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Waiting Three Years


Kedoshim (Leviticus 19-20 )


“When you come to the land and plant any food tree, you shall treat its fruit as orlah; for three years it shall be orlah to you, they shall not be eaten.”1

In Kedoshim, the Torah introduces the mitzvah of orlah, whereby it is forbidden to eat any fruit that grows in the first three years of the tree.2 The Midrash makes an illuminating point about the Mitzva:

“Who will reveal the dust from your eyes, Adam HaRishon (the first man), that you could not keep to your command for one hour, behold, your children wait for the orlah for three years.”3

The commentaries explain that Adam was commanded not to eat from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil on the ninth hour, and he sinned by eating from it on the tenth hour, hence he only lasted one hour without sinning. In contrast, the Jewish people wait three years before eating from the fruit of a tree. In comparing the waiting of Adam to the waiting for fruit, we learn that one possible rationale for the Mitzva of Orlah is to develop the ability of patience.

The Kabbalistic commentaries develop the comparison between Adam HaRishon’s sin and the mitzvah of orlah by pointing out that Adam HaRishon was not permanently forbidden from eating from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, rather he just had to wait until Shabbos. Indeed, they add that, according to the opinion that the Tree was a Grape tree, he was supposed to use its wine to make Kiddush on Shabbat. His sin was that he was too hasty and a rectification for that is for his descendants to wait before they partake of the fruit that they grow.

A student of the great Kabbalist, the Arizal, extends this idea by pointing out that Adam only had to wait three hours until the twelfth hour before he could eat from the Tree. This is why orlah is prohibited for the first three years: Since the first man could not wait three hours, the Torah gives us a lesson in waiting – three years to atone for Adam’s sin of not waiting three hours.4

Rabbi Yissachar Frand adds, based on Rabbinic sources, that immediately following the mitzvah of orlah, the Torah states, ‘loh stchlu al hadam’ which literally means, “do not eat on the blood.”5 The Sages derive a number of mitzvot from these words,6 one being not to eat from the animal until its blood is completely drained out. Rabbi Frand explains that this mitzvah is addressed to people who do not even have the patience to wait for all the blood to drain out – the Torah tells them to slow down and wait until the proper time. This is the same lesson derived from the Midrash about orlah – that it is fine to eat fruit, but only at the correct time.

For most people, there is no temptation to eat the meat of animal before its blood has been fully drained, nor is the mitzvah of orlah so common for people who do not grow their own fruit. However, the messages of these Mitzvot are still highly relevant. They teach that a person cannot always get what he wants as soon as he wants it, and that striving to get it before its proper time can be very destructive. This can apply in many areas in life – one common example is for a person looking to get married – there is the risk that he will make misjudgements in his impatience to get married. For others it can relate to waiting to find a job, or for an improvement in one’s financial situation. In all these areas there can be the temptation to get frustrated or to try to speed up the process in a way that could be counter-productive.

Another very common problem with regard to patience is the temptation to react to situations hastily without undue thought and consideration. This is particularly relevant in today’s world of technological advances, where one can communicate or respond immediately via email or other media of technology. In earlier times, the main way of communicating by distance was by sending a letter which was a relatively lengthy process where the person had considerable time to rethink what he wrote. Nowadays, one can respond on an email immediately and there is a great risk of something being sent without enough consideration.

Rabbi Yisroel Belsky told Rabbi Daniel Travis: "If you have to send an important letter (or email), never send it on the day that you first write it. Everything important in life needs linat lailah”, (leaving overnight), meaning that a person needs to sleep on it. Rav Travis testifies that there were many times when he sat down at the computer and wrote an email that he didn’t send right then because Rabbi Belsky told him to wait. He adds that had he sent those emails, the consequences could have easily been disastrous. Instead, he now writes a first draft and returns to it the following day to see if it can be sent as it is – almost always it needs to be rewritten.7

Many relationships have been damaged by hasty responses – we learn from the mitzvah of orlah that sometimes it is better to wait before acting.

  1. Vayikra, 19:23.
  2. In the time of the Temple, the fruit that grows in the fourth year is to be taken to Jerusalem and eaten there. Only in the fifth year and beyond is the owner allowed to eat the fruit himself at home.
  3. Vayikra Rabbah 25:2.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Vayikra, 19:26.
  6. See Torah Temimah, Vayikra, 19:26, for an outline of these Mitzvot.
  7. Rabbi Nachman Seltzer, ’Encounters with Greatness’, pp.318-319.

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