Shammai the Elder sinned through his strictness - many potential converts came to him and he did not convert them, as the Sages write. (Shabbat 31a) As a result, he reincarnated into Shimon ben Azzai, who did not marry (Ketubot 63a) but created many souls of proselytes through his Torah learning, just as Abraham ‘the man of chesed ’ did. As it says in the portion Lech Lecha: "And the souls he made in Charan.1" (Gen. 12:5)

For all who arouse souls of converts are from the side of chesed, which was Abraham while separated from his wife,2 since she was barren. Also Moses created souls for converts while he was away from his wife, since he is in the secret of the chesed of Abel.

Abraham himself is the first of converts.

Abraham himself is the first of converts. He left his land, the place of his birth, and the house of his father. (Gen. 12:1) Those he influenced to convert are called "the pledged people of Abraham." (Hagiga) "You gave...chesed to Abraham." (Hagiga) "Pledged" implies something donated out of one’s own volition, from a motion of chesed. So those not born into a family and situation of knowing G‑d awaken to leave their surroundings and pledge their life to truth.

Through this, the gevurot of Shammai were sweetened and changed to chesed. Therefore, the letters (of Shimon/ShMAVN) are the ShM from Shammai and AVN/avon [transgression] - alluding that Shimon ben Azzai was the tikun for Shammai who pushed away converts.

‘Ben Azzai’ means ‘son of the brazen one’. "Why was the Torah given to Israel? Because they are brazen." (Beitza 25b) "You are standing here today...those that are here today, and those that are not here today." (Deut. 29:9-14) Anyone who converts, it is known that his soul did stand on Mt. Sinai, and that he does have holy brazenness. Shimon ben Azzai brought down souls that are truly connected to the Torah and are worthy of conversion.

Ben Azzai was known for his remarkable attachment to Torah.

Ben Azzai was known for his remarkable attachment to Torah. It was so much that he could not get married. He ascended into the aspect of Moses, who left his wife below to remain totally above - as if married to the supernal heights. This state is called the relation to the ‘upper Shechinah’. This way of doing things is another form of rectifying the lights of Tohu: When their individual, singular quality of not bearing to remain in the vessel and departing above is used to scale attachment to a very high level that is in truth too great to come down.3

The average person is earth bound, and so bound to rectify things in an earthly way. The major part of the soul--birur process is made through marriage and the couple’s relations. (Likutei Halachot Pirya Virivya) However, the select individuals who are more connected to above than below make the birur through almost solely through celestial means...

Ben Azzai operated this way.4 Coming from the same place as the two fallen angels Aza and Azael, whose names also come from the root az [brazen], and harnessing that energy in the right manner, he subjugated that negative flow from the world. This negated the dark influences that surrounded the fallen sparks and left them free to be magnetized to the holiness - as proselytes.

The word for converts is gairim, which is also used in the sense of sojourner. (Ex. 18:4) Gairim, who leave their backround and established lifestyle for higher pursuits, are as lifetime sojourners.5 The intense, boundless lights of Tohu are also as sojourners that don’t fit into a world of limitations.6 The self-sacrifice of gairim grants them ready access to these lights. Ben Azzai was busy with these types of tikunim.

[Translation and commentary by Perets Auerbach.]