Lesson 4: Ruth 1:11-18

See the bottom of this post for an audio recording of the live class.

וַתֹּאמֶר נָעֳמִי שֹׁבְנָה בְנֹתַי לָמָּה תֵלַכְנָה עִמִּי הַעוֹד־לִי בָנִים בְּמֵעַי וְהָיוּ לָכֶם לַאֲנָשִׁים׃
(Ruth 1:11)

Need help reading? See “Reading Tutor, Ruth 1:11.”

Click here to go to the article: “TIKVAH, THE CORD OF HOPE.”

Vs. 11 is by itself a good lesson in two important kinds of question words (interrogatives) in Hebrew: an interrogative pronoun (what, who, where, why, how) and the interrogative particle (a simple prefix in Hebrew which renders a clause a question.

Often in spoken language, a listener can only tell by the inflection of someone’s voice whether a statement is a declaration or question. In written English, sometimes a question mark is the only way we can tell a statement is a question, as in “The car is green?” In spoken English there would be a rising pitch on the word “green” to indicate this is not a declaration. In written English, the question mark is the clue.

In vs. 11, the word עוֹד is preceded by the letter ה. For beginners it can be difficult to tell if this is simply the definite article (the word “the”) or the interrogative particle. Two clues tell you this is the question designator here. First, since עוֹד means “more” or “yet,” it makes no sense to place a definite article before it (“the more” is nonsensical in this sentence of you try to use it). Second, since ע is a guttural, the definite article would take the qametz vowel as in הָ. So the הַ converts the phrase עוֹד–לִי בָנִים (“more sons to me [there are]”) into a question (“[are there] to me more sons?”).

Vs. 11 also has an example of the second kind of question word, the interrogative pronoun: לָמָּה תֵלַכְנָה עִמִּי in which lammah is the question word “why”. It converts “you will go with me” into “why should you go with me.” Note that the imperfect verb תֵלַכְנָה can mean future (you will go) or continuing (you were/will be going) or modal (you would/should go). The interrogative pronoun gives the modal sense.


  • וַתֹּאמֶר נָעֳמִי Begins with a standard vav-conversive 3fs from אמר. The subject is Naomi.
  • שֹׁבְנָה Is the Imperative fp of שׁוב (the feminine plural command verb).
  • בְנֹתַי This word looks difficult and it takes a bit of detective work to break it down. The context of the story helps a great deal and might clue the reader in that it is some form of the word for daughter. The singular “daughter” is בַּת and the rather unusual plural “daughters” is בַּנוֹת. What has happened here is that the suffix for “my” has been tagged onto the end of בַּנוֹת which has caused a shortening of the first vowel and a reduction of the kholem-vav וֹ to a simple kholem. בַּנוֹת “daughters” has become בְנֹתַי “my daughters”.
  • לָמָּה תֵלַכְנָה See above on “Interrogatives.” לָמָּה is the interrogative pronoun “why.” תֵלַכְנָה is the Imperfect 3fp of הלך. An Imperfect verb can be future (you will go) or continuing (you were/will be going) or modal (you would/should walk). An interrogative suggests a modal use (why should you go?).
  • עִמִּי This is the preposition עִם with the 1cs (first common singular, same if masculine or feminine) suffix.
  • הַעוֹד–לִי בָנִים See above on “Interrogatives.” The ה is the interrogative particle which converts the phrase into a question. It converts the phrase עוֹד–לִי בָנִים (“more sons to me [there are]”) into a question (“[are there] to me more sons?”).
  • בְּמֵעַי This is a very difficult puzzle for a reader of Hebrew. The student might begin by guessing that the בְּ is the preposition “in,” and that the י suffix is the 1cs (“my”). That leaves two consonants מע and the question, “What is the root?” If the student guesses that it is the third letter which has disappeared (a good guess), it is common for a third-position ה to disappear from a root. Sure enough מעה is listed in the lexicon as a noun meaning “inner parts, womb, belly.”
  • וְהָיוּ Here the conjunction ו stands before a Perfect 3 mp of היה (“they are”). But the entire expression in vs. 11 has been modal (would/should), so that we can easily understand here the meaning is not “and they were” but “that they would be.”
  • לָכֶם לַאֲנָשִׁים These two prepositional phrases begin with ל “to” or “for.” The כֶם ending means “you” (mp). Why a masculine plural when the “you” here is the two daughters? This happens several times in Ruth and scholars debate the reason. Robert Holmstedt (Ruth: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text) believes these masculine endings suggest Naomi was speaking colloquially, giving a foreign sound or color to her speech (like modern authors using “wrong” spellings to indicate an accent). לַאֲנָשִׁים has after the preposition the plural of אִישׁ (it is an unusual plural, so many new readers would not know where to look in the lexicon for it).


VERSE 12, This verse and vs. 13 are difficult and would be almost impossible for new readers of Hebrew to translate. Therefore, for these verses I will give more help than usual: shoe-ve-nah be-noe-tie is the same as in vs. 11. laykh-na is the Imperative fp from hey-lamed-kaf. It is unusual in that the final hey is missing. kee is a common that can mean “because” or “for.” za-kan-tee is the Perfect of zayin-qof-nun. In the phrase mee-h’yoat the mem is the prefixed preposition “from” and h’yoat is the Infinitive of hey-yod-hey. An infinitive can often be rendered as a verb preceded by “to” as in “to be” or with an “-ing” suffix as in “being.” Here the meaning of mee-h’yoat is “from being.” le-eesh is the prefixed preposition “to” in front of “man” or (better) “husband.” The meaning of mee-h’yoat le-eesh is “from being for a husband” or “to be married.” kee amartee is an if-statement (a conditional clause) with kee here marking the conditionality (“if”) and amartee being the Perfect 1cs (first person common singular) of alef-mem-resh (“if I said”). The condition will be expanded by two gam (rhymes with “tom”) clauses. Conditional statements in Hebrew can be very difficult, so that even expert grammarians argue over exact nuances. yeish-lee tikvah is the rest of the “if” clause. yeish is the particle meaning “there is” (stating that the person possesses something) and lee is the preposition lamed with the 1cs (first person common singular) ending (“to me”). tikvah is the word for “hope,” but see “The Cord of Hope” for more information about this beautiful word and its use in the Bible. The conditional clause (“if I said there is to me hope”) is expanded by two clauses beginning with gam (“also” or “even”). gam hayeetee ha-lie-lah le-eesh features an unusual use of the verb “to be” (hey-yod-hey) in the Perfect 1cs (first person common singular = “I was” or in this case perhaps “I would be”). ha-lie-lah is the word for “night” with the definite article, but instead of meaning “the night” it means here “tonight.” le-eesh is the preposition lamed prefixed to eesh. The clause is difficult to translate for a beginner, but might be something like this: “even if I would be tonight for a husband” (i.e., “even if I would be married tonight”). The second gam clause further expands the “if” statement: vegam yalad-tee vaneem begins with the conjunction vav prefixed to gam. yalad-tee is the Perfect 1cs from yod-lamed-dalet. vaneem is the plural form of bet-nun. Do not be confused, the verse division comes before the sentence is finished. The “if” statement expanded by two “even if” statements is about to be answered in the first clause of vs. 13.

VERSE 13: This is a difficult verse, far too advanced for beginning readers of Hebrew. ha-lahayn is the interrogative hey (see “Interrogatives” at the beginning of this lesson) prefixed to the preposition lamed and the 3fp ending (“for them”). So the whole word could be rendered “should for them” (the start of a question). But the “them” refers to the sons Naomi hypothetically might have from vs. 12. Why a feminine ending referring the males? This is another example of exchanging mems and nuns in Naomi’s speech, which some think is the writer of Ruth making her speech sound archaic or perhaps like a Moabite-influenced dialect (like modern writers giving a character a Southern accent). te-sa-bayr-nah is a Piel form of the verb (the most common Hebrew verbs are in the Qal form and Piel forms are sometimes intensive in meaning). It is the Piel Imperfect 2fp of sin-bet-resh (meaning here is “wait”). ad is used here, as often, for “until.” a-sher is a very common particle meaning “that” or “which.” yeeg-da-loo is the Imperfect 3mp of gimmel-dalet-lamed (when used of children, the meaning is not usually “become large” but “grow up”). ha-lahayn tay-a-gaynah is like the beginning of vs. 13 but the verb this time is a Niphal form (usually Niphal is passive) but with some unusual features in its spelling. It is Niphal Imperfect 2fp of the root ayin-gimmel-nun. It is a word that occurs only here in the whole Bible and which in a much later time (rabbinic Hebrew) came to mean “circle” or “draw a circle.” The JPS Commentary takes the expression to mean “debar yourselves” (“refrain from”). le-veel-tee he-yoat is the Infinitive form of the verb “to be” (he-yoat) negated by the le-veel-tee (“not to be”). le-eesh (“for a husband”) completes the long “if-should” statement. The next word, al stands on its own, “No!” and is addressed to be-noa-tie (“my daughters,” just as at the beginning of vs. 12). kee mar lee is the use of kee not as an “if” statement this time but a “because” statement (“for”). mar lee is the noun “bitterness” followed by the 1cs possessive (“my bitterness”). The verb “is” is understood to occur before me-oad and this is followed by mee-kem: the preposition mem (short for mem-nun) before the 2fp ending (“from you” or as we would say in English “for you”). This phrase is difficult and could be rendered “for my bitterness is [too] much for you.” kee again is a “because” statement. yatz-’ah is the Perfect 3fs of yod-tzadei-alef. vee is the preposition bet with the 1cs suffix, but the context here suggests the meaning “against me” rather than “in me.” yad-Adonai is easily translated by a beginner and it is the subject (yad is a feminine noun) of the verb yatz-’ah.

VERSE 14: va-tees-sen-ah kolan va-teev-kaynah is identical to the last three words of vs. 9. va-tees-sen-ah is a vav conversive 3fp of the root nun-sin-alef (again, the dagesh marks the disappearing nun). kolan is the noun qof-vav-lamed with the 3fp suffix (“their”). va-teev-kaynah is the vav conversive 3fp of bet-kaf-hey. oad marks the fact that this is a second occurrence of raised voices and weeping. va-teeshak is a vav conversive 3fs of the root nun-shin-qof (notice the dagesh in the shin, which lets you know the nun disappeared). Orpah is the subject of the verb. la-kha-moat-ah is the preposition lamed before the noun khet-mem-vav-tav with the 3fs suffix (“her”) attached. The preposition lamed need not be translated (Hebrew verbs sometimes take a preposition which would not occur in English). ve-Root dav-kah bah demonstrates the utility of the vav conjunction, which hear means “but” rather than “and” (context is our only clue). Ruth is the subject and the verb describing her action is dav-kah, the Perfect 3fs of dalet-vav-qof. bah seems to mean “in her” or “next to her,” but could be rendered “to her.”

VERSE 15: va-toe-mer is the vav-conversive 3fs of alef-mem-resh. hee-nay is a common word in dialogue, used for drawing attention to what the speaker is about to say. sha-vah is the Perfect 3fs of shin-vav-bet. ye-veem-taykh is a rare word listed under yod-bet-mem-hey in the lexicon. It has the 2fs ending here. The JPS Commentary points out it is a term very much related to the levirate marriage law of Deuteronomy 25:7-9, which is a central idea for Ruth (later in the course, we will have much to say about levirate redemption and Ruth). el ammah is the preposition alef-lamed and the noun ayin-mem with a 3fs ending. ve-el elohay-ha is the conjunction vav, followed by the preposition alef-lamed, and then the plural word pair (construct, genitive) form of alef-lamed-vav-hey with a 3fs suffix attached (“her gods”). shoovee is the Imperative (command verb) fs of shin-vav-bet. akharay is found with just this spelling in the lexicon. ye-veem-taykh was explained earlier in this verse.

VERSE 16: va-toe-mer is the vav-conversive 3fs of alef-mem-resh. Ruth is the subject of the verb (the one speaking). al teef-ge-’ee vee is the negating word al (negates Imperfect verbs, “do not”) followed by the Imperfect 2fs of the root peh-gimmel-ayin (meaning to be explained) and the preposition bet with the 1cs suffix follows. The usual meanings of peh-gimmel-ayin are “encounter” (when followed by bet preposition), “meet” (when followed by direct object), “attack” (when followed by bet preposition), and then — far down the list — “urge” (when followed by bet preposition). The root idea seems to be pushing and colliding (thus when we meet or encounter people we “run into them”). Urging is emotional pushing. So al teef-ge-’ee vee is Ruth asking Naomi not to push her. le-az-vaykh is the Infinitive of ayin-zayin-bet with the preposition lamed prefixed and the 2fs ending suffixed. la-shoov is the Infinitive of shin-vav-bet with the preposition lamed. may-akhar-ie-eekh is the preposition mem (short for mem-nun) before the word alef-khet-resh-yod with the 2fs ending suffixed (“from [following] after you”). kee el a-sher taylkhee aylaykh begins with the kee making this a “because” clause. el a-sher is “unto where” (a-sher can be that, which, who, and even where — it starts a relative clause). taylkhee is the Imperfect 2fs of hey-lamed-kaf and aylaykh is the same root in 1cs (first person). oo-va-a-sher continues the statement (“and where”). ta-leenee a-leen is identical to the two Imperfect verbs in the previous clause except the root here is lamed-yod-nun. a-maykh a-mee is the word ayin-mem first with the 2fs ending and then the 1cs ending. ve-elo-hie-eekh elo-hie is the word alef-lamed-vav-hey in the plural word pair (construct, genitive) form with first the 2fs ending and then the 1cs ending.

VERSE 17: This continues Ruth’s statement. oov-a-sher is another “and where” statement. ta-mootee a-mootee is the Imperfect of mem-vav-tav first in 2fs and then 1cs form. ve-sham (rhymes with “the Tom”) is another way of saying “and where” (using the word shin-mem). ek-ka-vayr is the Imperfect 1cs of qof-bet-resh. koah begins a vow statement (look up kaf-hey). ya-a-say Adonai lee is the Imperfect 3ms (Jussive, or “may” form) of ayin-sin-hey with Adonai as the subject and the indirect object is the preposition lamed with the 1cs ending (“may Adonai do to me”). ve-koah yoe-seef is the conjunction vav before the word kaf-hey (another vow clause) followed by the Imperfect (Jussive, “may” form) 3ms of yod-samekh-peh. Many translations smooth out the two clauses into one (turning “thus may Adonai do to me and may he add [to it]” into “thus may Adonai do to me and more”). The next kee marks the “if” statement of the vow. ha-ma-vet yoff-reed baynee oovay-naykh is a conditional clause whose exact nuance is debated — yet a beginning student can simply render it word by word and not worry about subtleties. ha-ma-vet is the noun mem-vav-tav with a definite article. yoff-reed is a Hiphil form (a verb form that indicates causation) Imperfect 3ms of peh-resh-dalet. ha-ma-vet is the subject and yoff-reed the action taken by the personified ha-ma-vet. baynee oovay-naykh is the word bet-yod-nun used first with the 1cs ending and then the 2fs. In Hebrew the word for “between” (bet-yod-nun) is used before each item in the list when the meaning is “between.” Thus, this phrase is simply “between me and you.” The exact nature of Ruth’s vow is puzzling, even for scholars. Is she saying, “May God punish me if death separates between you and me”? If so, this could possibly be explained by some early belief in afterlife (she is saying that they will be together in burial or in Sheol). Otherwise, some choose to render the vow “if anything but death separates.” The use of oath and vow language is highly specialized and modern readers do not have enough information to be certain of the subtleties of oaths from ancient times.

VERSE 18: va-tay-re is the vav-conversive 3fs of resh-alef-hey (the hey has disappeared, as is common in these forms). kee here is beginning a “that” clause answering what Naomi “saw.” meet-a-metzet is an uncommon verb form, a Hitpa’el participle, which has a reflexive meaning. The root is alef-mem-tzadeh (“be strong”) and a reflexive means internal action or action toward oneself (“was strengthening herself” or “was determined inside” could capture the idea). In between meet-a-metzet and the hee pronoun that follows is an understood “was.” la-lekhet is the Infinitive of hey-lamed-kaf with a lamed preposition prefixed. eettah is alef-tav used in the sense of “with” (sometimes it simply marks the object and other times alef-tav means “with”) and it has the 3fs ending. va-taykh-dal is the vav-conversive 3fs of khet-dalet-lamed. le-da-bayr is the Infinitive of dalet-bet-resh with the preposition lamed prefixed. ay-lay-ha is the preposition alef-lamed with the 3fs ending.

Listen to audio recorded from the live class for Lesson 4. Ruth #4


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