The Critical Lesson of Orlah

V’ki savo’u el ha’aretz u’netatem kol eitz maachal v’araltem orlaso es piryo shalosh shanim yih’yeh lachem areilim lo yei’achel (Vayikra 19:23)

The Torah forbids the consumption of orlah, the fruits produced by a newly planted tree for the first three years. Additionally, the fruits that grow during the fourth year have special sanctity and must be taken to Yerushalayim and eaten there. Only from the fifth year onward is the owner free to eat his fruit at home. In explaining the reason for the mitzvah of orlah, the Ramban writes that, typically, the fruits produced by a new tree will be of inferior quality, as it takes time for a tree to be able to yield strong and healthy fruits. Because Hashem wants the first fruits that are eaten in Yerushalayim to be tasty and robust, He forbade the produce of the first three years, so that those taken to Yerushalayim in the following year will be hearty and succulent; this would not be the case for the fruits that grow during the tree’s first year.

However, the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 10:1) gives an alternative rationale for the mitzvah of orlah, based on its juxtaposition to the commandment of (19:26) lo sochlu al ha’dam — do not eat on the blood. Rashi writes that this is a prohibition against eating from an animal that was ritually slaughtered before its blood has completely drained out. The Midrash explains that the mitzvah of orlah is intended to teach us the invaluable quality of patience.

Human nature is to seek immediate gratification; after slaughtering an animal, many people want to eat the tantalizing meat immediately. To help us overcome this propensity, Hashem specifically commands us to slow down and wait until the blood has completely emptied out. The Torah reinforces this lesson by juxtaposing the mitzvah of orlah, which requires us to wait three entire years until the fruit of a newly-planted tree may be consumed, to the prohibition of eating on the blood.

Rabbi Yissocher Frand points out an apparent contradiction in Hashem’s instructions to Adam. He first told Adam that he was allowed to eat from every tree in the garden, only to then forbid him to eat from the Tree of Knowledge (Bereishis 2:16–17). How can this prohibition be reconciled with Hashem’s explicit permission to eat from any tree in the garden, including the Tree of Knowledge?

The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh (Vayikra 19:26) explains that Adam was in fact permitted to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, but with the stipulation that he was required to wait until Shabbos to do so. In fact, had Adam waited, he would have made Kiddush from wine made from the grapes of the Tree of Knowledge. In other words, Adam’s sin was not that he ate fruit from a tree that was completely off-limits to him, but rather that he didn’t wait to consume it in the appropriate time, a mistake whose consequences continue to afflict us today.

Moreover, Rabbi Frand adds that one of the Arizal’s students points out that the temporary prohibition against eating from the Tree of Knowledge was given to Adam in the ninth hour on Friday (Sanhedrin 38b), the day he was created. Had Adam patiently waited a mere three hours, he would have been permitted to consume its fruits; unfortunately, he sinned and ate from them prematurely a mere one hour later. As a rectification of Adam’s inability to wait for three hours, the Torah gives us the mitzvah of orlah, which requires us to wait patiently for three full years before we may consume the fruits of any newly planted tree. Orlah teaches us that not everything must be used or enjoyed just because it seems available and we are convinced that we must have it immediately, but rather davar b’ito mah tov — everything is good in its proper time (Mishlei 15:23).

Q: A person who causes another Jew to violate any of the commandments, such as giving wine to a nazir to drink, transgresses the prohibition (19:14) against placing a stumbling block before the blind. Is it forbidden to invite a non-religious Jew to come for a Shabbos or Yom Tov meal, as doing so will cause him to sin by driving back and forth?

A: Harav Moshe Sternbuch rules that if the host’s intention is solely for the benefit of his guest, in the hopes of inspiring him to become more interested in Judaism, it is permissible to invite him even if he will drive to the meal.

He explains that the prohibition against doing an action that will cause somebody to sin is only if one’s intention is to cause him harm, similar to placing a stumbling block in front of a blind person. However, just as nobody would view a surgeon who operates on a person to save his life as wounding or damaging him, so, too, if the host’s intention is to help his guest spiritually, it would be permissible — with two caveats. First, one may not command the guest to drive and should in fact make it clear that his driving causes the host pain. Second, there is a separate concern of publicly desecrating Hashem’s name if a guest drives up to his house on Shabbos, so he should insist that the guest park at a distance so that it won’t be clear that he is specifically coming to visit the host.

However, Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, strongly disagrees and argues that if the guest lives at a distance which will cause him to drive, the invitation of the host is tantamount to commanding him to drive, and instead of educating him to observe Shabbos, he is teaching him to desecrate Shabbos. He further adds that if the guest lives so far away that it would be impossible for him to walk to the host’s house, inviting him for a Shabbos meal would transgress not only the prohibition against placing a stumbling block before the blind, but would be considered in the even more severe category of an inciter to sin (see Devarim 13:7–12). For all questions of practical halachah, a Rav familiar with the situation should be consulted.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.