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Shabbat Parashat Vayishlach | 5768

Remove the Foreign Gods From Your Midst

Harav Yosef Carmel

 Parashat Vayeitzei focuses on Yaakov’s developing family, describing his relationships with his wives and, on the other hand, with his father-in-law and his children’s births. The end of the parasha moves over to a more national outlook. Yaakov assembled a whole camp; Lavan pursued with his own forces. Only Divine intervention prevented the outbreak of war. Instead, they made an international peace agreement, which set the boundary between Aram and Eretz Yisrael (Bereishit 31). Our parasha begins with the tense dealings with Eisav, which are not so much on the personal level as on the level of two camps representing different agendas and directions. The national and even spiritual side of the encounter is corroborated by Yaakov’s struggle with the angel-representative of Eisav. At the parasha’s end, the twelve tribes of Israel are featured against the tribal leaders and future kings of Edom (Eisav’s offspring).
 Yaakov’s camp was not just comprised of shepherds but apparently also of people who joined with him as the representative of belief in monotheism. This follows the tradition of his grandparents, Avraham and Sarah, who traveled with the “souls they made in Charan” (ibid. 12:5). The theft of Lavan’s terafim (idols) should also be seen in this light.
 As the journey continued, Yaakov turned to his encampment (“his household and all who were with him”) with the following directive: “Remove the foreign gods that are in your midst and purify yourselves … and we shall go to Beit El and make there an altar… They gave Yaakov the foreign gods in their midst and the earrings… and he buried them under the elah tree that was in Shechem” (ibid. 35: 2-4).
 Who was Yaakov appealing to who had idols? Rashi, the Rashbam, and the Ramban say it refers to the whole group, who had taken from the booty of Shechem. He asked them to separate themselves from anything that could be related to idol worship. It is not clear, according to this, why a distinction is made between his household and those who were with him.
 The midrash on the words that mention idols says that this is an indication that Yaakov had accepted converts like his grandparents. Thus, there were two requests. Rachel had to get rid of her father’s terafim and members of the broader camp had to remove their idols. These were people who were in the process of converting but had not yet totally purged themselves of idolatrous tendencies and possessions. It is fascinating to see that Yehoshua, upon his entry into Eretz Yisrael with the new nation, including converts who came with them from Egypt, had a “rally” with the people where he urged them to “remove the foreign gods that are in your midst.” Where did it take place if not in the same place, “under the elah” in Shechem (Yehoshua 24: 23-26)!
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