Ruth, Part 4
Blind and lame, the old man drew
The blanket close and clutched the shoe
That he held in his lap, and sat
Beside his faithful son. And at
The back the boy rode bumping down
The same hill from the quiet town
Of Bethlehem. The wooden cart
Was witness to the master art
Of Obed's craft. When he was ten
He built it for the poorest men
And women who would glean the sheaves
That every godly farmer leaves
In Judah for the ones who own
No land. His mother, Ruth, had shown
Him how she used to gather grain,
And beat it out, and what a strain
It was to take the winnowed seed
And walk it up the hill. "They need
A cart," she said. "Don't you believe,
My son, that Moses meant to weave
Together with his law that we
Leave something for the poor, a plea
That, if we can, we help them bear
It up the hill and take it where
They need to go? It seems to me
The holy Torah ought to be
Interpreted to see as much
Compassion as we can. The touch
Of love from this great Book
Once wakened me from death, and shook
Me to the bottom of my soul.
Why not make something that can roll,
And let the gleaners use it when
They're tired?" And so the boy, at ten,
Built them a cart. He thought, "Perhaps
My cart, made out of love and scraps,
Will help the poor to see the hand
Of God, and trust in what he's planned."
Now sixty years have passed. Tonight
The aged craftsman, drives his bright
And eager grandson, and his blind
And failing father down to find
The place he promised David they
Would go when it was dark. The gray
Of twilight turned to night. The boy
Could see on Boaz' face a joy
That broadened to a wrinkled smile.
He knew the ruts of every mile,
Especially the final two
Around the fields, that led down through
The hollow where he used to sift
The barley seed at night, and lift
The spirits of his workers there.
He used to sing a song, and wear
The same clothes as the working men,
And rake and toss his share. And when
The other owners asked him why,
He said, "The Torah says that I
Should love my neighbor just the way
I love myself. Would you not say
That if you labored for a boss,
It would be good to see him toss
The barley every now and then?
We ought to read the Torah, men,
To see as much compassion as
We can. Go read, and find it has
More mercy than you think." But these
Were not the only memories
That made the old man smile tonight.
"Stop here, Obed," he said. "The light.
How much is there, tonight? Is there
A moon? And are there stars?" "It's fare,
My father, and the moon is full."
"That's good," he said, "Obed, let's pull
The cart down to the cedar at
The end." "Great grampa, isn't that
The one where all the people go
To watch the play?" He laughed. "You know
About the play?" "I don't know much.
They say it's all about the touch
Between you and great-gramma Ruth."
"This is my favorite spot," the old
Man said, "And now you shall be told
About that touch, and where it led.
Here, seventy short years have sped
Away since that great night. Because
The heat was great by day, I was
Down winnowing at dark. And when
The work was done, I told the men
To fetch the food and wine so we
Could eat and rest. I couldn't see
What God was just about to do.
When I was full and tired, I threw
This blanket over me and lay
Down underneath that tree. Today
It must be twice as big. I fell
Asleep and dreamed about my belle."
"You mean great-gramma Ruth?" "I do.
And, David, then my dream came true.
At midnight something stirred beneath
My blanket at my feet. My teeth
Clamped like a vice. I carefully
Unsheathed my knife, and tried to see
Where I could strike the beast to kill,
Lest I should miss the head, and still
Be bitten by some snake or worse,
I knew not what. It is a curse,
I thought, for dreaming of my Ruth.
And as I raised the knife, the truth
Rose like a hand against my wrist.
I looked, and thought, ‘This moonlit twist
Beneath the blanket at my feet
Is not a snake. Nor will it eat
My leg. This is a human form.
A child, in search of being warm,
Perhaps. Or worse, some woman of
The street, who hopes to sell me love.'
I whispered, so as not to wake
The men, ‘Who are you? Do not make
A sudden move, or you will die.
If you're a child and cannot buy,
You shall be fed. But if a wench,
You will find nothing here, nor quench
Your hunger in my bed, I would
Not touch a woman, be she good
Or great, outside a covenant,
Though there is one I truly want.'
I pulled the blanket gently back
And there, as still as night, the black
And piercing eyes of Ruth. ‘My name
Is Ruth,' she said. ‘Your servant came,
Because Naomi told me I
Should lie down at your feet and by
This action say you are a kin
To her, in hope that she may win
Your willingness to raise up seed
To Mahlon, if you are agreed.'
‘These are Naomi's words, I hear.
I know her mind, but not, I fear,
Her daughter's heart. This too I would
Be pleased to learn. I hope you could,
Besides this well-taught speech, reveal
Your own designs, and how you feel
About the prospect in her mind.
Or have you no emotions unassigned?'
She lay there motionless, then said,
‘My hearts desire is that you spread
Your holy wing and cover me.'"
"Great-grampa Boaz, I don't see
What all this means." "Well, David now
You know why they do not allow
The kids to come down to the play
Each year." "But listen, here's the way
It ends. My heart was beating in
My throat, and crouching there was sin,
Awaiting one misstep. I spoke
The hardest words, and almost broke:
‘There is another kinsman still
More close to you than I, he will
Be given legal right to take
You if he will. Tomorrow make
Your prayer, and I will settle this
With elders in the gate.' No kiss
That night. But when she left, still dark,
She took my hand and drew an arc,
And said, ‘The God of Exodus
And flood at dawn will fight for us.'
That was our only touch.
As soon as light shown on the low
Gate leading into Bethlehem
I gathered elders, and to them
Laid out my case, and to the head
Whose right preceded mine, I said,
‘Naomi's land is yours. The claim?
You marry Ruth, and keep the name
Of Mahlon in your line. Declare
Your will, for I am next, and swear
That I will take her if you can't.'
I wondered how the Lord would grant
The longing of my heart and by
Another providence comply
With Ruth's appeal and my desire.
And then I learned. He said, ‘Acquire
It for yourself. The land I would
Have had, for it is very good.
But Ruth? She is a Moabite,
And we are Jews. It isn't right.
The land is yours, and Mahlon's name
For what it's worth. And Ruth. And shame.'
He took his shoe and gave it to
Me in the gate. I turned and threw
It out to Ruth among the crowd.
She caught it like a wreath and bowed.
I quieted the shouts and cried,
‘What do you think of this my bride?'
And she replied, ‘I think the Lord
Has fought today, and with his sword
Has stuck a sin up on the gate
And hung on it our wedding date.
As for the badge of shame, you tell:
The line of Judah bears it well,
And will for generations yet
To come. The book of Moses set
Me free. There is a mercy in
The law of God beyond my skin:
By faith God makes a person right,
Be she a Jew or Moabite.'"
Come candle four and blaze this truth.
Ignite in us the faith of Ruth.
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