By Rabbi Jonny Roodin
Everyone feels they need a break from time to time. Weekends, mini-breaks and annual holidays are all an important part of life. We need to break the monotony, rest and recharge so we can re- engage with the pressures of life in a healthy way.
The Torah recognises this need and as such we have Shabbat and the Chagim, days to pause, reflect and take pleasure in the important things in life. This week’s sedra starts with a different type of Shabbat, one that lasts for an entire year.
The shmitta year is a time when the farmer lays down his tools and goes on a sabbatical, as most agricultural activities are off- limits. Every seven years, the land is to lie fallow and all produce be made available for the poor. The weary land seems to need a rest!
While this may seem like a good idea, if the whole point is to give the land a chance to replenish itself, then a crop rotation system would be far more practical. This would have the advantage of the farmer being able to work the land every year and is common practice around the world today.
Rather, there is a deeper rationale behind this mitzvah. The land is to lie fallow so the farmer can take time out to recognise where his blessings come from. The rabbis of the Talmud refer to agricultural laws such as shmitta as ‘emunah’ – faithfulness. It is all too easy for the successful farmer to become haughty and say “my strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth” (Deuteronomy 17:18).
Therefore, mitzvot such as shmitta come to teach us that: “You shall remember Hashem your God, for it is He who gives you the strength to make wealth”. Material success, whether in the boardroom, in the markets or out in the field, is indeed a blessing. The arrogance that can come with it, however, is a true curse.
The mitzvah of shmitta is to remind us that the Earth ultimately belongs to Hashem and that we are custodians to develop it and to maximise its resources to benefit everyone. The next shmitta year begins this coming Rosh Hashanah, and may it provide us with a real opportunity for us to internalise this lesson.
• Rabbi Jonny Roodyn, Aish UK @rjroodyn