(photo credit: Israel Weiss)
This week’s reading of Naso describes the “Sota,” the woman who acts immodestly.
At the very least, she sequesters herself alone with a man despite the fact that
her husband warned her against seeing that person. She therefore undergoes the
test of the bitter waters. However, during the spring holiday period, we saw two
other women – great heroines of our people, Esther (Purim) and Ruth (Shavuot)
who also committed immodest acts, for which they are ultimately praised and
through which salvation and redemption are brought about. Let us revisit their
stories to see how they differ from that of the Sota.
compromise their modesty and perhaps even their chastity, Esther with Ahasuerus
in the palace of the king and Ruth with Boaz on the threshing floor in Efrat.
Moreover, both of these outstanding women hail from gentile countries of exile
and one even from gentile stock: Esther from Persia and Ruth from
But here is where the comparisons end. Although each of these two
women undergoes a profound, existential change, a switch in direction with
profound ramifications, they part company in very significant
Esther seems to have been an assimilating Jew who was eager to
become the Queen of Persia. She used her Persian name – from the pagan goddess
Astarte – rather than her Hebrew name Hadassah; she is taken for the nighttime
beauty contest and undergoes a 12-month preparatory beauty treatment without
She even concurs with Mordecai (her cousin, or even perhaps her
husband as the midrash suggests) not to reveal her national heritage (lest she
be rejected on the grounds that she is Jewish – see the suggestion, albeit
rejected by the Ibn Ezra).
It is only when Mordecai publicly demonstrates
in front of the king’s gate in sackcloth and ashes against Haman’s decree to
annihilate the Jews of Persia, bidding Esther to “come out of the closet,” as it
were, and go before the king on behalf of her people, that Esther puts her life
on the line. By doing so, she becomes one of the greatest penitents of Jewish
The words Mordecai uses to convince Esther have reverberated
throughout Jewish history: “Do not imagine in your soul that you will be able to
escape in the king’s palace any more than the rest of the Jews. For if you
persist in keeping silent at a time like this, relief and deliverance will come
to the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And
who knows whether it was just for a time such as this that you attained the
royal position” (Esther 5:13,14).
The Jews in Shushan gather for three
days of prayer and fasting, Esther persuades the king to allow the Jews to
protect themselves during the Persian “pogrom” against them, Haman and his sons
are killed, and the Jewish community survives.
The Talmud (B.T. Megila
14) rules that despite all the other festivities, Hallel (psalms of praise) are
not to be chanted on Purim; since “we still remained slaves to Ahasuerus” – and
an Ahmadinejad can still become a replacement for Haman.
born of Jewish parents but who married Ahasuerus, Ruth was a Moabite. She
followed Naomi to the Land of Israel, changing geographically and existentially
by converting to Judaism. Her ancestor Lot had defected from Abraham when he
left Israel and moved to Sodom, now she repaired this by becoming a second
Like our forefather, she left her birthplace and homeland for
the Land of Israel, a strange nation and the God of ethical monotheism. In her
own words, “Where you go, I will go” (to the Land of Israel) – “your nation will
be my nation, your God shall be my God” (Ruth 1:16, 2:10,11).
deepest sense, Ruth entered Abraham’s “Covenant between the Parts” (Genesis 15).
God promised Abraham that he would be an eternal nation, his seed would never be
destroyed and his descendants would live in their homeland, Israel. And through
this nation, “all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:1). This
is more than the survival of the Jews in Persia, this is world
Hence Naomi sends Ruth to the threshing floor to seduce Boaz,
to bear his Jewish seed, just as Tamar, the widowed daughter-in-law of Naomi’s
ancestor Judah the son of Jacob, had seduced her father-in-law in order to bear
his seed (Gen. 38).
But Ruth is not satisfied. She understands that
Jewish eternity is linked to two crucial components: Jewish seed in the land of
Israel. She doesn’t consummate their relationship on the threshing floor; she
asks him to “redeem” her, to buy back Naomi’s familial inheritance and to marry
her “in accordance with the law of Moses and Israel” so that her descendants can
be Jews in the Jewish homeland.
Through their actions, Esther succeeded
in gaining a respite in persecution, which is the most we can hope for in galut
(exile). Ruth succeeded in entering Jewish eternity, the Abrahamic Covenant, and
due to her compassionate righteousness and loving-kindness toward Naomi she
became the herald of Jewish redemption. Her journey leads to the day when the
nations of the world will join the family of Abraham, father of a multitude of
nations.The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone
Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.