Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Rosh Hashanah 5775: Shmittah Year!

As we go into Rosh Hashanah this year we need to be aware that this year is shmittah year. What is the shmittah year? In the Torah the it was commanded that the land would be worked for 6 years and in the 7th year it must be left alone, hefker, ownerless! Anyone was allowed to come and pick from what gre whtere. The owner could not cultivate it or fence it off to prevent others from entering. What grew in the field that year was there for anyone to come and take.

Think about what a massive act of faith this entailed! A farmer has to accept that when he grew in year 6 must sustain him and his family not only in year 6, but also in year 7 and also in year 1 of the next cycle until new food was grown! If there was insufficient the farmer would have to buy from non-Jews or from those outside of the area in which the law applied (the land given to the Jews when leaving Israel) or ask others to sustain him and his family until he had his own food. For us in the modern era we do not really appreciate the sacrifice involved. Modern farmers have fertilisers, machines and the yield of their farms is far in excess of their needs. In the times of the Temple the majority of farmers were subsistence farmers, their land small and yields barely large enough to sustain them over the period.

For many years these laws were like the other agricultural laws and laws relating to the Temple- held in abeyance until a majority of Jews dwelled in Israel (the laws for sacrifices and the Temple needing the additional condition that the Temple needs to be rebuilt.) Now, we have reached thathret shold and the lenient rulings of past years that allowed us to not have to observe this and other agricultural laws are a subject of debate: are they back in force or can we rely on the heterim of previous generations?

To the great merit of some farmers in Israel, they have chosen to let their fields lie fallow and to observe this incredible mitzvah! They put themselves and their livelihoods at risk in order to observe this mitzvah! Organisations have grown up to help sustain them over this period, but how great it is that once again we are seeing the laws of shmittah being observed in Israel!

We need to look at ourselves, examine ourselves as we prepare to go into Rosh Hashanah and ask ourselves if we are able to show the same leap of faith that G-d will sustain us! Its easy for us to say it, easy for us to think we would, but how many of us would really take that step and put our businesses and livelihoods on hold for a year because the Torah commands us?

We can take this a step further and look at it in a more esoteric way: Many people know the oft cited teaching that the seve days of creation are a remez (hint) to the world to come, the six days referring to the creation of the world, Shabbat to the world to come. The SHLAH (Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz) in his book Shnei Luchot HaBris (Toldos Adam) teaches that on the first six days the Torah states “It was evening it was morning, day X”, not so for Shabbos- it just refers to the Seventh day and Shabbos- Shabbos is a complete unit, something complete, not in parts, not referred to except as a single unit. He applies the same idea to the years- comparing the six years to the six days of creation and thus to this world, with the shmittah year being about the world to come, about connecting to G-d, putting work aside and relying on G-d to sustain us. The farmers in Israel today choosing to rely on G-d, choosing to follow the Torah commandments show this commitment and elevate us all by this!

I challenge everyogn to think on this as they prepare for Rosh Hashnah, as they consider their deeds and actions of the last year. Where do you stand? With the farmers who put aside the year and trust in G-d to provide a parnassah or with those who choose to rather rely on their machines and fertilsers, those who stick by sound business principles and ignore the spiritual call of the shmittah?

September 23, 2014 Posted by | Chagim, Torah | , , , , , , | Leave a comment