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Power Struggle

By Rabbi Daniel Travis

"I will be in his eyes k’metate’ah (like an impostor)." (Bereshith 27:12)

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



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