Take a minute to stop and think about your annual income. Then imagine what you’d feel like if your income suddenly ground to a halt for a full year! Actually, many of us don’t have to delve into the annals of history or even think too far into the past to imagine such an event after a year of Covid-19, when countless found themselves unemployed and with failing businesses.
The global economic crisis plunged millions into poverty and despair. Hundreds of thousands around the world fell beneath the poverty line, and in Israel, the number of individuals appealing to tzedakah organizations and charity funds for financial help skyrocketed.
For Chai Hassan and many others, 5782 represented a hope and dream of financial recovery. The financial disaster wrought by Covid-19 didn’t pass over the Hassans, and Chai spent many a month furloughed at home, waiting for waves of contamination to settle and lockdowns to end.
At one point, when his son celebrated his birthday and asked for a simple, inexpensive toy, Chai found himself unable to meet the boy’s eye as he apologized that, no, this year, they couldn’t afford the luxury of birthday presents.
As his family’s primary breadwinner, and with his financial security fast waning, Chai realized that he could no longer afford to sit back and wait for his boss to reinstate his job. A substantial portion of the business had shifted to the employees’ homes, and it was unclear whether Chai would have a job to return to.
With this epiphany, he was determined to take the initiative, and thus Chai opened his own small business in his hometown of Porat as a farmer who cultivates and sells high-quality leafy vegetables.
Last year was a story of new beginnings and slow recovery for Chai Hassan and family. The physical labor in the field did Chai good, and he found himself swiftly acclimating and loving his new schedule which often begins pre-dawn and carries him throughout the day. The sweet scent and vibrant colors of his leaves, along with the message of joyful life and growth that they emit, infused new meaning, happiness and contentment into his days, making him a happy man.
Chai invested endless toil and love into his crops, and he swiftly earned a reputation for his superb produce which fetched excellent prices on the market. Buyers soon began coming to him, vying for the choicest selection of his produce. Thus despite its relatively small size, Chai Hassan's farm became a popular spot, and before long, he was supporting his family comfortably from the revenues.
One afternoon, Chai noticed a large sign advertising a special assembly for farmers held by an association called Ayelet Hashachar in conjunction with Keren Hashviis. Still a novice in the field, he was eager to expand his awareness and knowledge of all farming techniques, develop professionally and network with other farmers, and he immediately marked down the date and time on his calendar.
Little did he expect the subject of the evening to focus not on cutting-edge farming techniques, but on a mitzvah in the Torah compelling all farmers to halt their fieldwork for a full year and let the land lie fallow. Throughout the evening, Chai was exposed to a wealth of information regarding the paramount importance and significance of Shmitah, the merits it brings to the nation, the promise of infinite blessing from Hashem and the coming of Moshiach in merit of those who observe it faithfully.
On the spot, Chai committed to undertake the mitzvah. “This year I was a farmer and worked the land in peace. Hashem showered His blessings upon me throughout one year, and I have no doubt that He can bless me in other ways, as well.” He was also tickled by the notion that through his observance of Shmitah, he could personally bring the Redemption!
Thus without knowing much about the mitzvah and all it entailed, Chai Hassan declared himself a Shmitah-observant farmer. Like Bnei Yisroel at Har Sinai, he proclaimed ‘naaseh v’nishmah," ardent to fulfill the mitzvah even if he wasn’t quite sure what it entailed…
Pumped up with enthusiasm, Chai headed home after the assembly and straight to his home office where he opened his laptop and began calculating the costs of ceasing all work in the field for a full year based on various expenses charts that he’d created throughout the past year. The end figure was so large that Chai was sure he was mistaken. It couldn’t be!
He started again, meticulously charting numbers and graphs. Using a calculator, he plugged in the figures two and three times to estimate the general costs of keeping Shmitah, and when the sum repeatedly came out equal, Osher leaned back in his chair and exhaled a long, agonized sigh.
Keeping Shmitah was going to cost him far more than planned. Ceasing all labor in the field meant that there was no way he’d be able to support his family throughout the year. It was possible he’d have to let the land go altogether, and there was certainly no way that he’d manage to maintain his customers who would seek a new farmer eager to sell them leafy vegetables. Once they found an alternative, would they ever come back? Unlikely.
For Chai Hassan, who was still green in the agricultural market, Shmitah could only mean one thing: A fatal blow to his farm and livelihood.
Word of Chai Hassan reached the ears of Maran Rosh Hayeshivah, shlit”a who approached Keren Hashviis with a surprising and awe-inspiring statement: “Yehi chelki zeh imo. Let my portion be with his!” he expressed. “I want to be Chai's partner in Shmitah, to acquire the merits of the mitzvah along with him—a man who is a true Gibor Koach who fulfills the word of Hashem. I want to share in his zechuyos and the brachos that Shmitah carries with it.”
Here in the Rosh Yeshivah’s study, Chai Hassan sits embraced in the warmth and tender love of one of our Gedolei Hador.
“What made you recognize the importance of this mitzvah? How did you connect to Shmitah?” inquires the Rosh Hayeshivah in genuine interest. “Do you know that you are the one bringing the Geulah?!” he added, and the yearning in his voice is almost palpable.
The meeting concludes, and Chai finds himself together with agents of Keren Hashviis in the illuminated stairwell on Raavad Street in Bnei Brak, still overcome by emotion and awe. He’s confused, unable to digest what he’s just heard. The Rosh Hayeshivah wants to be my partner? My partner? He wants to know what inspired my connection to this mitzvah and how I came to appreciate its significance?
His knees practically buckled beneath him in joy, and his heart began pounding in wild exhilaration as the understanding filtered in that he—he!—had been chosen! He didn’t know why; he didn’t know what had sparked this rare privilege and what made him worthy of it, but he knew one thing: I, Chai Hassan, was chosen to be one of the heroes of my nation and to partner with one of the greatest Torah luminaries of our generation!
The memory of the awe-inspiring moment when the Rosh Hayeshivah had named him as his partner escorted Chai throughout the weeks preceding Shmitah. It calmed him during those frequent moments when he’d weed, irrigate and lovingly tend to his crop during the days, wondering what would become of it all next year, and soothed him when he tossed and turned at nights in sleepless anxiety as he fretted over his bleak financial future.
Whenever the charts and graphs begin dancing mockingly before his eyes, Chai closes his eyes and relives the moment when the Rosh Hayeshivah asked, “How did you do it?” After frustrating meetings with unsympathetic bank managers in attempt to reach a viable financial arrangement, he hears the promise of “You are the one bringing the Geulah!”
It is this knowledge that empowers Chai Hassan to continue braving the challenges of Shmitah. He is in it for the full journey together with the Rosh Hayeshivah, together with Klal Yisroel who are committed to supporting their Shomrei Shmitah, and together with Hashem’s promise to bring the ultimate redemption.