I have a shtick I do during the circumcision service, the brit milah. After the baby has been carried in and introduced to the crowd, I pass him to the proud father and make the following announcement: “The mitzvah of milah is incumbent on the father, and I am really just here as an agent. So now, choose: either appoint me as your agent . . . or do it yourself.”

Never fails to draw a laugh from the crowd, and never yet has a father been brave enough, or foolish enough, to accept my challenge.

Showmanship aside, if the obligation really lies with the father, what right does he have to cede his responsibilities to me? Furthermore, even if you accept that when it comes to milah our concern for the welfare of the child precludes us from granting chopping privileges to the average father rather than to a professional, why go through the whole rigmarole of officially appointing a agent? When you call a tradesman to the house, do you first make an announcement that “this man is my agent,” or do you just show him the problem and let him get on with the job?

In the Book of Numbers we learn that a percentage of one’s crops was to be donated every year to a kohen (priest). The priestly caste owned no land, and were financially supported by the other Jews, so they could fulfill their functions of serving in the Temple and traveling around Israel teaching Torah.

Appointing a agent isn’t like hiring a plumber. The agent doesn’t just do your job; he becomes you!

The Torah demands that one ceremoniously separate the terumah from his produce, and only thereafter forward it to the priest. This separation ceremony, the Torah informs us, can also be performed by an agent, but only one who was “like you”1—i.e., the emissary, like the sender, must be Jewish.

Every commandment is a composite of the person performing the act and the act being performed. If all G‑d cared about was that certain actions are accomplished at various times, then, as long as that task is completed, it would make no difference who implements it. However, G‑d also cares how each mitzvah is done, and even who is fulfilling it.

Appointing a agent isn’t like hiring a plumber. The agent doesn’t just do your job as your representative; rather, he becomes you! When I perform a brit for your son, I am not just a paid functionary getting my hands bloody on your behalf. Rather, it is you doing the cut, and you are performing your mitzvah.

Every Jew shares a common soul, an identical spark of pure G‑dliness. It is this connection that allows us to bond with our soul-partners, not just acting in their stead but becoming one with them, in the ultimate purpose of fulfilling G‑d’s will.

Similarly, when we live up to G‑d’s desire, fulfilling His will, becoming His agents as it were, we remove all sense of self from the mission, and bind ourselves to the source of that mission by becoming one with our G‑d in the ultimate unity of existence.