Both were fully dedicated to helping others however possible.
The Jewish People, Am Yisrael, was finally established in its own homeland, after centuries of anticipation. Together, they built an authentically Jewish society. Torah was the universal guide for all facets of life, economic, political, and social. Rich and poor, elite and "man-in-the-street", all were adamant in their observance of the Torah's commandments.
Among these, of course, were those commandments which are observed only in the Holy Land, many of which pertain to agriculture.
Joshua, the prime disciple of Moses our Teacher, had led the people in crossing the Jordan River and entering the Land. He led them in the conquest of the land promised to them, saw them settle its expanses, and passed away to a better world.
There was no single leader of Joshua's stature to replace him. The elders of each generation took the reins and instructed the people in both the Written and the Oral Torah. They guided the people and urged them to maintain their high ethical standards in their relationships with their fellow men.
The country prospered, blessed by Heaven. The People of Israel served as a model of morality. The people had gone through years of battling for possession of the homeland; now they were free to devote themselves to more spiritual pursuits. They set up a government which was personified by justice, a society marked by charity and loving-kindness. As the prophet describes the role of Israel, they served as "a light unto the nations."
But deep within, far under the surface, human failings began to form cracks in the foundations of their social order. Largely unseen, and far from universal, the shortcomings nonetheless constituted a long-term threat to the moral stature of the Chosen People. Heaven perceived what most human eyes failed to see. Here and there, personal interests began to erode the dedication of certain individuals to the principles of the Torah.
Cracks appeared also in the judicial system. Occasionally, one heard complaints that judge so-and-so ought rather to be the defendant rather than the adjudicator.
The retribution was not long in coming: "And it was in the days when the judges were judged, that there was a famine in the land." Perhaps this would rouse the people to correct their ways? Selfishness is a by-product of prosperity and plenty; not that all were suffering from the famine, people would be more inclined to think of others and come to their assistance.
A deep attachment to his homeland has always characterized the Jew. So, too, in the times of Ruth and Boaz. Despite the famine and the difficult times it brought in its wake, Elimelech and Naomi were the only ones who took leave of the country.
Despite his prestigious position and his wealth, Elimelech abandoned his fellow Jews in their time of difficulty and moved to Moab. Elimelech was blessed with both prestige and wealth. When the famine persisted, people turned to him for help and for guidance. Perhaps he would find some way of alleviating their suffering.
Rather than sharing their travail, Elimelech chose to leave the country for greener pastures. He learned that the famine had not affected Moab, and moved there with his wife and two sons. When a person's character is afflicted with egotism, the disease is not limited to his attitude to those around him. In the case of Elimelech, it led him to leave his country and to abandon his fellow Jews to their fate. His sons took his alienation from his people one step further, and married daughters of Moab:
"And they married Moabite women". (Ruth 1:4)
Their punishment was quick to follow: "And Elimelech, the husband of Ruth, died, and there remained only she and her two sons… And they both died also, and the woman remained without her husband and without her sons." (Ruth 1:3-5)
The economic situation in the Land of Israel improved. The good news reached Moab as well. Naomi's situation did not improve at all. Nothing would bring back her husband and her sons. She had had enough of Moab, and longed to return in her old age to the homeland she had abandoned.
How clearly did she remember the day they had left Bethlehem and set out for Moab, together with her husband and two sons. They had lacked for nothing, being one of the wealthiest families in the region. And now?
She would make the trek back home alone, with empty hands, and a broken heart. She would take a new path in life, again become one with her people. It was never too late. She would never again see the faces she loved so, but at least she would draw comfort from seeing her own land once again, from dwelling among her own people.
The name "Naomi" derives from the word noam, pleasantness. And indeed, Naomi's ways were ways of pleasantness and goodwill. Her personality radiated with her desire to help others, to sweeten their lives. Her daughters-in-law were captivated by her good heart, and declared that they would go with her on her journey back to her homeland.
With great spiritual courage, they assure their widowed mother-in-law that they prefer to forego the pleasures of the luxurious mode of living to which they were accustomed in their parents' home, and to become part of the Jewish people.
On her part, Naomi discourages them by describing the future that awaits them if they move back to Bethlehem together with her. She is more fully aware than they of the difficult life that awaits them as converts to Judaism. Out of sincere concern for their welfare, she urges them: "Go back, my daughters!"
They reach a crossroad, and pause on the way. Orphah concedes to the logic of Naomis arguments, and turns back to Moav.
Ruth chooses differently. "And Ruth clung to her." She clung to her mother-in-law and to the values she represented: "Deal kindly with your fellow man, at all costs." She is fully aware of the difficulties that loom ahead. But the beliefs and the people of Naomi tug at her heart; she cannot bring herself to forego her bond with them. She seeks the inner depth and contentment of the spirit that she has witnessed only among the Jews. It is with Israel that she decides her fate to be bound up henceforth. "And Ruth clung to her." Not only to Naomi, but to the spirit of G-d within her and her nation.
Self-interest motivated her late father-in-law, Elimelech, and his sons to leave their land. Mahlon and Kilyon married gentile women out of selfish considerations. Ruth rose above all considerations of self-interest, and arrived at the truth, drawing closer and closer to the G-d of Israel.
Her selfless quest for spiritual greatness earned her a place as the great-grandmother of King David. G-d established His throne on foundations of chessed. Likewise, Heaven establishes the throne of Israel's human sovereign on foundations of chessed, of charity and selfless acts of kindness for others. Chessed, and chessed alone, preserves the dynasty of the House of David, and it is through chessed that their descendants will once again assume the throne.
The kings of Israel reign not in order to amass wealth, enjoy prestige, or to exercise power over the nation. They assume their rightful place on the throne in order to help their fellow-Jews.
So, too, does the verse describe the goal of the sovereignty of the messiah (mashiach) as the height of achievement of peace and kindness among all those who dwell on earth.
Boaz was also imbued with a spirit of chessed. We first met Boaz as a landowner eager to fulfill the mitzvah of leaving a portion of his harvest for the poor, as prescribed by the commandments of the Torah, in the best possible manner.
When he discovered Ruth among those gleaning in his fields, he realized that she was alone, without family, with neither a father-in-law nor a husband to provide for her. He admired her commitment to join the Jewish people and to care for her widowed mother-in-law, and took her under his wing.
Furthermore, we read that he urged her to remain only in his fields, so that he might continue to look out for her and Naomi: "Do you not hear, my daughter? Do not go to glean in another field, and neither pass from here. Remain thus, here, close by my maidens." (Ruth 2:8)
Later, Boaz undertakes to marry Ruth, in a levirate marriage that will perpetuate the name of the deceased. He seeks to deal kindly not only with the living, but also to do chessed with the spirit of her late husband, that he might have a son called on his name.
Boaz's deeds reveal him to us as a man of chessed, eager to bring benefit to his fellow man.
Ruth was a fitting mate for Boaz, and Boaz, likewise, was a fitting mate for Ruth. Both were fully dedicated to helping others however possible.
When Ruth – a woman of chessed – marries Boaz, a man of chessed, a house of loving kindness is established. It is on these foundations that the foundations of Israel's royal dynasty were laid.
The kings of the Jewish people arose from an act of chessed. King David continued in their path, and the ultimate sovereign of our people, the mashiach, will personify the highest form of goodness to be found in our world.