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Shabbat Parashat R'ei | 5768

Ending Things Off Right

Parashat Hashavua

Among the mitzvot discussed in our parasha is one that is soon to apply (albeit, rabbinically): the releasing of debts at the end of Shemitta. “At the end of seven years shall you make a shemitta”(Devarim 15:1). What is the connection between this element of Shemitta and those we know better? 
This mitzva fits in well with Shemitta’s elementof social justice and “leveling the playing field.” Just as all share the fruit that grows that year, so too the creditors can no longer hang the loans over the poor borrowers’ heads. However, the Sifrei learns from our pasuk that the shemitta of loans takes place only at the Shemitta year’s end. Wouldn’t we expect the social justice to be felt during the year? Why is the impact here only after Shemitta is completed? The Rosh (Gittin 4:18) does say that during Shemitta a creditor cannot demand payment, and at the end of the year the debt is permanently absolved. However, almost all authorities say that one can collect loans normally during Shemitta. So what is the logic of the timing?
One possibility is that, in this way, the poor are also challenged by the mitzvot of Shemitta. The poor are likely not to own agricultural land, in regard to which Jews are so challengingly affected during Shemitta. In fact, a poor man gains from Shemitta, as he can partake for free of fruit of another’s field. He might have the idea, with a creditor pressuring him during the final year of loan payment, to use the Shemitta fields to pay off debts. The Torah says, “No.” He can use the produce only for consumption and not for paying off debt (Avoda Zara 62a; Rambam, Shemittin 6:10).
An additional possibility connects us with another mitzva that is chronologically connected to Shemitta in an uncertain manner: hakhel (the mitzva for the entire nation to gather on the Sukkot following Shemitta to read from the Torah). The Ramban speaks at length about deriving the time of one from the other. Let us connect them philosophically, as well. Shemittta is a time of sharing resources within society. At the end of the year the status of creditor and borrower is erased. As these lessons are fresh and the feeling of hope and equality is in the air, the time has come to channel the feelings in a further positive direction. All join together for hakhel as equals before Hashem: equal in rights and in responsibilities to their Maker. If the borrower was noble and fortunate, he succeeded in the previous year (in a permitted manner) to clean the slate by paying his creditor before the Torah cleaned the slate. In any case, by the time the giving of the Torah was relived at hakhel, the excuses of the poor for why they may not be able to “pay their debts” to Hashem were removed.
As our hopefully successful Shemitta experience winds down, we should try to be full of resolve to use our resources and abilities to implement the Torah fully in national unity.
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is dedicated in memory of
Yitzchak Eizik Ben Yehuda Leib a"h,
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