Monday, March 10, 2003

Ruth, Cervantes and lentil soup.
In high school we read Bialik’s shortened Hebrew version of Cervantes’ “Don Quixote”. It gave me incentive to read the lot and I had a shot at the English translation I found at home. I didn’t get very far but I was impressed with what was written on the back cover. Don Quixote, it said sagaciously, should be read three times in a life: In youth, in adulthood and in old age. I didn’t get it, but it did sound meaningful. It mainly made me frustrated that I wasn’t about to read it in youth, feeling uneasy that I was missing some major thing that I wouldn’t ever be able to recapture at a later date.

We were sitting in the Happy Chef restaurant in Mitzpe Ramon, this weekend. Youngest was telling us about the lentil soup Y’s father brought to the class to help explain about Esau selling his birthright to Jacob. “It was very nice, but not nearly as good as yours and Safta’s, Ima” (Ima=Mom; Safta=Grandma). I’ve told you before about my mother-in-law’s lentil soup. Eldest began talking vaguely about the story of Ruth. For some reason, she was mixing the two stories up in her mind. She couldn’t remember it very well, and I filled in the details for her, trying to make it as concise as possible, in case she lost interest. I got to the bit where the widow Naomi is returning home to the Land of Israel from Moav, following the deaths of her sons, and one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth the Moavite, insists on going with her and says to her “Ki el-asher telchi, elech” (Wherever you will go, I will go) and more. I tried to quote those words but I just couldn’t say them. I was suddenly all choked with emotion. It took me a minute or two before I managed to get them out.

When I learnt the Book of Ruth as a child, and whenever I thought about the story (in my neighborhood of Carmeliya in Haifa, site of last weeks terrorist attack, there was a Naomi street and a Ruth Street, so I did feel a connection to the story), I was taken by the romantic story of Ruth and Boaz. I don’t think I took much notice of Naomi. I saw nothing out of the ordinary about Ruth’s choice.

Now I am a daughter-in-law. I have a wonderful mother-in-law. I’m very fond of her and I know how unusual this is. Hey, I speak to people. I know that friction with one’s mother-in-law is quite common. But, despite our very warm relationship, had Bish died (tfu tfu tfu) before we had had any kids, would I have left my family and my home and followed my mother-in-law, unprotected and penniless, to an unknown foreign land, most likely for a life of degradation and abject poverty, if not worse? Highly unlikely.

It is, of course, possible that Ruth had an awful family and would rather risk death than go back to living with them as a widow. Even so.

Not something I could appreciate as a child.

So at long last I am beginning to understand the words on the back cover of that old copy of Don Quixote. A tale, and its lessons, can be seen very differently at different ages. I wonder how I will feel about the story of Ruth when I myself am a mother-in-law (should I have the good fortune to live that long).

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One of the best things about blogging is some of the people I have had the privilege to meet (as it were). Alisa here shares some very moving stuff about her life.