Something like 0.2% of the world’s population is Jewish, so starting off with a term like shmita is a bit of a risk here. Most people have no idea what shmita means. And truthfully, at the start of this calendar year, I was one of them.
So what is a shmita year?
In the simplest terms, a shmita year is a year-long rest for the land. Shmita literally means “release,” but we could also understand it as a sort of sabbatical for the planet. If you’re familiar with the concept of a weekly sabbath, shmita is very similar. Instead of a weekly sabbath though, we mark shmita once every seven years for a full year starting and ending at Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year).
Now, rest for the land, or, letting the land lie fallow, is the key observation here. But traditional teachings also incorporate other forms of rest. We release old debts during the shmita year, and in ancient times, these years also marked the liberation of enslaved peoples.
While the Biblical promise for observing shmita is great, its actual observance is rare and historically mitigated by numerous other interpretations and traditions that narrow its scope in order to disrupt society as a whole the least. With that said, shmita is voluntarily observed in Israel and throughout the world.
The shmita year invites us to consider what our bodies immediately need, and to take only that which is necessary. It invites us to consider how the indigenous agricultural wisdom of an ancient diaspora in ongoing relationship with many lands can apply to us still today. And it challenges us to identify and free ourselves from the bonds of servitude not as apparent as they are in times and places where enslavement continues.
Our next shmita year begins on September 7th, 2021 and ends on September 25th, 2022.
A year without a tomato patch
For all the shock of the pandemic, this last year has culminated in a lot of significant successes for me. I’ve opened a new practice and gotten back into the work I truly love doing. I’m finding my footing with a now decades-old interest in natural (and Bible-based) living. And I just moved to a historic farmhouse where all of my family’s homesteading dreams are ready to come true. If anything it feels like 2020 was my shmita year, and I ought to be jumping in with both feet right now.
Ah, but that would take the intention out of it, wouldn’t it? Nothing I lost in the pandemic was of my own doing. And while a shmita year is about release, there’s an active element to that. We have to be the ones who release the land, release debt, and release the bonds we have over one another. The shmita year isn’t passive. It isn’t just a description of a time where we are without something we want. It’s about living apart from the life we’re accustomed to in a year-long shabbat, depending on the land to provide just enough, and on G-d’s eternal wisdom to see to it that everything still harmonizes.
That’s the lesson, isn’t it? Six years of hard work building the kind of life we want to live. One year resting and remembering that we’re part of G-d’s creation, and G-d’s plan.
Maybe it seems odd to start a healthy living blog with a post about obscure Jewish agricultural practices. But in these last days before the shmita year begins, I want to plant that seed. Living in alignment with Torah is living in alignment with Earth is living in alignment with my body.
I’m not growing tomatoes in the backyard next spring. I’m not disturbing the land beyond what is necessary to maintain the property. And more than that, I’m freeing myself from the bonds of toxic chemicals and of repressive ideas about myself (and manhood too). I’m putting my faith back in G-d, the wild land, and the sense of intuition that guides me living between them. One year from now, the wisdom I’ll have gained will be enough to sustain me for six more.
This year is about being free to live healthy. And this blog is for those of us sharing that journey.