Waiting for Fruit


In order to know where you are going, you have to first know from where you came. This is why stories are so important within families; why shared history and the rich weave of cultures and traditions all matter so much.

The timeless stories in Judaism are those found within the Torah. And they are fresh in every generation because these stories are not merely a means to perpetuate a culture, but they also serve as the spur to continued growth and development. The Torah constantly reminds us of being slaves in Egypt (to empathize with strangers, to remember our debt to G-d, and for many other reasons besides), as well as telling us of many other commandments that are designed to strengthen the bonds between people, and between man and G-d.

Gratitude is a key part of Judaism and the Torah itself. The reminder to choose to be grateful is found in numerous sacrifices, in the celebrations of the festivals, in acknowledging that our creative gifts, from first born to first fruits; all truly from G-d and not merely inevitable biological products of nature. Reaffirming G-d’s role in our lives helps us understand what our own roles are in this world, as partners in completing the world.

This helps us understand a commandment known as orloh, the idea that fruit from new trees is forbidden for the first three years. On the fourth year it can be eaten, but only as something holy, “an offering of praise to G-d.” And from the fifth year onward, it can be eaten freely. (Lev. 19:23-25)

Why? What is it about fruit trees that specifically require a waiting period? And why is the waiting period three years, with a fourth year dedicated to holiness?

Part of the answer is given by Joseph Cox, who points out that fruit are the only food we have that are complete as they are, ready to be eaten – and are indeed most nutritious – fresh off the branch. Everything else; from bread to wine to meat to vegetables requires effort from mankind in order to grow or improve them before they are acceptable to eat. But tree fruits are pure gifts; not even requiring cultivation or weeding, and they taste best just as they are.

Every other kind of food, then, is something that we create in partnership with G-d. And so we gain an ownership stake it when we invest in it, meaning that there is no waiting period to eat an animal or a potato. But fruit requires no human investment; it is a gift. And when we receive gifts, we should show our gratitude; in this case, demonstrated through delayed gratification. (We say blessings before we eat food for similar reasons. And the commandment to not cut down fruit trees (Deut. 20:19) is doubtless connected as well.)

But why is there a period of three years, and then a fourth year of holiness?

I think the answer is that the Torah is connecting this commandment in Leviticus back to the creation as described in Genesis – the same source from which we get the commandment for the Sabbath. Trees were made on the third day, and mankind was created on the sixth day. Since we do not invest in fruit, we do not eat them on the day or year we first get them; instead, we wait.

The following day is, of course, the first Sabbath, the first time the word “holy” is mentioned in the Torah. That is the best day to enjoy gifts, new things that are given to us from others. We are commanded to make the Sabbath day holy, and so it is the first day or year in which we are allowed to eat the fruit from new trees.

The Sabbath is itself a pure gift from Hashem; we make it ours by making it holy. Similarly, once the tree has lived its fourth, the sabbatical year, and we have treated its fruit as holy for that year, then we have made it ours – and it becomes a treasured possession for all time. Sanctifying the fruit of a tree is thus analogous to creating bread or wine; mankind’s dedication is itself a form of investment, making the fruit something we are free to consume henceforth.

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  1. Arahant Member

    Very interesting.

    • #1
  2. iWe Coolidge

    A friend of mine wrote:

    You see that in [Genesis]. We ate the fruits of the Edenic trees. No effort. And after expulsion, we needed effort.

    Or perhaps: we have to show the gratitude and patience that we did not demonstrate when we first ate fruit.


    • #2
  3. SkipSul Inactive

    I like your tag, but will he bite?

    • #3
  4. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad

     We pruned a plum tree on our property last week and stuck some of the shoots in the ground around our chicken yard. With all the natural fertilizer they are doing great and seem to be continuing to blossom. 

    I love fruit trees. 

    • #4
  5. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    We pruned a plum tree on our property last week and stuck some of the shoots in the ground around our chicken yard. With all the natural fertilizer they are doing great and seem to be continuing to blossom.

    I love fruit trees.

    Update: Here are some images of the plum trees this morning. I haven’t watered or done anything other than stick them in the ground. The Lord has watered them well, though.


    • #5
  6. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad

     And more on the theme of fruit, here are some baby peaches that I hope to be eating in August or September…

    and some baby blueberries:

    • #6
  7. SkipSul Inactive

    Grapes growing too.

    • #7

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