what is Shmita?
Grounding in Torah:
"For six years you are to sow your land and to gather in its produce, but in the seventh, you are to let it go [tishm'tenah] and to let it be [u'nitashta], that the needy of your people may eat, and what remains, the wildlife of the field shall eat. Do thus with your vineyard, with your olive-grove."
וְשֵׁ֥שׁ שָׁנִ֖ים תִּזְרַ֣ע אֶת־אַרְצֶ֑ךָ וְאָסַפְתָּ֖ אֶת־תְּבוּאָתָֽהּ׃ וְהַשְּׁבִיעִ֞ת תִּשְׁמְטֶ֣נָּה וּנְטַשְׁתָּ֗הּ וְאָֽכְלוּ֙ אֶבְיֹנֵ֣י עַמֶּ֔ךָ וְיִתְרָ֕ם תֹּאכַ֖ל חַיַּ֣ת הַשָּׂדֶ֑ה כֵּֽן־תַּעֲשֶׂ֥ה לְכַרְמְךָ֖ לְזֵיתֶֽךָ׃
"Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land is to cease, a Sabbath-ceasing to the Lord. 3 For six years you are to sow your field, for six years you are to prune your vineyard, then you are to gather in its produce, 4 but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of Sabbath-ceasing for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord: your field you are not to sow, your vineyard you are not to prune, 5 the aftergrowth of your harvest you are not to harvest, the grapes of your consecrated-vines you are not to amass; a Sabbath of Sabbath-ceasing shall there be for the land! 6 Now the Sabbath-yield of the land is for you, for eating: for you, for your servant and for your handmaid, for your hired-hand and for your resident-settler who sojourn with you; 7 and for your domestic-animal and the wildbeast that are in your land shall be all its produce, to eat."
דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם כִּ֤י תָבֹ֙אוּ֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲנִ֖י נֹתֵ֣ן לָכֶ֑ם וְשָׁבְתָ֣ה הָאָ֔רֶץ שַׁבָּ֖ת לַיהֹוָֽה׃ שֵׁ֤שׁ שָׁנִים֙ תִּזְרַ֣ע שָׂדֶ֔ךָ וְשֵׁ֥שׁ שָׁנִ֖ים תִּזְמֹ֣ר כַּרְמֶ֑ךָ וְאָסַפְתָּ֖ אֶת־תְּבוּאָתָֽהּ׃וּבַשָּׁנָ֣ה הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗ת שַׁבַּ֤ת שַׁבָּתוֹן֙ יִהְיֶ֣ה לָאָ֔רֶץ שַׁבָּ֖ת לַיהֹוָ֑ה שָֽׂדְךָ֙ לֹ֣א תִזְרָ֔ע וְכַרְמְךָ֖ לֹ֥א תִזְמֹֽר׃ אֵ֣ת סְפִ֤יחַ קְצִֽירְךָ֙ לֹ֣א תִקְצ֔וֹר וְאֶת־עִנְּבֵ֥י נְזִירֶ֖ךָ לֹ֣א תִבְצֹ֑ר שְׁנַ֥ת שַׁבָּת֖וֹן יִהְיֶ֥ה לָאָֽרֶץ׃ וְ֠הָיְתָ֠ה שַׁבַּ֨ת הָאָ֤רֶץ לָכֶם֙ לְאכְלָ֔ה לְךָ֖ וּלְעַבְדְּךָ֣ וְלַאֲמָתֶ֑ךָ וְלִשְׂכִֽירְךָ֙ וּלְתוֹשָׁ֣בְךָ֔ הַגָּרִ֖ים עִמָּֽךְ׃ וְלִ֨בְהֶמְתְּךָ֔ וְלַֽחַיָּ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּאַרְצֶ֑ךָ תִּהְיֶ֥ה כל־תְּבוּאָתָ֖הּ לֶאֱכֹֽל׃
Inspiration from Rav Kook
"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 commerce is forgotten. For food – but not for commerce. 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-on every Sabbath…"
– Rav Kook, Shabbat Ha’Aretz
"The seventh year serves to rectify the social ills and inequalities that accumulate in society over the years. When poorer segments of society borrow from the wealthy, they feel beholden to the affluent elite. “The debtor is a servant of the lender” (Proverbs 22:7). This form of subservience can corrupt even honest individuals in their dealings with the rich and powerful. The Sabbatical year comes to correct this situation of inequality and societal rifts, by removing a major source of power of the elite: debts owed to them."
– Rav Kook (early 20th century), adapted by Rabbi Chanan Morrison
While this practice is not "required" outside the land of Israel/ Palestine, we as modern Jewish agrarians feel inspired to find creative ways to experiment with this unique piece of Jewish agricultural wisdom.
Engaging with Shmita offers us an opportunity to release our hold on how things are and allows us to move towards how things should be.
What we’re asking:
We are feeling into what it means to let a piece of our land lie fallow and be released into the commons. What does it look like to relinquish control over our land for an extended period of time? What will it do? What will it produce? How will the soil heal?
What does it feel like to invite our neighbors to glean from our land? How can this nourish community etc.
What do you want to release this year?
What does rest and release look like to you?
Ready to experiment?
Sign up for the Shmita plot project with JFN!