Acharei Mos-Kedoshim 5777

The forbidden fruit[1]

וכי-תבאו אל-הארץ ונטעתם כל-עץ מאכל וערלתם ערלתו את-פריו שלש שנים יהיה לכם ערלים לא יאכל; ובשנה הרעיעת יהיה כל-פריו קדש הלולים ליקוק
When you come to the land and plant any fruit-bearing tree, you’ll consider its fruit orlah, it will be orlah for three years and not be eaten. And in the fourth year all of its fruit will be holy, a praise[2] to Hashem[3]

This week’s parsha introduces a unique prohibition to fruit trees. The fruit they bear cannot be eaten by Jews for the first three years after it is planted. This prohibition is known as orlah, related to the Hebrew word for blockage[4], meaning the fruit is blocked from consumption[5]. During the entire fourth year of the tree all of its fruit is considered holy, and must be brought to Jerusalem for consumption[6]. Afterwards, the fruit may be eaten and treated normally. What are the reasons for this mitzvah? What is its purpose, and what is it trying to teach us?

Rambam suggests[7], similar to how he explains other mitzvos[8], that the mitzvah was to curb idol worship and practices of the occult. It used to be that people would attempt various forms of sorcery and witchcraft when they would plant their trees in an attempt to ensure the fruit grew more quickly. They would then give of these fruits to their idols as a show of thanks. The Torah prohibited eating the fruit of trees within their first three years of planting, so that there would no longer any reason to make such attempts[9].  Ramban has a different approach[10]. He writes that Hashem wants us to honor Him with the first of our fruit, not eating from them until we bring them to Jerusalem, His resting place. The problem is that most fruit trees during their first three years of growth don’t produce their best in terms of quality and quantity. Therefore, there is a three-year waiting period until the fruits are fit for honoring our Creator. Once that occurs they can be brought to Jerusalem and enjoyed there[11].

The Midrash offers a third approach[12]. The verse following the one of orlah says: לא תאכלו על-הדם, literally don’t eat on the blood[13]. There are various approaches to what this verse means[14], but one explanation is that it is prohibited to eat a slaughtered animal until all of its blood has been drained. The Midrash asks: why is this verse juxtaposed next to the verse about orlah? It is as if Hashem is telling the Jewish people: I ask of you to wait three years until you eat from your fruit, which you have no problem fulfilling, and you can’t even wait before eating from your animals? The message of the mitzvah of orlah is very simple: to have patience. Sometimes we want things right away, and can’t wait to get them. If there is a tasty looking animal in front of me, or a delicious fruit, it’s hard to resist. However, the Torah is telling us to slow down, don’t rush. Patience is a virtue.

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh[15] connects[16] the prohibition of orlah to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Adam was forbidden from eating from the Tree of Knowledge, and failed to keep this commandment. He writes that the prohibition from eating that fruit was like the prohibition of orlah. However, the comparison doesn’t seem justified. The fruit of orlah eventually becomes permissible, unlike fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. The Ohr HaChaim explains that this is not so, it does become permissible. Adam was created on Friday, and the prohibition was only until Shabbos. Once Shabbos came, the fruit would have become permissible to eat[17]. So in reality, his sin wasn’t just eating from something that was forbidden. It was also having a lack of patience! Had he waited only until nightfall, the fruits would have been permissible. World history was affected forever from a small act of impatience.

The Kabbalists[18] take the connection to orlah one step further, and say that the prohibition of eating from the Tree of Knowledge was given at the ninth hour of the day[19]. That means Adam only had to wait three hours until Shabbos started before he would be allowed to eat from the tree[20]. This is why orlah is specifically a three year prohibition. The Torah is giving us a lesson in patience, waiting three years as an atonement for the three hours Adam didn’t.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on a devar Torah written in 5775 by Rabbi Yissocher Frand from Ner Yisroel, Baltimore. It can be read here:

[2] From the world הלל (Ibn Ezra to Leviticus 19:24) or שבח (Targum Onkelos ad. loc.). Rashi ad. loc. brings both explanations

[3] Leviticus 19:23-24

[4] The word ערלה is the same one used to describe foreskin, which blocks the male organ

[5] Rashi to verse 23; Targum Onkelos ad. loc. translates it as “distance”, that you should distance yourself from it

[6] Rashi to verse 24, citing Toras Kohanim 19:66

[7] Moreh Nevuchim 3:37 s.v. וממה שזכרוהו

[8] Examples include the obligation to bring offerings, the prohibitions against witchcraft, and rounding the corners of our heads. See the rest of the chapter loc. cit.

[9] He finishes by saying that after three years, most fruit trees in the land of Israel bear fruit at a normal pace, without the need for any form of intervention

[10] Leviticus 19:23

[11] He adds a second reason for the mitzvah: Most fruits in their first three years aren’t healthy for the body, similar to how he understands the prohibition against non-kosher animals

[12] Vayikra Rabbah 25:8

[13] Leviticus 19:26

[14] See Sanhedrin 63a

[15] To Leviticus 19:26

[16] Basing himself on Bereishis Rabbah 21:7

[17] He adds that Adam would have made kiddush on the fruit, according to the opinion who holds that the fruit was grapes. See Berachos 40a

[18] Rabbi Frand cites one of the students of the Arizal without explaining where he is quoting from

[19] Sanhedrin 38b; Yalkut Shimoni § 15

[20] This strengthens the obvious question, why the rush? Why couldn’t Adam wait three hours? Was the tree really that enticing? See Rabbi Frand’s original devar Torah where he answers this question with an interesting approach

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