Shmita: Rest for the Land! Rest for the Soul?

(ז) וַיִּקַּח֙ סֵ֣פֶר הַבְּרִ֔ית וַיִּקְרָ֖א בְּאָזְנֵ֣י הָעָ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה

נַעֲשֶׂ֥ה וְנִשְׁמָֽע׃

(7) And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the ears of the people; and they said: ‘All that the LORD has spoken,

we will do, and obey.’

מכילתא דרשב"י יתרו, ג

אבל לא שמענו: מהיכן קרא באזניהם? ... רבי ישמעאל אומר: שמטים ויובלות ברכות וקללות...

אמרו: מקבלין אנו עלינו.

Mechilta D'Rashbi Yitro, 3
(Midrash Halacha, Sefer Shmot as taught by R. Akiva)

But the verse does not mention - which portion of the covenant did Moses read? Rabbi Yishmael said: the portions regarding shmittot and yovlot, the blessings and the curses.

[Bnei Yisrael] responded: ‘We accept this covenant upon ourselves.’

(א) וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה בְּהַ֥ר סִינַ֖י לֵאמֹֽר׃ (ב) דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם כִּ֤י תָבֹ֙אוּ֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲנִ֖י נֹתֵ֣ן לָכֶ֑ם וְשָׁבְתָ֣ה הָאָ֔רֶץ שַׁבָּ֖ת לַיהוָֽה׃

(1) And the LORD spoke unto Moses on 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 to the LORD.


  • Every 7 years
  • Debts are forgiven
  • The land of Israel lies fallow; it may not be worked (planting, harvesting, etc.)
  • All the produce that grows is Hefker (may be picked and eaten by anyone)


  • Every 50 years (after 7 Shmita cycles)
  • The land of Israel continues to lie fallow; it may not be worked (like Shmita)
  • All Jewish slaves go free
  • All land in Israel that was purchased is returned back to the original owners

The Shmita Project ( )

Reimagine Society. Renew Jewish Life.

The Shmita Project is working to expand awareness about the biblical Sabbatical tradition, and to bring the values of this practice to life today to support healthier, more sustainable Jewish communities.

Hazon Shmita Sourcebook/ Overview

Commonly translated as the “Sabbatical Year,” Shmita literally means “release.” Of biblical origin, this is the final year of a shared calendar cycle, when land is left fallow, debts are forgiven, and a host of other agricultural and economic adjustments are made to ensure the maintenance of an equitable, just, and healthy society. The questions about how Shmita actually worked - if it actually worked - are enormous. The possibilities for social change are thrilling.

Bring Back The Sabbath” by Judith Shulevitz (NYT Magazine, Jan 2, 2003)

I [often] think of something two rabbis said. Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague, best known for his tales of the Golem, pointed out that the story of Creation was written in such a way that each day, each new creation, is seen as a step toward a completion that occurred on the Sabbath. What was Creation's climactic culmination? The act of stopping. Why should God have considered it so important to stop? Rabbi Elijah of Vilna put it this way: God stopped to show us that what we create becomes meaningful to us only once we stop creating it and start to think about why we did so. The implication is clear. We could let the world wind us up and set us to marching, like mechanical dolls that go and go until they fall over, because they don't have a mechanism that allows them to pause. But that would make us less than human. We have to remember to stop because we have to stop to remember.

(א) וַיְכֻלּ֛וּ הַשָּׁמַ֥יִם וְהָאָ֖רֶץ וְכָל־צְבָאָֽם׃ (ב) וַיְכַ֤ל אֱלֹהִים֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י מְלַאכְתּ֖וֹ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֑ה וַיִּשְׁבֹּת֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י מִכָּל־מְלַאכְתּ֖וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשָֽׂה׃ (ג) וַיְבָ֤רֶךְ אֱלֹהִים֙ אֶת־י֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י וַיְקַדֵּ֖שׁ אֹת֑וֹ כִּ֣י ב֤וֹ שָׁבַת֙ מִכָּל־מְלַאכְתּ֔וֹ אֲשֶׁר־בָּרָ֥א אֱלֹהִ֖ים לַעֲשֽׂוֹת׃

(1) And the heaven and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. (2) And on the seventh day God finished His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. (3) And God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it; because that in it He rested from all His work which God in creating had made.

פסיקתא זוטרתא (פרשת מקץ פרק מג, י"ז)

ואל שד-י: מי שאמר לעולמו די

Pesikta Zutra, Parshat Miketz, Ch.43
(Midrash Lekah Tov on the Bible and the Megilot)

El Shadai- the One who said to the world “Enough!” (DAI)

Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, The Narrative of Shmita

Shmita is not a call to live for one year with different rules that help us adjust or compensate for the unequitable accumulation of debt or dissatisfaction and injustices of the other six years, only to dump us back, unchanged, into that “real” world. Shmita is a rehearsal of a new way, a time to practice living in a world of “enoughness,” where each of us is filled and flourishes with enough, where disproportionate inequities would not, and could not, exist. And when Shmita is over, and we re-enter the other six years, we take a bit of what we learned with us and put it into practice in our everyday live.

That is our frame for the story of Shmita, a taste - and a test - of a world of sova ׂ(satiation) - ‘enough’, in which we all pursue material and spiritual fulfillment not through lowering our sights or desires, but through filling them rightly, with and through the presence of each other.

Practical Ideas for Shmita (Shmita Project)

Host A Crop Swap/Food Barter

Host A Community Swap Meet. Do you have perfectly usable items lying around your house that you have no desire or need for? Rather than keeping them in storage or throwing them away, bring them to an exchange market. Let other community members in need enjoy these items, and find other items you are in need of. Swap meets work wonderful for clothing, books, music, art, tools, and more. For more resources on Exchange Market.

Host A Re-Skilling Fair. We are all teachers/students. We all have a skill to learn and share, and the more skills in homegrown resiliency we can have, the more empowered we will be. Volunteer to share your skills in food preservation & fermentation, brewing, crafting, building. These are the heirloom village skills at the heart of the Shmita tradition.

Host A Community Crowdfunding Gathering. While the economic focus of the Shmita year might be on debt release, there is also an inherent celebration of the generosity of those giving loans. Community crowdfunding is a form of grassroots fundraising that makes it easy to directly support local community-oriented initiatives. Host a dinner and charge $5-$50 per plate, sliding scale. Invite 3 community members to present the vision for their project. After the presentations, divide the pot between the presenters.

Support Ethical Investing, Spending & Banking. Know how your savings are being re-invested by your banks, so you can make educated choices about where to keep your money. Explore the options of investing your money with local, socially responsible community credit unions and local, public banks. Keep your money circulating as close to home as possible, supporting local businesses and co-operatives. Explore creative forms of social banking networks, such as Time Banks, which allow community members to borrow and lend ‘time’ in the form of services, in which each person’s hour is valued equally.

- Join Financial Mentoring / Investment Circles. 
In these group circles, members come together to share best-practices concerning financial resource management, family/business budgeting, and debt prevention. This is also a space to educate one another in strategies to best use and invest monetary assets while staying true to personal values. In these models, cooperation is the main incentive, and the competitive market model does not serve: the stronger each individual is financially, the stronger the community is. As the group establishes trust and experience, a next step would be to invest in one another: each participant offering a sum of money to the group fund, which can serve as microloans to other members.

Host A Gift Circle. The Shmita paradigm works to realign the sensitive balance between giving & receiving. We all have needs and offerings. The gift circle is a communication structure designed to connect needs with solutions. Let others in the group know your offerings (skills, time, items) and do the same with your own personal needs. Network together.

- Host a Community Potluck Feast. Shmita is a year long practice in raising awareness about the foods we eat. Celebrate the food culture you come from. Focus on a menu rich with perennial plant ingredients (nuts, fruits, seeds, herbs), as well as wild foraged foods. Prepare dishes whose recipes come rich with personal story. Through the meal, enjoy conversation and celebration of the rich food culture presented on the table.

Host a Community Visioning Circle guided by the question “Imagine what this community will look like 7 years from now, inspired by Shmita values?” Find out what your community’s’ collective dreams, visions, and needs are. We cannot create change unless we have a collective vision we are working towards. Share your impressions through conversation, art, and movement. Divide into smaller groups so you can deep into many areas. Groups can be organized around: Local Food, Local Business, Local Energy, Local Education, and more. There are many layers to this vision!

Host a Shmita Council Gathering. Building upon the feedback from the Community Visioning Circle, invite local community organizers, educators, Rabbis, and business/non-profit leaders to come together with the intention of exploring how to create a ‘roadmap’ for the practical integration of Shmita values/practices into your community. What will your seven-year timeline look like? What are your first steps? This can be an informal gathering, from a half-day to a full-day. From this seed, form a local network for your particular region, to support brining this vision into actualization.