Ilana Sober Elzufon

In their bare footsteps

سكندر عمري11 / CC BY-SA (, cropped

And it was in the days of the judges’ judging, there was a famine in the land, and a man went from Beit Lechem Yehuda to sojourn in the fields of Moav, he and his wife and his two sons. The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife’s name was Naomi, and his two sons’ names were Machlon and Kilyon…. (Ruth 1:1-2)

“Well,” my husband would say every year as Shavuot approached. “Here we are. Machlon and Kilyon in the fields of Moav…”

Moshe and I were not literally in Moav.  We had moved with our two young daughters from Israel to Canada for a year, which had stretched to two years, and now three, four, five…

To dwell outside of the Land is forbidden unless the famine is very great.… And even though it is permissible to leave, it is not pious conduct, for Machlon and Kilyon were the two great leaders of their generation and they left due to great difficulty, yet they were culpable to be wiped out before God. (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 5:9)

We came to Toronto to be near Moshe’s family, and in the hope that the doctors there would be able to make sense of his increasingly worrying symptoms. But his medical situation deteriorated. Within a few years he was in precarious health and using a wheelchair. An arduous move back to a not-entirely-accessible apartment, in a neighborhood on a steep mountainside, seemed impossible. Or at least impractical. We settled down.

They both died, Machlon and Kilyon, and the woman remained from her two children and her husband. (Ruth 1:1-5)

We had arrived in Canada just before Shavuot. Two years later, Moshe was hospitalized over Shavuot with a serious lung infection. Five years after that, he passed away a few weeks after Shavuot, on Rosh Chodesh Tammuz.

Woe to the generation that judges its judges, and woe to the generation whose judges need to be judged (Ruth Rabba 1)

The society and political system that Elimelech and his family left, and to which Naomi and Ruth returned, was far from ideal. Moshe and I were deeply ambivalent about Zionism and enjoyed Canada’s flourishing multicultural democracy. But, as Megillat Ruth reminds us so powerfully, one cannot simply leave the Land of Israel. Even great leaders, with excellent justification, paid an inconceivably high price for staying in Moav.

I could not read Megillat Ruth and remain in Canada.

… And they [Naomi and Ruth] walked on the road to return to the land of Yehuda (Ruth 1:7)

This teaches that they walked barefoot (Ruth Rabba 2)

My daughters and I landed in Israel at the end of the summer, a bit more than a year after Moshe died. Our journey was infinitely easier than that of Naomi and Ruth; our landing much softer. Over the first few months, running from one government office to another, dealing with banks and health funds, getting the girls adjusted to a school system neither they nor I really understood, I remembered this often.

“Naomi and Ruth walked to Israel barefoot,” I would tell myself when facing a particularly thorny bureaucratic tangle or confronting an infinite pile of boxes. “I can do this.”

Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer (Ruth 4:14)

A week after our first Shavuot back in Israel, I married Michael, a long-time friend of Moshe who was like family to all of us. We have two children together, and my eldest daughter is married with a daughter of her own.

I in no way presume to compare myself to Naomi and Ruth, but I am inspired by them. Motivated by profound faith and commitment to the Jewish people, they chose to return to the Land where they faced an almost certain future of poverty and isolation. They merited not only personal redemption, but to plant the seeds for national redemption through Ruth’s great-grandson, King David.

I have tried to follow, a little bit, in their bare footsteps.

About the Author
Ilana Sober Elzufon is a Yoetzet Halacha in Yerushalayim, and a writer and editor for Nishmat's Yoatzot Halacha websites ( and for Deracheha (
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