She answered, “You are most kind, my lord, to comfort me and to speak gently to your maidservant – though I am not so much as one of your maidservants.” Ruth 2:13 JPS
Comfort/ speak gently – Ruth acknowledges Boaz’ favor with a reply that says more than the translation. She uses two constructions, naham (to comfort) and dabar al-lev (to speak to the heart), that reveal greater depth. Let’s take a look.
First, the use of naham often occurs in the Tanakh after some major crisis. It is commonly associated with God’s comfort of His people after they have endured calamity (cf. the famous passage in Isaiah 40:1-2). When Ruth uses this verb, she is not merely acknowledging Boaz’ hen (kindness). She is indicating that his kindness comes after a great tragedy. Her speech encourages the next obvious question, “What happened to you?” Although the text doesn’t tell us that Boaz asked this question, the inquiry lingers in the air.
Secondly, Ruth’s phrase dibarta al lev (“you have spoken of the heart”) appears only seven times in the Tanakh. Eskenazi notes that each of these occurrences comes “after some kind of breach or disaster.” The other occurrences provide a rich set of allusions in Ruth’s speech. They are encouragement in time of loss, threats of war, the story of Dinah, an attempt to woo back an estranged wife, Hosea and Gomer, and God’s attempt to woo back Jerusalem. Two things emerge from this rich language. First, Ruth’s speech carries overtones that invite Boaz’ curiosity and compassion. Ruth suggests continued involvement in the opening verb, “to find favor,” translated “most kind.” The verb is an imperfect meaning that the action isn’t completed yet. Ruth encourages Boaz to keep on being kind. Secondly, the fact that “you have spoken to the heart” is used by the prophets to describe God’s action could indicate that Ruth was written during a time when the prophetic use of this phrase would have been understood. In one sense, Ruth’s speech becomes God’s speech, hinting at desired reconciliation between Moab and Israel, the invisible theme of Ruth.
Now that we see how much more is involved in this simple reply, we can ask ourselves about the implications. First we recognize that God comforts after storms. Ruth’s use of naham asks us to pose the question for ourselves. Do we look for comfort after disaster? Do we look for it from God and from His servants? Have we really absorbed the truth that God longs to comfort? Or are we stuck with blaming God for the circumstances?
The second question follows. Are we aware of the invisible hand of God made visible in ordinary people in our lives? Do we recognize kindness after calamity as God’s intervention?
Topical Index: naham, to comfort, dabar al-lev, speak gently, Ruth 2:13, Isaiah 40:1-2
 Tamara Eskenazi and Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Ruth: The JPS Bible Commentary, p. 39.