The Bible Says What? ‘Every seven years you must leave the land fallow’
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The Bible Says What? ‘Every seven years you must leave the land fallow’

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers takes a controversial topic from the Torah and looks at a progressive Jewish response

The last shmita or sabbatical year fell in 5775 – 2014/15. Traditionally, the land is left to lie fallow across Israel, restoring the earth’s fertility just as we are restored by the peace of Shabbat.

The Torah understood that we cannot continually demand of the earth, and expect her to keep producing.

But this wasn’t a simple thing for the communities of Israel to do. It requires a huge amount of faith that God will provide. It also required communities and families to support one another.

Shmita wasn’t survivable if you were only in it for yourself. What could be gleaned from the land needed to be shared. Most likely communities prepared together, and shared together, to see everyone through.

So shmita protected the environment, but was also a mechanism to ensure that consumer habits had their limits too. Profit and commerce aren’t bad per se, but every seven years there was a reset button that could be pressed, returning everyone to a more even playing field, and reminding us that nothing is really ours in perpetuity.

The continual purchasing many of us practice now, easily becomes mindless and is hugely damaging to the earth. We are still a couple of years off the next shmita, but perhaps it is time to start planning and thinking about how the Sabbatical might be transformational for us as modern Jews.

As it says in the Talmud: ‘Those who prepare before Shabbat will
eat on Shabbat; those who did not prepare before Shabbat, what will
they have to eat on Shabbat?’ (Avoda Zara 3a).

If we don’t prepare, we may not starve as they might have done in ancient Israel – but we might not also reap the benefits spiritually and
materially that are being offered to us by this ancient idea.

  •   Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers is community educator at the Movement for Reform Judaism 
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