For the Sake of a Woman

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. Sender Rozesz is Jewrotica’s resident Double Mitzvah columnist. The views reflected in his writing represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated.

Rated PG-13

As the Jewish people neared the Promised Land, they came upon five different kingdoms and countries bordering Israel. Each kingdom was decidedly hostile to the nascent nation; but the instructions that G-d gave the Israelites with respect to how to treat each of these kingdoms was markedly different.

The five kingdoms were: Moab, Ammon, Se’ir, and the Emorites, who were divided into two kingdoms ruled by Sichon and Og, respectively. In this week’s Parshah, Devarim, the Torah recalls the different approaches that the Israelites had to each of these foes.

Se’ir: “You are about to pass through the boundary of your kinsmen, the children of Esau, who dwell in Se’ir, and they will be afraid of you. Be very careful. You shall not provoke them, for I will not give you any of their land not so much as a foot step, because I have given Mount Se’ir to Esau for an inheritance.[1]”

Moab: “Do not distress the Moabites, and do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land as an inheritance, because I have given Ar to the children of Lot as an inheritance.”[2]

Ammon: “When you approach the children of Ammon, neither distress them, nor provoke them, for I will not give you of the land of the children of Ammon as an inheritance, because I have given it to the children of Lot as an inheritance.” [3]

On the other hand:

Sichon: “Behold, I have delivered into your hand Sichon the Emorite, king of Heshbon, and his land: Begin to possess it, and provoke him to war.” [4]

Og: “Do not fear him, for I have given him, all his people, and his land into your hand, and you shall do to him as you did to Sichon, king of the Emorites, who dwelt in Heshbon.” [5]

Why the distinction? What was it about Se’ir, Moab, and Ammon that left them unmolested?

The truly peculiar one is Moab. Ammon never really interfered or provoked the Jewish people. Se’ir refused them passage through its land, but otherwise left them alone. Moab, however, went out to hire Bala’am to curse the Israelites; and when that failed they, along with the Midianites, concocted a scheme to seduce the Israelites into idol-worship. Yet, when G-d commanded that the Israelites exact retribution for the plot, he commanded that they do so from the Midianites — not the Moabites. Why punish Midian but let Moab off the hook?

With respect to all three of the kingdoms that G-d spared — Se’ir, Moab and Ammon — G-d explains that He will not give the Israelites their land as an inheritance, as it was already promised. But is that really a good reason not to take revenge on the Moabites? After all, when the Jewish people took revenge on the Midianites, they didn’t take their land anyway.

There is one other reason offered for why both Moab and Ammon were spared: for a woman.

In two different Torah portions over the past couple of weeks does the Torah command the Israelites to take revenge on the Midianites, and in both places, Rashi explains why they were not similarly commanded to provoke the Moabites. The first time, he explains that this was “for the sake of Ruth, who was destined to issue from them.” [6] The second time, he explains that this was “because of the two good birds whom I will bring forth from them: Ruth the Moabitess and Na’amah the Ammonitess.”[7]

In other words, G-d spared two entire nations — one of which had done their best to bring about His people’s destruction — because they were destined to produce Ruth and Na’amah (not to be confused with Ruth’s mother-in-law Na’ami).

Who were Ruth and Na’amah?

Ruth, the far more famous of the two, was the righteous convert who, after being widowed, could not bear to be parted from her Israelite mother-in-law, and returned with her to the Land of Israel. There, at Naomi’s urging, she met and married Boaz. Their great-grandson was King David.

Na’amah was King Solomon’s wife, and the mother of his only recorded heir, Rehoboam. After King Solomon died, the Jewish kingdom split into two: The Kingdom of Israel to the north, and the Kingdom of Judah to the south. Rehoboam was the king of Judah, and it is largely to his (dis)credit that the kingdom split.

But Ruth and Na’amah are not celebrated merely because they were both mothers to kings — especially as Rehoboam was not a particularly good one. They probably weren’t even the only foreign mothers to kings in the Davidic dynasty. And how about Ruth’s and Na’amah’s mothers — aren’t they equally responsible for their daughters’ offspring? And couldn’t G-d have just said “David and Rehoboam, who are descended from them”?

No, the Talmud specifically states that Ruth and Na’amah were themselves the purpose of G-d’s clemency toward Moab and Ammon; that they were the “good birds” that G-d was waiting for.

We also can’t simply ignore the Torah’s statement that that Moab and Ammon were spared because their land was given to Lot’s children as an inheritance. Oh, and by the way — why is that? What did Lot ever do to earn such an inheritance?

Clearly, the answer to all of this must have something to do with what Lot, Ruth, and Na’amah have in common.

If you recall, both Moab and the father of Ammon — Ben Ami — were children of Lot, whom he sired upon his daughters while in a drunken stupor. Moab was the son of the eldest daughter; and Ammon was the son of the youngest. These historic liaisons, which took place deep in a dark cave, appear to have so significant as to dictate the fates of their national offspring. Indeed, although the Israelites were forbidden to wage war against either Moab or Ammon, G-d commanded the Israelites to not even frighten Ammon. Why? As a reward for the modesty shown by Lot’s younger daughter, who did not publicize that her son was from her father, calling him Ben Ammi — son of my nation — as did her elder sister, who named her son Moab, from the Hebrew word Me-av (מֵאָב) — “from father.” [8]

Significantly, Lot’s daughters are credited with doing a mitzvah — a praiseworthy act — prompting the Talmud to give the following moral advice: “A man should always try to be first in the performance of a mitzvah, as on account of the one night by which the elder daughter preceded the younger daughter, she preceded her by four generations in having a descendant join the nation of Israel: Oved, Yishai, David and Solomon, whereas the younger had no descendant join Israel until Rehoboam.”[9] So the younger daughter was more modest, but less eager, so her descendants were spared the Israelites’ saber-rattling, but did not actually join the Jewish nation until two generations later.

Lot’s two daughters, whose names we have never learned, were strong, independent, and determined women, who were unafraid to utilize their sexuality to its maximum effect to accomplish what they thought was right. At that moment, they thought they needed to ensure the perpetuation of humankind, so — society be damned — they did it.

Ruth, too — apart from her inspiration as a convert, and the inspiring love that she shared with Na’ami — took it upon herself (with Na’ami’s coaxing) to pursue Boaz. She waited until after “Boaz ate and drank, and his heart was merry, and he went to lie at the edge of the stack, and she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. And it came to pass at midnight, and the man quaked and was taken around, and behold a woman was lying at his feet.” [10] Rashi explains that with the words “the man quaked and was taken around,” the Torah means that “he thought it was a demon and attempted to scream, but she held him and enveloped him with her arms.”

This type of romantic/sexual aggression by a woman, a convert — and especially toward a “a mighty man of valor” such as Boaz — was unheard of. And her departure from traditional notions of modesty and propriety were amply rewarded. “And Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he was intimate with her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son.” [11] That son was King David’s grandfather.

And Na’amah?

Like her ancestress, the younger daughter of Lot, Na’amah’s role is a bit more modest. Indeed, there is scant information regarding Na’amah in the Scripture. However here is what we do know. We know that King Solomon became king when he was 12, that he reigned for forty years, and died at the age of 52. We know that he was born in the Hebrew year 2,512. We know that Solomon’s son Rehoboam was born in the year 2,523. We know that Na’amah was Solomon’s wife and Rehoboam’s mother. Thus, we know that Solomon married Na’amah at the tender age of 10, and had Rehoboam when he was 11.

So Na’amah, in all likelihood, was Solomon’s first and early love, and his first introduction to romance. Was she a political gift, designed to strengthen ties between the Jewish and Ammonite kingdoms? We don’t know for sure. [12] What we do know is that though Solomon is said to have later married 700 wives and 300 concubines, the only one ever mentioned by name is Na’amah. It would be no stretch to suggest that the Song of Songs, whatever their spiritual allegorical meaning, was also a love song featuring Solomon’s first bride, Na’amah.

The Song of Songs opens up with a quote — not from its male author, but from his female lover. “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for your love is better than wine…. Draw me, we will run after you; the king brought me to his chambers.” [13]

This sentiment of “running after” Solomon — far from being the expression of a twittering, insecure female chasing a male — is actually the manifestation of a much deeper and more profound sense of self. She knows what she wants, and she is neither ashamed nor shy of pursuing it until “the king brought me to his chambers.” This woman, who was capable of capturing Solomon and teaching him all that he knew of love, was Na’amah, a foreigner, the descendant of Lot’s youngest daughter and her son, Ben-Ammi; and it was for the sake of bringing her into being that G-d spared the entire nation of Ammon.

It is vital that any society — and especially G-d’s model society — have a set of rules and mores that govern their existence and that permeate their culture. However, time and again we see that it is specifically those who understood the limitations of those rules and when an unconventional approach would be appropriate, that have achieved the ultimate greatness. Indeed, the entire royal lineage of the righteous Moshiach comes from the unorthodox unions of Solomon and Na’amah, Ruth and Boaz, Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar, and Lot and his daughters.

Shabbat Shalom!

Works Cited


[1] Deuteronomy, 2:4-5.

[2] Deuteronomy, 2:9.

[3] Deuteronomy, 2:19.

[4] Deuteronomy, 2:24.

[5] Deuteronomy, 3:2.

[6] Numbers, 25:18, Rashi.

[7] Numbers, 31:2, Rashi., quoting Babylonian Talmud, Bava Kamma, 38b.

[8] Babylonian Talmud, Bava Kamma. 38b.

[9] Id.

[10] Ruth, 3:7-8.

[11] Ruth, 4:13.

[12] A Midrashic legend of questionable origin places Na’amah at the center of Solomon’s exile from his palace by the Ashmodai, the king of demons (see Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 68b). Ashmodai gained power over Solomon by convincing him to remove his special ring, which had the name of G-d engraved in it, which Ashmodai then cast into the ocean. Now a penniless wanderer, Solomonfound himself in the palace of the king of Ammon, where he served as a guard (or chef). There, he fell in love with Na’amah, the princess. However, when she insisted on marrying Solomon, whom her father saw as a mere servant however, they were boths expelled from the kingdom. Their wanderings took them near the ocean, where Na’amah found a fish, inside of which was Solomon’s ring. the ring restored Solomon to his former power, and he returned to his palace, ousting Ashmodai who had been masquerading as Solomon in his absence.

[13] Song of Songs, 1:2,4.