Leave and Cleave, Part 1: Who Says You Have to Leave?

image002For me, part of what makes interfaith dialogue interesting is seeing something familiar from a new perspective, and sharing a familiar perspective with someone new. I’ve been looking closely here at Genesis 2:24, a Bible verse that has been tossed around quite a bit in the recent arguments over LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage. As frequently translated, Genesis 2:24 reads as follows:

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.

I’ve already had occasion to consider the meaning of this verse. The verse seems like it should be paired with an earlier verse, where G-d declares that “It is not good that the man should be alone.” The verse begins with the Hebrew עַל־כֵּן֙, translated as “Therefore,” indicating that the verse is an “etiology,” a story that explains the reason or origin of something already in existence. I made the argument that an etiology is different from a law, or a command, or even a way we’re recommended to live. So, I would read Genesis 2:24 to say something like, “People hate to be alone; this is why we often see men leave home in pursuit of someone to cleave to.” In other words, the verse is not there to tell us to do something we might otherwise not do; it’s there to explain why people are already doing something—and this “something” may or may not be what the Bible tells us we should do!

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