Boaz and Naomi
…and he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her; and he
into the city.
And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said: 'Who are you, my
daughter?' And she told her all that the man had done to her.
And she said: 'These six of barley gave he me; for he said to me: Go not
empty unto your mother-in-law.'
Then said she: 'Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter
will fall; for the man will not rest, until he have finished the thing
this day.' (3:15-18)
The six barleys are mystifying and it is tempting to see them as
symbols. “If you say actually six grains of barley, is it the way of Boaz
to give just six grains? Perhaps it is six seah of barley? Is it possible
for a woman to carry six seah of barley? It must be that (it is a symbolic
act), hinting that she will produce six sons who are blessed with six
blessings and they are: David, the Messiah, Daniel, Chananiah, Mishael and
Azariah (Sanhedrin 93a).
On a simpler level of interpretation, it may refer to some smaller and
unspecified measure of grain; in fact the words ‘barley’- s’orim’ can also
be vocalized as ‘measures – shearim’, a usage known to us from Genesis
26:12 ( this interpretation is marred by its inconsistency with the
Masoretic vocalization). Alternatively it may actually refer to six seah
which Boaz carried almost all of the way until he came to the city and
only then transferred them to Ruth. An early morning riser who sees them
would assume that Ruth went extra early to the granary to bring her
accumulated gleanings home and that Boaz met her by chance and was simply
assisting her with her load.
A novel interpretation arises from the verse that follows. We begin by
noting that Naomi’s question to Ruth is hard to understand. Did she not
recognize Ruth and if she did not, why does she call her “my daughter”?
Ruth Rabbah 7:4 suggests: “She said to her, ‘Are you still single or are
you now a married woman? She said to Naomi: “I am single”. A fascinating
interpretation that is rich with psychological insight is suggested by
Nachalas Yosef. Naomi asked Ruth, “Do you still belong to me? Are you
still mine or has Boaz taken you away from me? Whose are you now, my
daughter, mine or his?”
Boaz foresaw and acted to forestall this reaction. He was wise and
realized that he is coming to an already formed, deep and complex
relationship. Extreme caution and sensitivity behooves those who enter
already established relationships for every addition also detracts and no
end of trouble awaits those who insert themselves blindly into such
situations. This is something that Boaz understood and he promptly acted
to forestall antagonism and jealousy. He did not assume that Naomi was
above feelings of resentment and abandonment; instead, he signaled to
Naomi that she will retain an important part in the life that he and Ruth
will soon share. “'These six of barley gave he to me; for he said to me:
Go not empty unto your mother-in-law.' The six barleys were a message to
Naomi, a message that committed Boaz to restore what she has lost and may
be losing again. At the peak of Naomi’s success her family consisted of
herself, Elimelech, Machlon, Kilyon, Opra and Ruth – six individuals. Boaz
reassured Naomi that when he redeems Ruth he will not leave Naomi behind.
Soon Naomi will be restored to the family she has known previously. Thus
reassured, Naomi gave consent. ‘Then said she: 'Sit still, my daughter,
until thou know how the matter will fall; for the man will not rest, until
he have finished the thing this day.'
There is one more thought that deserves expression.
When the Jews first saw the Manna, a man said to his brother, “Man Hu”. In
Hebrew it means – “it is a prepared portion”; however in the cognate
language Arameic it is a question that means, “Who is he?”. The Hassidic
Master, Chozeh of Lublin explained it in the following fashion. Those that
ate manna reached new and elevated levels every day, so much so that every
day a man no longer recognized his fellow and asked, “Who is he?”
(Sippurei Chassidim, Beshalach). In a similar vein, after David slew
Goliath Saul did not recognize him even though the two have met but a few
When Ruth walked through the portals of Naomi’s dwelling, she was taller,
straighter, more radiant and infused with illumination of the events of
that blessed night. Naomi did not recognize this stranger who so resembled
and yet appeared so different from her sister-in-law and she asked in
wonder and confusion: “Who are you, my daughter?”
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Dr. Meir Levin and Torah.org.