Coming out of the crisis with Ruth the Moabitess

יד מחזיקה חיטה בשדה חיטה

Going through a hard experience in life? Depressed?

Practical advice from a woman who went through several serious crises in life – Ruth the Moabitess

 

Today’s psychology and its terminology is based first and foremost on classic Greek literature. The word psyche is Greek. Well known concepts like ‘the Oedipus complex’, ‘the Electra complex’, and ‘narcissism’ have their source in Greek myths, tragedies which, in their majority, end in death or suicide…  No doubt those works touch on the most serious challenges we may face, but do not offer any real solutions. In their book, Biblical Stories for Psychotherapy and Counseling: A Sourcebook (2004), Matthew B. Schwartz and Kalman J. Kaplan described well how that philosophy had no redemptive vision. The Biblical stories however, as hard as they may be, bring hope and optimism. Whereas Greek philosophy sought ways to be ‘free’ from the [control of a] fatalistic destiny, even by the most drastic means, the Bible offers an approach of ‘choosing life’ and shows how to live in the midst of difficulties, to deal with them and sanctify life: by remembering that after destruction and exile comes redemption and restoration.

 

“Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”  Ps. 30:5

 

“’For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”  Jer. 29:11

 

The Book of Ruth is a prime example of a story of hope. The book usually engenders a discussion over the question of who a Jew is and how a person becomes part of the Jewish people. That is indeed an important question which needs to be discussed in depth, but not less interesting is the human story centered on a family, when all possible dramatic disruptions happened – financial crisis and as a result a relocation to a foreign country, the death of the father of the family and the two sons which left the women, a mother and two non-Israelite daughters-in-law who were both childless, with no line of succession, no source of income and no future… The story focuses on one of the daughters-in-law named Ruth who made the strangest but most critical decision, to put it mildly – to give up her own personal ambitions and dedicate her life to accompanying her mother-in-law back to her country and taking care of her. Ruth was a Moabite woman who had all the worst qualifications for starting a new life in the Israelite society of that time[1] – a non-Israelite (and not only a Gentile, but from the Moabite people, of whom the Law forbade to join with the nation of Israel: Deut. 23:3), a stranger, a widow with no children, poverty stricken, the only provider for her elderly mother-in-law. She had many reasons to sink into self-pity and mourning over her lost youth, but did not, unlike Naomi, her mother-in-law, who lost all taste for life (the only taste that she felt summed up her life was ‘bitter’) and could only see God’s punishing hand. Naomi was unable to see anything positive (which is very typical for someone suffering from depression), because the pain of losing her husband and her sons caused her to focus only on herself and her feelings:

“And she said to them, ‘Do not call me Naomi [from the Hebrew word meaning ‘pleasant’]; call me Mara [from the Heb. word meaning ‘bitter’], for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?’”  Ruth 1:20-21

At this point Naomi is unable to see the treasure that is walking by her side – her daughter-in-law who is prepared to go through fire and water with her and declares: “Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.” (Ruth 1:17). She also doesn’t see the special blessing in the fact that they return to the land of Israel at the time of “the beginning of barley harvest” (Ruth 1:22) – a time of year in which the Biblical law allowed the stranger, the orphan, and the widow to gather what was at the edge of the fields and what fell to the ground and thus provided for their livelihood.

In contrast, Ruth did not allow herself to sink into thoughts of the bitterness of her situation. She focused on the important task at hand – to take care of her mother-in-law. When they got back to Bethlehem, she didn’t hesitate for a moment but got straight to work, as we read at the beginning of chapter 2 (verse 2): “And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, ‘Please let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after one in whose sight I may find favor.’” This was a brave step to take, for she was going into a male-dominated setting in a society which was quite antagonistic to strangers (as is evidenced by the fact that the owner of the field, Boaz, needed to give a clear order to the reapers not to harm her). The verbs ‘to go’ and ‘to return’ are repeated throughout the book symbolizing action and activity, which very much characterized Ruth. She does not sit in anguished paralysis but instead she arises, she ‘goes’, she takes steps. She is very industrious, a fact reported to the owner of the field in which she finds herself by the foreman of the reapers:

“And the servant in charge of the reapers answered and said, ‘She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab. And she said, “Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.” Thus she came and has remained from the morning until now; she has been sitting in the house for a little while.’”  Ruth 2:6-7

Ruth has a goal, and for the sake of that goal she is prepared to work hard from morning to evening almost without a break.

We will continue to follow the story of Ruth the Moabitess in additional articles. In the meantime, we will summarize what we can learn from the story so far concerning the way that someone who is dealing with serious calamities can cope:

  1. Avoid sinking into self-pity (as Ruth chose to do by not completely closing herself off and concentrating on her own sorrows and the loss of her youthful joy).
  2. Avoid focusing only on your own problems by seeking a goal, for example, by caring for someone else who is in difficulties and needs help, maybe even more than you (as did Ruth who decided to care for Naomi who was older, had lost her husband, her sons, her station in life) – a good suggestion is finding a place where you can volunteer!
  3. Try to look for any positives in your situation (as opposed to Naomi who thought that she was returning with nothing and so was neither aware of the fact that her daughter-in-law, Ruth, who decided to accompany her, was literally a walking treasure, nor the fact that they were returning at the best possible time for poor people – the season of the barley harvest).
  4. Be proactive (the most difficult challenge for someone who is in depression) – don’t let your surroundings overwhelm you but take steps, even if they a very small, like leaving the house, occupying yourself with some sport activity or with a hobby, volunteering in a framework that helps others (as did Ruth, who instead of sitting helplessly at home, chose to go out to the fields).

 

Looking for more tips? More to come…

 

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[1] According to modern research, the book of Ruth was written during the time of the return from Babylonian exile, as part of an alternative trend that enabled the acceptance of foreign women, in contrast to their rejection as seen in the reform described in the book of Ezra. The book of Ruth displays King David’s great-grandmother and explains how he is a descendant of a foreigner, a Moabite woman. Even if the book was written down in this later period for these polemic purposes, there is no reason to assume that the story lacks an earlier core source. In any case, the author of the book himself wanted for us to explore the book in light of the Judges: “Now it came about in the days when the judges governed… (Ruth 1:1). Knowledge of this time period can be beneficial towards our understand of the messages placed in this book. In this light, it is possible to appreciate even more the heroes’ exalted behavior, such as Boaz and Ruth who display empathy, a humane attitude towards strangers, and the highest moral standards that correct the behaviors of many of the heroes of the book of Judges who acted in whatever manner that “was right in his own eyes” (for example, in the story of the concubine in Gibeah).

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