There are 613 mitzvoth – we all know that. We also all know it is impossible for one person to perform all 613. Twenty-five mitzvot can only be performed in the Land of Israel, which leaves many Jews out in the cold, shall we say. After all, the people of Israel and the Land of Israel are inextricably intertwined; they are in fact dependent on one another for survival. But Judaism has a solution or as a modern Israeli would say, a “patent.” Mitzvot can be performed by proxy; by taking a part in a mitzvah one merits a share in the whole.
For example, let’s say you want a share in the mitzvah of reshit hagez, the first wool of the first sheep shearing that is brought to the Kohen. No problem, you just contact, Reshit Ha’aretz, a farm established in Beit El, a community that also fortuitously has a stellar Yeshiva. They sheer the sheep on the farm and bring the first wool to the rabbis who are also Kohanim in the yeshiva there.
Reshit Haaretz, now in its fourth year was established for the precise purpose of performing the mitzvot that can only be performed in the Land of Israel. And the cooperative also offers you the opportunity of performing these mitzvahs virtually. It’s an opportunity Moshe Rabbeinu would have treasured.
“We thought that we were really missing out because so many important mitzvot, obligatory me’de’oraita, are so very distant from every Jew, and we began to think of a practical way to enable every Jew to participate in their performance,” explains Rabbi Ronen Zer, 46, the founder of the Reshit Ha’aretz farm. Zer means bouquet, so it appears his agricultural calling was predestined.
“After receiving blessings and approval of the endeavor from the most prominent rabbis, I left Tzfat together with my family and settled in Bet El. Here in the region designated for the tribe of Binyamin, we decided to establish the Reshit Ha’aretz farm.”
The farm enables any Jew, no matter where in the world he resides, to be a partner in the purchase of the farm and the performance of the 25 land-related mitzvot. The farm spans an area of several dunams and contains fields of crops, vineyards and olive groves, enclosures for animals and livestock and a winery where the biblical mitzvot are performed using the fruits and produce of the farm. For example- setting aside terumot and maasrot (tithes), neta revai (the eating of fourth year produce in Jerusalem), peah, leket, shichecha and others. And the holy animals of Israel are also not neglected. For example, The rarely performed mitzvoth of Peter Chamor, the aforementioned reshit hagez, and the gifts of zeroah, lechayayim and keiva to the Kohen among others. During a Shemittah year, of course all the laws are stringently observed and the fruit orchards are open for the public at large, who are free to help themselves. The fruit is hefker, after all.
“With the establishment of the farm, we intended to grant merits to the residents of Israel living in cities and urban areas, who wouldn’t have an actual opportunity to perform these important mitzvot personally,” explains Rabbi Zer, as he plants a new vineyard on one of the farm’s slopes. “Afterwards, we thought that if we can grant merits to Jews in Israel, why not also grant the same privilege of these mitzvot to our brothers and sisters overseas, as well? We approached Torah leaders and they gave us their blessing for this holy enterprise. The Institute Machon HaTorah VeHa’Aretz cooperated with us and we composed a monetary contract that is halachically binding and a means by which our brothers and sisters abroad can also become partners in the farm.”
A few weeks ago a festival celebrating reshit hagez was held at the farm, as well as the mitzvot of zeroah, lechayayim and keiva, with the participation of rabbanim and an appreciative crowd of participants. The wool of an entire of flock of sheep was sheared, the parts of the animals undergoing ritual slaughter were presented to the Kohen amid a festive atmosphere, and the celebration also included hands-on activities and creative workshops for children, music, and a food market. It was a grand festival celebrating the performance of mitzvot ha’teluyot ba’aretz, reinforcing our attachment to and ownership of the land of Israel and our joyful adherence to its mitzvot.”Rosally Saltsman