Our rabbonim and gedolim are going into high gear in preparation for the upcoming shmittah year to stand by those farmers who keep shmittah according to the strict halacha in spite of all the trials and difficulties involved. This past week, this was given a poignant and moving expression at the special event organized by the Keren Hashevi'is at Moshav Chemed, the home town of Yossele Koch and his son, Avichai from Moshav, a family of shmittah observing farmers which leaves fallow its olive groves and cucumber fields during shmittah.
Rabbi Avrohom Rubinstein, mayor of Bnei Brak and member of the Keren Hashevi'is administration, opened the event by thanking the Rosh Yeshiva of Ponovezh , member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, HaRav Dov Povarsky, for the tremendous effort he has invested towards this important subject. Director General of the Keren, Rabbi Binyomin Cohen, also thanked the Rosh Yeshiva emotionally for his having come, despite the difficulties involved.
In the course of the signing of the partnership, which took place in the very heart of the olive grove, the guest of honor related a story which took place in the period when he was in Lebanon.
Coming to Eretz Yisroel in 1941
"I came to Eretz Yisroel in 5701 (1941). We escaped Russia in miraculous ways, via Turkey, arriving in Lebanon. We spent our first Shabbos in a hotel in Beirut. The hotel owner pondered over about what he could serve his guests to honor them, and brought us a platter of black olives. We recited the brachas over them: borei pri hoetz and shehechiyanu and swallowed. We almost threw up because we had ingested them whole, with their very bitter pits.
"HaRav Mishkovsky, head of our group, exclaimed, 'They want to poison us.' He turned to the hotel owner and asked what he had served his guests.
"The latter apologized and said, "I didn't know they would react this way. Here, olives are a delicacy.'"
The Rosh Yeshiva continued, telling how they arrived in Eretz Yisroel.
"We headed for Haifa by bus, but were stopped midway by the British police who had been informed that a Russian spy by the name of Shapira was in our group. HaRav Arye Shapira, father of HaRav Moshe Shmuel, was a holy man, a veritable tzaddik who was part of our group. We were all taken into custody and detained in Atlit for ten days until our miraculous release."
He continued by speaking about the importance of the mitzvah of shevi'is.
"It is like Shabbos for the land, as is written in the Torah. The land wants to rest, and this mitzvah is directed to all shomrei Shabbos. This is their Shabbos where they desist from labor. It is holy of Holies where we resemble the angels. We want the farmers, who toiled these past six years, to rest and replenish their resources of spirituality, just like on Shabbos."
Upon concluding, he grasped the hand of the farmer next to him and kissed it.
HaRav Aharon Ben Zion Kornfeld, chief rabbi of Chemed, spoke next and said, "Our entire settlement has been privileged today to be honored and uplifted with the coming of the Rosh Yeshiva to our midst. The very fact that he taxed himself to visit the field of his partner is rare; the accepted form is for the partner go to the Rosh Yeshiva in honor of the Torah to solidify the partnership but here we see the very opposite.
"Rather, we see that this gaon came in person to teach a lesson to us and the entire settlement. It is to state, in the presence of one and all, what the mitzvah of shmittah represents, how great it is, and stress the special zchus of these mighty heroes who fulfill His will. This day establishes the value of shmittah and the significance and merit of those who observe it."
Farmer Yossele Koch told the audience in moving words how he was happy and proud of this mitzvah which came his way and that he felt its tremendous sanctity. He invited the entire gathering to come and pick from the produce of the upcoming shmittah, it being determined to them as ownerless. He, together with the Rosh Yeshiva, signed a partnership agreement which fully anchored it in the observance of the mitzvah of shmittah.