Perashat Vayishlach – Jews and Idolotry

Perashat Vayishlach – Jews and Idolotry 

Towards the end of our Perasha (Gen. 35) we find G-d speaking to Yaacov telling him to go back to Bet El to make sacrifices. Yaacov then told all of the people with him”

Yaacov said to his household and to all those who were with him ‘Remove all of the foreign Gods which you have and purify yourselves and change your clothing. And let us get up and go up to Bet El and I will make an alter there to the G-d who answers me in my day of trouble and was with me in the path which I took.

The question can be asked “How is it possible that the household of Yaacov Avinu be filled with idolatry?” The Midrash tells us not to entertain the thought that his sons or other wives were involved in idolatry but clearly many of those around him were indeed involved.

An answer lies with the very nature of Avodah Zarah itself. What leads people to believe in hidden powers of charms, trees and statues? It is easy to believe in a god who’s sole job is to deal with one small task. Monotheism is much more complicated and requires that we believe that G-d alone governs everything in the universe.

Most idolatrous worship involves deities each of which has power over a certain area. Primary categories, throughout the world, include powers over progeny and over the weather. Today we would consider the “weather” as a power over economic success.

It was very easy to fall into such beliefs because they give a sense of security, a false sense of security. It is much easier to do idolatry then Mitzvot of the Torah since all you have to do is believe and sometimes bring a sacrifice of some sort.

Many people have trouble accepting the Pesukim which we say every day. “You should serve him with all of your hearts and all your souls. And I will give dew in the right seasons etc.” Recognizing the connection between Shabat and economic success is not as clear as a deity whose only purpose is to give such success.

The Prophets and our rabbis of blessed memory have stated another reason why Jews get involved in Avodah Zara – Idolotry. Jews get involved in such things in order to allow themselves greater carnal freedom. Worship of the Ba’al was often accompanied with orgies next to the alters. Claiming that it is good for having children, whose the father anyway?

It can be imagined that it was a surprise to Yaacov’s household that they must cease worshipping their idols, and charms. Yaacov then buried all of these under a tree near Shechem.