- What are we asked to do or not do in verses 10 and 11? Who is impacted and how? How is this related to the rest of the passage?
- Why seven years? Where else do we see sevens in Jewish tradition? How does shmita and yovel (see bottom for explanation) impact a concept of Jewish time and cycles?
- How do cycles play a role in your own life? What is the value of using cycles to mark time?
- Why does the land need a shabbat to “rest?”
- Why call this period of a “shabbat of the land” that is also a “shabbat of Adonai?”
- Why call shmita a shabbat? How might it relate to the weekly Shabbat?
- What is “shabbat shabbaton”, translated as sabbath of Sabbaths? This term is also used in the Torah to describe Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16:31).
- Rashi introduces the idea that produce in the shmita year is hefker or ownerless. How does the concept of hefker challenge our ideas of ownership? What becomes possible and what is lost when we declare things hefker?
- How do you think the agricultural and economic elements of Shmita relate to each other? What combined experience of the Shmita year do they create?
- Would you lend money in the 6th year? Would you ask for a loan?
- If you were preparing for the arrival of Shmita, what emotions do you think would arise for you? What role does “having faith” play into observing shmita?
- The Torah anticipates that people maybe be afraid to practice debt forgiveness. A similar message appear in relation to resting the land “And should you ask, “What are we to eat in the seventh year, if we may neither sow nor gather in our crops?” I will ordain my blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it shall yield a crop sufficient for three years.” (Lev. 25:20-21) Why does the Torah provide this encouragement? What kind of experience is shmita meant to provide us as individuals and a society?
In Leviticus 25:8:10, we are introduced to an additional element of the shmita cycle called Yovel or the Jubilee year. Yovel was to be celebrated during the 50th year, after completing seven Shmita cycles. Yovel has two additional practices. One is the reversion of land to its original owners. The idea stems from the division of land among the tribes and families when the Jewish people entered the land of Israel. Each family had a plot of ancestral property that they could use as a home, farm, or any other use to make a living. Over time, the fortunes of some people were better than those of others and land changed hands.
The other practice is freeing Hebrew slaves. The slavery depicted in this context is well known from the ancient world - people would enter into indentured servitude because of extreme poverty or to repay debt. The Torah specifies that in this arrangement, Hebrew slaves brought into a master’s household must be fed, clothed, given suitable living accommodations, treated decently, and given time to rest. Torah puts strict limits on the amount of time that the Hebrew slave can be indentured. The Torah tells us that the Hebrew slave must be permitted to go free after six years of slavery. And, when they are set free in the seventh year, the master must furnish them with the ability to make a living and support themselves. However, not all Hebrew slaves wanted to go free after six years and thus must be freed during Yovel.
|Tishm’tena U'nitashta||Release & Lie Fallow,
Let It Go & Let It Be
|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|
- How do the different words and contexts for “shmita” relate to each other? What does the tradition what us to understand about shmita?
- Outside of Israel we are not obligated to mark shmita as different, but we if we consider the tradition wise how might we mark it?
- Where were you, your family, and your community 7 years ago? What would will they be in 7 years?
- What systems, structures, and ideas might become visible through shmita practice?