Shemitta Inspiration Comes to Los Angeles
The Los Angeles Jewish community received a dose of Eretz Yisrael shemitta inspiration with the visit of Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon and an American Israeli couple, Sue and Tzvi Muslow, who keep shemitta on their family farm in Moshav Beit Gamliel. Rav Rimon is the rabbi of Gush Etzion, rosh yeshiva of Jerusalem College of Technology (Machon Lev), and a world renowned posek who specializes in the halachos of shemitta. The Muslows made aliyah from the U.S. in 1998 and raised their family in Israel. In addition to their seven acre farm, where they grow a wide variety of produce and raise chickens, goats, and other animals, Tzvi also works as a physician, while Sue works as a technical writer. Rabbi Rimon and the Muslows enthusiastically shared their shemitta experiences with 8 local schools, ranging from preschool to high school, and 4 shuls. Their visit was generously sponsored by Dr. Ron and Cheryl Nagel.
Rav Rimon spoke about the unique opportunities presented by the shemitta year. He described his excitement when he first tasted the produce that grew in Eretz Yisrael this year. “These fruits and vegetables are holy!” he said. “In chutz laaretz, no food is holy. Even matzah is not holy.” Holy food existed in the times of the beis Hamikdash, such as korbanos and maaser sheini. But today, the only holy food that still exists is the produce of the shemitta year, with their kedushas sheviis. And eating the produce of Eretz Yisrael that grew in the shemitta year is the only opportunity we have to eat holy food.
Of course, food with kedushas sheviis need to be treated in a special way. For example, the leftovers can’t be thrown in the garbage. Rav Rimon mentioned that some people even avoid the shemitta produce altogether. But he urged his listeners to learn the relevant halachos and not to shy away from kedushas sheviis. “It gives us the ability to be close to kedusha, to be close to Hakadosh Baruch Hu,” he said.
Then Rav Rimon went over the pessukim in parshas Behar that list the laws of shemitta and explained how they apply to farming in Eretz Yisrael today. He mentioned that he is constantly answering shailos from farmers in Eretz Yisrael about what they can and cannot do on their farms. Keeping shemitta is not easy for the farmers, some of whom experience substantial financial losses. “You need a lot of yirat shamayim,” said Rav Rimon.
Yet, Rav Rimon feels fortunate to have this opportunity to pasken shemitta shailos, as well as shailos that come from soldiers in the IDF. “For 2,000 years, rabbis did not receive questions from soldiers and farmers,” he said. “It’s a privilege to be born in this generation and see the miracles [of Jews returning to Eretz Yisrael]. We see how much Hashem loves us!”
The Muslows spoke about their personal experiences and challenges with keeping shemitta. They showed pictures and videos of their beautiful farm and its various produce. Sue explained that living on a farm gives them a special connection to Judaism, to the cycle of the Jewish year, and to the mitzvos that can only be kept in Eretz Yisrael.
However, the shemitta year presents its challenges. Before Rosh Hashana, the Muslows met with their rabbi, reviewed all the relevant halachos, and signed a contract with Otzar Beit Din. The contract specified that all the produce from their farm would belong to the local beis din. The beis din would be able to distribute the produce, as well as pay farmers for the permissible work that is necessary to maintain the farm. The rabbi then appointed the Muslows as managers of their farm. That way, the Muslows can take care of the distribution of the produce. They are able to sell it, at a lower price that only covers their own costs.
Even during a shemitta year, there is still work to be done at the farm. “We are not on vacation,” says Sue. They need to maintain their watering system, so their trees don’t die. When the watering system broke down, they asked a shaila and were told that they could replace it. They also need to maintain their fields to avoid snake infestation. Regular pruning is not allowed, but there are some things they can do. They are constantly in touch with their rabbi to clarify all the details. Sue mentioned that when they had a lot of questions, their rabbi came out to the farm and walked with them from tree to tree, answering their shailos.
Tzvi mentioned that they had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get to where they are today. He encouraged his listeners to follow their dreams. “If you have the ratzon, you want to live in Israel, you can succeed!” he said. “It takes time and perseverance.”
Tzvi also shared that as farmers, they see Hashem’s bracha in the shemitta year. To feed their animals, the Muslows grow hay. Usually, they plant it right before the rainy season, after Sukkos. This year, they knew that they wouldn’t be able to plant at the regular time, so Tzvi took a gamble and planted the seeds much earlier, two weeks before Rosh Hashana. He didn’t know if anything was going to come out of it, especially since Rosh Hashana was so early in the year. However, this year saw a record amount of rainfall in Eretz Yisrael, and because their farm is in a low valley, a lot of rainwater gathered on their fields. “We wound up having the biggest amount of hay we’ve ever had,” Tzvi said.
The Muslows invited the Los Angeles community to come visit their farm. They can be reached through their Facebook page, Meshek Muslow.