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In chapter 4 of Rut, after Boaz performs yibum with Rut and she bears a son, it says:

וַתִּקְרֶאנָה לוֹ הַשְּׁכֵנוֹת שֵׁם לֵאמֹר, יֻלַּד-בֵּן לְנָעֳמִי; וַתִּקְרֶאנָה שְׁמוֹ עוֹבֵד, הוּא אֲבִי-יִשַׁי אֲבִי דָוִד.

And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying: 'There is a son born to Naomi'; and they called his name Obed; he is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

The yibum was clearly performed on behalf of Machlon, not Elimelech, per verse 10. So this isn't some sort of proxy arrangement on behalf of Elimelech (who anyway had produced sons).

So what does it mean when it says a son is born to Naomi? Does this just mean a descendant (since her other sons died), or does she somehow have maternal status (which may be related to her nursing the child)? If she has special status, why?

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Great question! This can be understood Cabalistically based on the idea that the soul of the deceased transmigrates into the new child. As such the soul of Machlon has passed into this child so that in a manner of speaking this is a child to Naomi. (cf. Likuetei Moharan 21:6)

Furthermore note that during the discussion between Rus and Naomi about visiting with Boaz, as well as later on in the megillah there is a marked difference between the kri and ktiv (see for example 3:3-5,17). It is read as if Rus is doing things but it is written as if Naomi is actually doing them. The idea here being that in effect Rus has made herself so subordinate to Naomi that she becomes virtually non-existent (hence, as you point out, Naomi not Rus, nurses the baby).

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I like your understanding of the Kri/Ktiv. Is that your idea or did you see it somewhere? –  Double AA May 29 '12 at 18:33
    
Thanks @DoubleAA :) The general idea comes from Rav Matis Weinberg but I have added my own take on it. I think you'll enjoy these - thelivingtree.org/indexRuth.htm –  tinok shnishbah May 29 '12 at 19:00
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