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Friday, November 21, 2014

Shmita is Good for Spiritual Health!


28 Heshvan, 5775

My mind and heart are weary from recent events. So, I spent time nurturing my soul by reading a fascinating book. It abundantly reminds us mortals that GOD is in control. It's a terrific boost to spiritual health. 

Israel's Jews are commanded to let the land lie fallow every seventh year (based on the Jewish calendar). This is how we obey GOD's commandment about the Sabbatical year. It is a time when land rests for a yearlong Sabbath to GOD (Exodus 23:10-11). The commandment makes a significant impact on us while we honor it.

An adventure in securing sufficient groceries while observing associated halakhot/Jewish laws, Shmitta (variant spellings exist among English-speakers) year is the result. It makes for an interesting, exciting time of life for farmers, home gardeners, anybody who wants to eat, plus sellers of flowers, produce and trees - even house plants!

The Sabbatical year is very good for inner, outer, plus spiritual health. Fallow land is able to rebuild its strength. That translates into more nutritious foods later on, instead of depleted soil unable to sustain more than weeds. Human minds adjust to the fact that GOD makes the rules, not us. You can learn more about that and some spiritual matters at Aytzim.  

You can click here to learn about some of the miracles that have resulted due to Shmitta observance.

Confusion about relevant laws for observing shmitta abounds, however, and different books address those topics. I have a favorite among them.

Here's an excerpt from the publisher's page:


From the Sources to Practical Halakha

By Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon
Shemita examines the underlying principles and practical observance of the Jewish agricultural sabbatical year, leading readers from the sources in the Torah, Mishna and Gemara to the rulings of leading halakhic authorities, including Rav Kook and the Chazon Ish. The most comprehensive and systematic guidebook on the subject, Shemita considers the laws' numerous challenges and solutions pertaining to topics from tree pruning to fruit buying and soup making. Includes diagrams, illustrations and photographs.

Here's my review of the English-language version of this ground-breaking book, which is updated every seven years, to reflect recent agricultural realities:

Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon's masterful Shemita, From the Sources to Practical Halakha provides readers with a comprehensive background into the minutiae of relevant laws, the solutions to relevant controversies and a can-do guide to practical behavior. Readers come away educated, confident that they appreciate, and comply with, the scope of religiously legal issues.

The book's awe-inspiring photography is as beautiful as it is educational. Readers are also treated to an array of rabbinic opinions based on various Biblical passages that address Shmitta observance. 

There is no need to worry about Rabbi Rimon's copious coverage of relevant Jewish laws about Shemita. His colorful charts simplify otherwise confusing details. The at-a-glance information empowers the reader, aka consumer, to dine in completely shmitta-compliant comfort. 

There are other riches in this 558-page hardcover. Each chapter addresses specific concerns such as the laws, and their practical applications, in the garden, kitchen market, and wider society. How-to instructions for planting, pruning, weeding, grafting, fumigating, fertilizing and nurturing all kinds of plants during the Sabbatical year are accompanied by easily understood photographs. Page 188 for example, holds a how-to-do-this-correctly pictorial lesson for, among other plant-growing activities, removing stones from a field (considered to be a form of plowing, a somewhat forbidden activity that must be adapted to Shemita time).

The array of halakhically compliant though diverse methods in which a person may or may not acquire, use and dispose of shmitta-compliant produce (fruits, vegetables, flowers and saplings) can lend itself to fierce debates. Rabbi Rimon deftly handles the controversial topics with class and simplicity. Without a judgmental word, he explains the methods and rationales for the applications of different, yet halakhically valid, points of view. 

Information is underscored with chapter summaries, and with appendices for specific chapters. A chapter entitled The Various Solutions begins on page 386. It ties up many loose ends by posing questions, then providing answers (e.g., Is there a way to permit harvesting an entire crop of Shemita produce?) and expounds of specific solutions to multiple Shmitta issues. One example is that pages 359-369 address hothouses and soil beds detached from the ground as alternatives to the prohibition of eating and/or selling foods grown in the ground. Other alternatives are given equal time, too.

You'll unknot your brow as the author resolves the tension-filled question of Does the Yerushalmi (Talmud) contradict the Mishna (writings from a different historical period)? by citing distinctions in specific passages of text that neatly resolve the controversy. Readers who are very familiar with Jewish law or beginners wending their way through details upon details for the first time will enjoy the sensibly sorted out thoughts in this section.

While reading Shemita, From the Sources to Practical Halakha, I noticed a profound comparison of the Shmitta year and Shabbat, the Sabbath, on pages 29-31. The sentence that made magic for me is on page 31; "Resting from work during the shemita year connects us to the world of the Garden of Eden... the world of God. The people of Israel who reach their unique sanctity in the land of Israel elevate themselves to an even higher world - a world in which there is no competition or jealousy, a world of mutual assistance and fraternity, a world in which Torah study and connecting with God are natural and expected... Come let us go out to agree that Shabbat queen!"

So much for lofty aspirations and complicated agricultural tasks ruled by Jewish law. Trying to memorize many practical matters and finessing Shmitta-related controversies can tax the highest IQs.  And, it is difficult to maintain an ever-serious demeanor even when we should. 

The necessity for Jews to render their cared-for farmland ownerless during Shmitta year is a hot topic whenever it is addressed. Maggid Books (a division of Koren Publishers) and Rabbi Rimon, though, break up the monotonous legalese and somber tone of the surrender with visual humor on pages 416-420. Faux parchment missives appear in antique colors, holding the opinions of historical rabbinic figures who permitted the Heter Mechira mechanism of coping with Shmitta. A means of transferring ownership of farmland to non-Jews, so that the foods grown upon it will be completely edible and income-producing during the Sabbath year, it has been a hotly debated topic throughout the ages, what I'd call "The rule of the way out," pun fully intended.

By the time you reach page 436's Practical Guide to Purchasing Fruits and Vegetables in 5775 and 5776 (yes, Shemitta compliance will matter then, too) chart, you might exhale a breath of relief. Further guidance about this matter is followed by calming, cogent commentary until page 448. 

More marvelous information for minds that must take complicated subjects one at a time appears on page 263. It begins the chapter of The Laws of Produce with Shemita Sanctity: Navigating the Opportunity. The author focuses on upbeat messages such as "opportunity" rather than disheartening vocabulary such as "myriad of details" or some other stultifying word/phrase. There's a heartwarming treat that will bring tears to many eyes at the last page of this section. It's about a naive little boy who ran to the author with a concern about a rainstorm disrupting the land's rest during the previous Shemita season. The purity of that child's devotion to the mitzva of Shemita is too good to summarize here. Read it first-hand, and come away with warmer love for GOD, little ones, and Torah life. 

An education about The Release of Debts in terms of Jewish law and Shemitta commences on page 450. More faux parchment missives break down complicated legal matters about Pruzbol documents - legally binding debt release documents in Jewish law - into simple presentations that can be readily understood by the average reader. It clues readers in to the compassionate Torah point of view, as do divergent Shmitta produce-permitting laws.

There are more treasures in this masterfully prepared book. It is a solid investment for years to come, as readers study up on relevant Jewish laws that they can fulfill in future Shmitta years.

Buy your copy from the publisher here.

And if you want a bit more to smile about, read about the 'Shmittah Project' to Help Poor Families.

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Fill your mind with healthy thoughts.


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