Acharei Mot: The Torah’s travel insurance
Have you ever been asked to take ‘shliach mitzvah’ money? If you have, you’ll be familiar with the idea. The Talmud teaches,
“Shluchei mitzvah einan nizokin.” – “People who are on a mission to perform a good deed on behalf of others will come to no harm.”
With this in mind, sometimes when people are going on a journey, family or friends might give them some money, asking, “When you reach your destination please give this to charity.” With this they’re giving the traveller their blessing that no harm will befall them.
This is one of many examples of the concept of ‘shlichut’, where we ask people to carry out good deeds on our behalf. The Talmud teaches,
“Shlucho shel adam kemoto.” – “One’s representative is just like oneself.”
That person becomes your ‘yada arichta’ – your extended arm. The concept of shlichut therefore has numerous blessings. It’s great for those who are asking others to perform good deeds because it means that their output of goodness is increased. They don’t have to carry out every single deed themselves, and those who carry out the deeds are blessed as a result.
The Torah, in Parshat Acharei Mot however, gives one notable exception to the concept of shlichut, of delegation. We’re presented with laws concerning inappropriate sacrifices and the Torah tells us that somebody who brings such a sacrifice,
“Dam yechasheiv laish hahu,” – this wrongdoing “will be considered to be the act of the person who carried it out.”
Says the Talmud:
“Hu velo sholcho,” – “It’s that person’s wrongdoing and not the wrongdoing of anyone who asked them to carry it out.”
Here the Torah is letting us know that ‘ein shliach lidvar aveirah,’ – you cannot have a representative to carry out something which is wrong. If you’re performing a wrongdoing – it’s on your own head. You can’t blame anyone else for it.
So therefore let us take advantage of the concept of shlichut; let’s ask people to perform good deeds on our behalf; let’s increase all the output of the kindness and good that we perform in this world; let’s increase blessings for our society – but let’s never forget that when it comes to wrongdoing, no person should ever be allowed to give the excuse “I was only doing my duty. I was only obeying orders.”
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