Harvesting Patience (Parashat Kedoshim)
by Rabbi Alexander Davis, Beth El Synagogue
I don’t have a green thumb. Even with all the rain we’ve had these past weeks, I can’t get my grass to grow. I put down new soil, spread the seeds and… nothing. I am thinking of planting Astroturf.
Our ancestors would not have had the same problem. They knew about sewing and reaping, planting and harvesting. And while I may have failed in farming, perhaps I can nevertheless glean from them a lesson.
We read in this week’s Torah reading about harvesting fruit trees: “when you come into the Land and plant fruit trees, their fruit shall be forbidden for three years. In the fourth year, it shall be set aside for rejoicing before God. And in the fifth year, you may use its fruit” (Lev. 19:23-25).
This is known as the mitzvah of orlah. According to biblical law, this mitzvah applied only to farmers in Israel. But the oral law extended its application to outside of the Land.
Essentially, farmers did not use the yield of fruit trees for the first three years. In the fourth year, they brought the fruits to the Temple and donated them to the priests of the Temple. Only in the fifth year could a farmer taste the fruit of his/her labor.
Commentators differ on the reason behind this mitzvah. Some claim that the fruit of the first three seasons was not healthy to eat or worthy of being brought before God (that is, it was not sweet enough). Ramban writes: “the fruit of the first three years is not fit to offer to God, for in those years the crop is small and tasteless; most of the trees will not even bring forth fruit at all until the fourth year. So we wait and taste none of it until we have brought all of the first good fruits as a sacred offering before the Lord.”
I don’t know if agronomists would agree with this analysis. But I see in this passage a lesson in patience. It takes a long time to enjoy the fruit of our labors.
Serving on the board of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation and as a co-Chair of Yachad, the new platform for Jewish education of Minneapolis teens, I see this lesson first hand. We must plan and propose, prune and pick. For example, in a start-up like Yachad, we understood that success would not happen overnight. It took years to cultivate relationships and nurture the program. But with patience, purpose and planning, the talented staff and lay leaders are planting the seeds of future growth for our Jewish community.
In this week when we celebrate the fruits of modern day Israel, in this season when we anticipate the arrival of fruits in the farmer’s market, we recall the efforts of our ancestors to bring forth an abundant crop of sweet fruit and in the process, harvest a lesson about the value of patience.