Masechet Orlah deals predominantly with the laws pertaining to fruit that grew in the first three years since a tree was planted. The word “orlah” means sealed up or closed off and fruits that have the din of orlah must be destroyed as it is forbidden derive any benefit from them. This is learnt from a pasuk in Vayikra (): “three years it shall be forbidden to you; it shall not be eaten”.
However, fruit does not automatically become permitted in the fourth year^1^. Although the laws of orlah only deal with the fruit that grows in the first three years, any fruit that grows in the fourth year fruit is called neta reva’i – the fruit of the fourth year – and, like ma’aser sheni, must be taken to and eaten there.
Many opinions have been offered as to what the reason is for the commandments of orlah and neta reva’i. The Ramban, in his commentary on the Torah (Vayikra ) writes that the reason can be attributed to the simple agricultural nature of new fruit trees. According to the Ramban, most new fruit trees will not produce any fruit at all until the fourth year. However, what would happen if a fruit tree did in-fact produce some fruit?
The answer to this question is two fold. Firstly, we bring the fruit of the fourth year (neta reva’i) to in order to bring honour to Hashem and any fruit that grows beforehand is substandard and of poor quality – not the type of food that would bring honour to Hashem. Furthermore, the Ramban adds that a health consideration is behind this mitzvah. The fruit that grows in the first three years is harmful to the body and therefore must not be eaten.
Other commentators explain that the orlah comes to teach us a moral lesson. By fulfilling the mitzvah of orlah we are training ourselves in patience and self-control; both of which are virtuous qualities that are vital for the proper fulfilment of numerous mitzvot and are essential parts of life.
Finally, the Sefer HaChinnuch writes, in his explanation of neta reva’i (commandment 247), that after harvesting such beautiful fruits a person will be “stirred to praise the Eternal L-rd”. Furthermore, when Hashem sees that we dedicate first fruits of a new tree to Him, “the grace of Hashem and His blessing will rest upon us and our fruits will be blessed for Hashem delights in good for His human beings.”
The Sefer HaChinnuch adds that due to the fact that a person is not only commanded to go to Jerusalem three times a year but also bring his first fruits, fruits of the fourth year, ma’aser sheni foods and animal tithes to Jerusalem, he will either make his home or the home of some of his children in that location. Therefore since is where the instructors of Torah and the main core of wisdom are found, he or his children will dedicate their lives to the study of Torah. We see from here that according to the Sefer HaChinnuch, the ultimate message of orlah is to focus on and learn Torah.
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