Last week I posted some questions for thought and discussion about Ruth, from the Biblical story and from tradition. You can see that post here.
I am working on a discussion guide for Ruth for use in a Messianic Jewish chevruta (study circle) or havurah (small group). It’s all part of a project I am working on at Mount Olive Press.
Here is a discussion of one topic from the book. This could be a meditation for one person to work through or something to share with a study circle of two or three people.
I. The Fall of the Mighty Elimelech
There is a tradition that is ancient, but not as ancient as the text of Ruth itself, that Elimelech was a great man. The Talmud says that Elimelech and his sons were the leaders of their generation (Bava Bathra 91a). Long before that, in a Targum (Aramaic paraphrase), we find a slight expansion in Ruth 1:1 compared to the Hebrew text. Where the Hebrew of Ruth 1:1 says “a man went from Bethlehem,” the Aramaic paraphrase reads, “a great man went from Bethlehem.” This suggests that the tradition about Elimelech as a leader goes back to the Second Temple period.
–Find Bethlehem and Moab on a map.
–Discuss whether Elimelech should have left Judah as he did.
–How do the blessing and curses of Torah combine with what you know of the era of Judges to explain the conditions at the beginning of Ruth? How does this impact your understanding of Elimelech’s leaving? (cf. Leviticus 26:3-46; Deuteronomy 28; Judges 2:6-22).
–Are the blessings and curses of Torah individual or corporate? What is the difference? How does this affect a righteous man living in a wicked generation?
–Are there any hints that tell us whether Elimelech might have been Torah-faithful or not?
According to tradition about Elimelech, his leaving Judah was a great tragedy and sin. The leaving of a great man from Judah discouraged all the people who stayed in the famine. Tradition even claims that Elimelech could have supported many families during the famine, but wanted to keep all for his own family (Talmud, Bava Bathra 91b).
–Do the traditions which add to the Biblical story of Elimelech add to or detract from the power of the story in your opinion?
–Why do you think later generations felt it important to add such details to the story?
–How does your reading of Elimelech’s character from the Biblical text compare or contrast to the expansions?