The decree of the Shmittah year might have appeared to be a harsh restriction when Hashem first presented it. Hashem commanded us not to work our fields for an entire year. (This was long before farmers learned that leaving a field empty for a year would restore nutrients and minerals, thus improving the field.) The wild produce would not belong by right to any person, and the land was considered to be free, under the ownership of Hashem. What was the basis for this decree? Why does it specifically apply every seventh year? How were the Jews supposed to sustain themselves during the Shmittah year?
The significance of the number seven may provide the key to these answers. This number appears many times in the Torah. Paroh dreamed of seven fat and seven skinny cows, Yehoshua circled the walls of Yericho seven times, and, of course, Shabbat occurs on the seventh day of the week. This is based on the fact that Hashem created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. In acknowledging His creating the world and His control over all aspects of life, we rest on the seventh day. This reminds us that our souls are of a Divine, spiritual nature.
The Shmittah year is of a similar nature. The land is allowed to rest and remained unused. It is an acknowledgment that all our earthly possessions, our land, our homes, our money, and even our personal freedom are ultimately under Hashem’s control. We should never let ourselves be tricked into thinking that we really own and have full control over everything. Whatever we own is given to us temporarily to use for the utmost good. When we have money, we should give a portion of it to Tzedaka. When we own land, we should give some of the produce to the needy. If we forget that we are only temporary guardians of our possessions, we forget that everything is under Hashem’s control. The Shmittah year, in which we give up ownership of the land, reminds us that everything is under Hashem’s control.
How does someone make a living if he lacks possession of his field and its produce? Man must realize that Hashem provides sustenance. The growth of crops in the previous six years is also from Hashem. The Jew is promised that if he is deserving his produce from the sixth year will be enough for the seventh year as well. We should all thank Hashem for our blessings and have belief that He will provide for us.