The Message of the Shmitah Year

At the beginning of Parshat Behar (Vayikra 25:2-7) we are commanded to observe the mitzvah of Shmitah (the Sabbatical year): "When you come to the land which I give to you, the land shall be at rest, a Shabbat for God. For six years you shall plant your field and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and you shall harvest its produce. But the seventh year shall be a Shabbat of rest for the land, a Shabbat for God, you shall not plant your field and you shall not prune your vineyard. Even the crops that grew on their own from the seeds of your previous harvest you shall not reap, and the grapes of your untended vines you shall not gather, it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. The produce of the land's Shabbat year shall be for yourselves, for food, for you, your servant and your maidservant, for your hired hand and resident sojourner who reside with you. Also for your domesticated animals and for the wild beasts that are in your land shall all of the produce be for food."

The Rambam, Maimonides clarifies the mitzvoth of Shmitah: It is a positive commandment to suspend work on the land and the cultivation of trees. It is a positive commandment to release all agricultural produce in the seventh year. Whoever encloses his vineyard, fences in his field or gathers in all his produce into his house in the seventh year violates a positive commandment. Rather, he should abandon it all and allow everyone unrestricted access. He is permitted to bring into his house small quantities, as is done in the case of abandoned produce.

Keli Yakar in Devarim 31:12 explains that the observance of the Shmitah year contains factors that are conducive to union and peace. The poor may eat freely and no produce may be stored. Nobody will have any rights to claim. All people will be equal.

The Akedat Yitzchak, Rabbi Isaac Arama points out that the Shmitah year causes us to realize that our mission on earth is not to be slaves to the soil but a much higher and nobler one.

Nechama Leibowitz adds that the Shmitah year should lift man out of his materialism.

The Shmitah year teaches that we should work enough to be able to support ourselves and the rest of our time should be used for spiritual pursuits, Torah study, observance of mitzvoth and performing acts of gemilut chasadim (loving kindness).

Many people who feel overworked take a sabbatical year off in order to bring peace and tranquility into their lives and to pursue endeavors that they usually don't have time for.

Let's not wait for the Shmita year. Rather, let's take the message of Shmita and incorporate peace, loving kindness and spirituality into every day of our lives.