Mr. Schmidt received the shul schedule for Rosh Hashanah 5782.
“Really?!” he exclaimed aloud. “That’s very interesting!”
“What does it say?” asked Mrs. Schmidt.
“On the second day of Rosh Hashanah,” replied Mr. Schmidt, “Rabbi Dayan will give a shiur on the topic: ‘Lessons of Shemittah.‘”
“That is interesting,” acknowledged his wife. “I didn’t even realize that we’re entering a shemittah year. But why do you sound so surprised?”
“I’m surprised that Rabbi Dayan chose to speak about shemittah,” replied Mr. Schmidt.
“Why?” asked Mrs. Schmidt. “What’s wrong?”
“First, why would Rabbi Dayan address shemittah, when it’s relevant primarily for those who live in Israel?” replied Mr. Schmidt. “Second, why discuss Shemittah on Rosh Hashanah? There are so many more fundamental issues to discuss – shofar, malchus, Hashem or teshuvah. Third, Rabbi Dayan generally talks about a topic related to monetary law.”
“I assume that if he chooses to speak about shemittah, Rabbi Dayan feels that there is an important Rosh Hashanah message to all,” responded Mrs. Schmidt.
“I guess you’re right,” said her husband.
On Rosh Hashanah, Mr. Schmidt joined the crowd in shul to hear Rabbi Dayan’s shiur.
“Rosh Hashanah 5782 ushers in a shemittah year,” began Rabbi Dayan. “Many of you may be wondering: What is the connection of shemittah to Rosh Hashanah?”
“The shemittah year affords us an opportunity to consider our outlook on life,” continued Rabbi Dayan, “particularly regarding our money and possessions, whether we are privileged to observe shemittah in practice, or not.
“First, the Torah teaches that the Land should rest as a sabbatical for Hashem. Just as the Jewish people – the holy nation – rest and refrain from work every seventh day to remind us that G-d created the world, so, too, Israel – the Holy Land – rests on this seventh year. This reminds us that G-d is Master of the World and we should not take the earth’s produce for granted” (Sefer Hachinuch #84).
“Second, the Torah mandates that the fruit of the shemittah year should be hefker. This hefker applies to vegetables picked after Rosh Hashanah or fruit that begins growing after Tu B’Shvat 5782. The field itself is also hefker vis-à-vis the produce, so the owner must allow people free access to collect the produce” (Rambam, Hil. Shemittah 4:24).
“There is a well-known dispute, dating back 500 years to Rav Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch, as to whether the fruits become hefker automatically, by G-d’s decree, regardless of the owner’s intent, or whether the owner is commanded to make them hefker. Either way, this reminds us that our sustenance comes from the Hand of Hashem, so that we should generously share with others what He bestows on us and strengthen our faith and trust in Him” (Responsa Mabit 1:11; Avkas Rochel #24; Minchas Chinuch 84:1).
“Third, the shemittah year cancels outstanding loans that are past due, although nowadays, we usually write a pruzbul to allow collecting loans past shemittah, based on an enactment of Hillel. The loans are not canceled until the end of the shemittah year, and therefore the common practice is to write the pruzbul toward the end of shemittah. However, some maintain that while the borrower is still responsible to pay during the shemitah year, the owner should not demand the loan without a pruzbul from the end of the sixth year. [We discussed this seven years ago, in “Preliminary Pruzbul”]” (C.M. 67:30-31; Pischei Teshuvah 67:5).
“The cancellation of loans teaches us that our money is not truly ours, but granted to us by G-d,” concluded Rabbi Dayan. “He expects us to act charitably with those less fortunate than we are. Furthermore, it teaches us, all the more so, to be careful not to covet, steal or cheat others” (Sefer Hachinuch #477).
The Shemittah year provides us an opportunity to consider our outlook toward money, to strengthen our faith in Hashem as Master of the World Who sustains us, and to improve our concern and care about others.