Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Mendelsohn’s life can be defined in periods of Lilmod, L’Lamed, Lishmor, V’La’Asos. To learn, teach, watch, and to do. He embodied all of these.
The name Rav Binyomin Mendelsohn is synonymous with uncompromising Shmita observance in Eretz Yisroel. That is the legacy he left for us today. But the truth is that Shmita became famous because of him and not he because of Shmita. Rav Mendelsohn’s life can be defined in periods of Lilmod, L’Lamed, Lishmor, V’La’Asos. To learn, teach, watch, and to do. He embodied all of these.
Rav Mendelsohn was born in Plotzk, Poland before the start of the last century. His father, an Alexander Chosid was the Rosh Yeshiva of the city and was known as a great masmid. Rav Binyomin’s upbringing filled him with Yiras Shamayim and a yearning for Kedusha. He was taught by his father and followed in his footsteps earning a reputation as a legendary masmid in his own right. Even as a bochur he was fluent in Shas and Shulchan Aruch as well as Acharonim and Sifrei Chassidus.
Coming Into His Own
After World War I, Rav Mendelsohn married the daughter of Rav Aharon Moshe Chaimowitz, a Gerrer Chassid and settled in his wife’s hometown in the small city of Bodzanov, Poland where he opened up a Yeshiva. During that period he became tremendously attached to the Gerrer Rebbe, the Imrei Emes. He became an emissary of the Rebbe when he needed someone to be involved with the Bais Yaakov movement and the Agudas Yisroel the two pillars of Yiddishkeit that the Gerrer Rebbe was deeply involved with. Furthermore Rav Mendelsohn would sit near the Rebbe during the Friday night Tisch to hear his torah and pass it along to the rest of the Chassidim who could not hear from where they stood.
Impact in Eretz Yisrael
In 1933 armed with a Bracha from his Rebbe, Rav Mendelsohn, left his Poland to fulfill his dream of moving to Eretz Yisroel. When he arrived he was hired to be Rov of the relatively frum city of Kiryat Ata near Chaifa. Rav Mendelsohn’s integrity and fearlessness to uphold halacha won him admiration from both the frum and non-frum community alike.
It was during this period of his life that he became a leading spokesman for the Frum Hashkafa following the Churban in Europe. While the holocaust survivors and especially the frum ones were looked down on by the overwhelmingly secular Israeli society Rav Mendelsohn was not scared to go on the attack. The Zionists blamed the Chareidi Gedolim for letting Churban Europe happen due to their lack of enthusiasm to the Zionist cause and aliya to Eretz Yisroel. Rav Mendelsohn came with his yet unprecedented views exposing the Zionist establishment as the ones who sabotaged mass immigration of religious Jews. Furthermore he blamed their rebellion against Hashem as the cause of the Holocaust. He fought bitterly to make sure refugees from the Churban would not leave their Yiddishekeit at the port upon arrival to Eretz Yisroel.
In 1951 after an incident where his religious authority was brazenly disregarded he left behind a 20,000 family strong, Kehilla that he built over many years and headed south to a small Moshav in the Negev called Komemius. Komemius was an agrarian settlement where Rav Mendelsohn’s was able to actualize his passion for Eretz HaKedosha. Like Moshe Rabbeinu, Rav Mendelsohn whole love of Eretz Yisroel was about Mitzvos especially Mitzvos HaTeluyos BaAretz, the mitzvos that are associated with planting and farming.
Hashkacha had it that Shmita came out in the first year that Rav Mendelsohn’s came to Komemius. While almost the whole of Eretz Yisroel relied on the Heter Mechira where they sold the land to Arabs to sidestep the issur to work the land on Shmita, Rav Mendelsohn would hear nothing of it and on Komemius they kept Shmita without any gimmicks just like the Halacha demands. Komemius did not move without the word of the Rov and the Rov followed all the stringencies of the Chazon Ish in every aspect of its planting activity.
There are many stories of open miracles surrounding the observance of Shmita and Rav Mendelsohn. The one poignant story worthwhile mentioning that really captures Rav Mendelsohn’s efforts on behalf of Shmita was reported to have been told by a resident of Komemius who said that on the night of Rosh HaShana on a Shmita year he will never forget the pure joy and happiness radiating on the face of Rav Mendelsohn as if he had finally reached his life’s goal.
Rav Mendelsohn was Niftar in 5739/1979 and 30 years later we keep Shmita in Eretz Yisroel, Al Pi Halacha more so than ever before. So many farmers are Moser Nefesh to leave their land fallow even as the government pressures them and renders this courageous act a financial suicide. This is all a tribute to Rav Mendelsohn who learned it, taught it, fought for it, and most of all lived it
May the merit of the tzadik Rabbi Binyomin Mendelsohn of Komemius protect us all. Amen