As Shmitta approaches (the final year of a seven-year cycle during which the Torah mandate that agricultural fields be left fallow), Arutz Sheva interviews Shmuel Sackett, Founder of "Zo Artzeinu", the organization that has planted more fruit trees in Israel than all others.
Q: What does Shmitta have to do with us? We live 6,000 miles away from Israel.
A: The 613 mitzvot were given to Klal Yisroel and we need to keep as many of them as we can. Please read this interview, find out who we are and learn how Jews across the world can keep Shmitta - yes, even from 6,000 miles away! This is our third Shmitta cycle already and its a zechut (merit) to involve as many Jews as possible!
Q: OK, let's start at the beginning. Please tell us about what your organization does.
A: We started this project back in 1998 by helping Israeli farmers plant fruit trees. Unlike non-fruit bearing trees, the costs involved in fruit trees are enormous. The tree itself is quite expensive and lots of work needs to be done in order for the tree to grow and bear fruit. Highly sophisticated drip-irrigation systems are installed, fences are built and lots of manual labor in involved until the tree produces sweet fruit. Zo Artzeinu (This Is Our Land) helps farmers with the costs involved in planting these trees and so far, we have helped farmers plant over 50,000 new fruit trees in Israel!
Q: Who qualifies for the help provided by Zo Artzeinu?
A: We are very careful when selecting our farmers. We insist that our farmers keep all the " Mitzvos Ha'teluyos Ba'aratez" (Biblical Agricultural Laws) in a fully. This means no short cuts. We keep Shmitta strictly and all Mitzvot such as Orlah, Netta Revai, Leket, Shikcha, Pey'ah and Terumat. Ma'asrot are kept according to all Chumras - the highest standards of Jewish law. Only those farmers who agree to this - and we check to make sure - will receive funds to plant trees.
Q: We have all heard of the JNF. How do they differ from you?
A: The JNF has done, and continues to do, wonderful work in Israel but we do something completely different. They do not plant fruit trees while we ONLY plant fruit trees. They do not insist on keeping the Halacho t (Biblical Laws) listed above and we do and we also insist on 100% Jewish labor only so that Jews can make a living from these trees and their fruits. The JNF is a great organization but not involved in any way with the things we do.
Q: Can people outside Israel actually keep Shmitta or is this a gimmick?
A: This is 100% true - no gimmick at all. Before we began our project, we met with Rav Yosef Efrati, Rosh Yeshiva of Bais Medrash L'Halacha B'Hityashvut. Head of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Halacha for Agricultural Settlements. Rav Efrati, who was the personal assistant of Rav Elyashiv for 10 years, is considered the leading expert on Jewish agriculture laws and farming in Israel. All questions re: the land, pruning trees, grafting and more come to him for his expert decision. He told me directly that when a person - even outside of Israel - buys a fruit tree to be planted before Shmitta and all the Halachot (Jewish laws) are kept on that tree, then the person who paid for the tree actually shares in all the Mitzvos including Shmitta! He explained it is like a "Yissaschar - Zevulun" partnership where the farmer plants the tree which was purchased by someone in New York (for example) and BOTH have a share in the Mitzvah!
Q: How does it work?
A: We set up a very simple website. Simply go to www.IsraelTrees.org and look for the tree form below. You can select the kind of fruit tree you want and how many trees you want to plant. It is very simple and easy to use . We will then mail you an "official certificate" with Your name on it showing Your partnership with a farmer in Isr ael who will keep Shmitta and ALL the mitzvos with your tree and it's fruit. Just please hurry since the Shmitta planting deadline is THIS Monday!!! There's no time to waste. The next time to do this Mitzvah will be in SEVEN YEARS!!!
Q: But why should I care about planting a tree, what does it have to do with me?
A: As stated above Rav Eftrati said that buying a tree for a farmer to plant in Isr ael make you a partner in Shmitta and the other Mitzvos performed on the tree and it's fruits, plus this is a way for you to fulfill MANY Biblical Mitzvas that simply can not be performed where you live. Also... Rav Chaim Kaniyefsy said "Bishviis Nigalin" We will be redeemed in the merit of Shmitta. Also... The Vlina Gaon wrote in his Sefarim, "If ONLY Hashem would grant me the Merit to plant a tree in Jerusalem then I can fulfill the Pasuk in Vayikra 19:23 "Vichi Savo El Ha'aretz Unetatem Kol Eitz Ma'achol" The Mitzva to plant a FRUIT tree in Israel Also... Non other than Moshe Rabeinu (Moses) Prayed hundreds of times to Enter Isr ael to perform these Mitzvot. He did not Pray to go surfing on the Tel Aviv Beach.
Q: Ok... Any other reasons?
A: Well if Sharing in the many Biblical Mitzvo t and Torah sages from Moshe Rabenu till today wishing to do this Mitzva is not enough of a reason to help plant a fruit tree in Israel, the Tora says in Vayikra 25:20 "Vitzivisi Es Birchosi" which is an AMAZING PROMISE from Hashem, that he will Command or Ordain his Brocha on those who help keep Shmitta! We have merited to witness this MANY times over the years. You can read about some miraculous Shmita stories on our web site.
Q: Every one knows that Shmitta begins on Rosh Ha'Shanah (Jewish New Year), so why is there such a rush right now?
A: While Shmitta begins on Rosh Ha'Shanah, all new fruit trees must be planted 45 days BEFORE then! The Halacha clearly states that just like you can't put in a 20 lb. turkey in the over 5 minutes before Shabbos, you cannot plant new fruit trees on Erev Rosh Ha'shanah! The roots MUST be well established and deep in the ground before Sh'mittah begins and therefore the Halacha is that all new fruit trees must be planted by Tu B'av which is August 11th. After that, no new fruit trees can be planted in Eretz Yisrael for over a year! The time to plant is therefore NOW!!!
Q: Can we visit our trees when we come to Israel?
A: Absolutely! Just let me know when you are coming to Israel and I will take you to visit your trees! In a few years you will even be able to eat from the fruit, use the olive oil or drink the wine - depending on which tree you select. One of our vineyards produced wine that won the gold medal in an Israeli wine competition so the quality is fantastic. One of our farmers, Shmuel Rappaport is the grandson of Rav Moshe Feinstein and he makes the best quality olive oil in Eretz Yisr oel. Visiting these trees will be the highlight of your trip. Please go to our website: www.IsraelTrees.org plant your tree AND share in the Bracha today