The Shmita Year that Wasn’t

I have one of those jobs that people are jealous of. In a world where most people must sit in front of a computer for hours a day, I am fortunate to be able to engage Jewish teens from America in a journey of learning about Jewish history and modern Israel, all while traveling the length of this glorious land of ours. I get to wear sandals to work and count among my working hours inspiring hikes in the Golan and trips to Eilat.

But, nonetheless, I would really love a year off.

I’ve been working hard the past six years and the natural cycle of my being that is connected to the rhythms of time as delineated by the Torah for the Land of Israel in which I live is calling for, no screaming for, a break. A pause. A shift. A change. Some time to do something other than what I’ve been doing. Mornings to wake up a little later to give my body more of the rest it needs. Mornings to wake up a little earlier to silently greet the day while everyone else is still asleep. Time to do those push-ups I’ve been meaning to do and work on that book I started a long time ago. Time to play more games with my kids and be silly with them and laugh. Time to…

You get what I’m saying. The Shmita year is not really happening the way I intended. Maybe it was a romantic pipe dream, but I really thought this year was going to be different. Yeah, I think of the kedushah status of the food I’m eating and what I should do with the leftovers on my plate. But that’s not fulfilling the deep soul-level need I am feeling for a Shmita year of Biblical proportions. The kind of Shmita year that was created for an agricultural society, where almost everyone is a farmer, and everyone is instructed to TAKE A YEAR OFF. A year to think about life. Plant different kinds of seeds. Give the Earth a rest and realize that the work of my hands is not what makes the world go ’round. That Creation can actually go on without my input. That there really is a G-d that really does run the whole entire show.

Living in our modern-day, technologically advanced society where no one is really a farmer anymore, I have come to believe that the Shmita year is really lost on us. It barely applies to our lives in any deep and meaningful way and we concern ourselves mostly with how to deal with the challenges it provides, coming up with halachically-approved ways to make sure our society doesn’t collapse in our attempt to keep this most radical of mitzvot. But in the process we are robbed of the gift that the Shmita year comes to give. A year off. Which, in the end, is really meant to be a year on. A time to strengthen and reawaken our inspiration for the work we are engaged in and realign ourselves with our greater life goals and ambitions. A time to remember what we’re here for and what life is really about. A time to spend more time focusing on those things we never focus on because we have to get to work or we’re at work or we’re too tired to when we come home from work.

I don’t really know how to satisfy the longing of my soul for a full-on Shmita experience. It doesn’t seem like it would be a go in our world today if we all just stopped working for a year. But at least there’s an explanation for why this year, as much as I love the work that I do, I hesitate a little each morning as I open the door to leave, as the sun is just thinking about starting to rise in the sky, and consider going back inside to strum my guitar a little bit or enjoy a morning cup of tea with my wife.

But in the end I don’t and instead make my way to work for another day during this, as of yet, very un-Shmita Shmita year.

About the Author
Akiva Gersh has been working in the field of Jewish and Israel Education for over 20 years. In 2020 he founded @Israel to share his love and passion for Israel with students, schools and communities around the world through his online classes, courses and virtual tours of Israel. Akiva is also the editor of the book "Becoming Israeli" (, a compilation of essays that gives an inside look at the unique experience of making aliyah and the journey of acclimating to life in Israel. Akiva himself made aliyah in 2004 with his wife Tamar and they live in Pardes Hanna with their four kids. You can learn more about his work at as well as about his work teaching about Judaism and veganism at