Parshat Mishpatim teaches us many laws about the proper way to conduct our lives. One law that is especially relevant this year is the law of Shmita (the sabbatical year).
In Shmot 23:10-11 we read: “You may sow your land for six years and gather its crops. But on the seventh year you must let it rest and abandon it and let the needy among your people eat it. What they leave over, the beasts of the field can eat”.
The Shmita year teaches us about social justice. Technically all of the fields should be hefker (abandoned) and anybody that needs food should be allowed to enter any field and harvest what they need.
On a private level the concept of the “abandoned field” still takes place during the Shmita year in Israel. If one has a garden, in order to eat what is being grown, one must share with others. This is done by leaving the gate open and putting up a sign alerting the neighbors when they are free to pick from the garden. The lesson here is that what is being grown this year does not belong to me, it belongs to everybody.
Community gardens also observe Shmita when the members of the community plant the garden before the Shmita year begins and work together to tend to the garden on a regular basis throughout the year. The garden is open to the entire community who come to pick from a variety of seasonal produce.
There is also a feeling of community that extends beyond the crops that are being grown. The Shmita year is a time to step back and figure out how we can help those who are less fortunate. In Biblical times all loans that had not been repaid were canceled out during the Shmita year. Today the Israeli government is working on a project called Shnat HaSmita initiated by MK Ruth Calderon to help 1500 families who are over their heads in debt. The project helps families who are in debt due to an illness or death in the family, divorce, unemployment or another family crisis get their finances in order and guides them in setting up a plan to repay their debt, find other sources of employment and ways to cut spending so that they can remain on their feet. Projects like this literally plant the seeds for a brighter future for Israelis who have been going through a difficult time in their lives.
These are just some of the initiatives that are taking place in Israel this year to bring the social justice aspect of Shmita into our consciousness. Our hope is that the loving kindness taking place this year will spill over into the upcoming years as well.