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The Blessings of Shelichus

Excerpt from a class given on 28th of Cheshvan 5768

From A Soldier to a Shaliach

It is customary to bless a child that he should be a soldier in the army of Hashem, a chayal (חַיָּל), which is an acronym for a chassid (חָסִיד), a God-fearing individual (יְרֵא שָׁמַיִם), and a diligent student of Torah (לַמְדָן). This blessing originated in previous generations, perhaps from the time of the Rebbe Rashab. While the Lubavitcher Rebbe always mentioned these three traits in the same order, the Frierdiker Rebbe customized the order for each child individually (apparently based on the child’s soul-root, etc.)

It doesn’t take a lot of thought to see that the letters in the word chayal (חַיָּל) are almost identical to those in shaliach (שָׁלִיחַ)—an emissary. In fact, when we follow the acronym above, we see that it is actually missing a letter, because the term “God-fearing individual” (יְרֵא שָׁמַיִם) is made up of two words, with only the letter yud represented. The complete acronym includes the letter shin too, transforming it from a chayal into a shaliach; the complete acronym is thus, חישל, the same letters as Shaliach (שָׁלִיחַ). Ordering the three traits according to their appearance in the word shaliach gives: a diligent student of Torah (לַמְדָן), a God-fearing individual (יְרֵא שָׁמַיִם), and a chassid (חָסִיד).

The takeaway from this first thought is that every Jew who takes it upon himself to be a shaliach (and every Jew’s soul is an emissary, a shaliach, from God) should be a diligent student of Torah, a lamdan. The shaliach is entrusted with all the Rebbe’s campaigns and any matter that concerns Jews and Yiddishkeit in his place of shelichus. However, the primary campaign of all shelichus is spreading Yiddishkeit in the spiritual wilderness and bringing Jews closer to their Father in heaven (and eventually, bringing non-Jews closer to Hashem, the God of Israel). To spread Torah—the primary directive of shelichus—the shaliach should first of all be a lamdan—a diligent student of Torah. A shaliach must be one who learns Torah in order to teach others. He or she must be imbued with the message of Torah and capable of passing it on in the proper way.

It is only natural that a shaliach focuses on the Torah teachings of the Rebbe, who sent him on his shelichus. We learn this from the Torah’s first shaliach, Abraham’s servant, Eliezer, who is nicknamed Damesek (דַּמֶּשֶׂק), which means “he who draws and doles out his master’s Torah.”[1] There is a beautiful allusion here, since “draws and doles out” (דּוֹלֶה וּמַשְׁקֶה) has the same value as “Abraham Abraham” (אַבְרָהָם אַבְרָהָם), stressing Eliezer’s special connection with Abraham because he disseminates his master’s teachings.

Second to his diligence in Torah, the shaliach must be a God-fearing individual since his work usually involves going out of the protected confines of the Beit Midrash to fulfill his mission in places that are not as pure. Fear of God protects the shaliach in these places allowing him to focus on the purpose of his shelichus—acts of loving-kindness and bringing people closer.

Finally, the shaliach must be a chassid. To be a chassid means to have love for every Jew. A shaliach goes into his shelichus with a powerful commitment to fear of God, but thanks to this, his inner core, he can radiate love to all those around him, taking care of their physical and spiritual needs and bringing them closer to their Father in heaven.

The Six Permutations of Shelichus

One of the interesting subjects in the Torah’s inner dimension is that of permutations of 3-letter roots. Shaliach and shelichus both stem from the 3-letter root שלח. Since a root has 3 letters, they can be permuted in 6 different ways, which can then be corresponded to the six emotive faculties of the heart, the sefirot from loving-kindness (chessed) to foundation (yesod). Without getting into the derivation, the six permutations of שלח correspond to the emotive sefirot as follows:

 

might (gevurah)

לשח

loving-kindness (chessed)

חלש

beauty (tiferet)

שחל

acknowledgment (hod)

לחש

victory (netzach)

חשל

foundation (yesod)

שלח

 

We see that the 3-letter root of shelichus—שלח—corresponds to foundation, the focus of rectifying the power of our covenant. Thus, to be a shaliach is to uncover the “tzaddik—the foundation of the world” within every Jew. Taking a shelichus upon himself connects the shaliach with the tzaddik of the generation and empowers him to reveal the spark of the tzaddik within every Jew.

The 3-letter root שלח can be understood to stand for “a living chain” (שלשלת חיה). How so? The purpose of shelichus is for a shaliach to make others into shluchim as well, until everyone merits to reveal their spark of the tzaddik within. As long as there is still a single Jew who has not been added to this living chain of shelichus, we must make an effort to reach him and bring him closer. But eventually, this living chain connects all our people and we can move on to the all-inclusive goal of the Jewish people—to become a light unto the nations, as the prophet says, “For then I will transform all the people into [using] a clear language, so that they may all call upon God and serve him together in unity.”[2]

Though shelichus stems from the permutation of these three letters that correspond to foundation (yesod), we will gain a great deal by considering the connection shelichus has to all the other permutations of שלח. Let us now review each of these permutations while explaining its connection to the sefirah it corresponds to.

Loving-kindness: Weakening our Innate Character

Following the order of the attributes of the heart, the first attribute is loving-kindness (chessed) and its corresponding permutations is חלש, which literally means weakness. On the face of it, weakness would not seem to be a very positive trait to have for shelichus. Moreover, how is it related to loving-kindness?

It is explained in Chasidic writings (particularly by the Rebbe Rashab who devotes many essays to the topic) that the most important thing the Divine soul does when its emotive powers are enclothed within those of the animal soul is to rectify the animal soul’s character traits (which originate in the World of Chaos). The primary method for this is by the intellectual faculties acting to weaken the innate state of the unrectified traits. In other words, the first sign of a rectified Jew is that his innate nature has been weakened.

The first trait that needs to be weakened in this way is the first trait overall, the innate loving-kindness (chessed). Loving-kindness is Abraham’s special trait. The Rebbe Rashab explains that its weakening is apparent when the person becomes patient and able to interconnect with and inter-include others. A person whose character is “as hard as a cedar tree” cannot tolerate people that have opinions opposed to his, and certainly cannot connect with them and cooperate. But the individual who has weakened his innate character traits is “soft as a rod” and can tolerate others and cooperate with them.

With regard to shelichus, the weakened innate traits are apparent in the shaliach’s rectified character. A shaliach has been sent to work with people whose opinions are opposed to his own and many times they remain this way, even after years of working together. A shaliach whose character is sharp and pointy (schpitzy) can only prick others. But to able to not only tolerate others but to also find common ground with them and to strive to create a state of inter-inclusion (hitkalelut) that can reveal how the other’s opinions have a place in my mind and my opinions have a place in his, this requires the shaliach to weaken his innate character traits.

The 3-letter root חלש also means to conquer or control, as in the verse, “conqueror of all nations”[3] (חוֹלֵשׁ עַל גּוֹיִם). In Aramaic, this verb also means a “lot.”[4]

In shelichus, there is certainly an aspect of “conquering.” The shaliach seeks to attain a spiritual dominion over the place of his shelichus, in order to bring a message. There is also an aspect of casting a lot in shelichus, which is expressed in a focus on personal Divine Providence (hashgachah pratit). During the course of one’s mission, many conundrums arise, such as which individuals to focus on, which book to learn with someone, what kind of physical help is needed by someone else. It could be as prosaic as: which fish should I serve. Chasidim usually don’t like lotteries, but when it comes to strengthening his dominion over reality—by acknowledging the dominion of the Almighty—the shaliach must be tuned into Divine Providence and become sensitive to these questions of destiny and fate.

Might: Learning to Bend Over

The 3-letter permutation, לשח, is not the source of any root in the Hebrew language. What we can do though is look at these three letters as if they mean, “to bend over” or “to pray,” as in the mishnah, “Ninety is the age for a bent stature”[5] (בֶּן תִּשְׁעִים לָשׁוּחַ) or in the verse, “Isaac went out to pray in the field”[6] (וַיֵּצֵא יִצְחָק לָשׂוּחַ בַּשָּׂדֶה). To bend down suggests that in our work, we must have the ability to submit ourselves and perform itkafya (self-coercion). This ability is indicative of our might, as the sages say, “Who is mighty? He who can control his inclination.”

The primary service of itkafya in shelichus is to control the use of our time. All our moments should be dedicated to the shlichus, just as Moshe Rabbeinu, God’s first shaliach was absolutely committed to his mission. As the sages say, he ran from the mountain to the people and from the people to the mountain, constantly ensuring that all his time was dedicated to his mission. He did not have any time left over for his own needs.[7] Of course this demands that the shluchah also dedicate herself to the shelichus as well as the other members of the household. It is noteworthy that the Rebbe stressed that together with their commitment to their shelichus, shluchim should not overlook the needs of their families, but that in practice, since he was not present, he could not provide exact advice on how to prioritize the demands made on their time. He suggested that a shaliach consult with three local friends who understand the issues at play.

To bend over like a ninety-year-old alludes to the need to lift heavy loads. A shaliach bends over to carry the burden and responsibility of lifting those that are connected to him and through him to Yiddishkeit, all with the requisite might.

Clearly, the work of going out to the field in order pray is related to might since this is a description about Isaac, who is the archetypal soul of might.

Beauty: Being Driven By Compassion

This three-letter permutation is one of the names of the lion in Hebrew. It corresponds with the sefirah of beauty (tiferet). For the shaliach who has already weakened his innate character thereby weakening his sefirah of might, the sefirah or power of the soul that continues to carry the strength of might is beauty. Beauty is related to the heart in the body and the heart’s strength is expressed when it can awaken feelings of mercy and compassion for others. Loving-kindness is a demand to provide for others, but this demand is motivated by the shaliach’s compassion for the Jewish people, especially for those who have no awareness of their tradition, who lack “consciousness” of their past. It is for these individuals that we should have the most compassion.

Victory: Working with the Weak

The 3-letter root חשל appears in the Torah in the context of a handicap or weakness. Indeed, this fits with victory (netzach) being a branch of loving-kindness (chessed) which we also saw is related to weakness. We can quote the famous verse, “he cut down all the stragglers in your rear”[8] (וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחַרֶיךָ).

What this means for the shaliach is that he does not have the luxury of working only with the gifted, only with those people who find it easy to understand Torah and Yiddishkeit. Rather, the purpose of shelichus is to reach especially those who are weaker, who are left struggling behind.

Another way to apply this permutation is to realize that even someone who is not the sharpest or brightest should not despair from becoming a shaliach. Many shluchim were, in their past, the weakest children in their schools. Victory means overcoming and indeed conquering every hurdle, or opposition.

The greatest shaliach (for whom we await), the Mashiach, is constantly making an effort to help the stragglers. As it says in Hayom Yom: despite the fact that he learns Torah with the patriarchs and with Moshe Rabbeinu, the Mashiach will engage the common folk (just as our teacher, the Ba’al Shem Tov did in his lifetime). It is specifically in working with the simple Jews that we learn that “the Eternal of Israel shall not deceive or change His mind, for he is not a human that he should change his mind”[9] (וְגַם נֵצַח יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא יְשַׁקֵּר וְלֹא יִנָּחֵם כִּי לֹא אָדָם הוּא לְהִנָּחֵם).

Acknowledgment: Learning to Whisper

In the sefirah of acknowledgment (hod), the 3-letter root, לחש, is related to speech, specifically to speaking quietly and whispering. Acknowledgment is associated with confession and with thanksgiving—being aware of all that we receive freely from God in order to thank Him constantly.  Acknowledgment is also the sefirah through which we express our love for others, even though we naturally speak about these matters in a whisper.

In terms of shelichus, the whisper of acknowledgment can be applied as the shaliach taking care to never raise his voice and to speak quietly, as the sages say, “the words of the wise are heeded, when spoken quietly.”[10] When words are spoken softly but are words that emanate from the heart, they enter the heart of the other and fulfill their intent.

In the Bible, we find two types of whispers. As quoted above, there is the soft-spoken whisper that can be heard by others, but there is also the whisper that cannot be heard at all. The first is referred to as an “expert whisperer”[11] (נְבוֹן לָחַשׁ) and the second is “whispered prayer”[12] (צָקוּן לַחַשׁ). The expert whisperer is a connotation for a scholar of the highest possible stature and thus this phrase alludes to the Torah’s wisdom. The second phrase, “a whispered prayer” of course alludes to prayer and to our silent Amidah. What this tells us is that despite the need to speak softly from a composed mind, every utterance should include its opposite as well: the excitement and the outpouring of the soul that are the essence of prayer.

Shelichus requires both the whisper of Torah and the whisper of prayer. The commentaries state that “the Torah whisperer” (נְבוֹן לָחַשׁ) refers to the individual who studies the secret dimension of the Torah, the Workings of Creation and the Workings of the Chariot. The diligent shaliach should therefore focus on spreading the Torah’s more hidden dimension, especially the secrets of its hidden dimension, which is as we know refers specifically to Chasidut. Chasidut has the special quality of being able to cause people who study it to do teshuvah and with their awakening heart, to return to God.

At the same time, the “whispered prayer” (צָקוּן לַחַשׁ) instructs the shaliach to be in a state of expressing his soul and through this heartfelt expression, cause all those who are connected to him to do the same before God.

Foundation: Battling Superficiality

One of the meanings of the three-letter root שלח is a weapon that resembles either a sword or a spear.[13] In the Book of Formation, the sefirah of foundation is corresponded to the transmutation between peace and war (תְּמוּרַת שָׁלוֹם מִלְחָמָה). Just as the tzaddik, the soul of foundation, is a figure of peace, part of his efforts are dedicated to fighting the wars of God and winning them. As much as the tzaddik is yearning for peace, he does not shun taking up arms when necessary.

The shaliach too needs to possess a שלח, a spear in order to fight when absolutely necessary. Of course, the most foundational battle is the internal one, between the individual and his inclination. The sword or spear in this case must have two tips: one to fight against his feelings of pride and the second tip, to fight against mundane cravings.

From this same root also derive the words for “table” (שֻׁלְחָן) and for a hide (שֶׁלָּח).[14] The ability to skin an animal and remove its hide is one of the most important practices needed for shelichus. A shaliach must know how to reach the essential point by becoming an expert in removing people’s external façade and self-image in order to reveal their innermost being.

This is somewhat similar to the act of circumcision. It allows the Jew’s crown to be revealed, for all Jews are the progeny of kings and even kings themselves. Removing the coarse hide transforms the individual’s external covering from being the “skin of the snake” into “garments of light.” This whole delicate process occurs around the shaliach’s table, where he gathers those related and connected to him, feeds them, and ultimately elevates them, just as one elevates food by eating it.

 

Image: Michael Kauffmann, wikipedia

[1]. Rashi on Genesis 15:2.

[2]. Zephaniah 3:9.

[3]. Isaiah 14:12.

[4]. As in Numbers 26:55. Likewise in Mishnaic Hebrew, see Shabbat 148b in the mishnah, “One may cast lots [among the priests] for sanctified foods on a festival…” (וּמְטִילִין חֲלָשִׁין עַל הַקֳּדָשִׁים בְּיוֹם טוֹב).

[5]. Avot 5:21.

[6]. Genesis 24:63.

[7]. Rashi on Exodus 19:14 based on the Mechilta on this verse.

[8]. Deuteronomy 25:18.

[9]. 1 Samuel 15:29.

[10]. Ecclesiastes 9:17.

[11]. Isaiah 3:3.

[12]. Ibid. 26:16.

[13]. See 2 Chronicles 32:5.

[14]. See Mishnah Shabbat 4:2 and Tosefta Shabbat 9:1.

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