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The Book of Ruth in Family Therapy: The Relationship of Naomi and Ruth Through the Lenses of Differentiation and Family Constellation - Family is a Choice!

Naomi and Ruth the Moabitess

In honor of Shavuot, I continue the tradition of my biblical heroes series in therapy. This time, the Book of Ruth comes to my clinic to discuss the challenging family relationship between a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law.


The Book of Ruth in Family Therapy: The Relationship of Naomi and Ruth Through the Lens of Differentiation and Family Constellation illuminates this unique relationship using the tools in my therapeutic toolbox - differentiation and family constellation.

By examining how these women navigate their relationship while maintaining their individuality and understanding their roles within their family structure, I aim to shed light on the complexities and beauty of their bond. The goal of this analysis is not only to bring their story to life but also to offer insights into the dynamics of relationships today, emphasizing the importance of loyalty, mutual support, and the power of choosing family. If I were the copywriter for the Book of Ruth, I would write the slogan "Family is a Choice" or rather "Families are Chosen".


Naomi and Ruth: A Brief Overview of the Book


Naomi, an Israelite, migrates to Moab with her family due to famine in Bethlehem. A family tragedy strikes when Naomi loses her husband and two sons, leaving her with two Moabite daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. When Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem, she urges both to stay in Moab and remarry. Orpah reluctantly agrees, but Ruth refuses, pledging her unwavering support to Naomi with the famous words:

“But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.’” (Ruth 1:16)

This decision marks the beginning of a remarkable journey for Naomi and Ruth. Upon their return to Bethlehem, Ruth's dedication and hard work capture the attention of Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s late husband. Through a series of divinely orchestrated events, Ruth marries Boaz, providing security and a future for both herself and Naomi. Their story is a powerful testament to the strength found in chosen families and the incredible outcomes of faith and loyalty.


Naomi and Ruth in a Differentiated Relationship


The psychological concept of differentiation refers to the process by which individuals develop a sense of self while maintaining emotional connections with others. Through the lens of differentiation, I aim to examine the relationship between Naomi and Ruth. Their relationship demonstrates a high level of differentiation, with both women exhibiting exceptional personal strength and autonomy while remaining deeply connected as they navigate loss, survival, and eventual redemption.


Maintaining Individuality Within Close Relationships


Naomi and Ruth's story begins with great loss. Naomi, having lost her husband and two sons, decides to return to her homeland, Bethlehem, expecting to face the future alone. Ruth, on the other hand, faces a critical choice: to return to her Moabite family or accompany Naomi into an uncertain future. Ruth’s decision to stay with Naomi - “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay” - is not just an act of loyalty but a bold statement of her personal choice and identity. Despite the societal expectations of the time, Ruth chose an unconventional path that aligned with her personal values and commitments.


This moment symbolizes Ruth's strong sense of self, which she maintains even while deeply committed to supporting Naomi. It also reflects Naomi's respect for Ruth's autonomy; she does not insist or force, but allows Ruth to make her own decision.


Support and Independence: Finding the Balance


Upon their arrival in Bethlehem, the differentiation in Naomi and Ruth's relationship is evident as they face the challenge of survival. Ruth takes the initiative to glean in the fields to provide for herself and Naomi. This act of independence does not diminish their emotional connection but strengthens it. Naomi supports Ruth's efforts, offering guidance and advice to capture Boaz's attention, a key step leading to Ruth and Boaz’s marriage and securing their future.


This balance of support and independence is crucial. Both women demonstrate the ability to stand on their own, making decisions aligned with their personal beliefs while considering each other’s well-being. Their relationship is not codependent but interdependent, a key indicator of differentiation. Naomi and Ruth respect and encourage each other’s autonomy while maintaining a close and supportive relationship.

Their story beautifully illustrates that a true connection does not require sacrificing identity. Throughout their journey, Naomi and Ruth demonstrate that it is possible to be deeply connected to another person while maintaining a strong sense of self. This balance not only strengthens their individual characters but also their bond, making their story an enduring example of love, loyalty, and mutual respect.


Roles and Dynamics in the Family Constellation of Ruth and Naomi


Family constellation explores the roles individuals take within their family system and how these roles impact family dynamics and the psychological development of each member. Through the prism of Naomi and Ruth's story, a dynamic is revealed that challenges traditional roles and creates a flexible and supportive family unit.


Family is a Choice: The Role of the Chosen Family


The relationship between Naomi and Ruth transcends the typical dynamic of a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, evolving into a deep bond akin to that of a chosen family. Following their shared tragedy, the societal roles assigned to them become secondary to their commitment to one another. Ruth, despite having no blood relation to Naomi, chooses her as family. This choice reshapes their family dynamics, as the two women step into roles defined not by society but by their mutual need and respect.

Naomi, initially feeling defeated by her losses, found new purpose in guiding Ruth, not just as a mother-in-law but as a mentor and friend. Ruth, in turn, became a caregiver and protector, roles typically reserved for younger family members or even sons. This role reversal highlights the fluidity of family dynamics and the ability of chosen relationships to fulfill emotional and practical needs traditionally associated with blood relatives.


The Impact of Ruth’s Decisions on Family Structure


Ruth's decisions have a ripple effect on family dynamics. By choosing to stay with Naomi and later marry Boaz, Ruth not only ensures their immediate survival but also secures Naomi's lineage through the birth of Obed, Ruth and Boaz’s son. This act of loyalty and love extends Naomi's family line and fully integrates Ruth into the fabric of Naomi’s family and community.


Naomi and Ruth's story illustrates the dynamic nature of family groups and the power of chosen family to provide support, love, and continuity. Their relationship challenges traditional concepts of family roles and highlights how adaptation, commitment, and love can redefine the meaning of family. Through their journey, we learn that family is not just the roles we are born into but also the roles we choose to accept and the people we choose to commit to.


Constellation in a Song


One of the phenomena I love most in constellation sessions is when a song starts to play. The song "Ruth" by Racheli Reuven has appeared several times in constellations - both those I facilitated and those I participated in as a representative. Miraculously, the words of the song were precisely suited to the need that arose in the session, bringing comfort and healing. The poet Racheli Reuven excels in depicting a healthy relationship between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, and essentially between two women who choose each other as a family of the heart - a deep emotional need of every woman. Enjoy:




Ruth (Two Fragrances of the Covenant)

Lyrics: Racheli Reuven

Music: Liat Yitzhaki

Singer: Ayala Ingdashet


every woman

should do to her

inside her

One such Ruth

Don't ever leave her

that you devote yourself to her until her wedding

That you know how to tell her

At any time

"For wherever you go, you will go

And as for Telini - Elin

my people

And your God - my God"

woman

Need to raise a daughter

Such a voice

such love for herself,

Nahal Shifka nearby,

every woman

need to abort her

Such seeds of faith

May they stand firm

even when her heart

Slips on the stairs

and loses his powers

Even when she destroys herself

Despite all the promises,

Always

Always

need a wife

that you sit nearby

One Ruth

Don't let her separate her from herself

Not in her life

And not in her death

That you know how to tell her

Restorative words

that breathe life into her,

in every field

at the foot of every threshing floor,

And next to every person you come with:

"Bless your daughter"

"Your kindness"

"You are a soldier's wife",

Every woman needs

do to her

Ruth

and seeing

and evil

with her soul

And to come close to Noami with pleasantness and gentleness of heart


Biblical Insights on the Relationship Between Naomi and Ruth


The Book of Ruth offers not only a historical narrative but also deep insights into human relationships, particularly the bond between Naomi and Ruth. A relationship that demonstrates unconditional love, loyalty, and faith, principles that transcend time and continue to resonate with us today.


One of the most moving moments in the story is when Ruth pledges her loyalty to Naomi, saying: “Where you go I will go and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” This statement is not just a promise of physical companionship; it symbolizes Ruth’s total commitment to Naomi, encompassing familial, cultural, and religious dimensions. Ruth’s vows illustrate the depth of her love and loyalty, setting a benchmark for the concept of "family."


Their story also embodies the concept of “kindness”; this principle is vividly embodied in Ruth’s actions towards Naomi as she chose to leave her own people and land to ensure Naomi’s well-being. Similarly, Naomi’s guidance of Ruth in navigating life in Bethlehem reflects her deep concern and desire for Ruth’s happiness and security.


Applications to Modern Relationships


The ancient story offers valuable lessons for modern relationships, especially in understanding love, loyalty, and the importance of chosen family. In an era where relationships can sometimes feel fleeting and conditional, their story serves as a reminder of the depth and resilience that true commitment can foster.

The relationship of Ruth and Naomi highlights the importance of choosing to stand by those we love, even in times of uncertainty and difficulty. This act of choice, reminiscent of Ruth's resolute decision to stay with Naomi, strengthens bonds and lays the foundation for enduring relationships. It teaches us that family, in its truest sense, extends beyond biological ties and includes those we intentionally choose to commit to and support.


Secondly, their story encourages us to celebrate and respect individuality within relationships. Just as Ruth and Naomi supported each other’s autonomy while remaining closely connected, modern relationships can benefit from fostering a balance between togetherness and personal growth. This balance ensures that each individual can walk their own path while knowing they have unwavering support.


Lastly, their narrative underscores the transformative power of kindness and loyalty. The virtues demonstrated through Ruth’s loyalty and Naomi’s guidance can profoundly impact not only the individuals involved but also the wider community. They inspire us to act with kindness, show steadfast loyalty, and foster social solidarity.


Conclusion


By exploring the deep bond between Naomi and Ruth through the lenses of differentiation and family constellation, we uncover fascinating lessons about the essence of chosen family, loyalties, and personal structures. The journey of Naomi and Ruth from loss to redemption, based on their unwavering support for each other, serves as an inspiring testimony to the power of love and loyalty. As we reflect on their story, let us strive to embody these virtues in our own relationships, enriching our lives and those around us with the depth of connection that transcends mere blood ties.

This post is dedicated with much love to my late grandmother Ruth.

Happy Shavuot!



 

Sivan Avni, Couples and Family Therapist. Specializing in couple and parenting therapy integrating differentiation and family constellation approaches. MA in Jewish History.



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