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25 Sivan 5760 - June 28, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Observance of Pesach and the Observance of Shmitta

by HaRav A. Levi

As I write, we are still under the exhilarating spirit of the yom tov of Pesach. As at every time of spiritual regeneration (and most recently Shavuos) those were days full of splendor and contentment of soul, days in which we attained fine and sublime feelings and strengthened, clarified, and purified our emunah. Each person according to his individual preparation and effort, compatible with his level of care and dikduk in halochos bolsters his bond with Hashem and becomes a loyal eved of Hashem.

Maran HaRav E. M. Shach shlita, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ponevezh of Bnei Brak, once wrote the following about Pesach observance (Michtovim Uma'amorim 2:195):

"By writing to you what is bothering me I will perhaps find some relief. `The remedy for an aggrieved person is to discuss his grievance with others' (see Mishlei 12:25, Yoma 75a). I never dreamed I would hear of such a problem. Who would have thought . . . that people would dare breach the many restrictions in matters of chometz and matzo both for Pesach itself and for erev Pesach that our fathers and forefathers introduced, and that people would devise a way to be lenient in that which Yisroel always maintained as being forbidden . . . Even if according to some shittos certain halochos are permitted, the minhagim of Yisroel adhered to by the gedolim and geonim of previous generations is the decisive halocho . . . Observing the mitzvah of matzo and distancing ourselves from any chashash chometz despite all the bother involved, was happily adopted [by Am Yisroel]. We should not look for leniencies since every kula begets another, and who knows where it will all end."

The above are excerpts from the Rosh Yeshiva's letter that refer to our topic. The conclusion is that Klal Yisroel has always unreservedly loved the halochos of Pesach. "Although not nevi'im, they are offspring of nevi'im," and have acted with exceptional piety in their esteem for particular mitzvos.

"All your mitzvos are faithful" (Tehillim 119:86). In another few months, from Tishrei 5761, we will have the opportunity to fulfill the precious mitzvah of shmitta. If during the yom tov of Pesach the Jewish People are zerizim, quick and alert to fulfill its mitzvos and are wary of eating chometz, then during the entire year of shmitta they are giborei koach, courageously refraining from working their fields.

For a whole year Hashem teaches them "for all the earth is Mine" (Shemos 19:5). Even the earth's produce has kedushas shevi'is. The Zohar calls the matzo that we eat during Pesach the meichla dehemnusa, the bread of trust and emunah in Hashem, and perhaps it can be said that the produce of shmitta that we eat during the entire shmitta year (and beyond) has this same special, elevating quality.

In Chayei Olom 2:8) HaRav Yisroel Yaakov Kanievsky zt'l emphasizes how shmitta strengthens our emunah: "Another matter of shemiras Shabbos is the shmitta of the earth, as is written, `The seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath for Hashem' (Vayikra 25:4). This is an extremely sacred matter . . . Undoubtedly, strictly observing the shmitta of the earth according to halocho is a sublime tikun against the deterioration of emunah, Rachmono litzlan. How fortunate is a person to fulfill the mitzvah of shmitta by following all its halochos."

Nonetheless, many try by various means, to uproot this precious mitzvah, using imaginary heteirim. Bechasdei Hashem the observance of shmitta increases each cycle tremendously, but the opposing forces are still strong. The introduction of Beis HaRidbaz quotes an odom godol that, "The sitra achra does its utmost to confuse people regarding this sublime matter and upon which is dependant the geula or, chas vesholom, the golus."

All this is well known. But recently we have encountered a new, especially disturbing development. Now, in the period before this coming shmitta, some people are saying that Sephardim and Ashkenazim differ regarding the so-called "heter mechirah." Anyone who knows a little Torah realizes that this is not so. I am a Sephardic ben Torah whose heart is pained at the attempts to create a machlokes where none exists, where a broad consensus of Sephardim and Ashkenazim agree we must even now observe shmitta according to all its halochos.

All recent Sephardic geonim, among whom were HaRav Y. Tzadkah zt'l and HaRav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul zt'l, rejected summarily this flimsy heter. These geonim were talmidim of HaRav Ezra Atiya zy'a until his very last day of harbotzas Torah in the yeshiva Porat Yosef. They testified unequivocally that their prominent rav believed the whole heter is a farce. We have written this since some people are publicizing the exact opposite in his name, trying to blur the truth.

These current matirim rely heavily upon the RaZaH's opinion that we do not have to observe shevi'is today, and use his opinion as one of the bases for this heter. All of the abovementioned geonim wrote that the RaZaH's opinion is totally rejected by halocho and cannot be considered as a basis for any heter. Nonetheless, "a man is led in the way that he wants to go," and those who are eager to find a heter will find one. They have even written that the Rashbash and other rishonim are of the same opinion as the RaZaH. This is despite the fact that all contemporary halachic experts have clearly proven that the rishonim have explicitly written that shevi'is must be observed today either mideOraisah or miderabonon. The publisher of the manuscript of the Rashbash admits that "the manuscript was unclear and not properly arranged, and the editor was unable to fix it satisfactorily."

In hilchos Pesach itself we find where Maran the Beis Yosef comments about a situation strikingly similar to ours. See the Beis Yosef (443) who cites the opinions of the poskim regarding chometz after midday on erev Pesach. Some opinions rule it is forbidden mideOraisah to benefit from chometz at that time, while others write it is merely forbidden rabbinically. However, the opinion of the Baal HaMaor is that one is even allowed to eat chometz at that time. The Beis Yosef concludes: "The minhag to forbid [even] to benefit from it after midday has been generally accepted. Anyone who rules so as to find favor among the masses and permits relying on the lenient ruling of the Baal HaMaor should be rebuked. `Anything basically permitted but regarded by some as forbidden must not be permitted before those people.' All the more so in this matter that is forbidden by all sages of Yisroel. The single opinion of the Baal HaMaor against all other opinions is discounted."

The same is true in our issue. We can add that all the reasons behind the heter mentioned in the past are irrelevant or not applicable today; all gedolei Torah agree we are not in a situation of she'as hadechak. (See the discussion in Shmitta Kehilchoso, p. 140). Any intelligent person understands that the real source of today's heteirim is, as Maran the Beis Yosef puts it above, that people rule so as to find favor among the masses.

The Beis HaLevi (3:1:7:1) writes that even if shmitta is only rabbinical today it is different from some gezeiros derabonon and is considered as strong as a real issur deOraisa. He writes that there is no chiyuv mideOraisah to keep shmitta but that one who does keep it is nonetheless keeping a mitzva mideOraisah and "it is certainly the will of the Torah hakedosha that Yisroel keep it [shmitta] even though this is no obligation." The Teshuvos Mahrsha Albendri wrote similarly regarding shmitta.

Maran the Chazon Ish zy'a was zoche to strengthen the observance of shmitta in Eretz Yisroel. Boruch Hashem, all the different sectors of the chareidi public have accepted upon themselves this mitzvah with real simcha. Those who separate themselves from the tzibbur are acting improperly. May HaKodosh Boruch Hu with His abundant rachamim help us protect the honor of His name, and may He place us among those courageous people observing shmitta according to all its halochos.

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