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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Half a Tree (Part 6: More Philosophy)

After we wrote the last post that was based on the philosophical explanation of orlah by the Ramban on Vayikrah 19:23, we thought about a question on his approach from one of the basic halachos of orlah.  The Rambam writes in 10:1-2
כל שהוא חייב בערלה יש לו רבעי. וכל שפטור מן הערלה אינו חייב ברבעי שנאמר שלש שנים יהיה לכם ערלים וגו' ובשנה הרביעית...נטעו שלש שנים לסייג ומכאן ואילך למאכל אין לו רבעי. שכל שאין לו ערלה אין לו רבעי
The institution neteh revai is contingent on the prior existence in the fruits of the tree as orlah.  If the tree was never subject to orlah (i.e. you had intent for a fence for the first three years, and only in the fourth year did you change your mind for food), then the tree is exempt from neteh revai.

This seems backwards according the way we understood the Ramban (that the prohibition of orlah is an accidental result of neteh revai).  We could understand if the halacha was that if there was no neteh revai then the tree would be exempt from orlah, but the other way doesn't seem to make sense.  In so far as neteh revai is the primary institution, it should still exist even if the tree was never subject to orlah!

We think that this problem can best be solved by first defining the halachic structure that underlies the relationship between orlah and revai.  They are two independent mitzvos (irrespective of their intimate philosophical connection), so how are they halachickly bound to each other?

It would seem that the way revai is contingent on orlah is through the entity of the fruit.  Namely, the entity upon which revai exists is the fruits of a tree that went through the prohibition of orlah.  How does this work?

The fruits of revai are viewed by the halacha as being the first fruits of the tree.  How is this true when the tree, in fact, produces fruits before the fourth year?  The answer lies in the verse, as explained by the Ramban.  The verse says that the tree should be "closed" for three years.  The Ramban says that it is as if the fruits are closed on the trees, and have not yet blossomed. This is because the fruits of the first three years are defined as waste products, and not food.  Only in the fourth year are they considered to open up and blossom.  It is those fourth year fruits, which are viewed by the halacha as the first fruits of the tree's life, that are obligated in revai. You use these first fruits to eat in Jerusalem and praise Hashem.

Conceptually, the prohibition of orlah is a necessary prerequisite for the institution of revai to exist.  If the tree never went through orlah, its fruits in the fourth year are not considered its first fruits and are therefore not subject to revai.  This is why the Ramban compares the mitzva of revai, which is the first fruits of a tree's life, to bikkurim, which are the first fruits of every individual crop year.

It would seem that our understanding of the Ramban in the previous post was erroneous.  The prohibition of orlah is not an accidental result of revai; it is not simply wrong to eat the fruits for the first three years because it is before you have brought them in the fourth year to Jerusalem.  (We made a mistake in comparing this prohibition to eating before making a bracha, which is a comparison the Ramban himself does not explicitly make.)  Rather, the prohibition of orlah is a necessary prerequisite in order for the fourth year fruits to be defined by the halacha as the first fruits of the tree and thereby subject to institution of revai.

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