Earlier this week, we noted Rashi’s surprising comment, based on the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 60:7), in explaining Lavan’s effusive invitation to Avraham’s servant. Lavan said to the servant, “Why should you stand outside, when I cleared out the house, and there is room for the camels!” (24:31). The Midrash explains that when Lavan told the servant that he “cleared out the house,” this means not that he made room for the servant and his men, but rather that he removed from the home all articles of idol worship. Knowing that Avraham’s servant rejected idol-worship, Lavan took away the idols so that the servant would feel comfortable and at home.
We might approach the Midrash’s comments in light of Rashi’s remarks earlier (24:29), explaining that Lavan’s enthusiastic response to the news of the servant’s arrival was a reflection of his selfishness and greed. After seeing the jewelry that the servant gave to Lavan’s sister, Rivka (24:30), Lavan excitedly anticipated the wealth he would likely receive by building a close relationship with Avraham’s servant. This is why he ran quickly to greet the servant, and why he extended his invitation with such warmth and excitement.
It is with this background, perhaps, that we might approach the Midrash’s remark that Lavan spoke of his having cleared his home of idols. The Midrash might be indicating that just as people sometimes feign admiration and affection for the sake of flattery, to earn the favor of others, people are also prone to project a phony appearance of religious piety for the sake of winning respect and social approval. Lavan’s insincere graciousness, which was driven purely by his lust for money, is compared by the Midrash to insincere expressions of religious devotion, to the tendency people sometimes have to rid their “homes” of “idols” – to project an image of piousness – in order to make a positive impression on others. The Midrash thus teaches us that just as we are to treat people kindly and warmly with sincerity, out of a genuine desire to dispense goodness, so must we ensure that our religious observance is sincere and true, and not merely a cheap device that we employ in the vain pursuit of respect and admiration.