Although I’ve been a Jew all my life, and a wanderer as well, I never heard of the tradition of “Shaliach Mitzvah” until this past summer. Loosely translated, it means a mission to do good. The person who is entrusted to undertake this mission, is an agent of good. As such, they are afforded special protection as they travel.
You become an agent when someone entrusts you with money, to donate on their behalf.
This is how I ended up wandering around the old city of Jerusalem, helping my father look for a donation box worthy of the dollars a friend had given him for his journey.
He wanted to give the money to a beggar. My mother wanted to give it to a proper charity. Sometimes the mission isn’t completely clear.
I was fascinated by this tradition though. Why hadn’t I heard of it sooner?
Then just the next day I found myself wandering in the Old City with my daughter. We’d been shopping in the shuk and I was trusting my instincts to guide me back to the Jewish Quarter where we were meeting up with some family members. I’ve always had no problem finding my way around the Old City in Jerusalem – a matter of great pride! But it was hot, and I was tired and it’s been twenty years…
A moment of hesitation at the intersection of two alleys, was all it took. A shopkeeper lunged out of his shop and launched into his routine “Come, come, lady.. How can I help you, what do you need, what can I show you, come and see…”
I was on the verge of swallowing my pride and asking for directions when two young girls strolled up behind me. Their modest dress and headscarves suggested to me that they were headed for the Jewish Quarter and I asked if I might walk with them.
We chatted as we walked, talking about the various things that had brought us to the Old City on that hot summer day. Although we are worlds apart in religious observance, we had lots in common, and knew a few people in common as well, from our local Chabad organization.
When we reached the Jewish Quarter they gave me a hug and one of them walked away only to rush back. “I have something for you!” she announced. “Do you know about Shaliach Mitzvah?”
I felt pretty cool that I did.
She pressed a dollar into my hand. It was all wadded and folded up. “That way you’ll know which one to donate” she said.
I stuffed it in my bag and there it sat when I headed to Europe. And there it remained as I traveled home. It sat in my bag for over a month. The stars just didn’t seem to align for me to donate it. No beggars presented themselves and no valid charities popped up. When I was at the supermarket and there was a fundraiser for local schools, I’d left the bag behind. When I had the bag, there was no place to donate the dollar.
And then I traveled to Memphis. Along came the bag and the dollar. As I walked the halls of St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, I knew my mission, and the travels of my dollar, had finally come to a close. I found a place to donate that dollar that had been pressed into my hand back in Jerusalem, and I gladly donated.
It’s a proper charity Mom. The best.
Whether you believe in the religious implications, or are simply superstitious, you have to appreciate a tradition that encourages travelers to do good.
I know I do. I’m so glad I heard of this tradition and I’m inspired to keep it going.
From now on I’m going to be that crazy friend that gives you a dollar when you go somewhere. I will make you an agent of doing good. No special powers or prayers needed. Just a dollar, or even a few coins. You can do the same for your friends.
I’ve gotten together a small travel wardrobe of dollars for this effort. Like my friend from the old city, I’ve folded them special so you can’t mistake them in your wallet, or mix them up with your regular cash. These dollars are folded into little shirts with ties, and if you ask me, they look downright “Mensch-y”.
I can’t wait to hear where they go.
This video is the best shirt with tie dollar origami tutorial that I have found.