Shevat and the Land of Israel
Now that we are in the month of Shevat, approaching the 15th of Shevat, TU Bishvat, I think it is appropriate to discuss some of the laws of the land of Israel.
For the first three years after a tree is planted, the fruit is known as orlah, and it may not be eaten, it is rather left for birds and other animals to eat. The fruit of the fourth year is holy, and therefore we wait for the fifth year to eat of the fruit.108 In Israel, any fruit that might possibly be orlah is prohibited. Outside of Israel, however, unless one knows that the fruit is definitely orlah, it may be eaten.
Similarly, wheat, barley, rye, spelt and oat grains from a new harvest was, in Temple times, not to be eaten until the first sheaf is cut in special manner and brought as an offerings in the Temple on the second day of Passover. Any grain that was sown after the bringing of this offering, known as the Omer, was not to be eaten until after the next year’s offering. This prohibition is known as chadash, “new,” referring to the new harvest. Since the destruction of the Temple, we can no longer bring the Omer offering. Nevertheless, grain from the new harvest is still forbidden until the day after the offering would have been brought. There is some controversy about whether this prohibition applies only in Israel or outside as well. Today, most Jews outside of Israel follow the lenient view that chadash does not apply in the Diaspora.
The underlying message of both orlah and chadash is one of restraint and self-control, and the acknowledgement that, since everything ultimately belongs to G-d, it may only be used for purposes that are in keeping with G-d’s plan for the world. We are only free to use the fruit or grain after bringing some to Jerusalem to eat or for use as an offering, acts which impress upon us that everything we have is a gift of G-d.
The prohibition against mixing seeds and grafting different species together, know in Hebrew as kilayim, applies both in and outside Israel. One of the ideas behind this prohibition is the principle that just as in nature there are laws that delineate species, so too there are moral laws that are part of the fabric of Creation. The same G-d Who commanded the plants and animals to appear “in their own species” also has moral demands on the human being. Do not change the nature of Creation, is the central idea of this command.