The focus of much of today’s daf (Nazir 12b) is the halachic concept of שְׁלִיחוּת – meaning the appointing of someone as an agent to fulfil a particular task or mitzvah. And as a result of the Gemara’s detailed discussion we are then taught a general rule about the mechanics of שְׁלִיחוּת that: לָא מְשַׁוֵּי אִינִישׁ שָׁלִיחַ – a person cannot appoint an agent to fulfil a task, אֶלָּא בְּמִילְּתָא דְּמָצֵי עָבֵיד הַשְׁתָּא – unless they themselves could do what they are asking the agent to do at that given moment. בְּמִילְּתָא דְּלָא מָצֵי עָבֵיד לֵיהּ הַשְׁתָּא – However, in a situation where the individual themselves could not perform that task at that moment, לָא מְשַׁוֵּי – then such agency is invalid. From here we learn two key principles of שְׁלִיחוּת that: a) Whoever asks an agent to perform a task must themselves be capable of performing that task, and b) the concept of agency only functions if the window of time when the agency is sought is a period when that task could be actionable.
Of course, a person can always do someone else a favour without fulfilling these stipulations. However, for halacha to consider an individual to be a fully-fledged שְׁלִיחַ (agent), these stipulations must be fulfilled. But why?
To answer this question, we must reflect on the principle (see Mishna Brachot 5:5 and numerous other locations in the Talmud) of שְּׁלוּחוֹ שֶׁל אָדָם כְּמוֹתוֹ – ‘the agent of a person is like that person’, to which Rav Soloveitchik remarks: ‘actually, it is more than that. The agent is the person himself. The identities of sender and agent merge in the institution of shlichut.’ What this means is that when one person commits to perform a task for another under the category of ‘shlichut’, this makes them – for a brief period of time – an extension of that person. Given this, it is understandable why the two people must be synchronized both in terms of halachic obligation and time obligation, because the concept of שְׁלִיחוּת demands a unique level of synchronization between people.
Of course, many of us wish to help and to be there for others. But to be a שְׁלִיחַ isn’t just to do what another wants. Instead, it is to align yourself with that person so that their will becomes a part of yours. As such, שְׁלִיחוּת – in all its forms – demands consideration, sensitivity, and humility, and the understanding that you aren’t just working for someone; you are – in fact – part of them.