The First Fruits

          There’s a relatively modern custom that was once solely the practice of Hasidic Jews and has since become in vogue: the upshurin, or first haircut of a boy at his third birthday or on Lag B’Omer the year \of his 3rd birthday. I will speak about Lag B’Omer next Friday; today I want to address the source for why one waits 3 years, which comes from Parshat Kedoshim. The portion says, “When you enter the land and plant any tree for food, you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden (literally ‘uncircumcised’) for you, not to be eaten. In the fourth year all its fruit shall be set aside for jubilation before God. and only in the fifth year may you use its fruit—that its yield to you may be increased: I am Adonai your God.”[1] Is this like the shmitah practice, that by not eating the fruit the trees become more productive and their yield increases? That seems implausible. Rather it has to do with an appreciation of the First Fruits as gifts from the Holy One.

          Rashi, the 11th century biblical commentator par excellence, says that this has to do with the word ערל, or uncircumcised. He comments, “You shall regard it as enclosed: the meaning being that it shall be, as it were, closed up and barred so that no benefit may be derived from it.”[2] It must have taken great effort to close off, or restrain oneself, from luscious produce. Just look at Adam and Eve consuming the fruit-and they were not even wandering in the desert for 40 years! Yet Rashi is saying that one must treat it as one treats the foreskin: something from which one derives no benefit, and therefore must abstain from.

          The concept of “uncircumcised” in the Torah means “closed off from.” Uncircumcised ears or an uncircumcised heart means one is denying the cry of those in pain. Uncircumcised lips are closed off from the need to counsel and respond with words of wisdom. The fruit treated as if it is uncircumcised is one from which no benefit can be derived. Furthermore, when benefit can be derived, in the fourth year, one does not consume it but presents it to God out of gratitude for arriving to the Holy Land. It is not until Year 5 that the fruit can be consumed.

          This is an ultimate test of faith, of patience and gratitude. Rather than having a scarcity mentality, that the fruit must be consumed as soon as possible, one must develop restraint, appreciating the fruit as a gift of God’s benevolence. This is also why we say a blessing before we consume anything: to show gratitude for what we have and to remember the source of where it comes from. Similarly, with the upshurin: we remember those first curls of hair, the beauty that they have and that credit must be given to the Holy One who is the one who enables it to grow. As we approach Shavuot, may our gratitude only grow and may we have patience and restraint when needed, not jumping in on the consumption train but instead appreciating all that we have.

[1] Leviticus 19:23-25

[2] Rashi on Leviticus 19:23 ד”ה וערלתם ערלתו את פריו

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