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       A Journey of One Thousand Miles: the Story of Ruth and Naomi, p.1

           D. Avraham
 
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A Journey of One Thousand Miles:  the Story of Ruth and Naomi
A Journey of One thousand Miles

  By D. Avraham

  Copyright 5786 (2008) by D. Avraham

  A Journey of A Thousand Miles

  The Story of Ruth and Naomi:

  A Novella

  (Abridged)

  based on the Biblical story, Midrash, and Tradition

  (excerpted from Shepherd King Chronicles: Foundation Stone

  By D. Avraham

  Copyright 5768 (2008) D. Avraham

  author's website:https://www.davraham.com

  Table of Contents

  Chapter 1: Separate Ways

  Chapter 2: Homecoming

  Chapter 3: Harvesting

  Chapter 4: Birth Pangs

  Chapter 5: The Journey Continues

  Glossary

  Selected Pronunciation Guide

  Chapter 1

  Separate Ways

  The Month of Aviv, in the year 345 from the Exodus

  The Fields of Moav

  The winds came with the setting of the sun, bursting forth as if it had impacted against the horizon, sending powerful gusts jetting across the desert plains. As the winds reached the village, their force seemed to increase with shrieks and wailing as they buffeted the stone homes. When they arrived at what remained of a small estate, now in disrepair, their howl intermixed with the wail of the three women huddled on a goat’s skin in one of the low stone structures on the hill. Ultimately, the women’s wailing was no match for the winds, drowning their anguish in a torrent of heavenly fury. Even inside the structure, the sound of their voices was almost lost.

  “Oh daughters … oh, my daughters,” cried the older of the women, her words breaking, a mix of anger and despair. “The world. The world. We’re drowning in the attribute of strict justice.” Her face and cry turned heavenward, stronger, but filled with bitterness and pain, “Where is your mercy, Holy One?” Her cry rose to a crescendo, “Have pity! Have pity!” The last syllables swallowed by her renewed weeping. “Dear God, have pity.”

  The old woman’s cries broke against the cracked ceiling, sending the three women into another fit of wailing and tears. The two younger women had just buried their husbands, the sons of the older woman, both struck down suddenly with an illness that broke their strong young bodies within a week, albeit taking another fifty to finish its task. Before they had retired of their bodies completely, what was left of the small estate became emaciated along with them.

  During their illness there hadn’t been time to reflect on the worsening of their lot, but now that their bodies had been buried and their souls departed, the women, the mother Naomi especially, gave release to the frustration and despair that had camped at their door. The death of her sons was only the latest chapter of a turn of fate that had brought her from being part of one of the most esteemed families in Yehudah to a poor childless widow adrift in a foreign land.

  Tears choked the older woman. She felt as if it were the hands of the Almighty at her throat. Yet, though she would still deny it, a part of her bitterness was directed towards her own hands that helped mold this bitter fate. As tears welled anew, she tried to push the memories away, but they refused. Dancing at the edge of her mind, teasing, taunting her, reminding her; those memories stayed close enough to her consciousness to torment her. In her heart, she knew that she had taken those first steps that led her to this wilderness, to this oblivion.

  It was over ten years ago, in their home in Beth-leHem. Now delirious, she laughed at the name, which means the House of Bread. What a terrible irony, for it had been the seat of a famine, the second in less than ten years. The promise of the Almighty’s bounty on His People seemed rescinded.

  And the demands of the people – again, she chaffed at the memory of her thoughts then - they never stopped, the people nor the memories, and with such insolence. As if they deserved to be supported by her husband, Elimelekh. So what if that is the law? There were so many, too many. If they were to give out all they had to them, what would be left for her family? Her boys. Her precious jewels. The memories paused to let the bitter reality sink deeper. Her precious boys.

  Given new strength, the memories returned to her thoughts and complaints: She had two young boys to raise.

  She had cursed her husband’s position as a leader of the community. What did it get them? Nothing. How could he feel responsible for them? What about her? What about her children? She had begged him to leave, to find respite from the constant demands of the people. She voiced her concerns, her fears, until they rang in her husband’s ear more forcefully than the cries of hunger from his charges. They abandoned Beth-leHem for the plains of Moav.

  Her voice rose in agony. Now she was the waif. Bitterness rose up at the Almighty’s cruelty. “I stand convicted,” she choked, “but I can not endure the judgment. Have mercy, have mercy.” The tears broke forth but the memories swirled to the dance of the howling winds outside.

  In the beginning, after they had crossed the River Yarden at Yerikho it had been almost idyllic. Elimelekh had brought a camel train to the plains of Moav. There, the people had greeted them as dignitaries, welcoming them into their midst.

  Even when tragedy had taken Elimelekh from her, the blow was softened. The people of Moav had been supportive, even giving two of their royal daughters to her sons in marriage. Both Orpah and Ruth had agreed to accept the path of the `Ivri God, and observe His ways. Naomi found comfort from her husband’s death and companionship in her two new daughters-in-law. For awhile, that first sign of impending tragedy, instead of serving as a warning, simply was accepted as a part of life.

  A gust of bitter wind seemed to ignore the stones, enwrapping the women in a blanket of cold. They huddled closer together. Naomi’s memory surged, choking up another bitter memory. This time, the first real signs of tragedy danced boldly in her mind.

  MaHlon had burst into the common house looking for Khilyon. Naomi felt a surge of panic at seeing her son’s agitation. A hollow seemed to form in the depth of her soul. She pushed herself away from it instantly, but a residue remained. “What’s wrong?” She asked hesitantly. Her son calmed somewhat at the sight of his mother. “It’s the sheep,” his tone serious, but the alarm diminished. “Several died in the night, suddenly, and many of the others …” His voice trailed off. “I don’t know,” he continued, “but they seem … lifeless, and their wool is falling away.”

  Throughout the years of her marriage to Elimelekh, Naomi had become familiar with many of the trials of herding, but something in her son’s tone, or some other unseen force, caused a lump of panic in her throat. She felt herself hurtling towards that abyss again. “It will be okay,” she offered, trying to assure herself as much as her son. “It’s not the first time we’ve lost a few sheep.” Her son simply nodded and continued his search for his brother, Khilyon.

  Within three days, the entire flock of over three hundred sheep was inexplicably dead. Two weeks later their flock of goats followed them to the ash pile. During the same fortnight, bandits managed to steal five of their camels and several horses. The brothers were forced to undersell another camel to buy a much needed milk goat and other supplies. As setback followed setback, their workers fled, accompanied by increasing speculative whispers of curses and encroaching darkness.

  Rumors kept their neighbors at bay. Evil had come to roost amongst the strangers.

  When the last of their workers finally fled, they liberally rewarded themselves with a generous severance. They took anything they could lay their hands upon. Within a month, the
family seemed to descend as far as anyone thought possible. A cloud of doom hung over their lives. Each new day was met with dread and uncertainty.

  Then, when failing to return from their fields, Khilyon went looking for his brother. He found him lying amongst the barley. He was conscious but incoherent. His body covered in a cold sweat. Two days later Khilyon was struck with the same malady. Though it took nearly a year of suffering, the two brothers never rose from their sickbeds. Yet, long before their last breath, the once proud estate was in ruins; nothing was left. The three surviving women were forced to dig their men’s graves themselves.

  The winds continued to howl, echoing the lamentations of Naomi’s heart. She prayed for mercy from the Almighty. A bitter mercy – that He would be kind enough to end her suffering too and join her with her husband and sons. The winds seemed to laugh in response.

  ***

  A thin line of light creased the eastern horizon heralding the imminent dawn. Naomi let out a small sigh as she noticed it. She sat outside facing the east, her back towards her home, consumed with thoughts and memories.

  Sometime in the night the winds had stopped. And though she had been awake the entire night, she only noticed the storm’s end long after it had settled. The storm of the last three days suddenly was no more and a calm now rested on the world. Naomi did not share the same calm. Today she would rise from her official mourning, but rise to what? Where would she go? The Almighty did not seem to leave her many options.

  As her eyes focused on the horizon, she saw shadows. Against the backdrop of the rising sun, dark shapes seemed to grow before her. Blinking away the fog of her reverie, her consciousness gave voice to the visage: a trade caravan heading towards the west. Yet, it had been so long since she had seen such a vision; it felt more illusion than real.

  As the caravan approached, Naomi recognized three men riding donkeys with another three or four walking along side. There were about a half a dozen camels, laden with various packs and sacks holding their wares. The men all wore light colored wools, which, with the rising sun at their backs, seemed to glow.

  Then, the caravan seemed to stop in its tracks. Naomi watched in wonder, trying to decipher the travelers’ actions, but it was too far. She watched the men dismount, and then the entire group froze in place. Her eyes squinted to decipher details of the scene, but with the sun behind the group, their efforts were fruitless.

  Almost as instantly as it had stopped, the caravan continued on its trajectory, and now, with the sun firmly established in the heavenly sky above their heads, it was clear that the caravan’s path was directed towards her estate. Though, she still couldn’t decide if it was by happenstance or design.

  Naomi rose from the ground, absentmindedly pulling her shawl tighter. Even though the morning air was cold, her chill seemed to emanate from within. She took a step or two towards their approach, but no more. Squinting into the sun, Naomi awaited their arrival.

  As the members of the caravan became distinct entities, Naomi’s eyes widened with surprise. She saw the distinct fringes of her people hanging from the corners of the travelers’ garments. Now searching, her eyes soon registered small black boxes peering out from beneath their head wraps. The boxes, a sign of the covenant with the Holy One containing verses from their holy text, were mandated by the Almighty for the men of Yisrael to wear. The trade caravan was from the Land of Yisrael. And it was returning home.

  Questions filled her mind. Considering the wares it seemed laden with, it had been a successful trade. Yet, how had Yehudah, beset by famine, anything to trade with anyone?

  When the caravan was less than a hundred amoth (about fifty meters) away, one of the travelers, a short round man with a thick black beard, which seemed to grow away from his face, dismounted and approached Naomi. With his hands folded across his chest, his steps were measured, while his eyes directed towards a spot on the ground about a handbreadth before the widow.

  “TinaHmi min ha-Shamayim. May you be comforted from the Heavens,” the stranger proffered.

  Naomi startled. The holy language, which her ears had longed to hear for over a year, combined with the unconventional greeting made her jolt. How? She questioned. Then her hand absently went to the tear in her dress over her heart, the ceremonial tear of a mourner. One is not suppose to offer the regular greeting to a mourner. She wondered at what point this stranger knew her status.

  The tears fought to begin to flow anew.

  “I,” she paused to compose herself, “I rise from my mourning today.” Then she added, “Shalom Alekhem. Peace unto you, sir.” Then she added, as much to herself as to the visitor, “You’re actually the first comforter we’ve received.” The bitterness was not hidden from her voice.

  The traveler shifted uncomfortably, not knowing how to respond. His bulbous nose seemed to twitch.

  Almost as way of apology, Naomi explained, “I buried my two sons last week.”

  “Barukh dayan ha-emeth. Blessed is the True Judge,” the traveler intoned the traditional response for hearing bad news, but his words were hesitant, unsure as to how they would be received.

  Suddenly, Naomi recognized him: It was Shimon, from the Hetsron clan. She wondered if he had recognized her, though, due to his pious adherance to modesty, it would be unlikely. She remembered him as one of the Elders, a pious man. Shimon wouldn’t gaze at a married woman’s face without cause. Despite the heaviness of her grief, her heart lifted, if ever so slightly, at the chance meeting of a fellow countryman. She wondered what this man thought of a daughter of Yisrael dwelling in the plains of Moav.

  Naomi broke the awkward silence. “Forgive me, but I haven’t any way of fulfilling the provisions of welcoming the stranger.

  Her confession cued the traveler to action. Waving his hand, he offered, “We have plenty, allow us the merit of comforting the mourner, even if it is a little tardy.” Without waiting for a reply. Shimon turned and quickly waddled towards his fellow travelers. His hands gesturing instructions even before his mouth voiced them. Within a short time, a small encampment sprung to life in the desolate courtyard of Naomi’s home.

  ***

  She watched the trade caravan diminish into the distance. Even though she had already decided that she would return to BethleHem, she wouldn’t have been able to travel with the caravan. Regardless, the news they brought was like a message from the Almighty Himself, a reprieve, if not a complete pardon, of her sentence. Yehudah was flourishing again; The Master of the World had rescinded His hand of strict Justice against her people. There was hope that her sentence would also be commuted.

  Ruth and Orpah were busy bundling the few utensils that the family still owned as Naomi stood in the courtyard of her once majestic estate. Again, the memories berated her, yet, despite their sharpness, there was a point of light buried in their attack. Maybe, she would yet find solace with her people. Her people; the thought suddenly elicited pangs of fear. When she left them, she was a princess; she would now be returning as a pauper. She would be at their mercy. She hoped they would show her more mercy than she had shown them.

  Naomi turned to leave the courtyard; her two daughters-in-law were standing in the shadow of the afternoon sun. Tears stained their faces. Seemingly on cue, the three women embraced, sharing their silent memories. Yet, the hug was brief, for each realized that they should begin their journey. The three women silently left the courtyard and turned their steps towards the road that would lead them to the land of Yehudah.

  The three women, holding hands began to walk together. They hadn’t gone more than forty steps when Naomi stopped in her tracks.

  Suddenly, she was hit with the realization that her daughters-in-law were leaving their home to become strangers in her country. Naomi wasn’t even sure about her own survival; she surely couldn’t bring these young women with her. She would have nothing to give them. Their future would be as bleak as hers was in M
oav.

  Naomi stopped in her track. “What are you doing, my daughters? Go back, both of you. Return to your mother’s house. May the Almighty grant you peace and show you kindness in return for the kindness you have shown to the departed, and to me. Go. I have nothing to offer you.”

  The two women, the two sisters looked at each other, each wrestling with their own desires and expectations. Both had grown to love both Naomi and her God. How could they abandon them? For surely returning to their people, they would be cut off from both.

  Silence seemed to hang in the air for an eternity.

  It was finally broken by Naomi. “Go back, already. You’ve more than fulfilled your obligations to me. May the Almighty grant each of you rest in your own homes, in the home, and arms, of another husband.”

  Again, neither sister knew what to do. They stood there, shifting their feet, their eyes drifting from the ground to the other sister, waiting for some unknown cue.

  Naomi pulled them into her arms and kissed them. The three broke into tears, weeping without restraint.

  Ruth broke the silence first. “We will stay with you, Mother. We will go back with you to your people.”

  Orpah immediately concurred, “Yes, Mother, we haven’t anything really to return to. We will stay with you.”

  “No my daughters. I have nothing to offer you. I haven’t even a home” Naomi tried to maintain her composure. In truth, she loved her daughters-in-law very much, and was afraid to face returning to Yehudah alone, but that would not be fair to them. That would not be good for them.

  When her daughters-in-law remained silent, Naomi continued, “Return home, my daughters, my beautiful daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons to take you for wives? You are free from your obligations, Return home.”

  Ruth shook her head slowly in silent protest. She couldn’t articulate it, but she would not leave her mother-in-law. Abandoning her meant abandoning everything that had meaning in her life. It would mean abandoning the holiness of her husband’s people.

 
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