To be a ‘Shaliach’ is generally translated, at least in the purely halachic sense, as a ‘messenger’ whose task it is to deliver a particular item or message from one person to another. However, the word ‘Shaliach’ in the broader aggadic sense – especially as reflected in the teachings and vision of the Lubavitcher Rebbe – is to be an ‘emissary’ who has heard a call from within or beyond to be a conduit that provides religious education, spiritual encouragement, and practical resources to those in need.
Admittedly, the term ‘Shaliach’ is nowadays often purely associated with the Chabad movement – whose tireless Shluchim can be found around the world. However, as someone deeply driven by a spiritual calling, I am of the opinion that this term applies to many different people including those who do not consider themselves to be emissaries of the Rebbe, but who – upon hearing a call from God to make a difference in the world – have responded with the word ‘Hinei’ (here I am).
With this in mind, I would like to turn to the opening words of Mishna Moed Katan which describes an irrigated field as a בית השלחין (Beit HaShlachin) which the Gemara (Moed Katan 2a) subsequently explains, on the basis of the Targum on Devarim 25:18, to mean – ‘a field that is thirsty for water’.
As should be clear, the word Shlachin and Shaliach are etymologically related, and this is because what water irrigation does to a field – namely give it what it needs to grow, a Shaliach does to those whom they guide – namely give them what they need to grow; and just as irrigation channels, pipes and sprinklers are conduits delivering water to ‘thirsty fields’, shluchim are conduits delivering Torah (which is often compared to water) as well as other necessary resources to those who are spiritually thirsty.
Interestingly, just last week I had a spiritual coaching session with an individual with responsibility for Jewish education programs in their community and who, during our conversation, told me how they are spiritually drained and how, at the same time, they were currently working hard on programming for Tu Bishvat in their community.
Upon hearing this, I explained that the reason why Tu Bishvat falls at this time of year is because by this point of the year (in Israel), most of the rain has fallen (see Rosh Hashanah 14a) – which means that by this point, the trees have much of the sustenance that they need to grow for a further year. Having said this, I told them that in order for them to grow, and in order for them to be an effective conduit to help their community grow, they too need to be spiritually nourished.
Undoubtedly, many of us are currently, as Devarim 25:18 describes about the Jewish people as they left Egypt, עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ – faint and exhausted, which the Targum translates as משלהי ולאי – ‘exhausted and thirsty’, and which I would translate based on what I have said above as, ‘emotionally and spiritually drained and in desperate need of emotional and spiritual encouragement’.
And this is why, as we approach Tu Bishvat this Sunday night, it is worthwhile remembering that we all need to be the conduits that we can be to enrich and nourish others around us, while similarly, we all need people who can provide us with what we need to grow.