And [Joseph] came to Shekhem. And a man found him, and hey! He was going astray in the field. And the man asked him: “What do you seek?” (Genesis/Bereishit 37:14-15)
That is the opening of the first post I ever wrote on this week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev. I dusted if off and polished it up today, and you can find it at this link: Vayeishev: The Question.
I plan to expand on two of the points in that post when I write Chapter 9 of my book on moral psychology in Genesis. This week I’ve been writing Chapter 5, on the Torah portion Chayyei Sarah, which includes the story of how Abraham and his steward acquire a wife for Abraham’s son Isaac. “What do you seek?” is a good question for that story as well.
When Abraham gives instructions to his steward for picking out the bride, he is seeking a woman who will keep Isaac on the path to provide descendants who will someday rule Canaan under God’s law. Since Abraham believes his son is weak and easily influenced, he wants Isaac to have a wife who is not a Canaanite but who will move to Canaan for the marriage.
Abraham’s steward has another agenda besides fulfilling his oath to his master. He seeks a bride who is generous and strong–perhaps because Isaac is withdrawn and passive, and the steward hopes a wife like that will draw him out.
Isaac himself seeks solace after his mother’s death, but it does not occur to him to look for it in a wife. He is surprised when his father’s steward arrives with a bride for him.
And the bride herself? Rebecca, Isaac’s first cousin once removed, is the one all three men have been seeking. But what does she seek, and does she find it in her marriage to Isaac? The Torah is silent on that subject, so I am making it the theme of my Torah monologue for Chapter 5.
I like the word “seeking” because it means actively searching, not passively hoping that what you want will happen. I have been seeking a life of writing books for most of my 66 years, but real life is complicated, and I have only achieved my goal a few times, during years that were never long enough. This time, even though I am retired, I still have to keep saying no to all kinds of things in order to guard my writing time. That’s the hard part. The easy, delightful part is spending so many hours a day writing, and going to bed every night looking forward to writing again in the morning.
I have found what I was seeking. What do you seek?