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By: Mrs Sally Mayer

In Parashat Kedoshim, we read of the mitvza of Orlah: when we plant a fruit tree, we may not eat its fruits for the first three years. In the fourth year, the fruits are “kodesh hilulim laHashem,” and they must be eaten in Yerushalayim, with halakhot similar to those governing the fruits of Ma’aser Sheini -- one may redeem their holiness onto coins and, in the time of the Mikdash, bring the coins to Yerushalayim to purchase food. What is the reason for this mitzvah? Why must we leave three years’ worth of fruit untouched, bring the fourth year’s fruits to Yerushalayim, and only in the fifth year use the fruits as we wish?


The Ramban writes that this mitzvah is similar to that of Bikurim: we must bring the first fruits of each tree up to Hashem, to His holy city, just like we bring the first fruits of the seven minim of Eretz Yisrael up to Yerushalayim on Shavuot.  The Ramban explains that since the first three years’ fruits are not very beautiful, we wait for the fourth year, when the fruits are worthy to present to Hashem.  What results is a cycle of three years of waiting, of preparation, of tending to the tree and helping it to grow (except, of course, during shemitah), followed by a fourth year which is special and holy. This structure is similar to that of shemitah, in which we work the land for six years, followed by a year which is special and holy, and its fruits have a special status as well. It also reminds us of the time of sefirat ha-omer: we count 49 days, until we reach the 50th day, Shavuot, which is set aside for Hashem.  Orlah is a time of preparation – it is premature to eat the fruits, or even to bring them to Hashem, but we must create the circumstances in which the fruits will flourish, so that we can offer them to Hashem when they are ready. Similarly, we must use the time of sefirat ha-omer to prepare to accept the Torah, by redoubling our efforts to learn Torah and to observe mitzvot.  The Torah speaks of orlah in another sense as well: “umaltem et orlat levavkhem” (Devarim10) –Hashem commands us to remove the orlah from our hearts, that which prevents us from listening to the Torah and keeping the mitzvot. If we use the time of the omer to remove the orlat halev, then we will be ready, be-ezrat Hashem, to bring the fruits of our labor to Hashem on Shavuot, ready to accept His Torah again.





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