth did come from a great lineage — she was a princess from a prominent Moabite family. What makes Ruth stand out, however, is not her family of birth, but her family of choice.
Given the choice to return to her family of origin, to the life of royalty she had previously known, Ruth refused.
Instead, she chose to travel with her mother-in-law to a land where she knew they would not be accepted, and to take care of her mother-in-law. Ruth’s act of love and loyalty to Naomi is described as chessed, a Hebrew word that translates to loving-kindness.
It’s often said that you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.
Ruth teaches us that what defines our family is not blood, but love, loyalty, and shared values.
Contrary to that old adage, we can choose our family. We can choose based on love.
You Have a Choice
Taken together, these two themes teach us the power of choice when it comes to family and future. Your future need not be defined by your family of origin or the status into which you were born.
You cannot choose your lineage, but you can choose your legacy.