At the end of every seven years, you shall grant a release. In this is the manner of the release; every creditor who lends anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not exacted of his neighbor, or of his brother; because it is called Hashem’s release. – Deuteronomy 15:1-2
This week’s Torah portion deals with the seven year cycle called the Shmitta. The Shmitta itself, which means release, is not mentioned in the portion. Rather, it appears in Moses’ summation in Deuteronomy 15. Just as every seventh day is a Shabbat, so every seventh year is also a Shabbat. It is a Shabbat of the land of Israel.
During this year of Shmitta, no work is to be done to the land. There is to be no work of cultivation at all. There is to be no reaping, that is, collective harvesting of crops. However, whatever grows of its own accord, whatever the land produces by itself, is to be collected by individuals for themselves, their families, and their livestock.
Deuteronomy 15:4 explains. “But there shall be no poor among you.” The idea of the Shmitta is to return everyone in Israel to a level playing field. Everyone is released of their debts, and everyone collects their food from the fruit of the land itself without human cultivation. This process, repeated every seven years, reduces all people in the land to gathering food like the poor. Just as gleanings and the peiot (the corners) of the fields are left to the poor, every seventh year everyone is reduced to gathering from the gleanings and from the peiot. In essence, everyone is poor, which means no one is poor – everyone is equal.
In this year of Shmitta, we are indeed released. Not only are we released of our debts, our creditors are released of concern about being repaid the debts. Since we are released in this year, we are released of financial burdens as well as financial obligations. We are all poor; which means that we are all rich. We have an entire year to renew our understanding that Hashem provides everything, always. We all glean in the fields, and we are all equal. It is a time of renewal of our understanding and faith in Hashem. The principle of the Shmitta is so important that neglect of the Shmitta was one of the final straws that led to the destruction of Solomon’s Temple.
The Torah principle is clear: the Shmitta is an indicator that we are all equal in Hashem’s eyes. Hashem makes certain that we have an entire year, every seven years, to recognize this. It is a principle that everyone in the land of the promise, Jew and Ger alike, is to be reminded of. As Ben Zoma says in Pirkei Avot 4: Who is rich? He who is happy with his portion.