Core Shmita Texts

Before you consider what Shmita might mean for you today, we encourage you to delve into the rich, complex texts that form the foundation for Shmita in the Torah and begin to consider the rabbinical commentaries that examine the spirit of life during a Shmita year.

Torah Texts

Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but in the seventh year, you shall let it rest and lie fallow. Let the needy among your people eat of it, and what they leave, let the wild beasts eat of it. You shall do the same with your vineyards and olive groves.
- Shemot, Parshat Mishpatim, 23:10-11

Thought Questions

Why does the Torah lay out a 7 year cycle for society?
How different or similar was your life 7 years ago?
How easy (or hard) is it to imagine your life in 7 years?

And the Lord spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Shabbat of the Lord. For six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyard, and you may gather in its crop. But on the seventh year, a complete rest shall there be for the land, a Shabbat for the Lord. Your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune. You shall not reap the wilds of your harvest or gather the grapes of the vines which you set aside; it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. But you may eat whatever the land, during its Shabbat, will produce- you, your male and female servants, the hired workers and those who live with you. And for your animal and for the wild beast that is in your land, shall all its crop be to eat.
- Vayikra, Parshat Behar, 25:1-7

Thought Questions

What connections can you make between Shmita and Shabbat?
Does the sense of Shabbat affect your weekdays? Can you prepare for Shabbat only an hour before Shabbat starts? How might anticipation of the Shmita year affect the first 6 years of the cycle?
If you could not sow seeds, what would you eat?
How would this tradition affect modern society’s agricultural systems and methods of food production, distribution, and consumption?
What is your relation to your own ‘foodshed’ (growing, harvesting, distribution)?

You shall observe my laws and faithfully keep my rules, that you may dwell securely upon the land. The land will give its fruit and you will eat to satisfaction; and you will dwell securely upon it. And should you ask: What will we eat in the seventh year, if we may neither sow nor gather in our crops? I will ordain my blessings for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for three years.
- Vayikra, Parshat Behar, 25:18-21

Thought Questions

Who do you trust (implicitly or explicitly) to put food on your table? Do you think the system that brings food to your table is secure now? How about in other 7 years?
How do you feel entering a situation when you do not have control and have to instead surrender in faith?
How would entering a year with different economic and agricultural systems make you feel?

Every seventh year you shall practice release of debts. This shall be the nature of the release: every creditor shall release his authority over what he claims from his neighbor. He shall not force it from his neighbor or his brother, for God’s Shmita has been proclaimed…
If there is a needy person among you, one of your brothers in any of your cities, in the land that the Lord gives you, you shall not harden your heart or close your hand against your needy brother. Rather, you shall open your hand to him, you shall lend him sufficiently for whatever he needs. Beware, that you may harbor the thought, “the seventh year is approaching,” so that you are mean to your needy brother and give him nothing. He will cry out to the Lord against you, and it will be your guilt. Give to him readily and have no regrets when you do so, for in return, the Lord will bless you in all your efforts and all your undertakings.
- Devarim, Parshat Re’eh, 15:1-2, 7-10

Thought Questions

What role does giving to support others play in your own life? In what ways, besides financial, do you give?
Are you in debt? How does this affect your life?
If we forgave debt every 7 years, how do you think this would affect the overall economic patterns?
What is your own relationship to money and the market place economy? What would you change in today’s economy to support lessening the burden of debt?

Rabbinic Commentary

Life can only be perfected through the affording of a breathing space from the bustle of everyday life. The individual shakes himself free from ordinary weekday life at short and regular intervals-on every Sabbath…What the Sabbath achieves regarding the individual, the Shmita achieves with regard to the nation as a whole. A year of solemn rest is essential for both the nation and the land, a year of peace and quiet without oppressor and tyrant…It is a year of equality and rest, in which the soul reaches out towards divine justice, towards God who sustains the living creatures with loving kindness. There is no private property and no punctilious privilege but the peace of God reigns over all in which there is the breath of life. Sanctity is not profaned by the exercise of private acquisitiveness over all this year’s produce, and the covetousness of wealth stirred up by commerce is forgotten. For food – but not for commerce.
- Rav Kook, Shabbat Ha’Aretz

Thought Questions

What is your own relationship to rest? Do you live a life that goes 24/7? How is life different when you work 24/6? What does (or could) the rest of Shabbat mean to you?
What does a balanced relationship between work and rest look and feel like? What would it mean for a nation to consider this balance?
What does ‘covetousness of wealth’ mean to you? How dominant is this in your own life? Would you want to change your attitude towards wealth?

The year of Shmita…promotes a sense of fellowship and peace through the suspension of cultivation, even for the needy of your people, for one is not allowed to exercise over any of the seventh year produce the right of private ownership. And this is undoubtedly a primary factor in promoting peace since most dissension originates from the attitudes of ‘mine is mine,’ one person claiming ‘it is all mine’ and the other also claiming ‘it is all mine.’ But in the seventh year all are equal, and this is the real essence of peace.
- Kli Yakar, on Devarim 31:12

Thought Questions

What “stuff” do you consider your own private property? How would you feel if you were suddenly told that for a year these items were public? What is your relationship to private property?
Do you agree with the Kli Yakar that much of the challenges towards peaceful living comes from the attitude of ‘what’s mine is mine’?
If private ownership was replaced with communal responsibility, how might this affect people’s relationship to property, land, and work ethic?

The Shmita year teaches us further that the rich should not lord it over the poor. Accordingly, the Torah ordained that all should be equal during the seventh year, both the rich and the needy having access to the gardens and fields to eat their fill…Yet another reason: in order that they should not always be preoccupied with working the soil to provide for their material needs. For in this one year, they would be completely free. The liberation from the yoke of work would give them the opportunity for studying Torah and wisdom. The unlettered (illiterate) will be occupied with crafts and building and supplying these needs in Eretz Yisrael. Those endowed with special skills will invent new methods in this free time for the benefit of the world.
- Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer, Sefer Habrit (Parshat Behar)

Thought Questions

What would it take to allow every person had equal access to harvest (food), regardless of wealth status?
Rabbi Kalisher offers an opinion that Shmita allows for a portal of time where communal focus can be shifted from survival and the yoke of work, towards the luxury of learning, creativity and craftsmanship. What is your own relationship to the ‘yoke of work,’ as he calls it?
If you basic needs were met, would you change how you spent your time? How?