Haviva Ner-David
Haviva Ner-David
post-denominational inter-spiritual rabbi, mikveh specialist, spiritual counselor, author

Ruth and Naomi: models for our troubled times

This year, I am reading the Book of Ruth through a different lens that, I believe, can be a glimmer of hope on the Israeli horizon. As we celebrate Eid al-Fitr and go into Shavuot with missiles and bombs flying between Israel and Gaza and rioting on this land we share — not only in Jerusalem, but also in Galilee, where I live – and retreat into physical and emotional places of separation, it is even more important to remember the importance of human connection despite what separates and differentiates us.

Last month, my debut novel, Hope Valley, was released. It is the story of the unexpected friendship between a Palestinian-Israeli woman named Rabia (or Ruby, her nickname) and a Jewish-Israeli woman named Tikvah. Like Naomi and Ruth, they are women from two not only different, but taboo (to each other), cultures, who come together to form a strong and deep bond that leads to a tikkun, a corrective, of past events on an individual, familial and collective level.

In Deuteronomy 23:4 the Israelites are told not to allow Moabites into the People of Israel. Yet, Ruth is a Moabite, and not only does she marry two Israelite men and align her fate with her mother-in-law Naomi, but, tradition has it, the Messiah will come from her genealogical line. Whether or not one believes in a Messiah, the message that redemption will come from those who go against the norm and cross over national, religious, and geographic divides to create soul connections, is a powerful one.

Like Ruth and Naomi’s story, Tikvah and Ruby’s story begins in a neutral zone between the two women’s places of origin. The dramatic scene between Naomi and Ruth plays out on their way from Moab back to Bethlehem after Naomi’s husband and sons have died, and she tells her daughters-in-law to turn back and each return to the “home of her mother.” But Ruth refuses to be separated from her mother-in-law and accompanies her to Bethlehem.

Similarly, the story of Tikvah and Ruby begins in the valley that separates Ruby’s Palestinian-Israeli village from Tikvah’s Jewish-Israeli moshav. At first, Tikvah is afraid of Ruby, and Ruby is resentful towards Tikvah, especially when she learns that Tikvah is living in the house in which her father grew up and left his diary, before his village was destroyed (except for this one house) in 1948 and Tikvah’s moshav was built on its ruins.

Hope Valley against the backdrop of the Galilean valley that divides my kibbutz, Hannaton, from the Bedouin village of Bir al-Maksur. The photo was taken after the wheat harvest, which happens, like in Biblical times, right around the holiday of Shavuot. The Book of Ruth also takes place during the harvest season.

At first Ruby tries to befriend Tikvah — despite her distrust — in the hopes of being invited back to the house, where she hopes to find her father’s diary (which is excerpted throughout the book). But slowly, as the women let go of their suspicions and prejudices and recognize each other’s pain, a genuine friendship forms.

Tikvah and Ruby, like Ruth and Naomi, defy societal norms and family expectations to meet. If Ruby’s brothers knew she was going to meet Tikvah, they would not let her go, Ruby knows; so she does not tell them about her new friend. Just as Tikvah does not tell her husband, Alon, about Ruby; nor does she tell him about the budding romance between her daughter Talya and her Palestinian-Israeli boyfriend, Mahmoud.

The novel takes place during the summer of 2000 leading up to the outbreak of the 2nd intifada, and like the actual temperature outside and our reality in Israel today, the conflict is heating up around them.

The first time the two women meet, by chance, Tikvah only ventures into the valley because her dog, Cane, goes through a hole in the fence, and Tikvah, in an effort to retrieve her, follows her through, despite her apprehensions. The residents of Tikvah’s moshav do not go into that valley. Tikvah herself never has. In fact, she has never gone into Ruby’s village of Bir al-Demue at all. Not only that, but an Arab family from Nazareth has bought a home on the moshav, and the moshavnikim have brought a case to the Supreme Court to prevent them from moving in.

Yet, despite the impediments, Tikvah and Ruby become soul sisters, and their relationship and the actions they take as a result of it have lasting effects upon those around them, serving as “a corrective,” as Tikvah calls it, to past events.

Similarly, as soon as Ruth and Naomi enter Bethlehem together, redemption, geulah, becomes the main goal and theme of the Book. I counted around 25 times that word appears in various forms after that point in the narrative — and that with only a cursory glance. It is clear that the moment the two women join forces, redemption is at hand.

In BT Avodah Zarah 5a, we are told that King David, the grandson of Ruth from whom the Messiah will come, was the model for repentance. The Rabbis in that context tell us: If not for the sins of our ancestors, we would not be who we are today. This is a radical statement about the evolution of humankind that grows specifically out of righting past wrongs, healing old wounds and repairing what is broken. As Leonard Cohen says, “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

Or, as this translation/interpretation of the Rumi poem “Joseph and the Mirror” expresses it: “Keep looking at the wounded place. That’s where the Light enters you.”

In his Mishneh Torah, the Laws of Kings, Rambam, Maimomides, writes that the Messiah will be from the line of David (Ruth’s great-grandson). But even more interestingly, when he imagines redemption, he writes of a time with no competition, no war, and no hunger. And, most stunning of all: it will be a redemption not of the Jews or any other nation reigning over the world, but rather of world peace in general, with all humans serving the Divine.

Without giving away the end of my novel, I will say that it ends on a hopeful note, with national and religious lines blurred, families combined and intertwined, and everyone surrendering to the universal Uni-Verse:

“The first rain of the season had finally arrived. The Universe had not given up hope. In spite of it all.”

So let’s not give up hope, even in these dark times. Let’s maintain old ties across divides and build new ones moving forward. And let’s consider how we can heal the wounds that cause the kind of strife and division we are experiencing today, so that we can be partners in bringing a redemption of peace, and respect for all humans.

Hope Valley is available on Amazon (https://amzn.to/3d0BJWb)

Or if you prefer not to use Amazon, there is bookshop (https://bookshop.org/books/hope-valley-9781949290592/9781949290592) or Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hope-valley-haviva-ner-david/1139036074?ean=9781949290592

And for free delivery outside the U.S. (including Israel):

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner-David is a rabbi and writer. She is the rabbinic founder of Shmaya: A Mikveh for Mind, Body, and Soul, the only mikveh in Israel open to all to immerse as they choose. She is the author of two spiritual journey memoirs: Chanah's Voice: A Rabbi Wrestles with Gender, Commandment, and the Women's Rituals of Baking, Bathing, and Brightening, and Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Towards Traditional Rabbinic Ordination, which was a runner up for the National Jewish Book Council Awards. Ordained as both a rabbi and an inter-faith minister, certified as a spiritual counselor (with a specialty in dream work), and with a doctorate on mikveh from Bar Ilan University, she offers mikveh guidance and spiritual counseling for individuals and couples, and mikveh workshops and talks for groups. Her debut novel, Hope Valley, is coming out in April in paperback but is available already now in eBook format at B&N, Kobo and Amazon. The Kindle link is: https://amzn.to/3d0BJWb. Her third spiritual journey memoir, Dreaming Against the Current: A Rabbi's Soul Journey, and a guidebook for engaged couples, Getting (and Staying) Married Jewishly: Preparing for your Life Together with Ancient and Modern Wisdom, are both slated for publication later in 2021. She lives on Kibbutz Hannaton with her husband and seven children.
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