Thursday, December 15, 2005

GARDEN OF TORAH: Empowerment and Its Purpose (Vayishlach)


Kislev 14, 5766 * December 15, 2005


Parshat Vayishlach

Empowerment and Its Purpose
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1. Three Conceptions of an Agent’s Function

Delegation of responsibility is one of the primary challenges in all successful enterprises, for there is no way one individual can deal successfully with every detail of a complex undertaking. In seeking to define the dynamics of delegation, our Rabbis have offered three different conceptions of the relationship between a principal (meshaleiach) and his agent (shliach):

a) An agent is considered an independent entity, and must take responsibility for the deed he performs. Nevertheless, the consequences of the deed — both positive and negative — are borne by the principal.

b) Although an agent is considered an independent entity, since he is acting under the aegis of the principal, the deed he performs is considered as if performed by the principal.

c) As implied by the simple meaning of the expression, “A person’s agent is considered as the person himself,” an agent is considered to be an extension of the principal — a “long hand,” as it were. In this regard, every aspect of an agent’s being is associated with the principal.

2. An Agency Entrusted to Every One of Us

Two features are common to all three perspectives:

a) An agent’s ability to act on behalf of a principal depends on the principal’s empowering him to do so. Therefore, if an agent deviates from the instructions of his principal, his agency is revoked.

b) To be successful, an agent must use his own abilities, devoting his intellect and energy to the task at hand. For even an agent who acts as an extension of his principal appreciates that, in fact, he is a separate entity, and must execute the assigned task using his own initiative.

These concepts have parallels in our Divine service. For every human being is an agent of G-d, entrusted with the responsibility of bringing the world to its desired purpose by demonstrating that the world is G-d’s dwelling.

In accomplishing this task, we must remember that we are only agents; the world is G-d’s dwelling, and He has outlined His plans for the functioning of that dwelling in the Torah’s teachings. Any other conception, however beneficial it may appear, is a deviation from our mission.

Nonetheless, G-d expects us to use our own initiative to accomplish this task. For life is not a textbook, and the practical application of the Torah and its mitzvos in the particular environments and situations which confront us requires that we use our own minds and hearts to discern the appropriate response at any given time.

3. Changing Ourselves as We Change the World

As we apply ourselves to our mission, we also internalize it. Not only do we effect changes in the world, we ourselves change. Just as an agent must be identified with his principal, we must give ourselves over to G-d’s will and identify with it. The extent of that identification differs from person to person. In this respect, the three conceptions of shlichus mentioned above can be seen as three different approaches to Divine service.

There are tzaddikim, righteous men, whose commitment to G-dliness dominates their personality; every aspect of their being is permeated with G-dliness. Their thoughts — and even their will and their pleasure — reflect G-d’s.

This, however, is a rung which most people cannot attain. But the second level — in which each person remains an independent entity although his deeds are not his own — is within the reach of more individuals. For the mitzvos we perform are not human acts; they are G-dly, so a person who performs them selflessly expresses their inner G-dly power.

There are individuals at an even lower level; they are not concerned with the G-dly nature of the mitzvos they perform. Nevertheless, they perform mitzvos — for even “the sinners of Israel are filled with mitzvos as a pomegranate is filled with seeds” — and the consequences of the deeds they perform represent an expression of G-d’s will. Thus they also contribute toward the transformation of the world.

Regardless of the differences between individuals, all mankind possesses a fundamental commonalty: we are all G-d’s agents, charged with various dimensions of a shared mission. The setting in which each individual functions, the task he is given, and the intent with which he performs it may differ, but the goal is the same.

4. The Scope of Our Mission

This is the message of Parshas Vayishlach: that every one of us is a shliach, an agent of G-d. We are sent “to Esav” — to refine and reveal the G-dliness within the material existence that is identified with Esav.

Significantly, Vayishlach is not just the beginning of the Torah reading; it is the name of the Torah reading. The name of an entity reflects its essence. Thus every element of the reading is connected with this concept, highlighting the many facets of the mission with which we are charged. For being engaged on a mission to make the world G-d’s dwelling challenges us to encompass every aspect of existence.

The word “vayishlach” means “And he sent,” implying that our mission includes the empowerment of other shluchim. A person must inspire others to shoulder a portion of the endeavor; to borrow an expression from our Sages: “One shliach makes another.”

5. Keeping the Purpose in Focus

The Hebrew word "shliach" also alludes to the consummation of the mission, for its numerical equivalent, together with the number 10, equals the numerical equivalent of the word “Mashiach”. This implies that Mashiach’s coming requires that every person dedicate the ten powers of his soul to the mission of making the world a dwelling for G-d. Our efforts to spread the awareness of G-d throughout the world and have that awareness permeate every individual will precipitate the coming of the age when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean bed.”

(Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IX, pgs. 323-324; Sefer HaSichos 5748, p. 138ff; Sichos Simchas Torah, 5748)


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