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Shabbat Parashat Teruma 5784

Igrot Hareaya Letters of Rav Kook: The Need to Sell the Land before Shemitta #189 part I



Date and Place:  17 Shevat 5669 (1909), Yafo 

Recipient: Rav Yaakov Dovid Wilovsky, known as the Ridbaz. The Ridbaz was a leading Torah scholar, who had served as a rabbi in several communities in Eastern Europe and then in Chicago. In 1905, he moved to Eretz Yisrael and founded a yeshiva in Tzfat. An author of many Talmudic works, his most famous halachic stance was against the heter mechira, the temporary sale of land in Eretz Yisrael in an attempt to obviate the restrictions of Shemitta (the Sabbatical year).  

Body: I just received your holy letter with your respected pamphlet, Kuntras Hashemitta. Your pure words were salt on my unbandaged wounds. Only Hashem, Who knows all secrets, knows that my heart is bitter over the lot of the mitzva of Shemitta. With all my heart and soul and the life of my spirit and soul, I desire and am thirsty to strengthen the mitzva and return it to its former glory.     

My eyes see how far we still are from accomplishing this great thing. I know clearly that if we do not carry out the sale of the land, a great multitude of people will violate all of Shemitta’s prohibitions without any basis for leniency. This will encourage evil people to raise their profile and declare that the band that connects us to the mitzvot is undone and we can abrogate mitzvot from the Torah without any question. This will result in unfathomable destruction to the holy Torah and desecration of His Holy Name.

Therefore, I am compelled to follow the lead of the Rabbis in their rule of “It is better that Israel should eat sickly, slaughtered meat so that they do not eat unslaughtered and thus non-kosher meat” (Kiddushin 21b). I was compelled to arrange this halachic device for those who are compelled to use it, just as they did in previous Shemitta years. I knew that the present situation makes it impossible to avoid doing something to allow people [to create leniencies in the observance of Shemitta].

The first element of need is the matter of sufficient [produce for consumption] during Shemitta. It is conceivable that if this were the only issue, it might have been possible with great intervention that the Baron [Rothschild] might have given a sum that might have sufficed in the difficult circumstance.

The main matter, though, is the break that [Shemitta observance] would have made in the marketing, especially of wine and oranges, which comes to millions. It is not just that they will lose this incredible income during the Shemitta year (according to the Rambam, it is possible that the oranges would have two years of certain restrictions). Rather, it will break all marketing deals, as the importers abroad will not cooperate with exporters who cancel sending shipments periodically, as all know. This would definitely cause horrible hardship to all commerce, even post-Shemitta. The Baron would not want this, and he possibly cannot even handle it. His main intention was that the marketing should develop to the point that the farmers can support themselves without his help. Therefore a heter mechira is definitely needed for the export market as matters now stand, even though it is as difficult as splitting the Red Sea.

Hashem should see our difficulties and give us good counsel, so that we will be able to serve Him in the Holy Land without impediments and distractions. Because I know that even if all the greatest rabbis of the generation opposed the sale, people would not listen, mainly because of the great need, I desired to not publicize matters. That way, our actions will not look like there is a general agreement of the leading scholars but rather a practice that people do due to their plight. The scholars of the generation need to look the other way to fulfill the Rabbis’ contention that “it is better to sin unknowingly than on purpose” (Beitza 30a). We must hope that Hashem’s mercy will bring us better days, after Hashem raises our stature in the Land, and we can support ourselves without the help of other people and without the deceptiveness of exporting Shemitta produce abroad, which is difficult to permit. Then we will return to previous glory with all its sanctity.

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