Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Shliach Mitzvah


Operation Inspiration

If you’ve ever traveled, especially to a far location, like across the world depending on where you live, you may have been given, “Shliach Mitzvah money.” Essentially, this is a small amount of money that a friend will give you and appoint you to give it to tzedakah in your destination. Sometimes, they’ll give you money to give to tzedakah when you return as well.

This is based on the dictum of Chazal that, “Shluchei Mitzvah ainan nizakin,” messengers on a mission related to a mitzvah are not harmed. It’s a Divine promise of protection. Therefore, by people making you their agents to deliver tzedakah, say, in Eretz Yisrael, you will be protected in your travels. It’s also a nice way of showing that they care about you, that they want you to be protected.

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With that in mind, we should do it for others as well, and seek their protection and to make them feel loved and appreciated. But I was thinking about it on my last trip abroad.

How do I know when I’ve fulfilled my shlichus? I mean, they told me to give it to tzedakah but who’s to say which tzedakah it is supposed to go to? How do I know if I’ve given it to the right person? If they didn’t specify, am I really their messenger?

I’m sure you might answer quite simply, “It wasn’t sent to a particular person. It was just a mitzva for you to do and by doing so you get protected.” But is that really the case? I mean, ultimately, the person who got it was chosen by Hashem to receive it. I had to bring it from across the world to get to this particular individual. That’s how Hashem orchestrated it.

It got me thinking about this topic until I acknowledged the simplicity. Unless the person giving me the money specifies, by saying something like, “Go give this to the first person you see at the Kotel with a blue tie,” I’m basically just told to go and give it at whatever time Hashem deems right. That is my mission.

I don’t have to know the exact details, just as Avraham was told, “Lech Lecha – go to the place I will show you.” You can be on a mission even if you don’t know all the specifics. You just need enough information to take the next action, and let Hashem lead you from there.

As I reflected on this further, I realized something else. We’ve just described Shluchei Mitzvah as those sent somewhere to do good, even when they don’t know exactly where they’re going. They get protection from Hashem because they’re on a mission of good intent. It struck me that this describes every one of us every single day of our lives!

When we come down to this world, our souls don’t know exactly what they’ll be doing or where. They don’t know the players involved in the mitzvos or when they will encounter them. What they are told, though, by Hashem, is to go – and do good.

Instead of a dollar or two, Hashem gives us mitzvos to perform. He wants to protect us, so He gives us the charge to act as His shliach to do good. We know the famous Mishna from R’ Chananya ben Akavya, “Hashem wished to give merit to Yisrael, therefore He gave them myriad Torah and mitzvos.” Perhaps Hashem wanted to give us the merit of Divine protection, and gave us so many different ways to acquire it. As the Ra”v says in Makkos, Hashem even gave us mitzvos like avoiding eating bugs so we get merit when we do (what we would likely do anyway!) That means we are always Hashem’s Shluchei Mitzvah.

Maybe He sent us money that belongs to someone else, and He wants us to deliver it for them. That way, they get it and we get the protection of having been the agent. It puts a whole new spin on giving tzedakah, doesn’t it; realizing that it’s not our money we’re giving, but the money Hashem gave us to distribute as a means of helping us?

And what about all the other mitzvos? To learn Torah, be kind, blow shofar, etc. All these things are missions Hashem sent us on without necessarily telling us where we will do these things, or under what circumstances. Will we sit at a Seder surrounded by glistening white tablecloths and sparkling silver vessels, or will it be a clandestine piece of matzah quickly eaten under the watchful eyes of the KGB? Will we be able to befriend a sweet, but lonely person, or will we be faced with the challenge of speaking humbly to a belligerent person who scoffs at the idea of a Creator?

Like my quandary of giving the tzedakah in Yerushalayim, there are no clear-cut answers to the shlichus Hashem sends our way. And that’s OK, because though we may not know how, we do know why we’re doing them. Even though we don’t have specific instructions on fulfilling the missions Hashem sends us on, the basic messages remain the same:

“I care about you and want to see you protected,” and “Go and do good wherever you are.”

I think I can handle that. Don’t you?

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