By Rabbi Daniel Travis
"I will be in his eyes k’metate’ah (like an impostor)." (Bereshith
Since Yaakov was posing as Esav, if his father caught him he would
definitely view him as an impostor. Why then did Yaakov tell Rivka that he
would merely be like an impostor? Since the verse says “like,” it must be
making an innuendo to someone else who is also called an impostor, i.e.,
an idol worshipper. Idol worship is referred to as the practice of
tatu’im – impostors. The underlying message in Yaakov’s words is that
Yitzchak would view his son’s act as more than just false impersonation.
Yaakov meant to imply that his father would not only view him as an
impostor, but also “like” an idol worshipper1.
Yaakov’s words are puzzling. How can deception be viewed as equal to an
act of idolatry, a sin so serious that one is obligated to give up his
life rather than commit it? Our Sages enumerated other transgressions
which are also tantamount to idol worship. These include honoring an evil
person2, refusing to give charity3, breaking something in anger4, pride5, and praying while intoxicated6. What do these sins have to do with idol worship?
In order to understand these comparisons it is first necessary to examine
why idol worshippers are called impostors. Idolaters deceive themselves
into thinking that by allying themselves with other forces, natural or
human, they can achieve their ambitions independently, without God. Thus
these forces, in assuming the veneer that they are the true source of
success, become man made impostors, for the only cause of accomplishment
is God Himself.
The urge to worship idols was long since taken away in response to the
prayers of the Great Assembly7.
Nevertheless, the underlying motivation that led to idolatry still exists.
Man feels that he would like to be in control of any given situation. As a
result, he will accept the authority of those people, institutions or
forces which he feels can control the situation to his benefit. This
desire manifests itself in a number of ways, as represented by each of the
sins that our Sages compared to idol worship.
Money is one of the most powerful tools which can be used to exercise
control over others. Consequently, one whose lust for money causes him to
lie, flatter an evil person, or refrain from giving charity, is equated
with an idolater. On the other hand, when such an individual falls short
of attaining what he craves, the normal response is to become infuriated.
In order to regain his feeling of superiority, he breaks something. In
doing so he attempts to show that he, not God, is the dominant force.
People who are not successful in securing the power that they desire may
turn to self-aggrandizement. While this tendency is most recognizable in
an individual who is conceited, this is frequently the reaction of someone
who has consumed one too many alcoholic beverages. Our Sages recognized
the danger of this characteristic both in relating to other people and to
God Himself, when they proclaimed that an exhibition of pride and praying
when one is intoxicated are comparable to idolatry.
1 Sanhedrin 92a according to the Maharsha.
2 Tosefta Avodah Zarah 6:16.
3 Kethuboth 68a.
4 Shabboth 105b.
5 Sotah 4b.
6 Brachoth 31b.
7 Yoma 69b.
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org