It is interesting that the two most common professions which offer sabbatical leaves are academia and clergy. These two professions are fields in which practitioners devote a great deal of time to research and study.

The idea of the sabbatical rest is Biblical in origin. In the first of this week’s two Torah portions of Behar-Bechukotai, we will read: “For six years you will sow your field, and for six years you will prune your vineyard, and gather in the produce thereof. But the seventh year will be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to God; you will neither sow your field, nor prune your vineyard” (Leviticus 25:3-4).

The merits of an agricultural sabbatical year are obvious. A field lying fallow is able to renew its spent nutrients. From the theological point of view, a sabbatical year from working the fields was an active demonstration of the people’s faith that God would take care of them.

At the same time, however, the sabbatical year was also a gift to the farmers. In Jewish life there was nothing more important than the study of Torah. For those who were involved in agriculture, however, finding time to devote to Torah study, whether neophyte or advanced, was quite difficult. During the sabbatical year, however, farmers, and all those involved secondarily in agricultural trade, were able to learn at the feet of the scholars (as most learning was oral at the time).

Like Shabbat, the Sabbatical year (known as Shemittah) was an extended opportunity for the Jewish people to recharge their “spiritual batteries.”

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