“When you shall come to the Land, and you will plant any food-bearing tree, you shall withhold its fruits” Leviticus 19:23
The mitzvah of orlah is one of the lesser known agricultural laws that apply both within the land of Israel and the rest of the world. This command prohibits a person from consuming any produce from the first three crops of a fruit-bearing tree. While the fruit from the fourth year is sanctified and, when the Temple existed, was eaten in Jerusalem as a special type of gift to God, all subsequent fruit could be eaten as desired.
Nachmanides, the great medieval commentator, explains that this mitzvah reminds us to dedicate to God the very best first fruits of the tree before we are able to eat from them. But since the fruits of the first three years are often stunted and bitter, it is only proper to wait until the fourth year to offer these “first” fruits to God.
Judaism, based on a verse in Deuteronomy (20:19), often compares people to fruit trees. Our “fruits” are, on a basic level, our children and grandchildren, but on a more conceptual plane are the words, ideas and thoughts we give to others.
We live in an increasingly fast-paced world where we have learnt to deliver instant soundbite responses to every situation. But all too often we see that this immediate reaction causes a less than desirable outcome.
We all know too well the regrets of hitting the send button to that email before giving thought to the possible consequences. A pause to take time to consider our response, and to allow our thoughts to mature, ensures that the unique “fruits” that we present to the world are sweet and well-developed.