Shmita - Re-wilding Judaism

1. Vision for a Just Society

This is the first introduction to Shmita in the Torah, and it comes in Parshat Mishpatim, which presents a set of moral codes to live by, received directly after the revelation at Sinai. This excerpt shows verses 6-11.

(ו) לֹ֥א תַטֶּ֛ה מִשְׁפַּ֥ט אֶבְיֹנְךָ֖ בְּרִיבֽוֹ׃ (ז) מִדְּבַר־שֶׁ֖קֶר תִּרְחָ֑ק וְנָקִ֤י וְצַדִּיק֙ אַֽל־תַּהֲרֹ֔ג כִּ֥י לֹא־אַצְדִּ֖יק רָשָֽׁע׃ (ח) וְשֹׁ֖חַד לֹ֣א תִקָּ֑ח כִּ֤י הַשֹּׁ֙חַד֙ יְעַוֵּ֣ר פִּקְחִ֔ים וִֽיסַלֵּ֖ף דִּבְרֵ֥י צַדִּיקִֽים׃ (ט) וְגֵ֖ר לֹ֣א תִלְחָ֑ץ וְאַתֶּ֗ם יְדַעְתֶּם֙ אֶת־נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַגֵּ֔ר כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃ (י) וְשֵׁ֥שׁ שָׁנִ֖ים תִּזְרַ֣ע אֶת־אַרְצֶ֑ךָ וְאָסַפְתָּ֖ אֶת־תְּבוּאָתָֽהּ׃ (יא) וְהַשְּׁבִיעִ֞ת תִּשְׁמְטֶ֣נָּה וּנְטַשְׁתָּ֗הּ וְאָֽכְלוּ֙ אֶבְיֹנֵ֣י עַמֶּ֔ךָ וְיִתְרָ֕ם תֹּאכַ֖ל חַיַּ֣ת הַשָּׂדֶ֑ה כֵּֽן־תַּעֲשֶׂ֥ה לְכַרְמְךָ֖ לְזֵיתֶֽךָ׃

(6) You shall not subvert the rights of your needy in their disputes. (7) Keep far from a false charge; do not bring death on those who are innocent and in the right, for I will not acquit the wrongdoer. (8) Do not take bribes, for bribes blind the clear-sighted and upset the pleas of those who are in the right. (9) You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt. (10) Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; (11) but in the seventh 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. You shall do the same with your vineyards and your olive groves.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Why might shmita be included in a list of protocols for a just society?
  • What does it have in common with the other commandments listed here?
  • If your life is not directly agricultural, what might be the 'perennials' (reappearing every year) and 'annuals' (planted each year) in your life? What can you count on, and what is passing or dependent upon your effort?

2. A Sacred Pause

“Our mundane social lives, with their toil, anxiety, anger, and competition do not entirely suffocate this creative force. On the Shmita [year], our pure, inner spirit may be revealed as it truly is. The forcefulness that is inevitably a part of our regular, public lives lessens our moral refinement. There is always a tension between the ideal of listening to the voice inside us that calls us to be kind, truthful, and merciful, and the conflict, compulsion, and pressure to be unyielding that surround buying, selling, and acquiring things.”

- Rav Avraham Isaac Kook

  • The practice of shmita subverts capitalism. Has the COVID19 pandemic enabled you pause or vision beyond business-as-usual capitalism? Have you been able to connect with your "pure, inner spirit"?

  • What are we practicing and learning in the pandemic that might support us in engaging with shmita?
  • After the pandemic in years 5 and 6, do we still need a shmita year? What might we need from it?

Etymology of the Seventh Year

Hebrew Transliteration Translation Location
שְּׁבִיעִ֗ת Shvi’it Seventh

Exodus 23.11,

Leviticus 25.4

תִּשְׁמְטֶ֣נָּה וּנְטַשְׁתָּ֗הּ

Tishm’tena U'nitashta Release & Lie Fallow,
Let It Go & Let It Be
Exodus 23.11
שַׁבָּ֖ת לַיהוָֽה Shabbat Lado’nay Shabbat for God Leviticus 25.1
שַׁבַּ֤ת שַׁבָּתוֹן֙ Shabbat Shabbaton Shabbat of Shabbats Leviticus 25.4
שַׁבַּ֨ת הָאָ֤רֶץ Shabbat Ha’aretz Shabbat of the Land Leviticus 25.6
שְׁמִטָּֽה Shmita Release, Remission Deuteronomy 15.1