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(Torah Portion Acharai Mos/Kedoshim) A Three Year Wait!

One of the many Mitzvos given to us in the Portions we read this week is the prohibition of eating fruit from a tree during the first three years after it was planted. This law is called Orlah and applies both to produce grown in and outside of the Land of Israel.

The law of Orlah did not begin until the Jews entered into the Land of Israel. Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin o.b.m. explains: The Medrash relates that when the Jews were in the desert they planted figs, dates, pomegranates and vineyards and they immediately produced fruit. This was because the seeds were nourished from the waters of the miraculous well of Miriam.

Accordingly we observe something very interesting; when the well stopped upon Miriam’s death, the Torah relates that the Jews began to complain that the desert is not a place for figs, dates, vineyards and pomegranates. Obviously, up to this point, after almost 40 years of sojourning in the desert they had figs, vineyards and pomegranates. It was only when Miriam died and the well went dry did it no longer nourish their trees, which led to their complaints.

During their travels through the desert, the Jews were not given the laws of Orlah, since they did not necessarily remain in one location for a long period of time, and if they would have to wait three years to eat the fruit, they would be unable to consume the fruit. Another opinion offered is that since the expeditious growth of these trees was miraculous, the fruit were not subject to the laws of Orlah.

We are currently within the 49 days spanning the Holiday of Passover until Shavuos. These days are called the Omer Count. On the 33rd day of the count we mark the Yahrtzait of the holy Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai – the author of Kaballah. During Rebbe Shimon’s lifetime there was a harsh decree by the ruling Romans forbidding the study of Torah. Rebbe Shimon defied the decree and was pursued by the Romans. He hid in a cave with his son Reb Elozar for thirteen years where they studied Torah. At that time it was revealed to them the secrets of the Torah.

A carob tree grew at the opening of the cave providing them with food, and a stream of water flowed by providing them with water. The question raised is how were they able to eat from the carob tree? After all it should have been subject to the laws of Orlah and been forbidden during it first years.

The same answer offered in regards to the trees in the desert can be applied. Since the carob tree grew miraculously, it was not subject to the rules of Orlah. (In fact some say it may have come from the Garden of Eden.)

In the beginning of creation G-d commanded Adam that he could eat fruit from all the trees in the Garden of Eden except for fruits from the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life.

The permitted trees provided Adam and Chavah with physical sustenance and the Trees of Knowledge and Life provided them with spiritual sustenance, however, they were commanded not to eat from these trees. Rather, their spiritual sustenance was to be provided by observing the trees and keeping G-d’s commandment to refrain from eating from them.

Our Sages tell us that there is an opinion that the Tree of Knowledge was a vine and had they waited a few hours and abstained from eating its fruit – the vine would have become permitted to them with the onset of the first Shabbos and Adam would have recited Kiddush from its wine.

As we know, Adam and Chavah sinned and ate from the Tree of Knowledge and were expelled from the Garden on their first day of existence.

The Torah relates that after Adam and Chavah were expelled from the Garden they had to work, plant and cultivate the land. Only then would they be able to eat the grains and vegetation. However as far as trees are concerned once they are planted they bear fruit continuously without needing much attention for many years. Trees are similar to Adam and Chavah’s existence in the Garden – where all their needs were readily provided for them.

Just as Adam and Chavah were required to abstain from eating from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge for a set amount of time, so too, we have a law to abstain from eating the fruit during the first three years after a fruit tree is planted. When we abide by abstaining from its fruit, through our restraint we offer Tikun – a remedy – to Adam’s original sin.

Just as G-d promises great rewards and blessings to those who show amazing courage in observing the Sabbatical Shemitta year in the Land of Israel by leaving their fields fallow and ownerless – as it is being observed this year by many thousands of farmers – so too, the Torah promises that one who follows the laws of Orlah will be met with great blessings from G-d!

Wishing you a most enjoyable and uplifting Shabbat!
Rabbi Dovid and Malki Saks and family