Surrounded by hundreds of happy children, the last of a herd of five sheep had its wool shorn in Beit El Tuesday afternoon - not for profit, but to fulfill a Biblical commandment. Town elders said it was the first time in probably 2,000 years that the commandment had been fulfilled there.

Children and adults march through Beit El behind the van hauling the sheep


The van blaring joyous music from loudspeakers progresses slowly through the Beit El streets as more bystanders join the parade


After the parade, the public gathered for a ceremony

The story began several years ago when Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed, the rabbi of Beit El and the dean of the town's yeshiva, began to wonder when he might ever have the chance to fulfill the Biblical commandment (mitzvah) of Reishit HaGez - giving to the Cohen (the priest) the first cuttings of the fleece of sheep grown in the Land of Israel.

"After looking for a while," the rabbi told the assembled crowd of hundreds of adults and children at the joyous ceremony, "about 2-3 months ago, I finally found what I was looking for - right under my nose, here in Beit El." It turned out that a local resident with initiative, Chai Harush, had bought 20 sheep several months before.

Beit El Chief Rabbi Zalman Melamed explains the mitzvah of giving the first shearing


Rabbi Melamed, who owns the sheep, prepared a basket adorned with flowers to give to the Cohen (priest)


Sheep-farmer Chai Harush (in blue shirt) looks on at the basket of wool to be presented to the Cohen.

"I bought them when they were only six weeks old," Chai told Arutz-7, "and began caring for them, on a small ranch I named 'Go Thee in the Footsteps of the Flock' [after the verse in Song of Songs 1,8].  Some of the children here sometimes help me take them out for grazing.  When I heard how eager Rabbi Melamed was to fulfill the mitzvah, I happily sold him five of the sheep - the minimum necessary to fulfill the mitzvah."

After an afternoon parade from the farm to the Beit El yeshiva, accompanied by music and singing, a happy and proud Rabbi Melamed - whose joy in the fulfillment of Torah commandments is well-known in Beit El - stood before the participants and explained what was going on.

"First of all," he said, "I had to purchase the sheep, in order that I be authorized and obligated to fulfill the mitzvah. I therefore duly purchased them, for not a small sum, and then, just to be sure, I physically acquired them by actually lifting each one. We then started cutting the fleece - and seeing as we are not particularly used to it, it took a while, and is in fact still going on next to me right here. The minimum needed is a total of 240 grams from each sheep, from which total I must give a minimum of 100 grams of pure wool to the Cohen."

At the foot of podium (center of picture), one of the sheep gets final touches to his "haircut"

But Rabbi Melamed was not willing to suffice with just one mitzvah. "I also wanted to fulfill another mitzvah, written in the verse immediately preceding the verse on Reishit HaGez (Deut. 18,3) - that of giving the right foreleg, cheeks and stomach of slaughtered sheep, goats and cows to the Cohen. So after cutting the fleece of one of the sheep and ritually slaughtering it, we are now ready to give these parts, as well as the wool, to a Cohen - and not just any Cohen, but to our great 'teacher and master,' and one who is of undisputed Priestly lineage, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Avraham Kahane-Shapira."

Rabbi Melamed, who studied under Rabbi Shapira in the Merkaz HaRav yeshiva, said that the ceremony would be continued at that yeshiva at 7:30 this evening, "where I will merit to actually fulfill the commandments by giving the gifts to the Cohen, during the evening meal."  The Reishit HaGez commandment is often fulfilled in other places as well, but not with as much fanfare.

"These commandments bring us closer to our dream of rebuilding the Holy Temple and supporting the Priests," Rabbi Melamed said, "who will be wholly involved in Temple service. In addition, it counters that which we will read about in this week's Torah portion, regarding Korach's rebellion against the Levites' and Priests' stature."

Mayor of Bet El Moshe Rosenbaum: First time this commandment is being performed in Bet El

Beit El Mayor Moshe Rosenbaum said, "This not such a hard mitzvah, yet over the course of our centuries of national exile, it seems to have been largely forgotten - and even after our return, it is still not widely practiced yet... Let us hope that we will be able to fulfill this commandment more often."

Children look on as sheep is sheared


"Hey kid, what's all the commotion about?"

Sign reads: "Ceremony of Giving of First Shearing, Right Foreleg, Cheeks, and Stomach - The priestly gifts will be presented to former Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira HaKohen from Rabbi Zalman Melamed"

One bystander, Elkanah L., said with clear delight, "To hold a ceremony like this with such joy is simply a tremendous idea. It builds up love for mitzvot, anticipation for the Holy Temple, bonding with the Land of Israel, and more."

The commandments of Reishit HaGez and the aforementioned gifts to the Priest are numbers 506 and 508 in the Sefer HaChinukh

Arutz 7's Kobi Sela films the parade

[Photos and captions by Baruch Gordon]