The Sixth Year, Already?

“The sixth year, already?”

This is the typical reaction I get when I mention that preparations are well underway for the Shemittah year which begins this Rosh Hashanah. As we get older, the years seem to slip by ever faster. Before we turn around it will be Shemittah.

After the initial shock, the next reaction is usually:

So what does it have to do with me? I’m not a farmer and I’m sure the hashgachah organizations will do what they must to make sure that I’ll have kosher food. Okay, I’ll write a check to Keren Hashviis to help the farmers, but I have so much on my plate and Eretz Yisrael has so many other serious issues with Yair Lapid and so on, it’s the last thing I have to worry about.”

Let me share with you what happened to me this past Erev Yom Kippur. First, however, some background.

My colleague and good friend Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, the executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, often tells of how Rabbi Moshe Sherer, z”l, once left a meeting of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah where the position with which he had entered the meeting was overturned by the Gedolim. Reb Chaim Dovid, who had discussed the issue with Rabbi Sherer prior to the meeting and was convinced that the position they went in with was the correct one, could not understand why Rabbi Sherer walked out in such a profoundly joyous mood.

“This is why I joined the Agudah,” Rabbi Sherer explained, “to be able to follow daas Torah.”

Nice story, but does it make any sense? The issue was one involving an intricate matter regarding legislation and the brilliant minds of Rabbis Moshe Sherer and Chaim Dovid Zwiebel had concluded what the right approach should be. How could Rabbi Sherer have been so pleased that a group of Roshei Yeshivah and Rebbes, who never saw the inside of a legislature and had never been trained in secular law, overturned their decision?

There are those who explain that there is a certain siyatta diShmaya, almost a ruach hakodesh, that Hakadosh Baruch Hu sends to people who dedicate their lives to the study of Torah. That is certainly true, but I think there is a far simpler answer.

In my experience, I find that Gedolei Yisrael think from a far different perspective.

We look at things from a personal, practical perspective. Not so the Gedolei Yisrael. They look at things from the Ribbono shel Olam’s perspective as revealed to us through the teachings of the Torah.

Examples abound. Harav Yaakov Kamenetzky, zt”l, understood that one of the greatest values in the establishment of the State of Israel was that by surrounding the post-Holocaust generation with millions of Arabs bent upon their utter annihilation, He protected them from the scourge of intermarriage. Harav Pam, zt”l, voiced apprehension about a peace agreement with the concern that it would expose Israeli children who had not even been taught Shema Yisrael to Arab boys and girls on college campuses.

In many, many dozens of cases, I have seen Gedolei Yisrael look at situations from an unexpected perspective which turned out to be a remarkably insightful Torah perspective. It was that understanding that I believe had so excited Rabbi Sherer.

With that background, let me relate what transpired on Thursday night, Erev Yom Kippur 5774. I went to the home of Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, with Rabbi Ben Zion Kugler, the chairman of the Keren Hashviis, and Rabbi Avrohom Rubinstein, the former mayor of Bnei Brak who came in his role as a member of the Keren Hashviis.

We discussed the coming of the Shemittah year and the great effort needed to assure that a large percentage of Jewish-owned farmland in Eretz Yisrael would lie fallow under the guidelines of Shemittah. The possibility existed that if the resources were made available, fully one third of all Jewish farmland would be under Shemittah k’halachah. This would have been entirely unheard of just a few years ago.

But Eretz Yisrael has many problems — not the least of which are the draconian budget cuts planned for the yeshivos and kollelim. Is now the time to dedicate such vast resources to helping the farmers?

Harav Chaim didn’t hesitate. “Ho b’ho talye — One is dependent on the other,” he said. Seeing that it wasn’t clear which is dependent upon which, he quoted the Gemara (Megillah 17b): “B’shviis nig’alim.” Normally, the intent of this Gemara is that Klal Yisrael will be redeemed at the end of the seventh year. To us, however, the double entendre of Harav Chaim was clear. He read the Gemara with a different twist. He read: “The Redemption will come through keeping Shemittah.”

How can this be? I understand that he was telling us that Shemittah is not just another mitzvah. Rather, it is our pledge of allegiance to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. It is our stating by deed that Eretz Yisrael is only ours in order to keep the mitzvos. If we make that pledge, then we are guaranteed peace, stability and brachah. It is the different perspective mentioned earlier.

Being in the presence of those who have that perspective and participating and interacting with them is what is so very exciting.

Rabbi Sherer, I understand.


Rabbi Shmuel Bloom, the vice-chairman of Agudath Israel World Organization, is the dean of Ohr Lagolah Hertz Institute of Yeshiva Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim. He can be contacted at

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