In this week’s Parasha we find a very interesting Mitsva, Shemita, or in English Sabbatical year. This means that the in the land of Israel the cultivation fields should rest during the seventh year. In the seventh year the land is not plowed; neither sown nor harvested. The reason for this Mitsva was explained in different ways. And I believe this variety allows us to understand the depth of the Wisdom of our Tora. The first thing that comes to mind is that letting the soil rest for a year contributes to the conservation of the soil and allows it to improve its fertility (this was discussed by Maimonides in More Nebukhim 3:39).
I think the best way to understand “Shemita” is comparing this Mitsva with “Shabbat”. During Shabbat we also “rest” and one of the benefits of rest is that it allows us to renew our physical strength for the next working week.
However, the meaning of the Shabbat goes beyond material rest. Actually, physical rest is not the purpose of Shabbat, but just an incidental consequence of the Shabbat. If I live on the 12th floor I have to go up and down the stairs every time I come to or I leave my house. Something that does not really adds a lot with to my physical rest …
The meaning of the Shabbat and Shemita must be sought in the effect it leaves in the worker, the “human”, not the ground or the body. Once every seven years / days the Jewish worker stops working, plowing and harvesting to engage in another completely different activity. In Yerushalayim, for example, the year of Shemita coincided with the Mitsva of Haqhel, where all the people gathered to hear and study the Tora from the Kings and Priests of Israel. We do the same every Shabbat. Since we do not work, we can leave our mundane occupations and dedicate ourselves to pray, listen to and study the Tora with our family and our congregation.
In this sense, Shabbat and Shemita present an identical scenario: on Shabbat we stop working and we stop “growing economically”. Not to dedicate ourselves to physical rest but to “growing spirituality”. Increasing not our financial gains but our Tora knowledge, wisdom and our closeness to HaShem. In the year of Shemita we stop dedicating ourselves to “the growth of the plants and the fruits” of the land and we occupy ourselves “in our own growth.”
This concept of intellectual growth and mental renewal is recognized today throughout the world. The most prestigious universities in the world grant their faculty “a Sabbatical year”, one year of rest every seven years of work. The university pays the professor his or her full salary so that she can spend twelve months studying, researching and writing. Thus, without the burden of the teaching work, the professor can exponentially renew his knowledge, grow intellectually and then bestow all his new intellectual wealth into his students.
The academic sabbatical year is perhaps the best illustration of the nature and benefits of the Shabbat and the year of the Shemita. I received a great article from one of my readers in Bogota, Colombia. This article defends the adoption of the Sabbatical year for Colombian Universities teachers in a very pragmatic way. The suggestive title says: “The Sabbatical year has nothing to do with resting. Colombian universities see in this strategy [implementing a Sabbatical year for their faculties] the ideal opportunity to improve the quality of their teachers’ education and to increase the number of their articles, research and academic books. “ See the full article HERE (Spanish)
There is one more element, very deep, that Shabbat and Shemita have in common. Emuna, our faith that our sustenance ultimately comes from HaShem.
Let’s start with Shabbat. We all know of the anti-Semitic prejudice that accuses the Jews of being able to sell his soul for money. In fact, the best argument to unmask this malicious accusation is by understanding what Shabbat is. When a Jew observes Shabbat he is sacrificing a very significant part of his income. How many times have I heard that in retail, for example, ”Saturdays are a very important day for business”. When a Jew observes Shabbat, he demonstrates that for him economic benefit lies on a secondary plane. And that he believes in God’s intervention in our livelihood.
In the year of Shemita there is similar, but almost miraculous, scenario, and on a larger scale phenomena. The Tora assures the Jewish farmer that if he observes Shemita, he has nothing to fear. This is what the Tora says in Vaiqra, chapter 25: “(20) And if you ask yourself, What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we neither sow nor reap our produce? ” (21) [Therefore, you must know that] in the sixth year I will send you a blessing so great that the earth will produce [enough] for three years. (22) When you sow during the eighth year, you will still be eating from the previous harvest, and you will continue to eat of it until the harvest of the following year. ”
When the earth rests during the seventh year, it must be worked during the eighth year to begin producing fruits only in the ninth year. The Jewish farmer must “have faith” that the agricultural production of the sixth year, will be enough for the sixth, for the seventh, and for the eighth year.
The observance of Shabbat and the observance of the Shemita are a testimony of our Emunah: when we observe the “Sabbatical rest”, we testify with our actions (with our rest and with our economic sacrifice) that Hashem, the Creator of the World, is the ultimate responsible for our livelihood.