Kindness (Chessed) in the Book of Ruth

In the Book of Ruth (Megillat Rut), kindness (chessed)  is expressed in several different ways. This unit discusses the meaning of kindness, how we can be kind, and the importance of kindness in society.

Resource Ages: 9-11, 12-14


Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and gather the leftover grain, following anyone in whose eyes I find favor.” 

Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.”

So Ruth went out into the field and gleaned after the harvesters. And she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was from the family of Elimelech. […]

Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. […]

And she said to him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”

וַתֹּאמֶר רוּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּה אֶל נָעֳמִי, אֵלְכָה נָּא הַשָּׂדֶה וַאֲלַקֳּטָה בַשִּׁבֳּלִים אַחַר אֲשֶׁר אֶמְצָא-חֵן בְּעֵינָיו. וַתֹּאמֶר לָהּ, לְכִי בִתִּי.

וַתֵּלֶךְ וַתָּבוֹא וַתְּלַקֵּט בַּשָּׂדֶה, אַחֲרֵי הַקֹּצְרִים. וַיִּקֶר מִקְרֶהָ חֶלְקַת הַשָּׂדֶה לְבֹעַז, אֲשֶׁר מִמִּשְׁפַּחַת אֱלִימֶלֶךְ. […]

וַיֹּאמֶר בֹּעַז אֶל רוּת הֲלוֹא שָׁמַעַתְּ בִּתִּי, אַל תֵּלְכִי לִלְקֹט בְּשָׂדֶה אַחֵר, וְגַם לֹא תַעֲבוּרִי מִזֶּה. וְכֹה תִדְבָּקִין עִם נַעֲרֹתָי. עֵינַיִךְ בַּשָּׂדֶה אֲשֶׁר יִקְצֹרוּן, וְהָלַכְתְּ אַחֲרֵיהֶן. הֲלוֹא צִוִּיתִי אֶת הַנְּעָרִים לְבִלְתִּי נָגְעֵךְ. […]

וַתֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, מַדּוּעַ מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ לְהַכִּירֵנִי, וְאָנֹכִי נָכְרִיָּה.


Read more

Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
  • What can we learn from different generations?
  • How do beliefs, ethics, or values influence different people’s behavior?
  • What are the Jewish values (e.g., freedom, responsibility, justice, community, respect of diversity etc.) that should be honored in an ideal society?
  • How can literature serve as a vehicle for social change?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • How do the actions of one person affect processes occurring in their surroundings?
  • What is the value of giving for the person giving? 
  • What is the meaning of kindness, as opposed to truth or justice? 
  • What is the connection between acts of kindness and the creation of a just society?

Background for Teacher

Megillat Rut (the Book of Ruth) is one of the five megillot found in Ktuvim (the Book of Writings) in the Tanach.  The megillah tells the story of an important family living in the land of Judah during the period of the judges who...

Read more

Megillat Rut (the Book of Ruth) is one of the five megillot found in Ktuvim (the Book of Writings) in the Tanach. 

The megillah tells the story of an important family living in the land of Judah during the period of the judges who left for Moab because of famine. The head of the family and his two sons died, and the mother, Naomi, was left with her two Moabite daughters-in-law. 

One of the daughters-in-law, Ruth, exhibiting great kindness to her mother-in-law, decides to return with her to the land of Judah and accept the Jewish religion upon herself.  

Due to her poverty, Ruth goes out to the field to gather grain, and happens upon the field of Boaz, a wealthy farmer, who is a relative of Naomi’s. Boaz notices Ruth and instructs the harvesters to intentionally leave grain for Ruth, and to be careful not to embarrass her. 

Ruth returns to Naomi with the grain, who is surprised by the amount of grain that Ruth has gathered. Naomi recognizes Boaz’s act of kindness towards Ruth and sees the chain of events as an act of God. Afterwards, Boaz marries Ruth and from their descendents, King David is born. 

Megillat Rut is often seen as a story that teaches us about doing acts of kindness. For example, Midrash Rut Rabbah says: “This megillah contains neither purity nor impurity, neither prohibition nor permission, so for what was it written? To teach how great the reward for doing kindness” (parsha 2,  verse 14). 

The acts of kindness mentioned in the megillah are: Ruth’s kindness towards Naomi, accompanying her in her journey back to the land of Judah and her willingness to join Naomi’s nation, without any promise of reward for her actions; Ruth gathering grain for Naomi; Boaz’s kindness towards Ruth in the field, and taking responsibility for Ruth and Naomi’s financial situation; Ruth marrying Boaz in order to keep her name as the daughter of Naomi and her kindness towards Boaz in choosing him rather than a younger man from outside of the family; Naomi understands the chain of events as an act of kindness from God. 

Not coincidentally, most of the acts of kindness happen in the field and in the context of the harvest season. The Torah connects between the agricultural cycle of life and giving charity to the poor, and to three commandments based on kindness towards weaker members of society: gleaning (leket), leaving forgotten produce (shichecha), and leaving produce in the corners of the field (peah). These three commandments instruct farmers to leave some of the crop in their fields for the poor; they are part of a large number of moral commandments in the Torah that are aimed at creating a just society based, amongst other principles, on kindness. 

Megillat Rut is read on Shavuot because it takes place during the harvest season, and Shavuot is the harvest festival. Shavuot is also the holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah, and the Torah emphasizes the importance of being kind. Moreover, Ruth is considered a convert who chose to join the nation of Israel, similar to the people of Israel’s commitment to keep the Torah at Mt. Sinai. 

An additional explanation for the connection between Megillat Rut and the holiday is that Shavuot is traditionally believed to be the birth and death date of King David who is, as mentioned in the megillah, a descendent of Ruth.

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
Further Study

Watch this video showing how good deeds can be passed forward from one person to the next. 

Discuss the good deeds shown in the video – what does this video teach us about the powerful impact of small, everyday acts of kindness? Can we also do such acts? What causes us to do acts like these, and what prevents us from doing them? What is the added value of the good deeds shown in this video, beyond the acts themselves (for example, the boy doesn’t just try to help the elderly woman; he also engages her in conversation.)?
Does the way we offer help make a difference, or is the act itself enough?
Expand the discussion with this question: What is an act of kindness and why do we do acts of kindness?
Ask the students to tell each other about small acts of kindness that they have done for others, and that others have done for them.

Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.

  1. What are two human acts of kindness mentioned in the selection brought from Megillat Rut? Explain why each of these is an act of kindness, and in general – what constitutes an act of kindness is. What act of kindness is described as performed by God, and how is this act different from the human acts of kindness? 
  2. How do each of the characters feel following the act of kindness? (The giver and the recipient.)
  3. Do you think there is a correct way or a less correct way, to be kind to another person? What things should we be aware of when we do an act of kindness so as not to embarrass or hurt the recipient? (For example: Should we offer to help, or give only to those who have asked for help? Are there rules for helping? How can we demonstrate reciprocity in kindness? etc.)
  4. How do acts of kindness between individuals impact society as a whole? Relate, for example, to the acts of kindness mentioned in Megillat Rut or those shown in the video above. 
  5. What types of kindness are not physical? 
  6. What acts of kindness have you done for others? 
  7. Sometimes people are embarrassed to ask for or receive help. Why? What would you say to a person who needs help but is embarrassed to ask, in order to help them get the help they need? Do you know how to ask for help when you need it? 
  8. In your opinion, how is Megillat Rut connected to the holiday of Shavuot and why is it read on this holiday?
  • Hold a panel discussion with the characters from Megillat Rut who perform acts of kindness. Divide the students into groups: Each group should represent one of the characters, and together prepare that character for the panel read the relevant verses and discuss the acts of kindness done by their character. In the panel, you can ask the characters questions about their acts of kindness and their perspective regarding kindness, etc. 
  • The students should look for acts of kindness reported recently in the news or on the internet, in order to see the presence of such acts in society. Discuss how the media’s representation of good deeds influences our feeling of living in a just society. Ask the students: You have probably noticed that the media has a tendency to overwhelmingly show negative events (accidents, crime, corruption, etc.), both large and small, and brush aside acts of kindness. Why do you think this is the case? 
  • Think of a ‘kindness initiative’ that you can do together as a class. First, hold a brainstorming session about important causes; then, narrow down the list to acts which the students themselves can realistically do which will be helpful and significant. Discuss the importance of ensuring that giving is suited to the giver’s ability to give (in this context, you can mention the commandment of pe’ah (leaving the grain in the corners of the field for the poor) –  the Sages set boundaries for this mitzvah; for example, one cannot give their entire field to the poor). 
  • Watch the movie “Pay It Forward”, based on the book written by Catherine Ryan Hyde. The movie teaches about the idea of helping others; each person helps three people who, in turn, “pay it forward” and help three additional people. The idea presented in the movie has inspired many to adopt the approach suggested in the movie.  You can hold a “pay it forward” activity in the classroom by handing out cards that are passed “forward” by the students to the person for whom a good deed has been done.