The decree concerning the Shemittah year, described at the beginning of this Parsha, could be considered by some to be a very strict and harsh set of rules or restrictions. After all, the Jews were being told that they could not work on their fields for an entire year, that the wild-grown produce would not belong to any one person, but would rather belong to anybody, regardless of where it grows, and that the entire land as well as the things that it produced would be free and under the ownership of Hashem. For people living in a society where agriculture was the main means of earning a livelihood, being told not to work the land for an entire year represented a difficult challenge. We must therefore try to understand the reason behind this.
One question often posed is why the number seven was chosen to be the number of years in the Shemittah cycle; why is Shemittah observed in year seven specifically? Interestingly, we find that the number seven is significant elsewhere, as it appears in the Torah and our tradition very often. Paroh dreamed of the seven fat cows and the seven thin cows. Yehoshua circled the walls of Yericho seven times. Some of the Korbanos required that the Kohein dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle seven times. At a wedding, the Chosson and Kalloh celebrate with seven blessings, and a mourner does not participate in public activity for seven days. But the prime example of the significance of the number seven is Shabbos, which occurs on the seventh day of every week. This is based, of course, on the fact that Hashem created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day; because Hashem rested on the seventh day, we do as well. Shemittah is of a similar nature, since the land is allowed to rest, as it remains fallow for the entire year. Shemittah is observed in the seventh year just as Shabbos is observed on the seventh day. One purpose of Shemittah, then, is to benefit the land by allowing it to rest. But we benefit as well from observing the Shemittah year. We are reminded that all of our possessions do not belong to us; they are rather under Hashem's domination. If we forget that we are only temporary guardians over our possessions, then we forget that Hashem is the one who has supreme domination over all of our things. The Shemittah year therefore makes sure that we remember this. Although it is indeed a challenge to observe Shemittah properly, we must realize that it is not identified by a harsh set of random rules, but rather by a set of rules which benefit both the land and us.