Shmita! Designing a Year of Economic Justice, Radical Sharing, and Rest for the Land
1 א
(ט) וְגֵר לֹא תִלְחָץ וְאַתֶּם יְדַעְתֶּם אֶת נֶפֶשׁ הַגֵּר כִּי גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם. (י) וְשֵׁשׁ שָׁנִים תִּזְרַע אֶת אַרְצֶךָ וְאָסַפְתָּ אֶת תְּבוּאָתָהּ. (יא) וְהַשְּׁבִיעִת תִּשְׁמְטֶנָּה וּנְטַשְׁתָּהּ וְאָכְלוּ אֶבְיֹנֵי עַמֶּךָ וְיִתְרָם תֹּאכַל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה כֵּן תַּעֲשֶׂה לְכַרְמְךָ לְזֵיתֶךָ.

(9) Do not oppress a stranger; for you know the heart of a stranger, as you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (10) And six years you shall sow your land, and gather in the abundance of it; (11) but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beast of the field shall eat. Similarly you shall deal with your vineyard, and with your olive grove.

2 ב
(א) וַיְדַבֵּר יי אֶל מֹשֶׁה בְּהַר סִינַי לֵאמֹר. (ב) דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם כִּי תָבֹאוּ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לָכֶם וְשָׁבְתָה הָאָרֶץ שַׁבָּת לַיי. (ג) שֵׁשׁ שָׁנִים תִּזְרַע שָׂדֶךָ וְשֵׁשׁ שָׁנִים תִּזְמֹר כַּרְמֶךָ וְאָסַפְתָּ אֶת תְּבוּאָתָהּ. (ד) וּבַשָּׁנָה הַשְּׁבִיעִת שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן יִהְיֶה לָאָרֶץ שַׁבָּת לַיי שָׂדְךָ לֹא תִזְרָע וְכַרְמְךָ לֹא תִזְמֹר. (ה) אֵת סְפִיחַ קְצִירְךָ לֹא תִקְצוֹר וְאֶת עִנְּבֵי נְזִירֶךָ לֹא תִבְצֹר שְׁנַת שַׁבָּתוֹן יִהְיֶה לָאָרֶץ. (ו) וְהָיְתָה שַׁבַּת הָאָרֶץ לָכֶם לְאָכְלָה לְךָ וּלְעַבְדְּךָ וְלַאֲמָתֶךָ וְלִשְׂכִירְךָ וּלְתוֹשָׁבְךָ הַגָּרִים עִמָּךְ. (ז) וְלִבְהֶמְתְּךָ וְלַחַיָּה אֲשֶׁר בְּאַרְצֶךָ תִּהְיֶה כָל תְּבוּאָתָהּ לֶאֱכֹל.

(1) And the LORD spoke to Moses in mount Sinai, saying: (2) Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When you come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath for the LORD. (3) Six years shall you sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its produce. (4) But the seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath for the LORD; you shall not sow your field, nor prune your vineyard. (5) That which grows by itself from your harvest, you shalt not reap, and the grapes of your untended vine, you shall not gather [in quantity, as if to sell]; it shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. (6) And the sabbath-produce of the land shall be for food for you: for you, and for your servant and for your maid, and for your hired servant and for the traveler who sojourns with you; (7) and for your cattle, and for the wild beasts that are in your land, shall all the abundance be for food.

3 ג
(א) מִקֵּץ שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים תַּעֲשֶׂה שְׁמִטָּה. (ב) וְזֶה דְּבַר הַשְּׁמִטָּה שָׁמוֹט כָּל בַּעַל מַשֵּׁה יָדוֹ אֲשֶׁר יַשֶּׁה בְּרֵעֵהוּ לֹא יִגֹּשׂ אֶת רֵעֵהוּ וְאֶת אָחִיו כִּי קָרָא שְׁמִטָּה לַיי. (ג) אֶת הַנָּכְרִי תִּגֹּשׂ וַאֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֶת אָחִיךָ תַּשְׁמֵט יָדֶךָ. (ד) אֶפֶס כִּי לֹא יִהְיֶה בְּךָ אֶבְיוֹן כִּי בָרֵךְ יְבָרֶכְךָ יי בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יי אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ. (ה) רַק אִם שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמַע בְּקוֹל יי אֱלֹהֶיךָ לִשְׁמֹר לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם. (ו) כִּי יי אֱלֹהֶיךָ בֵּרַכְךָ כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לָךְ וְהַעֲבַטְתָּ גּוֹיִם רַבִּים וְאַתָּה לֹא תַעֲבֹט וּמָשַׁלְתָּ בְּגוֹיִם רַבִּים וּבְךָ לֹא יִמְשֹׁלוּ. (ז) כִּי יִהְיֶה בְךָ אֶבְיוֹן מֵאַחַד אַחֶיךָ בְּאַחַד שְׁעָרֶיךָ בְּאַרְצְךָ אֲשֶׁר יי אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ לֹא תְאַמֵּץ אֶת לְבָבְךָ וְלֹא תִקְפֹּץ אֶת יָדְךָ מֵאָחִיךָ הָאֶבְיוֹן. (ח) כִּי פָתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח אֶת יָדְךָ לוֹ וְהַעֲבֵט תַּעֲבִיטֶנּוּ דֵּי מַחְסֹרוֹ אֲשֶׁר יֶחְסַר לוֹ. (ט) הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ פֶּן יִהְיֶה דָבָר עִם לְבָבְךָ בְלִיַּעַל לֵאמֹר קָרְבָה שְׁנַת הַשֶּׁבַע שְׁנַת הַשְּׁמִטָּה וְרָעָה עֵינְךָ בְּאָחִיךָ הָאֶבְיוֹן וְלֹא תִתֵּן לוֹ וְקָרָא עָלֶיךָ אֶל יי וְהָיָה בְךָ חֵטְא. (י) נָתוֹן תִּתֵּן לוֹ וְלֹא יֵרַע לְבָבְךָ בְּתִתְּךָ לוֹ כִּי בִּגְלַל הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה יְבָרֶכְךָ יי אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל מַעֲשֶׂךָ וּבְכֹל מִשְׁלַח יָדֶךָ. (יא) כִּי לֹא יֶחְדַּל אֶבְיוֹן מִקֶּרֶב הָאָרֶץ עַל כֵּן אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ לֵאמֹר פָּתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח אֶת יָדְךָ לְאָחִיךָ לַעֲנִיֶּךָ וּלְאֶבְיֹנְךָ בְּאַרְצֶךָ.

(1) At the end of every seven years you shall make a release. (2) And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release that which he lent to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother; because the LORD’S release hath been proclaimed. (3) Of a foreigner thou may exact it; but whatever was yours and is now with your brother, your hand shall release it. (4) There shall be no needy among you—for the LORD will surely bless you in the land which the LORD your God gives your for an inheritance to possess it— (5) if only you diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD your God, to observe to do all this commandment which I command you this day. (6) For the LORD your God will bless you, as He promised you; and you shalt lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow; and you shall rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over you. (7) If there be among you a needy person, one of your brethren, within any of your gates, in your land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart, nor shut your hand from your needy brother; (8) but you shall surely open your hand to him, and shall surely lend him sufficient for his need. (9) Beware that there be not a base thought in your heart, saying: ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand’; and your eye be evil against your needy brother, and you do not give to him; and he cries to the LORD against you, and it be sin in you. (10) You shall surely give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him; because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work, and in all of the works of your hands. (11) For the poor shall never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, saying: ‘You shall surely open your hand unto your poor and needy fellows, in your land.’

4 ד

This passage continues [paraphrasing]: After seven years of service, a slave must be freed. Do not send hir away empty-handed, rather you must give hir from the bounty with which God has blessed you: livestock, grain, and wine; remember that you were once slaves in Egypt and were redeemed by God.

5 ה

On Giving

You give but little

when you Give of your possessions.

It is when you give of yourself

that you truly give.

You often say, "I would give,

but only to the deserving."

The trees in your orchard say not so,

nor the flocks in your pasture.

They give that they may live,

for to withhold is to perish.

See first that you yourself

deserve to be a giver,

and an instrument of giving.

For in truth it is life that gives unto life

while you,

who deem yourself a giver,

are but a witness.

- Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese artist, poet, and writer (1883 – 1931)

6 ו

Mei HaShiloach

The matter of Shmita and Yovel correspond to the way of acting, mentioned in the Pirkei Avot [Ethics of the Fathers, 5:10]: 'One who says "What's mine is yours, and what's yours is yours," this is a righteous person'.

R. Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica (1801-1854) was a Hasidic thinker and founder of the Izhbitza-Radzyn branch of Hasidism. He was a close disciple of the Kotzer Rebbi and is most famous for Mei HaShiloach, in which he expressed his belief that all events and actions are under God's absolute control.

7 ז

Vayikra Rabbah 1:1

“The mighty in strength that fulfill His word” (Psalms 103:20). To whom does

the Scripture refer? R. Isaac said, “To those who are willing to observe the

Sabbatical Year. In the way of the world, a man may be willing to observe a

commandment for a day, a week, a month, but is he likely to continue to do so

through the remaining days of the year? But throughout that year this mighty

man sees his field declared ownerless, his fences broken down, and his produce

consumed by others, yet he continues to give up his produce without saying a

word. Can you conceive a person mightier than such as he?”

8 ח

Kli Yakar on Devarim 31:12

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 private ownership over any of the seventh year produce. 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.

Rabbi Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz (1550-1619) was a rabbi, poet and Torah commentator. He is best known for his Torah commentary, Kli Yakar.

Question: According to the Kli Yakar, what is the purpose or consequence of Shmita? Can you imagine it playing out in this way?

9 ט

Rabbi Zvi Hirscher, Sefer Habrit, Parshat Behar

[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 Kalischer (1795-1874) was an Orthodox German rabbi and one of Zionism's early pioneers in Germany.

Question: What additional reasons are given here for Shmita observance? Which of the reasons given so far are most compelling to you personally?

10 י

Rav Kook, Introduction to "Sabbath of the Land"

The treasure of the nation, the Divine blessing that is implanted in it, the order of the world, the righteous and good life, lived in harmony with justice and honesty, peace and tranquility, grace and courage, permeated by the all-embracing contemplation of the Divine purpose, as it exists in the national soul -- none call be activated in the day-to-day life. The very nature of this life obfuscates the spiritual majesty of the Divine soul (which dwells in the nation) and prevents its bright and shining light from penetrating the profane reality.

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 -- 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 commerse is forgotten. for food -- but not for commerce.

Avraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) was the first Ashkenzi Chief Rabbi of the British Mandate for Palestine. He was a kabbalist, poet, legalist, and hugely influential religious leader.

Questions:

  • Based on all of the above descriptions of Shmita practice, what might it have looked like to live in an agricultural "Shmita society" for an entire year? How might Shmita practice affect years 1-6?
  • What would you say are Shmita's key values or themes, based on these texts?
  • What feels most challenging about Shmita practice? What feels most liberating?
11 יא

A Love Like That

Even after

all this time

the sun never

says to the earth,

"You owe Me."

Look

what happens

with a love like that.

It lights the

whole

sky.

The earth

would die

if the sun stopped

kissing her.

Hafiz (1325-1389) from the collection The Gift. Hafiz was a Persian poet, acclaimed in his lifetime, and still beloved and quoted throughout the world.

13 יג
והיינו דכי הוו מינצו ר' חנינא ור' חייא א"ל ר' חנינא לר' חייא בהדי דידי מינצת דאם חס ושלום נשתכחה תורה מישראל מהדרנא ליה מפלפולי
And this is the background to an exchange that took place when Rabbi Ḥanina and Rabbi Ḥiyya argued. Rabbi Ḥanina said to Rabbi Ḥiyya: You are arguing with me? If, Heaven forfend, the Torah would be forgotten from the Jewish people, I would restore it through my analyses, i.e., using my abilities of analysis I would be able to rediscover all that had been lost.