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Baby patience

Rabbi Ari Enkin

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

Some of the Torah laws in this week’s Torah reading seem to be teaching us the important attribute of patience. In this regard, two seemingly unrelated commandments are actually connected.

This week’s Torah portion (in Israel!) is Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1-20:27). In it, we read about a lesser-known mitzvah (commandment) called “Orlah”. Orlah is the prohibition against eating fruit from a tree that is less than three years old. As it says in the verse, “When you come into the Land and plant trees of fruit, you shall treat its fruit as forbidden; for three years it shall be forbidden to you, they shall not be eaten.” [Leviticus 19:23]

The laws of “Orlah” are observed even nowadays, both in Israel and in the Diaspora.

Our sages acknowledge that this mitzvah is one of the more mysterious ones, and the commentators struggle to understand its meaning and intention. The Rambam (Rabbi Moses Maimonides) suggests that the mitzvah of Orlah is intended to serve as the antidote-of-sorts to an ancient idolatrous ritual. He says that in Biblical times the pagans would hold special blessing ceremonies for newly planted trees so that they would produce plentiful and delicious fruit. The first fruits of these trees were then offered to the “Gods” as a sacrifice. The Rambam suggests that in order to completely distance ourselves completely from idolatry, the Torah commanded us to distance ourselves from the new fruits for three years.

Another approach to this mitzvah comes from the Ramban, Rabbi Moses Nachmanidies (no, he was not related to the Rambam mentioned above!). He says that the mitzvah of Orlah is really a component of another, somewhat similar mitzvah, known as “Neta Rivai.” Neta Rivai is the requirement to bring the first fruits (after the initial three years of Orlah have expired) to Jerusalem and consume them there. It is only in the fifth year that a person may eat the fruits of his tree on his own property (if he lives outside of Jerusalem).

In yet another approach to the mitzvah of Orlah, the Midrash (rabbinic literature) says that the mitzva of Orlah is related to the prohibition against eating blood! We are not permitted to consume an animal until all its blood has been completely removed. How can these two seemingly unrelated mitzvot be connected?

It is explained that the mitzvah of Orlah, the requirement to wait three years before eating fruit, is meant to teach us to be patient. So too, the prohibition against eating an animal until it’s blood has been completely drained also teaches us to be patient. It takes time for meat to be ready for consumption. First the animal must be slaughtered properly, then it must undergo a basic health and safety examination, then it must be drained of its blood, and only then it may be eaten. Things take time. Patience.

And so it is with Orlah. Patience. Just because the tree gave fruit doesn’t mean that you may eat it.

And so the lesson of Orlah (according to the Midrash, at last!), the lesson of not eating an animal that still has blood in it, and the lesson of a host of other mitzvot, are all intended to teach us the attribute of patience. Patient people are usually more enjoyable to be around!

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.

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