The Fruits of the Fourth Year

The second of this week’s two parshios, Kedoshim, mentions the mitzvah of neta reva’ie. Hence…

The Fruits of the Fourth Year

Question #1:

Rabbi Lamdan, a local talmid chacham, asks his Rav: “I have carefully studied this week’s parsha, which contains the Torah’s only mention of the mitzvah of neta reva’ie (fruit that grows during the fourth year of a tree’s existence). Yet, I cannot find a single allusion in the Torah to the laws of neta reva’ie as recorded by the halachic authorities! What information am I missing?”

Question #2:

Tikvah, always known for her intellectual honesty, inquires: “I feel like a hypocrite. Every day I pray for Moshiach to come and our return to the land of our fathers, and yet, I know little about the agricultural mitzvos of the Torah. If I truly hope for his imminent appearance, should I not be familiarizing myself with the laws that will apply when he arrives?”

Question #3:

When the Levy family moved into their spacious Waterbury home, they planted several fruit trees and grapevines, which are now producing luscious looking pears, apples and grapes. May they begin enjoying the fruit? Must they perform any special procedures before eating them?

What do these three questions have in common?

Understanding the basic laws of neta reva’ie and their source will enable us to answer both Rabbi Lamdan’s and the Levys’ questions, and at the same time will assist Tikvah in her search for truth.

First, the basics:

This week’s parsha proclaims:

“When you arrive in the Land, and you plant any tree for its fruit, you shall restrict its fruit; what is produced the first three years is restricted from you and may not be eaten. And in the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy for praises to Hashem. Only in the fifth year may you eat its fruit – therefore, it will increase its produce for you, for I am Hashem, your G-d” (Vayikra 19:23-25).

The fruit produced in the first three years of a tree’s life is called orlah and is forbidden. The Torah refers to planting an eitz maachal, which I translated as a tree for its fruit, rather than a fruit tree. This is because Chazal understand that the prohibition of orlah applies only to a fruit tree planted for its fruit, and not to a fruit tree planted for a non-food purpose, such as for lumber or as a hedge (Orlah 1:1). This rule may affect the Levys, as I will later explain.

Although the Torah states only that orlah may not be eaten, the Torah shebe’al peh teaches that one may not benefit from it either. For this reason, one may not dye one’s skirt with orlah pomegranate peels, heat a house with orlah nutshells, or even feed orlah fruits and peels to animals. (In a different article, I discussed how one determines the end of the three prohibited crop years.) Although the mitzvah of orlah is obviously agricultural, it nevertheless applies to trees growing outside Eretz Yisrael.


Although the fourth year’s fruit is no longer orlah, it still has a special status. When the Torah discusses this produce, it states, “And in the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy for praises (in Hebrew, kodesh hillulim) to Hashem.” As Rabbi Lamdan correctly noted, the Torah’s entire description of the status of these fruits is these two words. What does this obscure phrase kodesh hillulim mean? What type of sanctity does the fruit manifest, and how does this result in praise?


The Gemara explains that the sanctity of the neta reva’ie fruit prohibits one from eating it until it has been redeemed (Berachos 35a). This act of redemption is itself praise to Hashem (Rashba ad loc.).

However, Rabbi Lamdan is not entirely satisfied with this answer. He knows that one redeems neta reva’ie only if one cannot eat the fruit in Yerushalayim, an aspect that the verse does not mention. Furthermore, the verse says nothing about the method of redemption, which, in fact, has many detailed halachos, as we will see.

We must research further.


We find another reference that might shed some light on the nature of neta reva’ie. Concerning the individuals exempted from going to war, the Torah states: “Who is the man who planted a vineyard, but he did not yet redeem it? He shall return to his house” (Devarim 20:6). Here the Torah alludes to the redeeming of a vineyard, although it mentions no details about when and how this happens (see Rashba, Berachos 35a). Although this verse does not answer any of Rabbi Lamdan’s questions, it does imply a new factor, heretofore unmentioned: that the mitzvah of neta reva’ie applies only to grapes. (In reality, the Gemara [Berachos 35a] cites a dispute whether neta reva’ie indeed applies only to grapes or to all fruits, a matter that we will soon discuss.)

Thus, our search for the sources for this mitzvah is still unresolved.

In fact, much of the law concerning neta reva’ie originates elsewhere. A mesorah, an oral tradition from Sinai, compares its sanctity to that of a different mitzvah, maaser sheni (Kiddushin 54a). There the Torah states:

“And you shall eat the maaser of your grain, your wine, and your olive oil …before Hashem your G-d, in the place where He will choose to rest His name — so that you will thereby learn always to be in awe of Hashem. However, when you will be blessed by Hashem your G-d such that you will be unable to carry [the maaser sheni] as far as the place that Hashem chose, then you may exchange it for money that you subsequently take with you when you go to the place that Hashem chose. You may then exchange the money for cattle, sheep, wine or anything else you desire, and you shall eat there before Hashem your G-d, and in this way, you and your family will celebrate” (Devarim 14:23-26).


The Torah shebe’al peh teaches that “the place where He will choose to rest His name” refers to the city of Yerushalayim. Thus, we are to transport maaser sheni to Yerushalayim. However, if this is difficult, one may redeem the produce for coins instead, and the special sanctity of the maaser sheni transfers to the money. One adds an additional 25% to the money and brings it to Yerushalayim, where he purchases with it food to be eaten within the confines of the city. This acquisition transfers the maaser sheni sanctity from the money onto the food.

Whether one transports one’s maaser sheni produce itself to Yerushalayim or exchanges it for money, the farmer remains with a large value that may be consumed only in Yerushalayim, a city bursting with sanctity and special, holy people. The beauty of this mitzvah is that it entices the farmer to ascend to the Holy City and be part of the spiritual growth attainable only there.

One can even look at the maaser sheni as “vacation fund” money that the Torah provides. Although the farmer may not be wealthy, when he arrives in Yerushalayim, he can eat and drink like a king!


The Torah specifies that once in Yerushalayim, one may exchange the maaser sheni money for cattle, sheep, wine or anything else you desire, which seems both wordy and unusual. The Torah shebe’al peh interprets this to mean that one may not purchase just any food with maaser sheni money, but only those that grow either from the ground or on it. Therefore, one may use maaser sheni money to purchase fruit, vegetables, breads, pastry, meat or poultry, but not fish, which do not grow on the ground, not salt or water, which do not grow; and not mushrooms, which are fungi and also do not grow from or on the ground.


Both the original maaser sheni and food purchased with its redemption money are holy and may be eaten only within the walls of the old Yerushalayim and only when both the food and the individual eating it are tahor, ritually pure.


By the way, the area of today’s Old City of Jerusalem is encompassed by walls constructed by the Ottoman Turks.  The Turkish walls surround areas that probably were not part of the city at the times of Tanach and Chazal, and therefore those areas do not have the halachic sanctity of the Holy City; at the same time, without any question, large sections that do have the sanctity of the Holy City are outside these walls.


The fact that one must be tahor to consume maaser sheni changes the way one observes this mitzvah today, when achieving this status is virtually unattainable. Since we have no ashes of a parah adumah with which to purify ourselves of certain types of tumah, we cannot eat the produce of maaser sheni, nor the food purchased with the redeeming coins, since they have the same sanctity. Because of this problem, it is pointless to purchase food with these coins, and instead, they remain unused and are eventually destroyed. To avoid excessive loss, one may redeem large quantities of maaser sheni onto a very small value within a coin: this is the way we redeem maaser sheni today. Of course, we are missing the main spiritual gain of consuming the foods in Yerushalayim, but this is one of the many reasons for which we mourn the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and pray daily for its restoration.


We now return to the laws of neta reva’ie. Although the Torah alludes only to the redemption of neta reva’ie fruits, the Torah shebe’al peh teaches us to apply the laws of maaser sheni to neta reva’ie, where the redemption services the grower unable to transport his produce to Yerushalayim. Similarly, one may eat neta reva’ie itself only in Yerushalayim when tahor. Someone who cannot transport it there may redeem it by transferring its kedusha, holiness, to coins. When doing this, he add 25% to the value, brings the money to Yerushalayim instead of the fruit, and there purchases food to eat in the Holy City. Just as redeeming maaser sheni still allows the grower to reap the spiritual benefits of his produce, so, too, redeeming reva’ie enables the grower to benefit from the Yerushalayim experience.

At this point, we can answer Rabbi Lamdan’s original inquiry. The extensive literature of the Mishnah, Gemara and halachic authorities concerning neta reva’ie assumes that the laws of neta reva’ie derive from those of maaser sheni, and that the purpose of the redemption of neta reva’ie produce is to allow someone with a bountiful reva’ie crop to benefit from the spiritual gains of his produce.

And just as we cannot make ourselves tahor today, and therefore we cannot eat the produce of maaser sheni, we can also not consume the neta reva’ie or the food purchased with its redemption coins, since they have the same sanctity. Because of this problem and to avoid the loss that would result, we may transfer the kedusha of large quantities of neta reva’ie to a coin of small value. Again, we are missing the main spiritual gain of consuming the foods in Yerushalayim, and for this, too, we mourn the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.


Having answered Rabbi Lamdan’s questions and also having addressed Tikvah’s concern, we will now tackle the questions raised by the Levys’ trees and vines. Does someone living outside Eretz Yisrael also merit fulfilling the mitzvah of neta reva’ie on his fruit? The Rishonim debate whether this mitzvah applies in chutz la’aretz, just as the mitzvah of orlah does, or if it is treated the same as most agricultural mitzvos that are exempt in chutz la’aretz. There are three basic approaches to this issue:

1. Some authorities contend that, since neta reva’ie is an agricultural mitzvah, it does not apply outside Eretz Yisrael, which is the usual, but not absolute, rule regarding these mitzvos (see Rambam, Hilchos Maachalos Asuros 10:16).  Although orlah is an exception and applies even in chutz la’aretz because of a special halacha leMoshe miSinai, an oral tradition that Moshe received at Mount Sinai, reva’ie applies only in Eretz Yisrael, since it was not specifically included in the halacha leMoshe miSinai. Those who rule this way conclude that the Torah did not extend the spiritual benefits of these mitzvos to include produce grown outside Hashem’s palace. Therefore, the Levys’ trees are exempt from the mitzvah of neta reva’ie and all fruit produced after the orlah years are available for consumption, without any redemption procedure.

2. On the opposite side, there are authorities who contend that the halacha leMoshe miSinai that requires that we observe orlah in chutz la’aretz also requires observing the mitzvah of reva’ie; Hashem wanted us to benefit from the mitzvah of neta reva’ie, even outside the Holy Land. Therefore, the fruit that grows on the Levys’ trees and vines in Waterbury during the fourth year have the sanctity of neta reva’ie (see Rabbeinu Yonah, Berachos, Chapter 6). This is the opinion that the Shulchan Aruch follows (Yoreh Deah 294:7). (For reasons beyond the scope of this article, reva’ie applies only when we are certain that the fruit grew in the fourth year, but not when we are uncertain whether it grew in the fourth year or the fifth.)


3. There is a third opinion that contends that reva’ie applies to grapes that grow in chutz la’aretz but not to other fruits (Tosafos, Kiddushin 2b s.v. esrog and Berachos 35a s.v. ulemaan). This is based on a dispute as to whether the mitzvah of reva’ie in Eretz Yisrael applies to all fruit trees, or only to grapes (Berachos 35a). Many authorities conclude that we rule leniently regarding produce grown in chutz la’aretz and therefore absolve all fruits from neta reva’ie, except for grapes (Rama and Gra to Yoreh Deah 294:7).

Thus, according to Sefardic practice of following the Shulchan Aruch, the pears, apples and grapes of the fourth year growing in Waterbury, have the status of reva’ie and require redemption. According to the Ashkenazic practice, the grapes require redemption, but not the pears or apples.


Note that the Torah states: “And in the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy for praises to Hashem. Only in the fifth year may you eat its fruit – therefore, it will increase its produce for you, for I am Hashem your G-d” (Vayikra 19:23- 25). We see that Hashem Himself promises that He will reward those who observe the laws of the first four years with tremendous increase in the tree’s produce in future years. May we soon see the day when we can bring our reva’ie and eat it while tahor within the rebuilt walls of Yerushalayim!


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