1) AGADAH: THE CONNECTION BETWEEN "HA'ZOS NAOMI" AND THE DEATHS OF MACHLON AND KILYON
QUESTION: The Gemara states that Elimelech, Machlon, and Kilyon were Gedolei ha'Dor and leaders of their generation. Why, then, were they punished with an early death? The Gemara answers that they were punished because they left Eretz Yisrael to go to Chutz la'Aretz, as it says, "And the whole city wondered about them, and they said, 'Is this Naomi?'" (Rus 1:19).
What does the verse mean when it says, "Is this Naomi" ("ha'Zos Naomi")? Rav Yitzchak explains that they said, "Have you seen Naomi who left Eretz Yisrael [and went] to Chutz la'Aretz? What has befallen her?"
What is the Gemara's proof about the early demise of Elimelech and his sons from the fact that the people remarked that evil befell Naomi when she left Eretz Yisrael and went to Chutz la'Aretz?
(a) The MAHARSHA quotes a Girsa which omits from the Gemara the phrase, "she'Ne'emar" -- "as it says," and splits the Gemara into two separate statements: Elimelech and his sons died because they went from Eretz Yisrael to Chutz la'Aretz. Rav Yitzchak says that the people were aghast at the state of Naomi who went from Eretz Yisrael to Chutz la'Aretz.
(b) The RASHASH explains that the correct text of the Gemara should read like the Tosefta in Avodah Zarah (ch. 5). The Tosefta states, "And because he (Elimelech) left to Chutz la'Aretz, he and his two sons died of hunger, and the rest of Bnei Yisrael were alive on their land, as it says, 'And all of the city wondered about them'..." (Rus ibid.).
(c) The Maharsha prefers to maintain the Girsa of our text of the Gemara. He prefaces his explanation by citing the Yalkut and other sources which state that the family of Elimelech was stingy when it came to sharing their wealth with the poor of Eretz Yisrael. The Maharsha explains that Rav Yitzchak understands that the verse of "ha'Zos Naomi" may be read as "Chazas Naomi" -- "Have you seen Naomi," interchanging the letter Heh for the letter Ches. (The BEN YEHOYADA expounds Rav Yitzchak's Derashah in a similar manner.) Their question in essence was, "Have you seen what has befallen Naomi who together with her family left Eretz Yisrael because they did not want to help the poor people? Have you seen what has become the fate of such a family?" Accordingly, the verse indeed is proof for what befalls people who leave Eretz Yisrael, and it is not discussing only Naomi. (Y. MONTROSE)
2) AGADAH: THE EULOGY FOR AVRAHAM AVINU
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that when Avraham Avinu died, all of the great leaders of the world stood in a row and said, "Woe to a world that has lost its leader, woe to a boat that has lost its captain."
On the surface, it seems that they were lamenting the loss of the greatest person of their times. However, the two statements seem to be the same; they both lament a loss of leadership. Is there any more significance behind their specific choice of words?
(a) The MAHARSHA explains that the leaders of the world were referring to the two great qualities of Avraham Avinu: the fact that he introduced the world to the service of Hash-m, and that he was the role model of the world for how to conduct oneself, the epitome of good Midos. (See the NETZIV in his introduction to HA'EMEK DAVAR, where he explains that this is why Sefer Bereishis is called "Sefer ha'Yashar"; the Avos always acted "Yashar" with the people of the world.) When the leaders were lamenting the loss of Avraham, they first lamented the loss of the their leader who taught them to recognize the One Who created the world. This is what they meant by, "Woe to a world that has lost its leader." They then lamented the fact that they lost the world's role model in how to be "Yashar," upright. They compared Avraham Avinu to the captain of a boat, who always leads the boat and its passengers on the correct path.
(b) The IYUN YAKOV explains this lamentation based on the words of the Midrash (Bereishis Rabah and Yalkut) which says that Avraham Avinu used to pray for the women who could not have children, and they would have children. He also used to pray for sick people, who would then recover. The Yalkut quotes Rebbi Chanina who said that "ships which would embark on journeys throughout the Great Ocean were saved in the merit of Avraham Avinu."
The Iyun Yakov therefore explains that the first lamentation referred to the loss of the leader who prayed for the childless and the sick. The second lamentation, which compared Avraham to the captain of a ship, referred to the loss of the leader in whose merit ships arrived safely during difficult ocean journeys. (Y. MONTROSE)