Bo: Orlah

hero image
Wait Time Sign
29 Jan 2009

The particular year a fruit belongs to is relevant for various agricultural laws. For tithes, since it is forbidden to tithe from the fruits of one year on those of another, and also because the second tithe varies between maaser sheni and maaser ani depending on the year. For shemitta, only fruits belonging to the seventh year have sanctity.

For orlah, the time of formation of the fruit determines if it belongs to the forbidden third year, the sanctified fourth year, or the permissible fifth year. (Vayikra 19:23-25.) And while Tu B’Shevat is often considered a holiday specially of Eretz Yisrael, it is relevant abroad as well since orla applies everywhere – though its laws are much more lenient outside of the Land of Israel. (SA YD 294:7-10.)

Recalling recent shiurim which connected mitzvot relating to earth (burial, removing shoes) to the sin and curse of the earth during the first week of creation, we will not be surprised that the Midrash and the teachings of Chasidut connect this mitzva, relating to fruit trees, to the sin of Adam and Chava in eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The Midrash Rabba teaches: “Who will remove the earth from your eyes, Adam? You were unable to uphold your commandment even for a single hour, and yet your sons wait three years for orla!” The expression “Who will remove the earth from your eyes” means “If only you could be here to see”. It implies that the person addressed, while he may have erred, can most of all be proud that his descendants or students have surpassed him. (See the mishna at the beginning of chapter 5 of Sota.) The Midrash is suggesting that our forbearance in waiting for the years of orla to pass is a rectification and an atonement for the haste of our original forebears in succumbing to temptation.

Why is the waiting period precisely three years, followed by one year of sanctification? Rav Nachman of Breslav connects this also to the time of creation. When the serpent succeeds in drawing Chava’s attention to the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, the Torah tells us that she noticed three different temptations: “And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat; and that it was desirable to the eyes; and the tree was coveted for wisdom. And she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave to her man and he ate.” (Bereshit 3:6)

Rav Nachman taught that these three temptations correspond to the three main temptations we face in everyday life: for excess in food, in intimate relations, and in money. “The tree was good to eat” has a clear connection to the desire for food. “Desirable to the eyes” recalls the urge for intimate relations both because of the word “desire” (taava) which relates especially to this impulse, and because of the connection to the eyes, which are the panderer for immodest desires. (Midrash Rabba on Bamidbar 15:39.) “Coveted for wisdom” suggests the desire for wealth, because the word for coveted, nechmad, is the same root used in the commandment “Though shalt not covet” which relates primarily to property.

The message is that when we have an opportunity to enjoy HaShem’s bounty in the form of some bodily enjoyment, we shouldn’t be hasty. We should step back and wait until we are sure they have no admixture of our common base desires.

However, it is not enough to overcome the three kinds of temptation, ridding ourselves of low urges. It is necessary afterwards to actively elevate our enjoyments to help us in the service of HaShem. This is symbolized by the neta revai, the fruits of the fourth year which are sanctified and need to be brought up to the holy city of Yerushalaim. (Based on Likutei Halakhot, Orla 4:2.)

Rabbi Meir is in the process of writing a monumental companion to Kitzur Shulchan Aruch which beautifully presents the meanings in our mitzvot and halacha. He is also directing the Jewish Business Response Forum at the Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility, Jerusalem College of Technology – Machon Lev. The forum aims to help business people run their firms according to Torah, by obtaining prompt, relevant responses to their questions.

Rabbi Asher Meir is the author of the book Meaning in Mitzvot, distributed by Feldheim. The book provides insights into the inner meaning of our daily practices, following the order of the 221 chapters of the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.