Shemitah, the Sabbatical year (Levicitus 25), is a revolutionary Torah commandment: every seven years the land will lie fallow and enjoy a Sabbatical year of rest and release. The land needs to rest just as human beings need a weekly Sabbath. Deuteronomy 15 adds a social dimension; people’s debts will be released as well. After seven such cycles of seven years, the fiftieth is a a Jubilee year in which servants are freed and foreclosed properties returned to their owners. In biblical times, both of these observances provided a time of renewal and recalibration for the environment as well as human society. The Shmita year is still observed (at least in a technical way) by many in Modern Israel, while many others are now exploring its deeper meaning as a paradigm for renewing the environment while restoring a measure of social equality.
The latest Shemita Year started on Rosh Hashanah 5782 – 2021
An Israeli environmental organization, Teva Ivri, has launched the Shmita Initiative to “reestablish the Shmita year as a time of personal reflection, meaningful learning, social involvement, and environmental responsiblity in Israel.”
For some deep teachings on how Shmita at the very core of the Torah’s message of justice and sustainability, read this essay by Rabbi David Seidenberg: Shmita: The Purpose of Sinai.
Featured image: Dancing at Kibbutz Ein Harod, 1936, via Wikimedia Commons