Rabbi Moshe Har-Noy
Former Rosh Kollel in Detroit
The Shemitah (Sabbatical) year is soon approaching, and, as with any other important task, we must prepare. The Torah warnedAm Yisrael that if they do not observe Shemitah properly, the punishment will be extremely severe: the nation will be sent intogalut (exile), and the Land will make up for the time that it was unable to rest.
I once thought to myself: We are not farmers. What can we do to atone for that sin of disregarding this important mitzvah?
The Jewish world accepts the principle of “let us render [for] bulls [the offering of] our lips”. In other words, when we cannot act, we must speak and study the matter instead. Our words will be considered in lieu of actions. Keeping this idea in mind, I would like to focus on one specific aspect of Shemitah.
According to the Mechilta (Mishpatim 20), min hadin, a person should have to make several holes in his fence during Shemitah. This way whoever wants to enter can easily do so, without having to circle the property searching for the opening. However, because of “tikun ha’olam” – bandits and wild animals are likely to enter as well – a single entranceway is sufficient, and it is not necessary to make numerous holes in the fence.
The Rambam (Hilchot Sh’viit 4:24) rules:
“Whoever locks his vineyard or seals his field during Sh’viit (the seventh year) has canceled a positive mitzvah.”
But may a person lock his garden and then leave a note indicating that anyone who wants to go in can come get a key? Or, is the act of locking forbidden in and of itself?
The Chazon Ish points out that today, there is a very good chance that undesirable elements will take advantage of an open yard. Therefore, reality dictates that one can, in fact, lock the gate, but the owner must leave clear and unambiguous instructions to the key’s location.
Many poskim then raise an additional, related question. Must one ask permission before entering in order to eat Sh’viit fruit? Perhaps, since the Torah “requisitioned” the fruits, they no longer belong to the farmer, and I do not have to ask his permission?
The answer to this question depends on different versions of the Mishna in Masechet Sh’viit. Rather than citing these versions, we will examine the poskim’s conclusions.
Rav Kook zt”l (Shabbat HaAretz 6) says that, al pi din, one may take the fruit without permission. Nevertheless, one should avoid becoming accustomed to entering another’s yard without permission. Hence, one must force oneself to ask permission, shelo yetzai secharo behefsedo (so that the loss will not exceed the benefit).
In contrast, the Chazon Ish and the Pe’at HaShulchan insist that according to the Torah, the fruit no longer belong to the field owner. Therefore, there is absolutely no need to ask permission.
In conclusion, I have a small request. We must prove that this mitzvah is truly important to us. Let us each resolve to learn one related halachah a day, from now until Shemitah. In return, may we once again merit the brachot that both the Torah SheBichtavand the Torah SheBe’al Peh promise to those who observe Shemitah properly.