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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Forbidden Fruit (Part 5: Philosophy)

We would like to try to answer a philosophical question that bothered us at the end of the last series of posts (see parts 5 and 6 of "Half a Tree").  According to the Ramban's explanation elaborated on there, ערלה is intimately tied to the institution of bringing the fourth year's fruits to Jerusalem.  If so, why did the Torah extend the prohibition of ערלה to outside of Israel (through the הלכה למשה מסיני)?  Since there is no institution of the fourth year fruits outside the land of Israel, it doesn't seem to make sense to have the prohibition of ערלה there either!

We think that the unique halachik formulation of the הלכה למשה מסיני that we have suggested in the prior posts helps point to the direction of the solution to this philosophical question.  First, we want to bring down the Ramban's summary for the reason for ערלה as given by the Rambam (Guide 3:37):
כי היו לחרטומים ולמכשפים בזמן ההוא מיני כשוף יעשו אותם בעת נטיעת האילנות ויחשבו כי בהם ימהר האילן להוציא פריו קודם זמנו הידוע במנהגו של עולם, ובבואו יקריבו את הפרי לפני העבודה זרה שעשו בשמה הכשוף ההוא, ולכך ציותה התורה באסור הפרי הבא קודם שלוש שנים שלא יבאו לעשות המעשים הרעים ההם, כי רובי האילנות יביאו פירות בשנה הרביעית. ושנאכלהו לפני השם, הפך אכלם אותו לפני עבודה זרה
The Rambam's understanding of ערלה is in line with his general custom of explaining many of the Torah's commandments based upon ancient idolatrous practices that the Torah tried to uproot.  Ancient pagans used to perform magical ceremonies before their false gods in an attempt to cause a newly planted tree to produce good fruit earlier than it naturally would (in about three years).  They would then eat this fruit in their temples before their false gods as an act of worship.  This practice was supposed to be necessary for the tree to be fruitful over the course of its entire life.

For that reason, the Torah prohibited the fruit in the first three years of the tree's life.  If the fruits are prohibited, it would not benefit the owner to try these mystical practices that allegedly cause it to give fruit earlier.  The Torah commanded us to eat the fourth year's fruits before the true God, and promised that as a result of us keeping this commandment, we will be blessed and the tree will produce an abundance of fruits.

This reason that the Rambam gives for the prohibition of ערלה, naturally explains why the Torah posited a הלכה למשה מסיני that extended it to all places.  Idol worship is not limited to Israel, and the prohibition is necessary to uproot these primitive practices wherever the person may be.

We think that the unique formulation of the הלכה למשה מסיני, in fact, points to this type of explanation.  As developed in Post 4, the object that the הלכה למשה מסיני prohibited is the object as it is subjectively perceived by the person, not the object as it exists in itself.  This subjective entity corresponds to the fruits as they are perceived in the imagination of the idol worshipers.  The magical practices that they perform, and the resultant mystical fruits which they bring before their false gods, are all products of fantasy.  They have no objective basis in reality.

Therefore, the הלכה למשה מסיני forbid us to eat the fruits as they are subjectively perceived by the individual.  The forbidden fruits exist only in the imagination of the person, while in reality the fruits are permissible.  All idolatry, magic, and mystical practices have no basis in reality, but exist solely in the fantasy and imagination of its deluded worshipers.

We would like to thank Rabbi Chait for directing us to the idea of the correspondence between the prohibition of ערלה outside the land of Israel and idol worship.

3 comments:

  1. You-This subjective entity corresponds to the fruits as they are perceived in the imagination of the idol worshipers. The magical practices that they perform, and the resultant mystical fruits which they bring before their false gods, are all products of fantasy. They have no objective basis in reality.

    Therefore, the הלכה למשה מסיני forbid us to eat the fruits as they are subjectively perceived by the individual. The forbidden fruits exist only in the imagination of the person, while in reality the fruits are permissible. All idolatry, magic, and mystical practices have no basis in reality, but exist solely in the fantasy and imagination of its deluded worshipers.

    Me-Why can't you just simply say that the idol worshippers would only bring fruit of the first 3 years that they percieved of as the first 3 years, thus that would bring benefit to the tree. So too us the issur is only first 3 years. You don't seem to indicate this in these sentences, but are going onto something else.

    I don't think I understand the sequence.

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    Replies
    1. To clarify-so too us the issur is only that which we percieve of us as orla-only that would we think to use as idol worship.

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    2. The normal way to formulate the halacha would have been that since they would bring fruits of the first 3 years, the Torah prohibited fruits of the first 3 years. The fact that they only brought that which they perceived as being of the first 3 years is due to the inherent limitations of man's knowledge which exists in all areas.

      Why build the lack of knowledge into the halachik formulation by this prohibition?

      We are answering this by saying that since this prohibition is extended to chutz la'aretz based upon idolatry, which exists only in the subjective imagination of its worshipers, the Torah prohibited the object of perception and not the objective object.

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