By Rabbi Dovid Markel
There are various verses in the Torah that outline the obligation that the Land of Israel rest every seven years.
The Torah states once in the book of Shemos (23:10-11): Six years you may sow your land and gather in its produce. But in the seventh [year] you shall release it and abandon it; the poor of your people shall eat [it], and what they leave over, the beasts of the field shall eat. So shall you do to your vineyard [and] to your olive tree[s].
Again, in the book of Vayikra (25:1-7), the Torah reiterates this and says: Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them: When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land shall rest a Sabbath to the Lord. You may sow your field for six years, and for six years you may prune your vineyard, and gather in its produce, but in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest a Sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field, nor shall you prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the after growth of your harvest, and you shall not pick the grapes you had set aside [for yourself], [for] it shall be a year of rest for the land. And [the produce of] the Sabbath of the land shall be yours to eat for you, for your male and female slaves, and for your hired worker and resident who live with you, and all of its produce may be eaten [also] by your domestic animals and by the beasts that are in your land.
The Torah mandates that one abandon the produce of their field and let it be eaten by any Jew that wishes to partake in it.
The Talmud states (Sanhedrin, 39a): “The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, Sow your seed six years but omit the seventh so that you may know that the earth is mine.” Keeping shemita reminds us that G-d is the true owner of the world and all that is in it.
The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzva 84)—a compendium of the mitzvos and their reasons—enumerates four things that are accomplished through the commandment of shemita.
1) To remember that G-d created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th. Similarly to the commandment of resting on Shabbos, the Torah commands as well to rest for an entire year. Resting in this year ingrains on our minds and heart the world was created by G-d.
2) By relinquishing our rights to the produce on the 7th year, we remember that it is not the land that produces the fruits, but G-d and we relinquish our rights to the fruits when he directs us to.
3) This teaches us the positive trait of generosity. For in this year one gives charity without any personal gain or any hope to be rewarded.
4) Not planting or reaping produce in the 7th year teaches trust in G-d. For, without trust in G-d, it would be exceedingly difficult to refrain from planting and working ones field for an entire year.