A p’sak halachah was just given by Rav Yaakov Ariel that is – quite literally – a revolution. Rav Ariel is one of Israel’s leading poskim and the head of Machon Torah Ve’Ha’artez (The Institute for Torah and the Land of Israel). Rav Ariel, former chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan, is the author of over 20 Halachic sefarim and the foremost Halachic authority on “Mitzvot teluyot ba’aretz” (Mitzvot connected to the Land). To really appreciate his incredible p’sak, I need to give some background.
In 1998, I started a project called “Zo Artzeinu/Israel Trees” that purchases fruit trees for Israeli farmers. Planting and caring for fruit trees is quite expensive, especially since our farmers are strict in all land-based Mitzvot. This means that the farmers install computerized drip irrigation, build fences to keep out wild animals and then care for the trees – almost like an infant (no joke!) – then do not touch the fruit for three years. This is called Orlah. Then comes year four, which is Netta Revai, and only afterwards, in year five, can the fruits be sold on the market! Imagine opening a store, business, or factory where you cannot sell anything until the fifth year!! Who would invest in such a project? And then… after just two years of finally selling wine, olive oil, avocados, oranges, or mangos… comes year seven and… (drumroll please) it’s Sh’mitta… take the year off! Being an Israeli farmer is not easy!!
This is exactly why I decided to help these guys. They are heroes! They work in the hot, burning sun from early in the morning and are engaged in exceedingly difficult physical labor. Yet, look at the bright side… they are building Eretz Yisrael! Because of their hard work and dedication, the Land brings forth sweet fruit which we use to praise HaShem! Have you tasted Israeli wine recently? They are consistently winning gold medals in international wine competitions! How about Israeli olive oil which ranks among the finest in the world? And the “sheva minim” – dates, pomegranates, figs, etc…- have you tasted them recently? Therefore, even though the work is back-breaking, time-consuming and requires tremendous patience, it is an unbelievable honor to work with these farmers.
After all these years— just one thing was missing. Baruch Hashem, we planted close to 500,000 new fruit trees since 1998, but I didn’t want this to be a charity… I wanted it to be real. I wanted this project to be a full-fledged partnership between the person giving the money to plant the tree and the farmer in Israel. When I say “partnership,” I don’t mean that we put our hands into his pocket when he sells the fruit or wine - absolutely not! That money is his 100% and he uses it to support his family. My idea of partnership is that we share in the Mitzvah; that by simply clicking on a website and paying a few dollars for a fruit tree, the person buying that tree actually shares in all the Mitzvot that are connected to that tree. Was this possible? I needed to know – not as a marketing gimmick – but for real. Can it be done? So, I went with this “shayla” to Rav Yaakov Ariel. As written above, nobody in Israel is a bigger expert in this area of halacha.
Before showing you his p’sak, let me add one important point: Sh’mitta is coming very, very soon. It starts this Rosh HaShanah, and farmers are getting ready to plant hundreds of thousands of new fruit trees before Sh’mitta begins. My question was simple: Can a Jew in New York, Chicago, Mexico, or Timbuktu keep the Mitzvah of Sh’mitta by simply paying for a fruit tree and having that fruit tree planted before Sh’mitta by a “Shomer Sh’mitta” farmer? The farmer will make sure that the fruit tree has been planted according to all Halachic guidelines before Sh’mitta and will then not touch that tree during the Sh’mitta year in any way at all. Obviously, the farmer gets credit for the Mitzvah of Sh’mitta… but what about the Jew in Canada, Australia, England, or France who spent two minutes hitting some keys on his/her computer to order that tree? Are they “mekayem” the Mitzvah of Sh’mitta as well?
And now for the revolutionary p’sak by Rav Ariel; “The commandment of Sh’mitta applies to the Land of Israel and the entire Land of Israel belongs to all Jews. Every Jew, wherever he is, has a share in the Land of Israel and must do everything in his power to make sure the Land rests from doing forbidden things and does only what is permitted in the year of Sh’mitta. Therefore, it is appropriate that every Jew in the world partner with a farmer to observe the Mitzvah of Sh’mitta and by doing this, he himself keeps the Mitzvah, since the Land of Israel belongs to us all.”
Rav Ariel then added one more sentence, and I must state that I did not request this of him: “Therefore, the initiative to share the Mitzvah of Sh’mitta with all Jews around the world by partnering with Israeli farmers who keep Sh’mitta – through planting fruit tree on the Zo Artzeinu website – is to be welcomed and blessed.”
I need to stress that this is not a fundraising letter nor some words from a rabbi that a tzedakah collector shows you at the door… it’s a p’sak halachah!! Simply put, it means that you can sit by your computer or cellphone in Kew Gardens Hills, go to www.IsraelTrees.org, and send just one fruit tree ($45) to a “Shomer Sh’mitta” farmer in Israel. As Rav Ariel wrote; “…by doing this, he himself keep the Mitzvah (of Sh’mitta).”
What an opportunity! What a chance to keep a Mitzvah that has been out of reach your whole life! A simple two-minute action at www.IsraelTrees.org and the Mitzvah of Sh’mitta is added to your “Olam Habah bank account”!! Please hurry… farmers are waiting for those trees and need to plant them now.
Am Yisrael Chai!