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Shabbat Parashat Vayeishev 5784

Igrot Hareaya Letters of Rav Kook: Preparation for Shemitta #177 part II

Date and Place:  1 Tevet 5669 (1908), Yafo 

Recipient: This is a public letter to the residents and farmers of the agricultural settlements of Eretz Yisrael. 

Body: We saw last time the beginnings of a short overview for the rationale of the heter mechira (sale of agricultural lands to non-Jews to allow agricultural work to go on during the Shemitta year).

Much of the leniency is based on the great need and the inability to fulfill all of the mitzva’s details. This is the situation until Hashem will look down and see His nation’s anguish, return all of His nation to His Holy Land, and decree blessing upon us. Then people will not be forced to look to the distance and sell the produce of the Land outside the boundaries of the Land. (It is forbidden to send produce with sanctity of Shemitta outside Eretz Yisrael.) Then “Land’s rest” will be clear on the holy soil, when all the inhabitants of the Land will be His sons, the sons of Israel and Yehuda. They will be connected to the affection for the Holy Land, a connection of love within an atmosphere of plenty and tranquility, as people live in security in the Land. Divine Providence will then be seen openly, as Hashem will send His blessing in the sixth year so that it will provide triple the normal yield, based on Hashem’s good word, which never comes back empty. At that time, it will be possible to keep the laws of Shemitta exactly as they are written, which is impossible now.

The very idea [of the heter mechira] is not only beneficial in removing the prohibitions, but it is also a fulfillment of the dictate “It is a mitzva to listen to the words of the sages” (Yevamot 20a), which applies in every generation, whoever the nation’s leaders are. [Through the process of administering the sale], we cause Shemitta to be remembered, so that awareness of Shemitta will remain. That way, when Hashem will bring goodness to His nation and raise our stature on the holy soil, we will be able to fulfill with love all of the laws of Shemitta, it will already be clearly in the experience of the nation, and fathers will have already taught it to sons. This remembrance (through the sale) will be kept alive during every Shemitta cycle in which we need to sell the fields due to the type of difficulties we are experiencing now.

The following is our best advice. Since most halachic experts have ruled that the laws of Shemitta apply only to the land of a Jew and not of a non-Jew, they have decided to do a halachically valid sale for all of the fields, including their trees, as we need to cultivate them and make use of their fruit like during a regular year. The sale must be in force for a period of time that includes the Shemitta year. Thereby, when according to Torah law, the fields and their vegetation will be owned by a non-Jew, the obligations of Shemitta will not apply, as the great rabbis of previous generations decided. (There is a halachic dispute between the Beit Yosef and the Mabit whether the sanctity of Shemitta applies even to non-Jewishly owned land in Eretz Yisrael. Rav Kook posits that the consensus is that it does not apply). Although Jews will then be representatives of the non-Jew, based on the stipulation of the sales document, to allow the regular Jewish owner to work in the fields during Shemitta, since the fields will be owned by the non-Jew, the laws of Shemitta will not apply to the produce.

I, along with the great rabbis of the rabbinical court of Yafo and the moshavot¸ saw that the status of the Jewish community at this time still requires that we use the lenient ruling that was made by holy rabbis at its time (the first widespread use of the heter was 21 years earlier). Therefore, we have agreed with our authority as a beit din, to use the same mechanism for the upcoming Shemitta year.

We will continue next time.

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