Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed be he of the LORD, who has not failed in His kindness to the living or to the dead!” Ruth 2:20 JPS
Has not failed – What does Ruth have to do with Rebekah? If you read the two stories in Hebrew, you would be struck by the repeated phrase lo-azav hasdo (has not abandoned his hesed). This phrase is found in the mouth of Abraham’s servant when Rebekah appears at the well (Genesis 24:27). Eskenazi points out that this phrase occurs only twice in the Tanakh, so it would be hard to miss the connection. While the pronoun in this verse in Ruth is ambiguous (does it refer to God or to Boaz?), the statement in Genesis is quite clear. God is the subject of lo-azav hasdo.
This little linguistic link highlights three important points. First, of course, is the fact that if you read the Tanakh in any other language you will probably miss these exquisite clues. Just like the name of the Messiah, Yeshua, is only a play on the word “salvation” only in Hebrew (which is why the name “Jesus” conveys nothing about this connection), so we find many, many connections between stories and people only in Hebrew. The first lesson of lo-azav hesed is that translations fail us.
The second lesson is not so pleasant. Many scholars argue that Ruth is fiction. They make this claim because, among other things, they find these Hebrew word connections too contrived to be actual events. As we study Ruth, we will find many word plays, allusions and clues to other Hebrew verses. Some scholars consider these indications that the author of Ruth fabricated the story in order to artificially produce these connections. Ruth becomes a teaching tool, not an actual record of real people. I don’t agree, but I do notice that even those who challenge the historical authenticity of Ruth recognize these connections. So how can we who believe the story is real ignore them! I believe that Ruth reflects a culture saturated with God’s language and God’s history. It wouldn’t surprise me to find these clues any more than it surprises me to find allusions to American historical events in the cultural idioms of contemporary American English.
The third lesson is a puzzle. Naomi speaks of God not abandoning His hesed to the dead. But in what way does God show hesed to the dead? Even some of the rabbis struggled with this idea. On this basis, they claimed that the pronoun must refer to Boaz. But this cannot be the case in Genesis so it seems unlikely in Ruth. That leaves us with the question, “What is hesed for the dead?” What does it mean to show benevolence, to take on obligation, to pass on favor to someone who has died? Perhaps the puzzle of Ruth 2:20 can’t be answered yet. Perhaps we need to rethink our idea that “dead and gone” is the final act of life.
Topical Index: has not failed, lo-azav, hesed, Genesis 24:27, Ruth 2:20, dead
 Tamara Eskenazi and Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Ruth: The JPS Bible Commentary, p. 43.