But in the seventh year, there shall be a complete rest for the Land. . . (25:4)
The Torah tells us the strict punishment for working the land of Eretz Yisroel during the shmittah year is exile. There are many sins which are seemingly far worse than transgressing this mitzvah, yet we do not find that the Jewish People are forced to leave Eretz Yisroel if they transgress these sins. What is it about rejecting the mitzvah of shmittah that warrants such a harsh punishment?
The Kli Yakar answers this question with a principle which we can demonstrate through the following parable:
Yet another group have turned up at Mr. Cohen’s beautiful New York apartment to be hosted at one of his famous barbecues. The tables are set, the drinks are out, the food is ready and the music is on. “Feel at home, eat and drink as much as you like, and enjoy yourselves,” he concludes his introduction to the group of young visitors who came on a university trip from America. “Just one thing,” he adds, as the music is lowered once again, “everyone can stick around, but the music has to be off by eleven o’clock. Oh, and the house is out of bounds I’m afraid. But everything you’ll need is right here, and if you need anything else. Just ask.” Soon enough, everyone is having a great time, and as eleven o’clock approaches it seems like the party isn’t going to stop. At exactly eleven o’clock Mr. Cohen turns the music off. But no sooner was the music turned off, someone turned it straight back on again. This was too much for Mr. Cohen. He walked around looking for the tour-leader but he could not be found. Then, in the corner of his eye, Mr. Cohen spotted him — in his house, taking a cake out of his fridge. Furious, Mr. Cohen barged into the house and confronted the tour-leader who just looked straight through him, proceeded to sit in Mr. Cohen’s chair, and relaxed with his feet on the dining room table as he took a bite of cake. Left with no other choice, Mr. Cohen had to push the entire group out of his home.
Similarly, the Kli Yakar answers that Hashem is the sole owner of the land, yet He allows us to benefit from it as guests. Accordingly, if it comes to the point where the guests begin to use the land as they please, ignoring the will of the owner, the logical consequence is that they are removed from the land. In addition, it demonstrates the reality of Who really is in charge of the land.
Although we may not have fields in Eretz Yisroel to fulfil this mitzvah, we can still take the message to heart, since in reality, we are all guests of Hashem in the world and our stay here is to some degree, contingent on how we respect our surroundings and follow the Host’s rules. Perhaps if we behave with this in mind, and show appreciation to Hashem as we would if we were a guest in someone’s home, then we’ll be granted a longer stay and a closer relationship with the Owner.