I’ve written a bit elsewhere on the beginning of this passage and the way the creation account has been twisted by people who want to use it as a support for power differential in human lives. Now it’s time to handle the end of this passage and a bit beloved and misread by our more patriarchal friends.
You see, while it is true that God made Ha’Adam before Eve (The ‘Ha” is important because it means his name was “the Adam” rather than just “Adam” because his human-ness [Adam “human” is a pun on Adamah “humus/earth”] was more important than his maleness). It is also true that all the creatures of the world in the quest for a “helper to stand before” Ha’Adam (but again, more on that elsewhere).
The next part of the reading however is largely glossed over and even misapplied. You see, in our culture it is waved at the wife who is assured that she must leave her family and cleave to her husband. This is amazingly absurd however because in the text it is the MAN who “leaves father and mother.”
Even more, it is he who, after leaving his home, is to cleave/cling/be close to and in one case “be soldered to” to his spouse so that they become one flesh. The word of “one” in this passage is the same one used in the Shema “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” The Hebrew is thus really serious about this One-ness.
This “one flesh” business has given polemicists much grist and been cruelly misapplied more often than not, but fundamentally it means that the mutual submission described here involves a mutual exchange. As Paul put it, each person no longer belongs to theirself alone but to their spouse. Furthermore, no one hurts their own body but instead helps it. Thus each partner places their whole self in the care of the other and each partner cares for their new self as they did their old.
But what do they do when they’ve learned bad lessons about how to care for a self? That’s the leaving and cleaving bit.
You see, part of this biblical clinging to each other and becoming one flesh is dealing with what has been dumped on us in our past. Our parents taught us both well and poorly how to treat our being. They modeled rightly and wrongly what it means to be in a relationship with another. And now we have to leave that behind.
In order to be a good person in a relationship, we have to sort through all the learnings of our past, all the assurances that This is The Way We Do It and let it go. My family was full of almost casual levels of physical and verbal violence along with rank stupidity about what counts as “manliness” and “womanliness.”
In order to become a person worthy of relationship, I had to let go of the old stuff (i.e. “leave father and mother”) in order to be able to join my life (“cleave”) to another. Suddenly, the biblical text is less of an annoying side note and more of a deeply appropriate psychological encouragement. Add to this the reality that our hardened hearts are a real barrier to intimacy and suddenly this olde timey commentary is actually deeply important.
By no means am I going to say that the only reason relationships fail is because we haven’t left our past to become our future or because our own hearts are hardened against the other. It’s a good place to start because we are indeed the one common element in all our failed relationships, but we are not the sole cause of those failings.
Sometimes the person with whom we have begun a new life really is as crazy as we’ve concluded they are. Sometimes they are the ones unwilling to leave the certainties of their home life in order to cling to us. Sometimes the person we thought we met really didn’t exist except in our dreams. If we are going to grow and become however, it’s always a good idea to start out asking “what do I need to leave in my past in order to cleave to a new life with this person?”