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D18. Cancelling Loans & Resting Our Land in the Sabbatical Year.    [Make a Comment]

We are to cancel loans and allow our land to lie fallow in the Sabbatical Year.1

1. See Mitzvah C3 for a discussion of cancelling loans during the Sabbatical Year from the aspect of commercial risk.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed be He):

Key Scriptures

Exodus 23:10-11 (Maimonides RP134; Meir ML20; Chinuch C84)
For six years, you are to sow your land with seed and gather in its harvest. But the seventh year, you are to let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor among your people can eat; and what they leave, the wild animals in the countryside can eat. Do the same with your vineyard and olive grove.

Exodus 34:21 (Maimonides RP135)
Six days you will work, but on the seventh day you are to rest - even in plowing time and harvest season you are to rest.

Leviticus 25:1-2 (Maimonides RP135; Meir ML21; Chinuch C112)
ADONAI spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai; he said, "Tell the people of Isra'el, 'When you enter the land I am giving you, the land itself is to observe a Shabbat rest for ADONAI.'"

Leviticus 25:3-4 (Maimonides RN220-221; Meir ML22-23; Chinuch C326-327)
Six years you will sow your field; six years you will prune your grapevines and gather their produce. But in the seventh year is to be a Shabbat of complete rest for the land, a Shabbat for ADONAI; you will neither sow your field nor prune your grapevines.

Leviticus 25:5-7 (Maimonides RP134, RN222-223; Meir ML24-25; Chinuch C84, C328-329)
You are not to harvest what grows by itself from the seeds left by your previous harvest, and you are not to gather the grapes of your untended vine; it is to be a year of complete rest for the land. But what the land produces during the year of Shabbat will be food for all of you - you, your servant, your maid, your employee, anyone living near you, your livestock and the wild animals on your land; everything the land produces may be used for food.

Leviticus 25:20-22
If you ask, "If we aren't allowed to sow seed or harvest what our land produces, what are we going to eat the seventh year?" then I will order my blessing on you during the sixth year, so that the land brings forth enough produce for all three years. The eighth year you will sow seed but eat the old, stored produce until the ninth year; that is, until the produce of the eighth year comes in, you will eat the old, stored food.

Deuteronomy 15:1
At the end of every seven years you are to have a sh'mittah.

Deuteronomy 15:2 (Maimonides RN230; Meir MN57, MP64; Chinuch C475)
Here is how the sh'mittah is to be done: every creditor is to give up what he has loaned to his fellow member of the community - he is not to force his neighbor or relative to repay it, because ADONAI's time of remission has been proclaimed.

Deuteronomy 15:3 (Maimonides RP141-142; Chinuch C476-477)
You may demand that a foreigner repay his debt, but you are to release your claim on whatever your brother owes you.

Deuteronomy 15:4-6
In spite of this [releasing debts owed to you] there will be no one needy among you; because ADONAI will certainly bless you in the land which ADONAI your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess - if only you will listen carefully to what ADONAI your God says and take care to obey all these mitzvot I am giving you today. Yes, ADONAI your God will bless you, as he promised you - you will lend money to many nations without having to borrow, and you will rule over many nations without their ruling over you.

Deuteronomy 15:7-11 (Maimonides RN231; Meir MN56; Chinuch C480)
If someone among you is needy, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which ADONAI your God is giving you, you are not to harden your heart or shut your hand from giving to your needy brother. No, you must open your hand to him and lend him enough to meet his need and enable him to obtain what he wants. Guard yourself against allowing your heart to entertain the mean-spirited thought that because the seventh year, the year of sh'mittah is at hand, you would be stingy toward your needy brother and not give him anything; for then he may cry out to ADONAI against you, and it will be your sin. Rather, you must give to him; and you are not to be grudging when you give to him. If you do this, ADONAI your God will bless you in all your work, in everything you undertake - for there will always be poor people in the land. That is why I am giving you this order, 'You must open your hand to your poor and needy brother in your land.'

Matthew 6:25-31
Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

Supportive Scriptures

Proverbs 11:24-25 ( Some give freely and still get richer, while others are stingy but grow still poorer. The person who blesses others will prosper; he who satisfies others will be satisfied himself.)

Luke 12:22-31
To his talmidim Yeshua said, "Because of this I tell you, don't worry about your life - what you will eat or drink; or about your body - what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Think about the ravens! They neither plant nor harvest, they have neither storerooms nor barns, yet God feeds them. You are worth much more than the birds! Can any of you by worrying add an hour to his life? If you can't do a little thing like that, why worry about the rest? Think about the wild irises, and how they grow. They neither work nor spin thread; yet, I tell you, not even Shlomo in all his glory was clothed as beautifully as one of these. If this is how God clothes grass, which is alive in the field today and thrown in the oven tomorrow, how much more will he clothe you! What little trust you have! In other words, don't strive after what you will eat and what you will drink - don't be anxious. For all the pagan nations in the world set their hearts on these things. Your Father knows that you need them too. Rather, seek his Kingdom; and these things will be given to you as well."

2 Corinthians 9:10-12
He who provides both seed for the planter and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your tzedakah. You will be enriched in every way, so that you can be generous in everything. And through us your generosity will cause people to thank God, because rendering this holy service not only provides for the needs of God's people, but it also overflows in the many thanks people will be giving to God.


The Sabbatical Year is characterized by the releasing of debts that are owed to us,2 and by allowing our land to rest - that is, not cultivating the land or harvesting its crops. On the one hand, this Mitzvah can be viewed as one of benevolence ("so that the poor among your people can eat ..." Exodus 23:11) because (1) crops that grow of their own accord during the Sh'mittah are available to the poor for gleaning, and (2) Israelite debtors who cannot repay what they have borrowed can be released from a lifetime of bondage. On the other hand, I believe that the primary reason for the Sabbatical Year is revealed in Deuteronomy 25:20-22, which promises God's supernatural provision to those who will obey Him and trust Him.

A question that naturally comes to mind is how releasing loans and resting our land in the Sabbatical Year applies today. I am of the opinion that it continues to apply where today's circumstances are similar to those under which the ancient Israelites lived. Furthermore, when it does apply, it applies not only to Jews, but also to K'rov Yisrael Gentiles. How similar the circumstances need to be are revealed to us by the Ruach HaKodesh as we pray for guidance.

As for most Gentiles (not K'rovei Yisrael), I believe that their compliance is a blessing but not a requirement; I draw this conclusion (as an analogy) from Isaiah 56:1-7, which promises blessing to the foreigner who keeps God's Sabbaths, but apparently does not require it of him. One thing that is certain, however, is that God continues to expect all of us to look to Him for provision, rather than to think that we can cause provision to come to us through our own efforts.

We ought to consider the Sabbatical Year (and God's other Sabbaths - both weekly and annual) to be a test of our faith, because our willingness to release loans and to rest our land in the Sabbatical Year (as well as rest ourselves on the other Sabbaths), is an indication that we trust God, and are willing to rely upon Him.

2. There is a rabbinical document called a pruzbul, by which a private debt is made public by transferring it to a beit din, thus making it redeemable during and after a Sh'mittah. It is a legal contrivance to circumvent the discharge of a debt in the Sh'mittah.

Commentary by Daniel C. Juster

In modern societies that are not primarily agricultural, the Sh'mittah command (like th Jubilee command) is difficult to apply. However, there are underlying principles that have been noted by many Bible scholars. First, the command shows the importance of renewing and preserving the land so that it is not worn out. Secondly, the command shows that God does not want people to be forever burdened with debt, but rather to be able to have a new start. So, the command encompasses a principle of their needing to be a way of release from debts that lead to destruction. Bankruptcy laws are probably the modern social equivalent because the same underlying principle is involved. The Biblical text provides that assistance should be made available for those truly in need, and the Sabbatical year's discharge of debts, coupled with the requirement that we not harvest the corners of our fields (thereby allowing some of our crops to be gleaned) are special applications of God's requirement of us that we care for the poor.

Classical Commentators

Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch agree that all debts must be cancelled during the Sabbatical Year, and that loans to needy Jews may not be withheld because an approaching Sh'mittah will preclude their collectability. Although Deuteronomy 15:3permits the repayment of loans made to foreigners to be demanded during the Sh'mittah, Maimonides and HaChinuch interpret the Scripture as requiring that loans to idolaters be collected. Meir's compilation does not reference Deuteronomy 15:3 at all, and does not promulgate any such requirement. Also, none of the commentators connect trusting God with the Sh'mittah's cancellation of debts, or with Scripture's prohibition against our refusing to make uncollectable loans to needy Jews prior to a Sh'mittah.

Similarly, neither Maimonides, nor Meir, nor HaChinuch connect trusting God with Scripture's requirement that we allow our land to rest during the Sabbatical Year. Meir alone asserts that agricultural commandments pertaining to the Sh'mittah are only applicable in Eretz Yisrael, and he therefore places them in an appendix, and lists them separately from his other mitzvot.


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