Boaz— bo oz. In him is strength.
Boaz exhibits strength of character, fortitude to do what is right and just, and strength of sexual propriety. Dr. Yael Ziegler, in her excellent book “Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy” (Maggid, 2015), highlights the exceptional character, restraint, and strength of Boaz, the redeemer. He is a character often overlooked in the shadow of the heroic women of Megillat Ruth, but he, too — and, specifically, his interaction with Ruth — has much to teach us about our relationships with our partners and God.
The theme of a biblical woman seducing a Jewish man and radically affecting the future of the Jewish nation is not new. Lot’s daughters, Tamar, Esther, Yael, and Judith are but some of the seductresses in Jewish texts. In each case, the man — sober or drunk — falls quickly and easily for the woman who approaches him. There is limited if any known communication and the woman is able to use her sexuality as power to attain her goal. Similarly, Naomi instructs Ruth to beautify herself and approach Boaz at night, in the dark: “you should come and uncover his feet and lie down. And he will tell you what you shall do” (3:2-4).
But Ruth and Boaz do not follow the patterns set in those other stories. Ruth varies from Naomi’s instructions slightly, and Boaz defies the model completely. He rejects Ruth’s seduction and instead discusses a plan with her that will serve her and the nation best.
“And it was at the midpoint of the night. And the man trembled and he grasped. Behold there is a woman lying at his feet. And he said “Who are you?” and she said, “I am Ruth your maidservant. Spread your wings over your maidservant, for you are a redeemer” (3:8-9).
As opposed to other stories in which the voices of the parties is absent, where there is no communication between the seducer and the seducee, in this story, as Dr. Ziegler notes, the conversation between the two is crucial: “Boaz’s query (Who are you?) allows Ruth to restore her identity and elevates her above a mere sexual object. By inquiring after Ruth’s individual identity, Boaz demonstrates that in this period, rife with the treatment of women as sexual objects, someone has mustered the capacity to recognize a nameless woman as a subject” (Ziegler, p. 310).
A few simple words — “Who are you?” These words allow the two to move beyond, to be connected in deeper and more meaningful ways, and to both have a presence. Boaz recognizes the need for connection, the need to engage with another beyond the physical. Through his question, the strength of his wisdom allows Ruth to be his partner. Ruth is given an entree into the conversation — about her past, her present identity, her status, and her dreams for the future. In essence, this two-word phrase is a romantic opening, a “pick-up line” that shows his intent to create a deeper and more meaningful bond. And it is this connection, the face-to-face discussion that preludes intimacy, that allows for the mashiach to result from their union.
As we enter Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates our relationship with God and Torah, Boaz and Ruth serve as a model for understanding that spoken communication is essential for creating a deeper connection. This is certainly an important model for creating a meaningful relationship with Torah, but Megillat Ruth also reminds us that if we want to build strong and lasting interpersonal relationships, if we want to create a partnership that has significance and transcendence, then our sexual and interpersonal relationships must be based on mutual caring, respect, and shared communication.