In Parshat Mishpatim, Shmot 23:10-11, we learn about the mitzvah of Shmita (the sabbatical year): “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. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive trees.”
We just finished observing the Shmita year this past September and many of the fruits that are available are still considered to be from the Shmita year, yet we are already planning for the next one.
Since the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, we have been observing Shmita as well as the other Mitzvot Hatluyot Baaretz (agricultural mitzvot that are only observed in the Land of Israel) as Mitzvot DeRabanan, Rabbinical mitzvot, as most of world Jewry was not living in the Land of Israel.
We learn this concept from the Rambam, Hilchot Trumot, Chapter 1:
Trumot and Maasrot (contributions and tithes) are only observed Biblically in the Land of Israel… when all of Israel is there as it says “ki tavohoo”, when you shall all come.
While Shmita was considered a Rabbinical mitzvah, leniencies were set up such as Heter Mechira (where the land was sold to a non-Jew and therefore it could still be worked and the fruit could still be sold during the Shmita year).
According to studies that deal with demography, as of now there are more Jews living in Israel than in any single country in the world. Within ten years, most of the world’s Jews will be living in Israel. If that is in fact the case, then either the next Shmita year (in less than seven years) or the following Shmita year (in less than 14 years) will be considered a Biblical mitzvah.
This will depend on a lot of factors such as if aliya continues to rise, if native Israelis and olim (immigrants) remain in the land, if those who are living in Israel who have not officially converted take the plunge and convert according to Halacha and if Jews around the world continue to assimilate.
It will be interesting to see what will happen over the next few years. If world Jewry will come on aliya en masse then we will be able to observe the mizvot Biblically the way that they were meant to be observed.
In the event that Shmita does in fact become Biblical, the State of Israel will need to set up a fund for the farmers now to make sure that they will be able to survive during the Shmita year if all of the fields become Otzar Bet Din where the produce can not be exported but rather distributed throughout Israel by the courts and not sold for a profit.
May we reach the day when all of the Jews in the world can live peacefully in the Land of Israel and fully observe the Torah in the way that God commanded.