In the Torah portion of Vayeilech, we learn that “at the conclusion of the Sabbatical year, at the beginning of the new seven-year cycle,” during the festival of Sukkos, the king read certain sections of the book of Devarim before all the Jewish people, who were to assemble in the Beis HaMikdash.1 This commandment was known as Hakhel.

Why was the mitzvah of Hakhel specifically tied to the “conclusion of the Sabbatical year, at the beginning of the new seven-year cycle” of Shemittah ?

The mitzvah of Shemittah has three components:

a) man2 is to refrain from working the land, and devote himself entirely to Torah study, etc.;

b) the “land is to rest — a Sabbath unto G‑d”;3

c) the fruits that grow during that year are free for all to take — the owner may not keep any, though they otherwise would have belonged to him.4

The general intent of the mitzvah is to demonstrate that “nothing at all belongs solely to man; everything is in the possession of the ‘Master of All.’ ”5 Shemittah thus demonstrates that G‑d is the ultimate master of a person’s fields, and of everything else in the world.6 Specifically, each of the three above-mentioned aspects of Shemittah indicates a particular feature of G‑d’s ownership and mastery:

Man’s refraining from laboring in his fields during Shemittah stresses G‑d’s mastery over man — “I was created to serve my Maker.”7 When a Jew occupies himself with mundane matters, he may forget that he was created to be G‑d’s servant, and that his chief desire should be to cleave to Him.

G‑d therefore decreed that every seventh year the Jew divorce himself from worldly matters and occupy himself wholly with spiritual service. This gives the Jew strength so that during the next six years, when he again busies himself with corporeal affairs, he will remain aware that this labor too is a form of spiritual service; his actions are for the “sake of Heaven,”8 and “in all man’s ways he knows Him.”9

That the “land is to rest” serves to emphasize G‑d’s dominion over the earth as a whole, including the forces of nature. Thus G‑d says:10 “You might ask, ‘What will we eat? We have not planted, nor have we harvested crops.’ I will direct My blessing to you in the sixth year, and the land will produce enough crops for three years.”

The realization that crops grow in a manner that defies nature when G‑d so desires helps us realize that during the six years when we sow and reap, the true reason for the growth of our crops is G‑d’s blessing.11

The third aspect, that the produce of Shemittah is free for the taking, demonstrates that G‑d is master of man’s possessions. Even after G‑d blesses a Jew with possessions, they remain His as well. This leads us to employ all our possessions in the service of G‑d, and in fulfillment of His will.

The connection of Shemittah to Hakhel will be understood accordingly. The highlights of the Hakhel reading consisted of12 the sections of Shema and VeHayah Im Shamoah, as well as the sections relating to tithing and the king.

The portion of Shema speaks of the Jews’ spiritual service — accepting the Yoke of Heaven, Torah study and performance of mitzvos. This corresponds to the first aspect of Shemittah — refraining from labor in order to be free to spend time in spiritual pursuits.

The section of VeHayah Im Shamoah says that, when the Jewish people diligently obey G‑d’s commands, He will “give rain for your land at the proper time … and you will gather in your grain….” This emphasizes that G‑d is the master of nature, for which reason the Jews’ physical survival depends on obeying His commands. This is wholly similar to the second aspect of Shemittah, which also emphasizes G‑d’s dominion over nature.

The section on tithing teaches that a Jew’s possessions are merely given to him in trust. Thus, when G‑d desires it, a person must tithe his fields and give to the poor, etc. This is similar to the concept of the fruits of Shemittah that are free for the taking.

This is also why the reading of Hakhel concludes with a section relating to kings, for the recognition that man, his possessions, and the world as a whole truly belong to G‑d is facilitated by a king, whose main purpose is to instill awareness of the Heavenly Yoke and awe of G‑d in all his subjects.13

Based on Likkutei Sichos , Vol. XXIV, pp. 197-205.