Megillat Ruth: Miracles at Midnight

BY RABBANIT SHANI TARAGIN

Yannai, known as the “father of piyut,” who lived in the late fifth to early sixth century in the Galilee in Israel, composed a beautiful liturgical poem, “Vayehi bachatzi haLayla” recounting numerous miraculous night scenes in Tanach. Each stanza ends with “…and such in the middle of the night.” However, only three events occurred precisely at midnight. There are only three times in the entire Tanach wherein we find redemptive events “bachatzi haLayla”!

The first time the phrase “וַיְהִי בַּחֲצִי הַלַּיְלָה” (Shemot 12:29) appears is in the context of Divine punishment executed upon the Egyptians through the miraculous death of their firstborn at precisely midnight – “In the middle of the night Hashem struck down all the [male] firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on the throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the cattle.” Hashem’s direct intervention in the dark of the night brought an unprecedented redemption which we are commanded to recount every day and night.

Fast-forward nearly four-hundred years later, when Am Yisrael, and particularly the tribe of Yehudah, were suffering under Philistine oppression – consequences for not conquering Gaza, Ashkelon and Ashdod. After a few reactive attempts and personal vendettas, Shimshon acted with divinely-infused strength. “At midnight he got up, grasped the doors of the town gate together with the two gate-posts, and pulled them out along with the bar. He placed them on his shoulders and carried them off to the top of the hill that is near Hebron” (Shoftim 16:3). Instead of taking advantage of the miraculous situation by invading and conquering the exposed and vulnerable city of Azza (Gaza), the people of Yehudah remained passive. By not coming to Shimshon’s aid, they lost an opportunity for potential redemption from their enemies.

In this context, Shmuel haNavi authored another work on the same time period as the Book of Shoftim – the Book of Ruth. The story begins with family leader Elimelech from Beit Lechem of Yehudah, who, due to famine, leaves with his wife, Naomi, and sons for the fields of Moav. Years later, bereft of husband and sons, widowed Naomi returned to her homeland empty-handed, accompanied by her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth. Though the kindness of Ruth provided Naomi with daily sustenance, Naomi desired the long-term “redemption” of her family name through “geulat sadeh” – a process by which a relative purchases and redeems the family field and ideally provides progeny for the long-term redemption of her family name. She sent Ruth to the threshing floor of Boaz to propose pseudo-levirate marriage, and when we would least expect the phrase of anticipated redemption, “וַיְהִי בַּחֲצִי הַלַּיְלָה,” a dramatic irony unfolded – “And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was startled, and turned himself; and, behold, a woman lay at his feet” (Ruth 3:8).

This time, however, there were no manifest miracles! Instead of Divine initiative, reward, and redemption (see Ruth 2:12), Ruth implores redemption from Boaz: “for you are a redeeming kinsman” (Ruth 3:9). Contrary to the “midnight miracle” in Egypt, wherein Pharaoh demanded blessing and chased the Hebrew “strangers” away without provisions in the middle of the night, Boaz blessed Ruth, allowed her to stay the night, and provided her with food to bring home. What initially seemed a disappointing denouement became, in fact, a marvelous message of redemption! 

Shmuel HaNavi employs the phrase of Divine midnight miracles to draw our attention to the contrast between them and the opportunity for the common man and woman to provide “human” midnight miracles of kindness, thereby redeeming the names and families of indigent members of society. The kindness of Boaz, the “redeemer,” provided for the redemption of Elimelech’s field, marriage to Ruth, and perpetuation of the family name linked to the land through child. Remarkably, however, the author foreshadowed the outcome of these “small miracles” – i.e. national redemption through King David, founder of messianic monarchy!

Today, in our current war and oppression, instead of passively waiting for Divine miracles at midnight to annihilate our enemy or for super-hero soldiers to destroy the city gates (and tunnels) of Gaza, the story of Ruth and Boaz reminds us that we have the potential to mirror Hashem’s ways by performing individual miracles of kindness, restoring names and building families. A few weeks ago, we witnessed Hashem’s intervention against the Iranian missiles at midnight; now Hashem is waiting for our miracles for the final stages of redemption to unfold!   

 

Rabbanit Shani Taragin is Educational Director of Mizrachi and the Director of the Mizrachi- TVA Lapidot Educators’ Program.

© 2024 World Mizrachi

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