Parashat BeHar contains the positive commandment to observe a year of Shemitah every seven years. The Torah writes, “UVaShanah HaShevi’it Shabbat Shabbaton Yihyeh LaAretz Shabbat LaShem Sadecha Lo Tizra VeCharmecha Lo Tizmor,” “And the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a Shabbat for Hashem; your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune” (VaYikra 25:4). The land of Israel must be left untouched during this year, and all the produce of the field is Hefkeir. One of the many reasons given for the Shemitah year is to show that the land is ours only because Hashem gave it to us; if it weren’t for Hashem, we would have nothing.
Technically, according to many Posekim, the year of Shemitah and its laws are to be observed only when all the Jews of the world come together and live in the land of Israel while ruling themselves. Therefore, the observance of Shemitah today, when Jews are scattered throughout the world, is only MiDeRabbanan (editor’s note – this might be changing very soon as we rapidly are approaching the point when, for the first time in more than 2600 years, the majority of Jews will be residing in Eretz Yisrael).
In earlier times, Shemitah was easier to observe, because farmers produced mainly for themselves. In today’s day and age, however, when farmers produce mainly for others, sometimes shipping produce around the world to be sold internationally, it would be very hard to observe this commandment. Because of the economic downturn that a Shemitah year creates today, this commandment is difficult to observe.
In light of this, there have been many organizations formed to provide for farmers in Israel today, so that they can shut down their farms for a year and observe this important Mitzvah. Organizations such as Keren Hashvi’is, which provide a Parnassah for those farmers who take Shemitah seriously and keep it the best they can, are great organizations that should be commended for their work.
Many farmers who observe Shemitah every seventh year tell of their land being even better the next year. This is, of course, predicted in the Torah. When commanding this important Mitzvah to the Jewish people, Hashem states that if farmers observe this Mitzvah, their land will be blessed and fruitful. We must recognize the Mesirat Nefesh that these farmers demonstrate, giving up their livelihood and putting it in the Almighty’s hands for an entire year. May the dedication of these farmers to observe Shemitah merit in the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days so we can observe this Mitzvah to the best of our ability as was done thousands of years ago.