A Land at Rest: The Shemita Year

Question

Why is there an observance of the Sabbatical Year that recently began on Rosh Hashanah? All I know is that we should refrain from working the land in Israel and treat its produce in a special way. Thanks!

, 6 days

Answers

  1. What a good and timely question! This year is in fact a special Sabbatical year, called “Shemita” in the Torah and in Hebrew. It is observed because the Torah says it is a mitzvah (Lev. 25:1-7)!

    But I assume you are asking for the reasons why the Torah teaches this mitzvah. A renowned rabbi of 13th century Spain offered three reasons for this mitzvah. These are found in his famous book called Sefer HaChinuch (“The Book of Education”) — a book that beautifully elucidates all 613 commandments.

    1) Not working the land all year and giving up ownership of the fruits of this year serves as a powerful reminder that whatever the land produces at any time is not merely a result of human efforts, but is determined by what God decrees. If God decrees few or poor quality fruit — that is what will be. A decree of plenty and top-quality produce will result in an abundant, delicious harvest.

    2) Allowing others free access to one’s private field for an entire year every seven years helps instill in the Jewish People the character trait of generosity. The farmer is giving up his fruits without any expectation of any type of payment in return. Observing the mitzvah of Shemita helps us acquire a greater concern for the needs of others and helps build a more caring, sharing and moral society.

    3) Not working one’s land in the seventh year and not cultivating it for his livelihood shows that the person has full faith and trust in God to provide for his needs. This will help increase his faith and trust that God will always provide for him and his family.

    Although this mitzvah applies only to the Land of Israel, the fruit of Israel from this year has a special holiness wherever in the world it may be. In addition, many people in the Diaspora share in fulfilling the mitzvah of allowing the land to rest by contributing even a small amount to help support Shemita observers in Israel who are temporarily without agricultural income. However, these farmers do not sit idly and rely solely on charity. Many use the opportunity to teach visitors and tourists about the Shemita year on their property, while some operate non-agricultural ventures on their grounds — such as mini-amusement parks. And some people choose to dig into their savings in order to pursue more spiritual pursuits that they don’t normally have time for — such as a year of Yeshiva study.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team