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The Seventh Year

You shall not pervert justice... Keep far from falsehood... Do not oppress a stranger: you know the feelings of a stranger; you yourselves were strangers in Egypt. You shall sow your land and gather its harvest for six years; in the seventh year you shall leave it fallow and abandon your rights to it. The poor of your people shall enjoy it, and what they leave shall be eaten by the wild animals. The same applies to your vines and olive trees. (Exodus 23:6, 7, 9-11)
When you enter the land which I am giving you, the land shall celebrate a Sabbath to G-d. You can sow your field for six years... But in the seventh year the earth shall have a Sabbath of rest for G-d... You shall not sow your field nor tend your vines... What grows during this Sabbath of the land shall be for you to enjoy.. together with your servants and laborers. And also the animals... in your land shall be able to eat its produce.
If you say, "What will we eat in the seventh year," I will command my blessing in the sixth year and it will produce sufficient for three years. (Leviticus 25:2-4, 6-7, 20-21)
At the end of seven years... every creditro shall relinquish all claims to money owed to him by his brother; a moratorium (Shemitta) has been declared byu G-d. (Deuteronomy 15:1-2)
An amazing law: In ancient times when Israel's main occupation was agriculture, this was certainly an amazing piece of legislation unparalleled in any other legislative system in history. The holiness of the land and its produse in the seventh year is expressed in three ways.
1. There may be no sowing or plowing, and other agricultural work is severely restricted.
2. The landowner must relinquish ownership for this year. Access must be given on an equal basis to all who wish to take the produce. The landowner may take home only that which is required for the needs of himself and his family. Wild animals too must be given access to the land, provided they do not damage the trees.
3. The produce may be used for normal enjoyment only. It may not be used for medicinal or industrial purposes, nor may it be stored for trade or destroyed.
True heroism is shown by the landowner who is prepared to see his land lie fallow for a whole year and to stand in line with his laborer for a share in the produce. Heroism - and absolute faith in G-d and loyalty to His word.
By these laws G-d wants to give us a year-long practical lesson, once every seven years, to help us realize that "the earth and its fullness belong to G-d," and we are only His tenants. Our "ownership" is conditional on our using the earth for His goals, not our selfish ones. It is clear, therefore, why the Torah associates these laws with justice to the poor and consideration for the stranger. We are all "strangers" in G-d's world. The insistence that the animals of the wild are to be given access together with human beings emphasizes the importance of every species in the ecological scheme. It also reminds us of the need to have consideration for animals, too, of which we had several examples in this book.
The Essence of Holiness - The fact that the "holiness" of the seventh year requires that it be enjoyed in the normal way, that is, by eating and drinking, and not sold for profit, tells us a great deal about the Torah's concept of holiness. The enjoyment of G-d's bounty in a spirit of thanksgiving and with the underprivileged seated as friends around the table - in the eyes of the Torah this is the essence of holiness.
Shevi'it today -
Jewish agriculture in Eretz Yisroel was virtually in abeyance for well over a thousand years, and the full observance of these laws was only a memory. With the revival of Jewish agriculture in modern times and the founding of agricultural settlements by Torah observant Jews, the full observance of shevi'it again became a practical possibility. There is a small but growing band of stalwarts who sacrifice much to keep these laws to the letter. With every seventh year that has passed since the founding of the State, more and more agricultureal settlements observe these laws and increasing numbers of individuals are careful to buy only such products as sare guaranteed permitted during theyear. They already form a significant part of the consumer market.
50,000 Orange Trees -
Komemiut in the northern Negev is a religious settlement which decided from the first to observe the "Laws of the Land" and particularly the laws of the Seventh Year, in all their ramifications. In the early years of the state, the Ministry of Agriculture offered to provide an orchard of 50,000 orange saplings to every settlement capable of tending them. Komemiut qualified and this acquisition would make an enormous difference to their struggling settlement. However, the following year was shevi'it and the contract specified that the saplings would have to be nurtured every year. The halacha, according to the Rabbi of the moshav, Rabbi Mendelson, was laid down more than 1700 years previously and states that certain of these operations are not essential to the life of the trees and are not permitted during shevi'it. The minister of agriculture was impressed by the Rabbi's sincerity, so the contract clause requiring breaking the halacha were deleted. To the amazement of all except the Rabbi, the orchard flourished, and indeed turned out to be the best of all the eleven orchards that had been planted at the same time. The miracle of shevi'it still works today.

- from Masterplan by Rabbi Aryeh Carmell pg 257


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