Surveying a number of ancient and modern interpretations of the book of Ruth, Hayyim Angel notes that the actions of many of its characters exhibit a range of often inconsistent moral attributes. The one character whose actions unambiguously exemplify righteousness is Ruth herself:
Ruth . . . sacrificed heroically to accompany [her former mother-in-law] Naomi to the land of Israel and to accept God. A textual parallel suggests a comparison to Abraham, who also left his homeland to serve God. . . .
In light of this comparison, one might argue that Ruth is portrayed even more favorably than Abraham. God spoke directly to Abraham and promised him reward. By contrast, Ruth came [to Israel] voluntarily and hardly could have expected anything but a lifetime of begging and discrimination in return for her sacrifices. Ruth also declined marriage opportunities with younger Judeans in order to marry Boaz and thus preserve [her deceased husband] Machlon’s ancestral line.
The ambiguity of Ruth’s world is reflected in the many characters and circumstances presented by the text. The extent of God’s intervention in her suffering and salvation is unclear, as are the motivations of the members of the society on whom she depended. Nevertheless, she remained steadfast in her commitment to Naomi, Machlon, and God.
Ruth has the distinction of being the only biblical woman explicitly called by the epithet eshet ḥayil, “woman of valor” [a phrase used to describe the ideal woman in Proverbs]. While Ruth struggled mightily to preserve Machlon’s name, she in fact immortalized her own name, winning the hearts of readers in generation after generation.
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