Shmita: The Sabbatical Year

Yael Eckstein  |  May 16, 2022

Close up image of stalk of grain at sunset.

“Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD.’” —Leviticus 25:2

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Behar, which means “the mountain,” from Leviticus 25:1–26:2.

This year is a Shmita year, the biblically mandated sabbatical — or “year of release” — of the land that happens every seventh year. This has very real consequences for Jews living in Israel today because during Shmita, the sabbatical year, we cannot work our land or plant new things. The entire land of Israel is to be at rest.

For some, like my husband and myself, the impact is minimal. We had been putting off doing some work in our garden for a few years, but decided to plant trees and plants last spring before the Shmita year began on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, last September.

But it’s not just people’s backyards that are affected. More and more farmers in Israel have taken the courageous and faithful step of letting their farmland lay fallow every sabbatical year. Many of these farmers place large banners in front of their farms saying, “This farm observes the sabbatical year.” 

I can’t tell you how much seeing those signs moves me and inspires me. These modern farmers take a leap of faith of biblical proportions, just as the Israelites did thousands of years ago, trusting that God will take care of them, even though they will not work their land or sell their produce for an entire year.

Shmita: The Sabbatical Year

We find the origin of the sabbatical year in this week’s Torah portion: “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD.”

The final words of this verse, “a sabbath to the LORD,” teach us an important lesson. Why do we have the Sabbath day of rest each week? While it’s true that we need a day to rest and recuperate each week, that is not the reason for the Sabbath. The Bible calls the seventh day “a sabbath to the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:10) because it’s more than a day of rest. It’s a time to acknowledge God’s dominion over our lives and to connect with Him.

The same is true of the sabbatical Shmita. By leaving our land lay fallow, we acknowledge that all the land is God’s and whatever blessings we get from the land are gifts from God alone.

It takes an incredible amount of courage and faith to observe the laws of Shmita, but just as God promised His children thousands of years ago, those who learn to trust Him during this year will be richly rewarded.

Your Turn:

What might you consider letting rest or releasing for a period of time and trusting God? Let God know that you acknowledge that He is the source of all the blessings in your life.