"Shoot!" (Q & A)

The Ascent Question & Answer Forum

conducted by Yrachmiel Tilles, Editor of the Ascent Quarterly


"Why is every seven years called the Sabbatical Year? Why is it sometimes called 'Shmitah?'"


This year in Israel we have an exciting mitzvah which has a noticeable affect on our day-to-day existence, yet many of you outside of Israel may hardly be aware of it. This new Jewish year, 5761, is a "Sabbatical" year, the seventh in the cycle of years. "The seventh year is a Sabbath of rest for The Land, a Sabbath unto G_d,... no sowing,... no reaping... [Lev. 25:4-5]. There is also a cancelation ["shmitah"] of certain debts.

(The stress on "a Sabbath unto G-d" is to anticipate and refute the rationalist contention that this commandment is about letting land lie fallow, rotating fields and crops, etc. The words "unto G-d" show clearly that the Seventh Year is a "Sabbath" of holiness, parallel to the holiness of the Seventh Day.)

Not only are we forbidden to plant or harvest the Land, there is no doing business with the food that grows naturally either. So how do farmers-and everyone else, for that matter-survive during seventh years? No problem. As a reward for their compliance, G-d blesses the crops of the sixth year so it produces enough for the sixth, seventh, and part of the eighth. Moreover, there are Jews with so much faith it doesn't even occur to them to worry! Their reward is that even a normal yield in the sixth year satisfies all their needs until the crops of the eighth year come in.

The distinctions are quite interesting, and if you want to get into them you can research the verses [Lev. 25:18-22] with their commentaries. For now, let's just consider the question itself, "What shall we eat in the Seventh Year?" [Lev. 25:20].

Isn't it fascinating? Suddenly a wealthy farmer is asking the question that is usually heard only from the poorest of the poor: "What shall we eat?" Even though he realizes that the situation is only temporary, and easy enough to resolve with proper doses of planning, expertise in Torah law, and faith, still, there is that one moment of panic. Hopefully, the memory of this feeling will forever sensitize him to the suffering of his less fortunate poor brethren. Some even say this is one of the purposes of the mitzvah!

I am convinced that if we would all inculcate this compassionate outlook, we would immediately find ourselves enjoying the ultimate Sabbatical, the thousand-year Shabbat Millennium period of total redemption and bliss. A healthy, pleasant, satisfying and inspirational Shabbat year to all!

Yrachmiel Tilles

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