Parashat Vayishlach (And he sent) Genesis 32:4-36:43
Haftarah: Obadiah 1:1-21
In this week’s Torah reading one learns of Israel’s call to have a sanctifying influence on the nations. This is revealed in a simple and subtle statement that Jacob made to those who had left with him and his family from Paddan-aram. Having arrived in the Promised Land and dwelling in Shechem for awhile, Jacob said,
“And we shall rise and go up to Beit El and I will make there an altar to the G-d Who answers me in the day of my trouble and was with me on the way which I went.”
It is clear from the context that Jacob intended to lead all those who were with him to worship the L-rd G-d of Israel at Beit El. What is significant is what is said by him in the previous verse.
“And Jacob said to his household and all who were with him, ‘Remove your foreign gods which are in your midst, and purify yourselves and change your clothes.”‘
It is clear that Jacob addressed two distinct groups of people in this verse. The first group was his family (household) and the second “were all the other individuals who were with him“, relating to his numerous servants. It would seem that this second group had brought from Haran their personal idols, perhaps also his wives (See Genesis 31:34). Now however, they were commanded by Jacob (Israel) to do two things. The first was to discard these idols and the second was to change their clothes. Most understand the command to change one’s garments as relating to both groups. It is this second command upon which I would like to focus.
Garments are important in the Bible. Symbolically garments relate to one’s deeds. Those who are clothed appropriately are living out the word of G-d, while those who are naked are understood as to be absent of good deeds. Hence, when Jacob remarks, “change your clothes” he is calling the people to turn away from sinful activity as a prerequisite for worship. This reminds each of us that one should not believe that he can live sinfully during the week and then just suddenly begin to worship. Worship requires preparation!
The point I want to emphasize is that it was Jacob (Israel) that called these individuals who represented the nations to turn from idolatry and go up to the House of G-d (the meaning of the name Beit El) and worship the L-rd. This foreshadows what Israel will do in the last days.
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