Shabbat Message: Giving Thanks for Our Bounty in the Shemitah Year

Posted on November 26, 2021 by Harold Levin

Thanksgiving is a special time of the year where families and friends of all denominations join together to celebrate all the good things bestowed upon them. Last year, things were extremely different for most of us as we gathered in much smaller groups, curtailed the majority of travel plans, and, quite honestly, took the time to reflect on how fortunate we were to be able to put a nice meal on the table, no matter how small or large that table was, and enjoy dinner while COVID-19 raged onward.

Last Sunday, while serving as the temple’s Shomer during Religious School, I noticed the baskets of supplies being filled in the rotunda. The baskets included boxes of instant potatoes, stuffing mix, canned vegetables, and other goodies which would later be distributed to HOME (formerly Interfaith Hospitality Network) to help provide Thanksgiving dinner to its clients. Many individuals were schlepping turkeys to the temple’s freezer which would also be distributed to those families. The spirit of sharing with others was being taught to our young students as they contributed the items that were being delivered as part of this process.

A passage from Exodus 23:10-11 came to mind, “Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but in the seventh you shall let it rest and lie fallow. Let the needy among your people eat of it…” The seventh year is referred to as the Shemitah or Sabbatical year. We currently are in the year 5782 which is a Shemitah year.

Since the Torah does not permit us to profit from the crops during the Sabbatical year, what is to become of them? Many commentators refer to these crops which went unattended as the earliest form of a soup kitchen or food bank since the bulk of the foods ended up in the hands of those in the most need. While much less sophisticated than the distribution channels available to us today, the concept was quite similar.

By now, you may be curious how the generosity of the Shemitah year is carried over for the next six. A Thirteenth century legal document, Sefer HaChinukh, says that the Sabbatical year teaches us how to be generous at all times, not just during this special year. It states that this act of kndness became a strength of Jewish people which leads to a continuous flow of their generosity.

The following verse from Psalms 115:16 adds some insight, “The heavens are the Lord’s and the earth He has given over to mankind…” I interpret this to mean all crops which we produce are not just those of the individual grower or, in modern times, the owner of the food, but actually are to be shared with anyone in need of sustenance. This broadens us just from sharing products produced in the Shemitah year to sharing food throughout every year.

As you inventory your supplies after winding down from both Thanksgiving and Chanukah, take a good hard look at what you have available and send some of it to a food bank, soup kitchen, shelter or other outlet which supports those dealing with food insecurity. This will allow the needy among our people to eat as we are called upon to do in Exodus 23:10-11.

Shabbat Shalom,

Harold Levin, guest darshan