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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Tzvi Abrahams

Shelach: If You Love Someone, Set Him Free ~ Tzvi Abrahams

Updated: Feb 17, 2022


Parshas שְׁלַח

If You Love Someone, Set Him Free

שְׁלַח: send

שֻׁלְחָן: table

שְׁלַח: Send

שְׁלַח לְךָ אֲנָשִׁים וְיָתֻרוּ אֶת אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל Send for yourselves men and they will spy out the land of Canaan that I am giving to the children of Israel.

The first time we see the root שלח in the Torah is in connection with Adam and the Tree of Life. The reason Adam was thrown out of the garden was פֶּן יִשְׁלַח יָדוֹ וְלָקַח גַּם מֵעֵץ הַחַיִּים וְאָכַל וָחַי לְעֹלָם/lest he will send forth his hand and take also from the Tree of Life and eat and live forever, since if he would now eat from the Tree of Life, he would gain back eternal life, which would be contrary to the punishment of death that had been meted out for the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge.

וַיְשַׁלְּחֵהוּ ה’ אֱ-לֹהִים מִגַּן עֵדֶן לַעֲבֹד אֶת הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר לֻקַּח מִשָּׁם. וַיְגָרֶשׁ אֶת הָאָדָם And Hashem sent him out from the Garden of Eden to serve the earth that he was taken from, and He divorced the man.

Why does it mention “to serve the earth that he was taken from?” The plain meaning is that this was his punishment — having to toil the earth for a living. A much deeper level emerges when we connect the following pasuk where Hashem says: מִזְבַּח אֲדָמָה תַּעֲשֶׂה לִּי/an altar of earth you should make for me. Man was given the opportunity to rectify his sin by building an altar from the adamah with which to serve Hashem through the bringing of korbanos/sacrifices. אָדָם/Adam was created from the אַדָמָה /adamah, and in particular he was taken from the adamah of Har HaMoriah, the exact location where the Mizbei’ach/altar stood. So going back to the verse, which says “to serve the Earth that he was taken from,” it alludes to serving Hashem through the Mizbei’ach of earth from which he was taken from. This is also alluded to in a Midrash that says that Adam was returned to Har HaMoriah where the Gemara says that he offered up a sacrifice from that place.

שֻׁלְחָן: Table

So what is the meaning of שְׁלַח and how does it connect to שֻׁלְחָן?

Sending is used in connection with a mission. When you want something, you simply send out your hand to take it, where the hand just follows the will of the one who is sending it. So too, in Parshas וַיִשְׁלַח, Yaakov sends messengers, angels, to appease Eisav, where the angels do not have a will of their own but merely do the will of the one who sends them. The spies too, in this week’s parshah (שְׁלַח לְךָ), are sent out to do the will of the people. In all these cases, the messengers come back after the mission is completed.

Hashem is sending us out of the garden; so what is the mission that Hashem wants us to do?

Hashem is sending us out on a mission to rectify the sin. How do we rectify the sin? By building a Mizbei’ach and serving Hashem. Now that we don’t have a Mizbei’ach, how can we serve Hashem? Besides prayer, which is compared to bringing korbanos, the שֻׁלְחָן is compared to a Mizbei’ach. Just like the Mizbei’ach gives atonement, so too the שֻׁלְחָן can serve to give atonement by being a place where we give bread to the poor.

שֻׁלְחָן גָּבוֹהַּ: The Higher Table

There is an expression שֻׁלְחָן גָּבוֹהַּ, which literally means “the higher table,” referring to the table of Hashem. The parts of the korbanos that are burnt on the Mizbei’ach are called “the food of the Mizbei’ach,” and the parts of the korbanos eaten by man are eaten in a state of taharah/purity. This eating is considered eating from Hashem’s table. Eating in this way at Hashem’s table becomes a fitting way to rectify Adam’s sin that was done through eating. We serve Hashem through eating in a state of kedushah/sanctity, where not only the food is elevated, but we ourselves become elevated. If we were to attend a royal banquet, would we not feel elevated? If we view our own table as the שֻׁלְחָן גָּבוֹהַּ/the King’s table, then we too can become elevated.

How we behave around the table tells us a lot about who we are. Do we behave like animals or do we behave like kings? Food is how we sinned, and through the שֻׁלְחָן we have the opportunity to sit together and be elevated — by talking divrei/words of Torah, by sanctifying the food, by thanking Hashem and blessing Hashem for creating us with lackings. If we lacked nothing, then we would have no sense of enjoyment and satisfaction through our eating, enjoyment that comes by eating slowly and tasting the food rather than engorging ourselves just to satisfy our desires. By really appreciating all the variety of tastes and delicacies that Hashem has put into His creation just for our pleasure, it helps to give us a greater sense of recognition of the source from where it all comes.

בֵּת הַשְׁלָחִין is a field that needs irrigation. By sending waters into the field, we are giving it life.

שֻׁלְחָן is a place to eat food, which gives us life.

In order for Adam to live, Hashem sent him away from Gan Eden, using the wordוַיְגָרֶשׁ /divorce. Divorce is when a couple reaches the point where they can no longer live together, and in order to have a life they must now live apart. So too, in order for man to live, he needed to be divorced from Hashem, because only through being sent away from the safe confines of Hashem’s garden does he get the opportunity to come back, having served many years of avodas Hashem/service of Hashem.

וַיִּקַּח ה’ אֱ-לֹהִים אֶת הָאָדָם וַיַּנִּחֵהוּ בְגַן עֵדֶן לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ And Hashem took Adam and placed him in Gan Eden to work it and to guard it.

The Ohr HaChaim asks the following question: since there were no thieves, what need was there for the garden to be guarded? Furthermore, if the garden needed to be worked, then who had been working the garden since man was banished? It must be, he answers, that the guarding and working was not on a physical level, but rather on a spiritual one, i.e., to be toiling in the Torah and to guard it.

The Torah is compared to a tree of life, as it says: עֵץ חַיִּים הִיא לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ. It is also called a לֶקַח טוֹב/good lesson, as in the pasuk: כִּי לֶקַח טוֹב נָתַתִּי לָכֶם תּוֹרָתִי אַל תַּעֲזֹבוּ. With this in mind we can now explain in a different light the following pesukim regarding Adam’s expulsion:

פֶּן יִשְׁלַח יָדוֹ וְלָקַח גַּם מֵעֵץ הַחַיִּים וְאָכַל וָחַי לְעֹלָם Lest he will send forth his hand and take also from the Tree of Life and eat and live forever.

וַיְשַׁלְּחֵהוּ ה’ אֱ-לֹהִים מִגַּן עֵדֶן לַעֲבֹד אֶת הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר לֻקַּח מִשָּׁם. וַיְגָרֶשׁ אֶת הָאָדָם And Hashem sent him out from the Garden of Eden to serve the earth that he was taken from, and He divorced the man.

Hashem has sent us on a mission to reclaim the Torah, theעֵץ הַחַיִּים /Tree of Life, לַעֲבֹד אֶת הָאֲדָמָה/to serve the adamah, which means to toil in Torah, אֲשֶׁר לֻקַּח מִשָּׁם /which we were taken from (where לֶקַּח refers to the עֵץ הַחַיִּים/Tree of Life). We were taken from the Tree of Life lest we regain eternal life, which would have been contrary to our punishment. So Hashem threw us out with the sole intention that we would be able to rectify the sin by toiling through a life of Torah and mitzvos. Through the Torah, the Tree of Life, we are returning to the place we were taken from. This is Hashem’s shelichus; we are on a mission from G-d, and like with every mission, once it is complete, the shaliach returns to the sender. Having safely completed our mission, we return to Hashem’s garden, the גַן עֵדֶן מִקֶדֶם/Gan Eden (from before), where we are now zocheh/merit to eat from the Tree of Life, which gives us life, the eternal life that we originally had but lost.

If you love someone, set him free. If he returns, then he truly loves you. Hashem has thrown us out of the house, sent us away, divorced us, and our only way of return is to show our love. Hashem has given us the unique gift of being free through freedom of choice to love Hashem and His Torah — with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our might.

Appendix vi

שְׁלִיחוּת יַד: Sending Out One’s Hand

One of the procedures done when we bring a korban to the Beis HaMikdash is to flay the animal. The Hebrew word to flay is לִפְשׁוֹט, which the Targum translates asלְשַׁלֵחַ . פָּשׁוּט means to simplify, and stretching out one’s hand, לִפְשׁוֹט יָדַיִם, is the simple act of שְׁלִיחוּת/shelichus, of sending out one’s hands. When we undress, we לִפְשׁוֹט our clothes; we are taking off the outside layer, revealing what is hidden. Man is מוּרְכָּב, built up from many parts, and is therefore a complex being. Our שְׁלִיחוּת is to simplify things, to לִפְשׁוֹט אֶת הַבְּעָיָה/to simplify the problem.

Life is a mystery, “a great big onion,” and our task is to peel away the layers and reveal the hidden, to make it less complicated and be an אִישׁ תָּם/a simple man. We do this by simply following our shelichus, to follow the ways of the Torah, which can be as simple as following our hands. The Torah is an extension of Hashem, יַד ה’/the hand of Hashem, which gives us a handle on life and connects us to Hashem. The Torah makes life easy, connecting everything, where everything has purpose, everything has meaning, everything is unified, simple and one, “and on that day Hashem will be one and His name will be one.”

לִפְשׁוֹט את הַשְׁאֵלָה/to solve the mystery of life is really not so hard. If we learn Torah, life becomes very simple. In the Garden we were naked; Adam could see from one end of the universe to the other; everything was crystal clear. But things got mixed up. What was אוֹר/light became עוֹר/skin. We became covered up with skin, and then we were covered up with clothes. Everything became concealed, which gave birth to the concepts of orlah and klipah (different types of coverings). Our job is to unveil the cover-up, to shed light, to take off the orlah, the layers of the onion, to be Hashem’s shaliach, Hashem’s hand in the world by revealing His light through His Torah. To return to Eden, to Gan Eden mikedem, to go back to the state of purity where we no longer need to be covered up, to go back to being עָרוּם/naked in front of Hashem. This is our natural state of being, when we no longer have to be deceived by עָרָמָה/the trickery of the snake into thinking that we need clothing and instead flay the animal part of us, to undress the snake, and reveal the sheker for what it is: a great big lie and a cover-up.

So our shelichus is very simple: to unveil the mask, to מַפְשִׁיט/take off the clothing, to מַפְשִׁיט/simplify the question and reveal who we really are, and to be naked in front of Hashem, with no barriers, no mechitzos. This can only be achieved through a life of Torah.

The next procedure after skinning the animal is נִיתּוּחַ/the cutting up of it into its individual parts. By breaking up something into its individual components, we are able to see how everything fits and works together. Instead of being one body mass, we are able to marvel at the intricate design and the harmony of creation; we then come to appreciate the Creator.

In the same way, the Torah is the tool that allows us to cut through the surface of the world and take a good look underneath. We can then start to break things up and see how everything works together. We can uncover the שָׁרָשִׁים/the roots of the tree of life and connect to its source.

שְׁלִיחוּת לְדָבָר מִצְוָה: Sending to Do a Mitzvah

There is something called שְׁלִיחוּת לְדָבָר מִצְוָה, whereby someone who is sent on a mission to do a mitzvah cannot be harmed. So too if we follow our mission, we will come to no harm. The mission — if you choose to take it — is not impossible.

There is also the concept of שְׁלִיחוּת לְדָבָר עַבֵירָה/to transgress on behalf of someone, which the Gemara says is not a valid shelichus because someone else cannot do an עַבֵירָה/aveirah and it be considered yours. Rather, the shaliach, as opposed to the sender, is said to be the one who sinned, as he is accountable to the Master, to Hashem, and not to man, who is Hashem’s servant. Rashi comments on the pasuk, “Do not go after your heart and your eyes,” saying that the heart and the eyes are the spies of the body — the eyes see, the heart desires, and the body sins. Just like all spies, they are on shelichus; the heart and eyes are being sent by their owner. So it’s not so much that the eyes see and the heart desires; rather, it is the meshalei’ach, the sender himself, who already desires to sin, who sends out his sheluchim to seek out where he can fulfill his desire. Therefore, even though the sheluchim are on a shelichus l’davar aveirah, in this case the meshalei’ach is guilty.

In short, part of our shelichus is to rectify the sin of eating, which is connected to the שֻׁלְחָן גָּבוֹהַּ/the higher table and to our own שֻׁלְחָן, by serving Hashem through the bringing of sacrifices, by serving Hashem through prayer, by serving Hashem through how we conduct ourselves around our own table and using it as a place to feed the poor.

We were taken from the adamah, we return through the adamah — the Mizbei’ach of adamah.

Our punishment for the sin of eating was the loss of eternal life, so our shelichus from Gan Eden was in order to prevent us from partaking of the very thing that would give us eternal life, namely the Tree of Life. Instead, born out of Hashem’s love for us, He has set us free and has sent us on a mission to regain our eternal life by proving ourselves worthy recipients by observing a life of Torah and mitzvos. We are returning to the place we were taken from, Gan Eden, through the Torah, the Tree of Life.

1 Bamidbar 13:2.

2 Bereishis 3:22.

3 Ibid., v. 23.

4 Shemos 20:21. See Kli Yakar for further explanation.

5 Chullin 60a.

6 Mishnah Berurah 167:5, s.v., שלחן דומה למזבח. See also Brachos 55a; Chagigah 27a.

7 Bereishis 2:15.

8 Mishlei 3:18.

9 Ibid., 4:2.

10 Bereishis 3:22.

11 Ibid., v. 23.

12 Vayikra 1:6.


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