Thursday, December 10, 2009

Return from Moab - Ruth 1:7-9

Now we're getting somewhere. If we were indeed hearing the story for the first time, we would not, as I have done, have read the story through several times, and translated it into our own tongue, and laboured carefully over every word to see if we could hear what those ancient children gathered around the fire might have heard. But we have looked at this story, and we have not understood it. We have been told it is good, but we have not had it told to us as a dramatic presentation that is meant to grip our life as we grasp in hope some promised blessing that we aren't quite sure we are a part of.

We knew we were in trouble - like Naomi, but we hear there was hope, that the One we hoped in had provided bread back home, so we turn back as she did

וַתֵּצֵא מִן-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר הָיְתָה-שָּׁמָּה וּשְׁתֵּי כַלּוֹתֶיהָ עִמָּהּ
and she emerged from the place there where she was and her two daughters-in-law with her

The tense of our emergence is imperfect, but preceded by the vav, it is story and it is complete. We are on the way but we are perfected and are returning home. (There is trouble with this word game, so do be patient - even those who we do not want to share perfection with will not be without it in spite of our bitterness.)

We have emerged from the place - ha-maqom - which was ours. And we like Naomi are not alone.
וַתֵּלַכְנָה בַדֶּרֶךְ לָשׁוּב אֶל-אֶרֶץ יְהוּדָה
and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah
She realizes that they - third person feminine of the verb to walk יָלַךְ - should not come with her - ba-derek - in the way. How can she find them a spot in Bethlehem? Wouldn't they be better off here with their own people?
וַתֹּאמֶר נָעֳמִי לִשְׁתֵּי כַלֹּתֶיהָ לֵכְנָה שֹּׁבְנָה אִשָּׁה לְבֵית אִמָּהּ
 and Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, Go - turn back - each to the house of her mother
Again we are hearing the vav+imperfect, also called preterite which is the backbone of story telling. And we see the word for two shanim adjusted to shtei for the feminine construct - well not exactly construct but it sounds like a similar structure - modifying the following feminine plural noun with the possessive female pronoun. כלה in the plural כלות then with the following ה for the possessive, dropping the vav and requiring a yod י to make it pronounceable? כַלֹּתֶיהָ (Lambdin lessons 19-20)
יעשה יְהוָה עִמָּכֶם חֶסֶד כַּאֲשֶׁר עֲשִׂיתֶם עִם-הַמֵּתִים וְעִמָּדִי
may יְהוָה deal with you with mercy as you have dealt with those who died and with me

We need mercy to learn grammar. Naomi is speaking. So no preterite, but direct speech, an imperfect form? Yes. But a jussive - a third person imperative - a plea - a prayer to Hashem for mercy as indeed we might pray for those who could not accompany us that they have mercy of that sort as we have intimated the beginnings of  for ourselves. What is this 'with you' with a male second person plural ending immakem? These two are women - why is it not immaken, the female plural second person ending?  (Seven times in Ruth we will find this anomolous apparently masculine ending in this highly gendered language - see Campbell page 65 where he surmises it is an archaic feminine dual ending.) The odd ending occurs again in this same phrase - עֲשִׂיתֶם. We would expect עֲשִׂיתֶן  Mercy indeed.
יִתֵּן יְהוָה לָכֶם וּמְצֶאןָ מְנוּחָה אִשָּׁה בֵּית אִישָׁהּ
may יְהוָה give to you and may you find rest each in the house of her husband
Another jussive - and that word natan that loses letters if you look at it. And another masculine looking feminine dual! Or perhaps it just rhymes with verse 6 לָתֵת לָהֶם לָחֶם (to give - natan with nothing but a t to tell us - to them, bread). That they should find rest.  We must look further to this word (מְנוּחָה) - it sounds like an important thing to find. (Is it perhaps related to the Greek of John 14 μονή? - pure hunch...) I am ignoring the form of find in this sentence. Campbell notes it as imperative but other sources I have do not. Is Naomi commanding  יְהוָה - I can't quite understand if this is significant.

וַתִּשַּׁק לָהֶן וַתִּשֶּׂאנָה קוֹלָן וַתִּבְכֶּינָה
and she kissed them and they lifted up their voice and wept

Note the female third person plural ending as expected here. And we are back to the story-telling sequence of preterites vav+imperfect. (Imperatives to come on the chiastic reprise in verses 11-12 if I remember).

It's a cliffhanger - an opening without a closing - to be continued...

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