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Parashat Kedoshim- Understanding the Three Years of Orla

The Torah in Parashat Kedoshim presents the command of Orla, which forbids partaking of the fruit of a tree for the first three years after it is planted.

The Zohar explains that G-d forbade eating a tree’s fruit for the first three years because during this period, the fruit contains Tum’a (impurity). In G-d’s great love for the Jewish People, He wants to keep us away from impurity, and so He commanded us to refrain from fruits produced by a tree during its first three years, when the fruit is "contaminated" by Tum’a.

The Panim Yafot (Rav Pinchas Ha’levi Horowitz, 1731-1805) explains that the source of this impurity is the "sin" committed by the ground at the time of the world’s creation. The Midrash teaches that G-d intended for the ground to produce trees that were flavorful in their entirety – even in the bark. The ground violated G-d’s command by producing trees that bore tasty fruit, but were otherwise tasteless. The Panim Yafot adds that since the ground committed this sin, Adam – who was created from the ground – ended up violating G-d’s command, as well. And for this reason, in response to Adam’s sin of partaking of the forbidden fruit, G-d not only punished mankind, but also cursed the ground ("Arura Ha’adama" – Bereshit 3:17). The ground was cursed for its role in Adam’s sin – for having violated G-d’s command, which resulted in Adam’s violating G-d’s command. Due to this curse, the fruit of new trees are impure, and it takes three years for this impurity to be eliminated. Hence, as the Zohar writes, G-d forbade partaking of a tree’s fruit during its first three years, because the fruit during this time is contaminated as a result of the curse which G-d pronounced on the ground in the wake of Adam’s sin.

This concept has been explained further on the basis of a different passage of the Zohar, explaining the practice to recite each night before Arbit the verse, "Ve’hu Rahum Yechaper Avon Ve’lo Yash’hit…" This verse, the Zohar writes, includes the words "Yash’hit," "Apo" and "Hamato," which refer to three harmful spirits: "Mash’hit," "Af" and "Hema." We recite this verse each night in order to neutralize, as it were, these threatening forces so they do not cause us harm. This verse is not recited on Shabbat, as these forces are powerless on Shabbat. Now the Megaleh Amukot (Rav Natan Nata Shapiro, 1585-1633) writes (in Parashat Vayishlah) that these three forces – "Mash’hit," "Af" and "Hema" – are the spirits that take a person’s life when his time comes to depart from this world. It emerges, then, that these three forces came into being as a result of Adam’s sin, which introduced death into the world. If this is the case, then we can easily understand why, as the Zohar teaches, it takes three years for a tree to lose its impurity. The source of this impurity is Adam’s sin of the forbidden fruit, which brought the three harmful spirits into the world. The power of each spirit is overcome in one year, such that it takes three years for the impure forces to be entirely overcome.

This explains an otherwise baffling comment of the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 25:2) relevant to the prohibition of Orla. The Midrash cites Rabbi Yehuda Ben Pazi as exclaiming, "Who will remove the earth from your eyes, Adam Ha’rishon – you were unable to obey your command one hour, and your children wait the three years of Orla!" It appears, at first glance, that Rabbi Yehuda Ben Pazi is taunting Adam, ridiculing him for failing to obey the command not to partake of the forbidden tree, noting that the Jewish People faithfully observe the command of Orla and refrain from a tree’s produce for its first three years. But why would Rabbi Yehuda Ben Pazi want to taunt Adam? Furthermore, the Midrash concludes that Rabbi Yehuda Ben Pazi’s uncle, Bar Kapara, heard this remark, whereupon he enthusiastically praised his nephew’s teaching. What was so profound about Rabbi Yehuda’s statement?

This question has been answered in light of the connection between the law of Orla and Adam’s sin in Gan Eden, developed above. The Midrash (Shemot Rabba 32:1) comments that Adam "did not withstand his test for three hours." The commentators explain this to mean that the command to refrain from the forbidden tree was intended to be only temporary. This command, as the Gemara (Sanhedrin 38b) teaches, was given at the ninth hour of the day of Adam’s creation, and, the commentators add, it was intended to apply only for the next three hours – until the onset of Shabbat. If so, then we understand the connection between Orla and Adam’s sin on a deeper level. In order to correct the mistake by Adam, who failed to abstain from the forbidden tree for three hours, we abstain from the fruit of a newly-planted tree for three years.

This, then, is the meaning of Rabbi Yehuda Ben Pazi’s proclamation. He was not expressing disdain for Adam, but rather drawing attention to the fact that Adam’s descendants are doing what they can to correct his mistake. He was expressing his wish that Adam could see how his descendants, the Jewish People, are bringing about the rectification of his grave mistake by refraining from a tree’s fruit for its first three years – thereby reversing the effects of his tragic failure to abstain from the forbidden tree for three hours.