Lavan had said, “Now you have gone, you desired to go to your father’s house; why have you stolen my gods?” (Bereishis, 31:30) Now, although Lavan was really a rasha, these words (in the midst of his tirade) are truly meaningful. There can be no greater contradiction possible: “You wanted to go to your father’s house — the house of sanctity and purity — at the same time you stole idols?”
Yaakov was certain that no one from his household had taken the idols, as the Torah testifies, “Yaakov didn’t know that Rochel had taken them.” (Ibid., 31:32) In truth, Yaakov knew full well the inconsistency of possessing idols and serving Hashem. After the battles with Shechem and Chamor, Yaakov was concerned that they had inadvertently taken idols in the captured spoils. He told them to find any forbidden images; afterwards, he buried them (Ibid., 35:4).
This attitude comes from Rivka, Yaakov’s mother. During her pregnancy, she had a crisis. She sensed that the fetus had urges toward the house of idolatry and, at the same time, towards the beis hamedrash. (Bereishis, 25:22, see Rashi) She went to the navi, who told her that it was not a single fetus — rather, she was bearing twins. The twins represented two nations at odds — two incompatible attitudes. (Ibid., 25:23, see Rashi) She was told to ascertain which would be deserving — and which not. While Yitzchak thought that he could deal with both of them, Rivka knew that only one would be chosen. (See Rashi, Ibid., 25:11, that Avraham was also aware of this.)
Even Lavan the wicked knew this idea: The life of idolatry is incompatible with the life of holiness and purity. “I understand that you want the holy life — if so, you cannot have my idols.”
In modern western society, outright idolatry is no longer common. However, there are many entities which are not compatible with Torah and mitzvos. It is vital to seek out and remove these entities from our lives. (See Chochma V’daas, 166-167)
Three Forms of Preparation
Yaakov was about to meet Esav, who had sought to kill him. Yaakov prepared in three ways: Prayer, readiness for war, and sending gifts.
What did he do to prepare for war? “He broke into two camps… He said, ‘If one will be attacked, the other shall escape.’ ” (Ibid., 32:7-8) He prepared to flee. (Ramban) Yaakov was successful, but it was his prayer and humility that succeeded, not his military prowess.
The night before, Yaakov remained alone. A malach fought with him, but Yaakov subdued the malach. By struggling with the mentality of Esav, Yaakov had already won the war.
Rashi clearly tells us this. Later, when Yaakov blesses Yoseif, he says, “I give you an extra portion which I took from the Emori with my sword and bow.” Rashi explains — “which I took from Esav, who acts like the Emori. Another explanation: From Esav, who tricked his father with his words. With my sword and bow — that is, with my wisdom and prayer.” (Bereishis, 48:22)
The Targum, as well, describes “sword and bow” as referring to “prayer and request.” Rebbenu Bachya explains: “prayer protects like a sword in the hand of the warrior.”
Before the encounter with the malach, the verse states: “Yaakov remained alone.” (32:24) Alone, Yaakov fights spiritual battles; in the long run he is successful. We also find that Rivka was buried alone — without Yitzchak (who was blind) or Yaakov (who was away). The Chittites buried her. (See Ramban, 35:8 from Medrash Tanchuma). The same source states that Yitzchak did not go out, but remained at home. These titans of the spirit fought their internal battles without outside help — but they weren’t trully alone. With the power of davening — one is never actually alone.