Shemita excites me. Someone once asked me: “I understand why you wrote books on the laws of Shabbat, holidays, prayer, tefillin, and more. But why Shemita? And, why books for IDF soldiers? These are very unusual books in Halachic literature.” I responded: “For two thousand years rabbis weren’t asked questions Shemita, nor questions by soldiers. When a farmer or a soldier calls me with a question, I feel tremendous joy: we are in the times of the redemption! We are meriting things our ancestors could only dream about!”
Shabbat and Shemita
There is a unique phrase for Shabbat and Shmita. Shabbat for Hashem. What is the significance of the phrase? Rashi (Leviticus 25, 2) writes: “Shabbat for Hashem – for the name of Hashem, as it says in Shabbat Bereishit”. What is the meaning of ‘For the name of Hashem’? Chizkuni (ibid.) explains:
Rashi explains ‘in the name of Hashem’, meaning your intention shouldn’t be to leave uncultivated land to improve the soil, but rather to perform Hashem’s mitzva.
Rashi’s intention is that we need to cease working the land during Shemita not due to agricultural reasons (unlike the reason given by Maimonides in “Moreh Nevuchim”) but rather because of Hashem’s command.
It seems the expression “Shabbat for Hashem” has another, deeper significance. People usually think that the obligation to rest on Shabbat is derived from human weakness – we do not have the strength to work continuously and therefore need to rest. But the truth is the opposite: rest on the seventh day is not connected to human wordly existence, but rather, is derived from a lofty point of divine existence, whose source is not in this world. Hashem rested on the seventh day, but the world continued to work. Natural existence continues on the seventh day, and humanity needs to continue its activities (the proof: a non-Jew who keeps the Shabbat is deserving of death). But Am Yisrael does not belong to this reality. Rather its roots are in the upper worlds, above the physical existence. Therefore, Am Yisrael merits a day cut off from material work and dedicated to spiritual elevation.
Shabbat gives us special strength and lofty holiness, which influence the weekdays. A person whose weekdays derive from the holiness of Shabbat cannot be compared to a person whose weekdays derive from secular existence, even if it is an existence of physical rest.
So too is Shemita: a year in which man stops the flow of life and focuses on his soul, his family and his faith. It is a year in which man ceases competition,gives more space for assisting others , devotes more to chesed, avoids materialism and internalizes that all his wordly possessions belong to Hashem. It is a year in which he stops using nature and internalizes that we need to preserve the world’screations. Maran HaRav Kook Zt”l writes (Introduction to Shabbat Ha’aretz) that
Shabbat and Shemita are designed to “shake up” man and bring him out of his material world to a loftier world, to think about the essence of life and to connect to Hashem and return to the world of work in a more pure and ethical manner.
Desisting from work is above nature. Through this reality it is revealed that Am Yisrael and the Land of Israel have a special spiritual connection to Hashem. This year’s cessation from work elevates us to a year of special connection and resemblance to the Creator of the world.
During Shemita there is also a special dimension above Shabbat: Shabbat is observed throughout the world, but Shemita is only observed in the Land of Israel. The cessation of work in the Land of Israel demonstrates that the Land of Israel is unlike the rest of the world, imbued with something divine, not just material. Unlike the rest of the world, our Land is also elevated and rests. Similarly, Am Yisrael is not like other nations. Both are connected to special spiritual and divine charateristics. The year the land rests brings out these spiritual aspects, and they impact the six years of work before and after Shemita (see Pri Tzaddik, Parshat Behar, 8).
Shemita in Modern Existence
How wonderful it is to imagine a reality in which the whole country stops working and producing for a year. A country that focuses on the soul, with Torah lessons everywhere, an enriched family experience and mutual caring.
Besides being strict about the laws of Shemita in Eretz Yisrael, Jews everywhere can implement and internalize the philosophical and religious aspects of Shemita. We understand that if Hashem’s desire is to have a year with an emphasis on social, religious and other special values, then we must try to apply these ideals in our existence in other ways as well.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to consider how to also develop and improve those important themes which characterize Shemita in our lives. For example: find alternate ways to do chesed that will help us express our desire to assist the less fortunate.
Aside from general acts of chesed, we can also perform acts reminiscent of abandoning the field during Shemita. I would be happy to declare a “Shemita Hour” every week.Each person donates one hour to engage in chesed and free up time to learn Torah with their families. Imagine dedicating these acts to help thousands of marginalized families at the end of Shemita to be able to stand on their own two feet!
May this Shemita year hasten the coming of the Mashiach.
Shana Tova U’Mevurechet