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What does the ‘Shmita’ mean to us today?

Sabbatical Year: What does the ‘Shmita’ mean to us today?

Perhaps you’ve heard the term being tossed around as of late and wondered about it; this year is a Shmita Year in Israel, called ‘Shnat Shmita’ in Hebrew, which means a Sabbatical Year. Literally translated, this means ‘release’, pointing toward the sabbatical agricultural year in the Land of Israel in which the fields and orchards are released from active cultivation and farming.

Every seventh year Biblical Law dictates that the fields and farmland in The Land of Israel be left to lie fallow – unploughed, unsown, unpruned and unharvested in order to allow for the land to rest as a Sabbath unto the Lord (Exodus 23 10-11).

In Biblical times, from the Israelite conquest of Canaan led by Joshua and up until the end of the Second Temple Period, this practice had far reaching implications and covered all elements of Israelite society, from agriculture and civil duty, to financial, moral, and of course spiritual.

As all holy commandments, the Shmita (Sabbatical) Year constituted a tangible example from which the Israelites were taught deep spiritual truths. Through keeping the commandments and the Shmita Year in particular, the Israelites learned of the divine character of God, and what His moral standards and requirements were of His chosen people. The Shmita year taught very important lessons:

CHARITY: More than simply allow the land to rest, this was a year of grace to those most in need of it. During a Shmita Year, all people, rich and poor, could freely pick and eat of the untended and unharvested crops growing wild in the fields. It is during the Jubilee Year (which follows the seventh Shmita, or Sabbatical Year), that all slaves were also freed and all property was restored to its rightful original owners.

FAITH & OBEDIENCE: Blessing and prosperity was promised to those who had faith to do what the Lord commanded, even at the risk of not having enough food and provisions during the Shmita Year. In Leviticus 25:20-22Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), the Lord promised, “And if ye shall say: ‘What shall we eat the seventh year? behold, we may not sow, nor gather in our increase’; then I will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth produce for the three years. And ye shall sow the eighth year, and eat of the produce, the old store; until the ninth year, until her produce come in, ye shall eat the old store.” In other words, living faith in God’s promises and character is our source of blessings and provisions, not our fields, orchards, business or enterprises.

INSTRUCTION: Moses commanded the Children of Israel to gather together all members of the community in order to teach them the ways and commandments of the Lord, saying, “They will thus learn to be in awe of God your Lord, carefully keeping all the words of this Torah. Their children, who do not know, will listen and learn to be in awe of God your Lord, as long as you live in the land which you are crossing the Jordan to occupy.” (Deuteronomy 31:10–13Open in Logos Bible Software (if available))

So highly regarded was the Shmita Year, that even foreign rulers of the land of Israel, such as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, made special allowances for the Israelites to observe the practice by relieving the taxation during Shmita years. This allowance ended, however, after the Bar Kohba Revolt against the Romans (in the second century AD) which led to the final dispersion of Israel.

Today, the biblical practice of Shmita continues to be observed in the modern nation of Israel under Rabbinical jurisdiction by only a minority of observant Jews. However, loopholes allow for hydroponic farming in greenhouses structured so that the plants are not connected to the soil, and thus freed from the commandment. In addition, international food imports compensate for remaining lack in local produce, as the practice of Shmita is only relevant within the Land of Israel.

It is a very common sight to see uncultivated fields growing wild this year in Israel, and there is a special reverence and beauty in the continued practice of Shmita. Even after thousands of years, it continues to teach us those ethereal and eternal standards of faith, obedience, charity and instruction in godliness.

A blessed Sabbath from Israel,

Your Genesis team

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