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Leading Gedolei Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel and the US have called two special asifos this past week, one in Monsey and one in Brooklyn. At each of these emergency gatherings, communal rabbonim, roshei yeshiva, admorim and manhigim, were urged to spearhead a grassroots effort to facilitate the active participation of their kehillos in securing ample funding for farmers seeking to observe shmittah this coming year.
The featured guest at both asifos was Rav Yisroel Yitzchok Mendelsohn, Av Beis Din Moshav Komemiyus-Yerushalayim and Nasi of Keren Hashviis. Rav Mendelsohn arrived in the US with a special delegation to provide a firsthand report on the preparations for the unprecedented number of farmers undertaking full shmittah observance for this coming year.
One of the most dramatic manifestations of Kiddush Hashem in our time is the exponential growth of Shomrei Shviis in Eretz Yisroel. Even more remarkable perhaps, is the diversity of the individual farmers, who have made the conscious decision to observe shmittah exactly as prescribed in the Torah without any compromises, despite the often overwhelming financial sacrifice of forgoing their primary source of livelihood.
The driving force behind this revolution is the organization Keren Hashviis – the financial arm of Israel’s National Center for Shmittah Observance. Keren Hashviis was founded in 1979, by Rav Binyomin Mendelsohn zt”l, Rav of the Komemius settlement together with his son and successor, Rav Menachem Mendel zt”l.
Since its inception more than 35 years ago, the cumulative growth in the number of Shomrei Shvi’is for each Shmittah cycle has been extraordinary. Projections for the upcoming Shmittah estimate that approximately one third of the land farmed privately by Jews will be in full observance of Shmittah, under the auspices of Keren Hashviis.
The self-sacrifice of these Jews has been cited by the medrash as the ultimate dedication to shmiras hamitzvos. In addition to enabling these farmers to observe shmittah in its entirety, Keren Hashviis has provided an opportunity for partnership for Jews living outside of Eretz Yisroel to earn an integral partnership in the auspicious zechus provided by this mitzvah of mesiras nefesh.
In addition to the increase in observant farmers, Keren Hashviis faces a drastic cut in government funding for shmittah, with subsidies of over $7 million being completely eliminated from next year’s budget.
Maran Harav Aharon Leib Shteinman and Maran Harav Shmuel Wosner issued personal letters beseeching the kehillos of chutz la’aretz to partake in this outstanding zechus. The Monsey asifa took place on Wednesday, February 26, at Yeshiva of Spring Valley. The asifa was called by Rav Shlomo Breslauer, Rav Moshe Green, Rav Asher Dovid May, Rav Refoel Schorr, and Rav Shraga Feivel Schneebalg.
It was a most heartwarming sight to see such an array of manhigei Torah representing virtually every segment yahadus Monsey, sitting untied as one, eager to take part in this foremost mitzvah that unites Klal Yisroel.
The chairman of the event, Rabbi Yosef Mashinsky, menahel of Yeshiva Bais Dovid, opened the program, recalling how last Shmittah the Greater Monsey community was at the forefront of the US effort on behalf of Keren Hashviis and urged the rabbonim to maintain the kehilla’s position as a driving force in the campaign. He underscored how the Torah’s placement of the mitzvah of Shviis immediately after mentioning Ma’amad Har Sinai, symbolized how the mitzvah of Shmittah represents the epitome of emunah.
Rabbi Mashinsky introduced the innovative new concept for this shmittah, where each kehilla would designate two individuals to serve as “Giborei Koach” representatives on behalf of their kehilla to facilitate their partnership in the campaign. The rabbonim enthusiastically embraced the idea, pledging to join in the Giborei Koach undertaking.
Rabbi Mashinsky then introduced the special guest from Eretz Yisroel, Rav Yisroel Yitzchok Mendelsohn, Av Beis Din Moshav Komemiyus-Yerushalayim and Nasi of Keren Hashviis. After give a beautiful halachic overview of the parameters of mitzvas shviis as it related to contemporary agriculture, Rav Mendelsohn painted a vivid picture of the simple emunah and unstinting mesiras nefesh of the individual farmers.
The keynote speaker at the Monsey event was Rav Efraim Wachsman, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Me’or Yitzchok. With his gifted oratory and masterful delivery, Rav Wachsman aroused the assemblage to the primacy of this fundamental mitzvah. He recalled how many years ago, when traveling across the countryside of Eretz Yisroel, he saw miles upon miles of beautifully ripened grapes hanging from their vines, untouched. It was clear that these vineyards were left for abandon and that hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of grapes would soon go to ruin. Noticing a man who appeared to be the owner of the vineyard, Rabbi Wachsman walked over and asked him: “How are you able to do this? From where do you draw the strength to watch the beautiful fruits of your hard labor go to waste like this?” The farmer looked back at him and replied with simple unpretentiousness: “Zeh lo sheli – this is not mine. Zeh shel Hakadosh Baruch Hu – this belongs to the Ribbono Shel Olam!” This is the pure emunah; this is the simple but steadfast bitachon that we are partnering with!
The following day, Thursday, an even larger asifa took place at The Palace in Boro Park, for the rabbonim, Roshei yeshiva, and manhigim of the greater Brooklyn area. The Skulener Rebbe issued a personal letter to Brooklyn’s manhigei Yisroel, where he outlined the importance of shmittah and its capacity to bring the geulah shleima. A joint letter was also issued by the Novominsker Rebbe, Rav Yaakov Perlow; the Karlsberger Rav, Rav Yechezkel Roth; and the Chaim Berlin Rosh Hayeshiva, Rav Aharon Schechter, beseeching all rabbonim to lead their kehillos in partnering in this vital effort.
At this asifa too, one could not help but be overcome by the broad cross section of Torah leaders sitting shoulder to shoulder, in a united calling. Once again, the rabbonim responded enthusiastically to the Giborei Koach intuitive, undertaking to appoint two active gabboim from their respective kehillos to spearhead their effort on behalf of Keren Hashviis.
The featured speaker at the Brooklyn asifa was Rav Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Rav of K’hal Nachlas Yitzchok in Kew Gardens Hills. With his graceful eloquence, Rav Oelbaum articulated to the rabbonim the achrayus of bnei chutz la’aretz to assist their brethren in Eretz Yisroel in this vital mitzvah.
At both asifos, the assembled rabbonim submitted their signatures to a united appeal to Torah Jewry, underscoring the urgency for generous participation this coming Shmittah and urging them to respond to the call of each kehilla’s respective Giborei Koach.