And the women neighbours gave him a name, saying: 'There is a son born
to Naomi'; and they called his name Oved; he is the father of Ishai, the
father of David (4:17).
We do not know much about Oved and whatever we know about him, we know
solely from this verse. There are many questions. Who in reality named
this child? We can safely assume that, as was customary, Boaz or Ruth gave
him a name but apparently that name was not preserved. We know only the
name that the neighbors gave him, “Oved, the father of Ishai, the father
of David”. This is highly irregular and it well may be the only
such ‘naming’ in Tanach.
Who were these mysterious women? Were they the same as “the people at the
gate”, or “the women” spoken of earlier or were they not? When did they
give Oved his name? From what we read it appears to have happened after
his birth and possibly much later, after he has matured, had a child and a
grandchild, and the contours of his life came into focus. There is no
parallel in Tanach to such a delayed “giving of the name”. Undoubtedly
these neighbors really existed but they also serve the purpose of
introducing an editorial comment. The Sages understood that the women,
whoever they were and whenever they lived, did not merely give a name but
that they were describing Oved and what his life’s work was all about.
Oved means “servant”. “… (He was named) after his father and his mother.
His father was an elderly man and took a wife purely for the sake of
Heaven – he was (therefore) called ‘a servant of God”. So it says, “and
Israel served for a woman (Hosea 13:2).” After his mother – as it
says, “and you shall turn back and distinguish between the just and the
wicked, between he who served God and he who did not serve Him (Malachi
13:18). This means: between Ruth and Orpah. Orpah became an emblem of
shame (play of words Orpah and Cherpah) while Ruth clung to God in
clarity. This is why his name was called Oved. A righteous man married a
righteous woman and the son was a completed saint.(Midrash Lekach Tov)”.
These neighbor women correctly surmised that Oved’s life task was to shape
the spiritual inheritance of his parents. His father was a wholly
righteous sage but his mother came from the world of confusion, a place
where good and evil was intermixed and not easily separated. She turned
her back on falsehood but had not had the opportunity to complete the work
of separation. She had forsaken her people and clung to the God of Israel.
Yes, she has chosen to serve God; yet, it is not easy to leave the past
completely behind and even harder to not transmit it to the next
generation. Some trace, some memory, some smudge and fragrance of
depravity still clung to her descendents. It was Oved’s life-task to
purify his inheritance and to become a completed saint. How did he do it?
By reaching back into his psyche and his soul to the level before the
backsliding of Lot, by discovering and bringing to the fore the
Abrahamitic roots of both his father and his mother. He was able to
recapture Ruth’s true inheritance from Abraham, from the time before it
was sullied and bastardized by Lot and his daughters, before the lofty
teachings of Abraham became the debased life-springs of Moab that
culminated in the sophisticated rebellion of Orpah. Ruth made first steps
upon the Judaic path but it was left to Oved to do the hard work in the
trenches - weeding, tending and watering, separating the true from the
false, step by step, teaching by teaching, behavior by behavior, branch by
branch, connection by connection.
“Now we will turn to a great and exalted place which is in the world and
the branch and root of truth – Oved, the father of Ishai, the father of
David. We learned that he was at the end (of a chain); how then did the
root of Truth come from such a place? However, Oved rectified himself in
supernal rectification and the root of a tree that has been turned upside
down, he turned back on its foundation. He rose through it and corrected
himself and was therefore called “the Servant”. This is something that
others did not merit. Oved came and worked and cultivated the basis and
root of the Tree. He (then) left the Face of Bitterness and rectified the
foliage of the tree. Ishai, his son came and reinforced it and fixed it
and held himself by the branches of another, higher tree, and connected
one tree to the other, so that the two trees became intermingled. Once
David came, he found the trees intermingled and held securely together. He
inherited the Reign – and Oved caused all this (Zohar Chodosh 2:103b). The
trees, I suggest, are Moab and Abraham.
This simple understanding of the Zohar (and there are, of course, others)
is supported by the passage in Ruth Rabbah (8:13) that compares David to a
diamond that a King once dropped in the sand. To recover it, he had to
call many workers to sift and sieve the sand grain by grain. “The Holy
One Blessed Be He said to Abraham: “Go you yourself out of your land. It
is you who I was waiting for? Why did I need to list your genealogies –
Shem, Arpachshad, Shelach, Eber, Peleg, Nachor, Terach”. Only for you –
‘Avram he is Abraham’, “ (of who it says) “You found his heart faithful
before You”. This is what the Holy One said to David. Why did I need to
list your genealogies – Peretz, Chetzron, Ram, Aminadav, Nachshon, Salmon,
Boaz, Oved, Ishai? Only for you – “I found David my servant”.” Abraham was
a diamond that represents the end of long process of sifting and
selecting, rejection and election. So also is David. The genealogy of
David is therefore not at all incidental to the central message of the
book of Ruth and neither are the names of his ancestors. Ruth brought
something essential and precious to Jewish Royalty but along with it she
brought elements that had to be purified and set aside. The tension
between bringing in and putting out, election and exile, is and will
forever remain at the core of the process of Redemption.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Dr. Meir Levin and Torah.org.