R’ Yoel (Julius) Klugmann, z”l, was a legendary activist, as well as a confidante to Gedolei Yisrael and respected senior member of the Washington Heights community of Khal Adas Yeshurun. Responsibilities for the klal and business opportunities meant periodic overseas travel. Before departing on a trip, out of kavod and to receive a blessing for success, Mr. Klugmann would call to take leave of the Lakewood Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Aharon Kotler, zt”l.
In advance of one trip to the United Kingdom, Rav Aharon wished Mr. Klugman a לשלום, and requested a favor that the lay leader relay an important message to one of the local Rabbanim in London, adding, “Now you’ll be ‘a shaliach mitzvah, — a mitzvah-messenger.’ Mr. Klugmann appreciated this gesture, knowing that someone who is traveling on a mission to do a mitzvah — even on another person’s behalf — will be blessed.
A few moments after hanging up the phone, Mr. Klugmann’s new secretary entered the office and informed him that he had a call: “A Mr. Kotler is on the phone.”
At the time, Mr. Klugmann had a supplier named “Kotler.” Assuming that the caller was the supplier, he told the secretary he would call back later. Yet, the caller would not take “no” for an answer. “He says it’s urgent,” responded the secretary.
When Mr. Klugmann picked up the phone, he was shocked to hear his rebbi on the other line: “This is Aharon Kotler… Earlier, I asked you for a favor to fulfill in London while you are there for work, and mistakenly told you that you’d be a shaliach mitzvah as a result. I am calling to tell you that I should not have said that. I made a mistake! The truth is, since you are traveling for business for your parnassa, you are already considered a shaliach mitzvah.”
”שְׁלַח לְךָ אֲנָשִׁים וְיָתֻרוּ אֶת־אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר־אֲנִי נֹתֵן לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אִישׁ אֶחָד אִישׁ אֶחָד לְמַטֵּה אֲבֹתָיו תִּשְׁלָ֔חוּ כֹּל נָשִׂיא בָהֶם: וַיִּשְׁלַ֨ח אֹתָם משֶׁה מִמִּדְבַּר פָּארָן עַל־פִּי ה׳ כֻּלָּם אֲנָשִׁים רָאשֵׁי בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל הֵמָּה:“
“Send out for yourself men who will scout the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to Bnei Yisrael. You shall send one man each for his father’s tribe; each one shall be a chieftain in their midst. So Moshe sent them from the desert of Paran by the word of Hashem. All of them were men of distinction; they were the heads of Bnei Yisrael.” (Shelach 13:2-3)
In anticipation of their ascent to the Holy Land, Hashem allowed Moshe to send “meraglim — scouts,” to spy out Eretz Canaan. Rashi clarified that the spies were sent according to the will and “understanding” of the Jewish People. It is if Hashem was saying, “לדעתך, אני איני מצוה לך, אם תרצה שלח — I am not commanding you (to send spies), but if you wish, you may send (them).” Only once the will of the people was expressed, the spies were considered having been sent “עַל־פִּי ה ׳ —by the word of Hashem,”as it says, “שְׁלַח לְךָ אֲנָשִׁים — Send out for yourself men….”
The opening commentary of Midrash Rabbah on our sedra begins with the concept of a “shaliach mitzvah — one who is dispatched to perform a mitzvah or fulfill a holy mission.” On the same topic, the Maharal points out that the talmudic (Kiddushin 41) principle of “שלוחו של — אדם כמותו” A person’s messenger is like the person himself,” implies that a shaliach is more than just a person’s representative; they are superficially influenced by their will. When a truly praiseworthy shaliach assumes the role of an “agent” for another, his will becomes an extension of the sender’s will. There is a deep connection and unity on the level of nefesh. In terms of the mission, they are considered one person with one will.
With regards to our sedra, the Chidushei haRim explained the issue with the meraglim to be rooted in how they saw themselves and their sense of agency. Instead of considering their public image, the reaction of their constituency and the opinion of the masses, the meraglim — as men of stature and leaders of tribes — ought to have been motivated to simply be shluchim of the Ribbono Shel Olam. Had their focus been on their roles as shluchei mitzvah sent by Moshe Rabbeinu and Hashem, their perspective would have been influenced by the light of the Divine — as refracted in the tzaddik hador. Instead, they allowed themselves to be adversely influenced by whom they perceived to be their “senders” and became overly concerned with public opinion. On some level, with their own self-centered mission, the meraglim brought negative consequences upon the community.
In pursuit of their tikkun and redemption, the legendary brothers and iconic duo, Jake and Elwood Blues, were seeking to reunite their band. In an attempt to sway their friend and partner, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, to go along with their plan and join them once again, Jake addressed Matt’s gospel-singing wife: “Ma’am, would it make you feel any better if you knew that what we’re asking Matt here to do is a holy thing?” Elwood nodded and chimed in: “...You see, we’re on a mission from God.”
”שאין לך חביב לפני הקב”ה כשליח שהוא משתלח לעשות מצוה, ונותן נפשו להצליחותו, ואין לך אדם שנשתלחו לעשות מצוה ונתנו את נפשם להצליח בשליחותן.“
There is no one as beloved before Hashem as someone who is sent to do a mitzvah and is “moser nefesh — elflessly disregarding his own limited will,” in order to succeed.
The Sfas Emes teaches us that before we are born, upon our descent into this world, every one of us is a “shliach mitzvah — an emissary sent on a mission.” And he backs this up with a Midrash (P’sikta,Vayikra 8:25): “אין לך כל דבר ודבר שברא הקב׳ה בעולמו שאין בו מצוה —There is nothing that God created that does not have an element of mitzvah,” (Sfas Emes, תרל”א).
When we see ourselves as shluchim of Hashem, empowered by the Ribbono Shel Olam to do His Will in the world, we will be positively influenced by the One who has sent us, and it will in the end be “לך — for us,” for our benefit as well.
Whether engaged in a specific mitzvah, working to bring in parnasa, or getting the band back together, may we remember that we are really sent not just to satisfy our own will. Rather, we are sent “עַל־פִּי ה׳ — by the Command of Hashem,” on a Mission from God.
Rav Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He is the mashpiah of OU-NCSY, founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of “Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva.” Rav Judah lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife, Ora, and their family.