Genesis: The Beginning of Desire

By Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg | Go to book overview
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VA-YETZE


Dispersions

Energy is only Life, and is from the Body. Energy is eternal Delight.

-- William Blake


The imprint of absence

" Jacob left Beer Sheva, and set out for Haran" (28:10).

Jacob embarks on a journey away from his parents -- at their bidding -- and, in the course of twenty years in Haran, he marries four wives, has twelve children, and amasses a fortune. At this point, he returns with his family and acquisitions to Canaan and, eventually, to his father's house. This is a journey that is pointedly different from his grandfather's originating journey: the lekh lekha wandering to the place yet to be shown, the place of promise and destiny. Jacob does not simply "go" (lekh); he "leaves" (va-yetze). What has been achieved and known for two generations he now relinquishes. And his destination is specific and named: "Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and gone to Padan Aram" (28:7).

Jacob's journey has a clearly delineated beginning and end. But its purpose is ambiguous, as indicated in the subdued irony of that bland clause, "Jacob had obeyed his father and mother." His parents both trigger his journey, but with very different motivations. Rebecca warns him that Esau is out to kill him in revenge for "taking" Isaac's blessing. Using the same compelling admonition as on that previous occasion ("Now, my son, listen to me"), she urges him: "Flee at once [ kum ] to Haran" (27:43). Isaac too summons Jacob and commands him, in a parallel speech: "Up [ kum ] go to Padan Aram" (28:2). In leaving, Jacob obeys both parents. Doubly, perhaps ambivalently motivated, he flees

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