Torah Portion: Mishpatim
But during the seventh year, you must leave [your land] alone and withdraw from it (Shemos 23:11).
It is a positive commandment to relinquish ownership over anything the earth produces during the seventh year — called the “Shmitah year” [the year of “letting go”] because of this duty that we are to keep — and to let anyone who so wishes take of its fruit, as it is written, But during the seventh year, you must leave [your land] alone and withdraw from it (Shemos 23:11).
Among the roots of the mitzvah is the aim that we set in our hearts, and make the strongest impression on our minds, the truth that God created the world out of nothingness, for It was during six days that Hashem made the heaven and the earth (ibid. 20:6), but on the seventh day, when He did not create anything, he “rested,” as He put it about Himself (ibid.). And in order to banish the thought that the world has always existed, as the heretics believe and claim in order to undermine the entire Torah, we are enjoined to count all our time-frames — day by day and year by year — around this idea. So we are to count six years and then rest on the seventh, just as we count six days of work and then have the seventh as a day of rest.
In addition to the mitzvah to cease from work in the field during the seventh year, Hashem commanded us to let go of anything the earth produces during this year. This is in order for Man to remember that the earth that gives him the fruit year in and year out, does not do so with any sort of inherent strength or mechanism but only because it has a Master over it and over its owner. When He wishes so, He orders that we give up our ownership over the fruit.
Another benefit gained from this mitzvah is that it helps people acquire the trait of selfless sharing. For there is no greater type of generous person than the one who gives without any expectation of receiving anything in return. Here, too, the person relinquishes everything in his field to the poor without receiving anything in return.
Yet another benefit gained from this, is that it helps the person build his trust in Hashem, may He be blessed, because anyone who has the courage to relinquish to the world all of his crops and his ancestral portion, boosts his trust. He thereby trains himself and his family for all days to not let the trait of stinginess or lack of trust in God overpower him.
This mitzvah applies to men and women in the Land of Israel alone, when the Jewish people dwell there. By Rabbinic decree it also applies nowadays, even though not all of Jewry are on their Land, but [even nowadays it] only applies in the Land of Israel.
One who transgresses this and locked his vineyard or field during the seventh year, or who gathered his produce into his home, violated this positive commandment.