When you come to the Land and you plant any food tree, you shall surely block its fruit [from use]; it shall be blocked from you for three years, not to be eaten. And in the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy, a praise to the Eternal. And in the fifth year, you may eat its fruit.
We live in a material world. For many of us, life focuses on increasing our property and we are told that the winner is the one who gets more toys. However, this mitzvah teaches us how to avoid the alienation imposed by that limited reality. Before engaging in any task, we must sanctify. Our actions are not intended for self-satisfaction or the satisfaction of selfish needs. Rather, they should be motivated by higher and more noble purposes. However, once sanctified, we can fully enjoy and benefit from the fruits of our labor. Here the goal is not asceticism but a transformation. It is to integrate the divine presence in our own individuality, our personality and our daily life. This explains why the harvest of the 4th year is designated as “a praise to the Eternal,” and can be consumed only in Jerusalem, so that the 5th year is our personal property without special sanctification. Yet it is precisely this fruit of the 5th year which is given as a reward for the abstinence during the first 4 years.
A HASSIDIC HISTORY
In a small town lived an ascetic. Every day, over 50 years, he deprived himself of any excess food and drink, subsisting by a system study of Torah. Only in the evening, after prayers, did he allow himself to eat bread and a little water. One day, the Besht (Baal Shem Tov) visited him. He met him, absorbed in study in a corner of the schoolroom of the shul. The Besht approached him and asked him with joy “How are you?” and he also asked “and what appeals to your needs you?” Raising his eyes from his book and looking at what appeared to him as an ordinary peasant standing before him, the ascetic nodded and returned to his study.
Given the persistence of Besht, the ascetic was angry. Pointing to the door in anger, he ordered him to leave. But the Besht did not comply. “Why are you depriving God of sustenance?” He asked the ascetic. Realizing the ascetic’s puzzlement, the Besht explained his question: “God sustains the Jews by providing them with their sustenance. But how is God sustained? About this, King David says in his Psalms: “And yet you are Holy, crowned by the praises of Israel.” When the Jews recognize all the good that God brings them and praise God for it, they provide God with sustenance! Also, by skipping this opportunity to praise God, the Jews deprive God of sustenance!”
We might ask ourselves, why is it important that every Jew helps to “meet God’s needs”? Did the ascete not play his role by studying the Torah with such diligence? Would it not have been more appropriate to ask about his spirituals needs? Rather, why did the Besht choose to question him about his physical needs? In order to understand this, we need to understand first the divine purpose in creation. After creating a vast and wonderful universe, The Eternal concealed inside Israel as the Bible says “to reside among us.” In order to help the Eternal to accomplish this goal, we need to search for God in all places. By revealing the Divine Presence in a world we believe God is absent, we recognize that God is leading the creation and that God reigns over our universe (melech al kol ha-arets).
The hermit in question had managed to find God in the Torah but it’s obvious! Is not The Torah a trace of divine wisdom? The Besht sought to encourage the ascetic out of his ego to explore new horizons, not according to his own criteria but according to those on which God is based. He teaches the ascetic to consider that in every aspect of creation, including those more materialistic, there is a Divine Presence.
Similarly, our text teaches us the reward we deserve for observing the laws of the Orlah, when the Eternal will ensure “that it may yield unto you the increase thereof.” Contrary to the 4th year, the fruits of 5th year have no sanctity in themselves. But here is the crucial point! The Eternal does not wish to be found in the things that come out of the ordinary, but well within the daily experience of our lives! Similarly we recognize that the fruit on our plates, as ordinary as it is, arrived there by intervention and special blessing of God, and we insert God into every detail of our lives. By combining the Eternal in every aspect of our existence we help to accomplish the purpose in the creation of the universe.
OUR CONDUCT – warmth and enthusiasm
We are back to the sacrificial rites related to the Temple. Our text talks about the mitzvah of covering the blood. After performing the shechitah, slaughtering an animal or a non-domestic bird, kosher of course, the Torah tells us: “Vechafe’h and damo vekisséo be’afar”, “he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust.” (Leviticus 17:13) .
This precept does not apply to domestic animals, that fall into the category of animals to be brought on the altar for which there is not need to cover their blood. The reason has been given in the preceding verse: “For the life (nefesh/soul) of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar” ( Leviticus 17:11) The term ‘nefesh’ means the level of the soul from which existence and physical life depend on. Although nefesh is present in each body part, and even in inanimate matter, blood – whose role is essential in maintaining life- is the main element at the corporeal level. The blood of animals offered in sacrifice is collected to be sprinkled on the altar as part of the atonement ritual which is at the roots of the the sacrifice.
Thus, when the shochet slaughters a bird or a wild animal hide, where this practice does not exist, then he should take the blood on the ground and cover it in order to cancel its preeminence. In fact, the Torah allows two forms of shechitah / ritual slaughter, (1) that of kodashim or “holy things” referring to the sacrifices, which can be performed in the temple, and for which there are varying degrees of holiness, and (2) that of “Houlin”, or “profane,” meaning that the meat is the food for the body.
Blood, in general, represents life and heat. As the blood brings life to the part of the body, so it means a spiritual sense of vitality and warmth. When the Torah lays down that the blood must be collected and brought to the altar, that means that all our vitality and our heat should be directed toward holiness, kedoushah. Each of us needs to perform many profane actions such as eating, drinking, working, to ensure all our physical needs. But what we are asked here is to accomplish all these things without “blood,” meaning more warmth and enthusiasm than what’s necessary. On the other hand, our “blood”, this is our vitality and our heat, should instead be reserved at the service of our Creator.