Tom LaPorte

Every Word Counts

Chagall devoted two artistic renderings for these verses from the Book of Ruth, Chapter 1:8-13:

8 And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each to her mother’s house. The     LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The LORD grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” So she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “Surely we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Are there still sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go—for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, if I should have a husband tonight and should also bear sons, 13 would you wait for them till they were grown? Would you restrain yourselves from having husbands? No, my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me!”

I have include both of Chagall's works on these verses. Each captures the spirit of the deeply intamate and caring words of the passage. In its entirty, the Book of Ruth, povides a moving and powerful story of humanity. Moabites often get painted as trecherous people in the Hebrew Bible. Certainly, as a close neighbor to Israel, the two nations must have engaed in a fair share of quarreling, and somebody has to be the antagonist.

Yet, the resounding message in the Book of Ruth carries a pro-Moabite agenda throughout its narrative and vinyettes. One need look no further than the Moabite heroine, Ruth. The text gets at numerous timeless concepts, which can be summed up by: love your neighbor. Love for family and love of country become powerfully entwined in the moral of the Book of Ruth.

I have long been amused at the frequency of which Ruth 1:16, a mere three verses later in the same story, gets used in weddings and renewals of marital vows. "But Ruth said: Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God." The text explicitly refers to two women, Ruth talking to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Nonetheless, the lines surge across time and place to speak of loyalty and love.

Given Naomi's steadfast commitment to honesty, one can easily see why Ruth decided to cling to her, follow her path and her worship her God. Naomi, a pragmatic woman, shows fairness that is unfortunately not often celebrated widely. She ranks among my favorite Biblical characters. I imagine if she attended a congreagtion in modern American South, we'd refer to her as the salt of the Earth.