This Rosh Hashanah brings us something different from the past Rosh Hashanahs. This year 5761 (2000-2001) is the sacred seventh year spoken about in the Bible in Leviticus Chapters 25 and 27 and in Numbers 15. This is the year known in Hebrew as Shimita or the "Sabbatical Year". The Jewish calendar follows a seven-year cycle in which the seventh year, paralleling the seventh day, was a year in which working the land was forbidden. From this came the inspiration for the "sabbatical" leaves that many scholars and teachers enjoy and use to enrich their knowledge in their chosen field.
In the ancient times of the early Israelite period in the land of Israel, roughly 800 years before the common era, (BCE) the Jews settled the land and lived basically as an agricultural people. Needless to point out, life was lived much closer to the earth than our lives. They were dependent on the winter rain to water their fields and fill up their underground cisterns to provide ample water for the coming summer months. No rain meant a year with out food or water. Fast days were declared to beseech heaven to send us rain.
The dew in the summer was looked upon as a blessing in that it nurtured the growing crops and seedlings. The early Israelite was dependent in a major degree on the yearly harvest to sustain himself and his family.
There was no piped water for drinking, bathing or irrigation. Most people lived simple lives of farming with the usual small domesticated animals: chickens and goats, with occasional cattle.
There were no banks either. If someone needed a loan, he would go to a friend and borrow money. With out his friend's loan, he could not borrow needed funds. Shimita applied to loans also. The Shimita year erased the debt.
Imagine, now, if a year came in which the ground was not to be worked and any crops that grew of themselves could not be harvested but all passerby's could eat them. It was a year where it was forbidden to do business in buying and selling of fruits and vegetables. The fruits and vegetables in your field became permitted to all wanted to walk in and take. It was forbidden to close your gate around your field. Free access had to be given to everyone, the poor and the rich. You were not allowed to harvest your own field. And on top of that, every loan that was made that was not repaid would be declared null and void.
How would you feel when that year approached and your livelihood depended on your crops? Would you become a closed fist and not open your hand to loan your neighbor money because you feared the imminence of the seventh year?
Such was the life of the early Israelite who lived in the land of Israel before and during the time of the holy Temple.
How did they exist? How much faith and inner fortitude they must have possessed to observe the Shimita year!
Even stranger and more difficult to understand is the special blessing promised to them in the book of Leviticus 25:20-22. Here G-d promises that he will provide a special blessing in the sixth year's harvest to tide them over a three year period: the sixth year, the seventh year and the eighth year. That means that he would give them a special blessing that they may observe his Shimita year in tranquility.
Yet today we don't see this blessing. Why?
Obviously, the observance of Shimita is down. There are many who do not at all have any inclination to study about this special year.
Perhaps it is because that it was promised to those faithful individuals who were willing to keep G-d's commandment, in spite of hardships and a certain loss.
Let us realize that G-d is constantly trying and testing us, to see if we are truly dedicated to him. Are we willing to undergo hardships and loss to maintain our connection with him, or is our Judaism merely a social extension of our birthright?