With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah. — Ruth 1:7
Every Friday at the Sabbath meal, it is the Jewish tradition for the husband to sing the words from Proverbs 31:10–31 to his wife, praising her as an eishet chyail, a “woman of valor.” It is the highest compliment one can bestow upon a mother, a wife, a daughter. But what constitutes a woman of valor? This devotion is one of ten exploring what it means to be an eishet chyail, looking at women from the Bible and in our lives.
The Jewish sages teach that there are three purposes for our existence in the world — to learn, to serve God, and to fight the fights of life. In regard to this third task, we must remember that there isn’t a fighter who doesn’t get knocked down at one time or another. Every fighter entering the ring knows this will happen. However, as in the boxing ring, it doesn’t matter how many times we hit the ground; what matters is that we get up.
In the book of Ruth we read,“With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road . . .” This part of the story refers to Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi. Naomi had left Judah with her wealthy husband and two sons for Moab because there was a famine in Judah.
According to Jewish tradition, Naomi’s husband left Judah because he didn’t want the burden of supporting his people even though he had the capability to do so. As divine retribution, first Naomi’s husband died in Moab. Then, after her sons had married, they, too, died. Naomi found herself penniless and bereft. She was at rock bottom.
This is what make the first words of this verse so powerful. Translated literally from the original Hebrew the verse begins: “And she got up . . .”
Naomi had been knocked down hard. She had gone from a comfortable life as the wife of a wealthy and noble man to a poor widow who had been married to a man who turned his back on his people. Life knocked her down again when both her sons died leaving her with no means of support. But Naomi got up. She returned to her hometown of Bethlehem in spite of her shame and difficulty.
The Jewish sages make an interesting comparison between Naomi and the wife of Job. Both books are stories of riches-to-rags, a reversal of fortune for the worse. Job’s wife also lost her children, her wealth, and in the process, she nearly lost her husband. But look at how she reacted. Job’s wife said to him, “Curse God and die!" (Job 2:9). She had completely given up and encouraged Job to do so as well.
Now consider the conclusion of each story. Job’s wife remains nameless, and she is barely mentioned again, not even when a happy ending concludes the book. But Naomi – she becomes the ancestor of King David! The matriarch of the messiah! Naomi’s refusal to give up paved the way to redemption.
I don’t think that it is by accident that the first thing we do every morning is literally “get up.” It is as if God reminds us every day that we must get up in every sense of the word. No matter how bad the day before was or how much we have to face today, like Naomi, we must get up, never give up, and move forward in faith.
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