"But in the seventh year the land shall have a Sabbath of complete rest" Leviticus 25.4

By Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh, May 12, 2011

On the dedication page of her book Silent Spring, published in 1962, the late Rachel Carson, one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, quoted the writer E. B. White, creator of Stuart Little, who wrote: "I am pessimistic about the human race because it is too ingenious for its own good. Our approach to nature is to beat it into submission. We would stand a better chance of survival if we accommodated ourselves to this planet and viewed it appreciatively instead of sceptically and dictatorially."

The authors of the laws of the sabbatical year in the book of Leviticus understood that the earth which human beings worked to raise crops, and on which they grazed their flocks, was not an inexhaustible resource whose riches could be plundered ad infinitum. They acknowledged that the earth was given into the stewardship of humanity but certainly not given over to us. The earth belonged to God, and just as one day of the week was set aside for a period of rest, in imitation of the divine, so too a period of rest had to be decreed for the land, so that every seven years its goodness might be replenished.

The practicality of this law for subsistence farmers need not be an issue, for the principle stands solid and true in its own right. We abuse the earth and its precious resources at our peril, as the sages made all too clear in Kohelet Rabbah when commenting on Ecclesiastes 7.13, describing God saying to Adam: "See My works, how beautiful and commendable they areā€¦ Take care that you do not corrupt and destroy My universe; for if you corrupt it, there is no one to repair it after you."

We cannot say we have not been warned.

Last updated: 11:29am, May 12 2011