Towards the end of today’s daf (Eruvin 31b), while discussing the extent to which various people can be relied upon to deposit an Eruv Techumin in the right location, we are introduced to the fascinating halachic principle of חזקה שליח עושה שליחותו – meaning, ‘it is presumed that an agent will perform their agency’.
What this principle means in terms of practical halacha is that when an individual is appointed as a שליח (agent) to perform a particular task, we can presume that they will perform that task – whether or not they subsequently report back to the individual who tasked them with doing so, and in terms of our daf, this means that if an agent was appointed by someone to take their Eruv Techumin to a particular location in order to permit them to walk beyond the ordinary 2,000 amot limit on Shabbat, they can presume that this was done and can therefore rely on the Eruv Techumin being where it should be.
Interestingly, as recorded in the final lines of today’s as well as much of tomorrow’s daf, the scope of this principle is a matter of debate. According to Rav Nachman, this presumption only applies with respect to the agent performing a mitzvah derabbanan (a rabbinic law requirement), while Rav Sheshet asserts that this presumption applies both to mitzvot deoraita (Torah laws) as well as mitzvot derabanan (rabbinic laws).
While this debate has many significant practical halachic applications, what we learn from here is that there are two ways to approach the concept of agency: The ‘Rav Sheshet way’ which presumes that agents will definitely perform their agency whatever the task may be, and the ‘Rav Nachman way’ which is only prepared to make this presumption depending on the type of task that a particular agent has been asked to perform.
Significantly, the post-Talmudic authorities intensely debate whether we rule in accordance with Rabbi Nachman or Rav Sheshet. Yet if we look a little further beyond the realm of halacha I believe that we will notice that all of us apply both the ‘Rav Sheshet way’ and the ‘Rav Nachman way’ to different parts of our life.
For example, when we ask a close friend or family member to do something for us – whatever that something may be – many of us adopt the Rav Sheshet way and ‘consider it done’. However, when we ask a more distant friend or family member to do something for us – we often don’t make that same presumption and, like Rav Nachman, we are only prepared to rely on them to do only certain tasks. Simply put, the level of confidence and reliability that we have in someone performing a task for us is almost always an expression of our confidence and reliability in that relationship.
Yet though the principle of חזקה שליח עושה שליחותו (‘it is presumed that an agent will perform their agency’) as discussed here applies to human relationships, it also applies to the human-divine relationship as well.
By virtue of our very existence, each of us have been tasked to fulfil a purpose on this earth, which means that each of us are a שליח – an agent – of God. Of course, God would like to think that we are reliable and that there can be a presumption that we will perform our שליחות(agency). Yet, as I explained, the level of confidence and reliability that someone will perform a task is almost always an expression of our confidence and reliability in that relationship.
Of course, the concept of faith means that we should have confidence in God. But what we often forget is that God also wishes to have confidence in us so that God can presume that we will do what we are here on earth to do.
Applying this to the concept of Teshuvah (repentance), we often think that teshuvah is only about repairing fractures in a relationship. However, Teshuvah is not only about fixing mistakes, but also about increasing faith, confidence and reliability in a relationship. Given this, when we perform Teshuvah – either in terms of our relationships with other humans or in terms of our relationship with God, we repair them, we strengthen them, and we ultimately communicate the message that from now on, if we’re tasked to be a שליח by them, they should ‘consider it done’.