Category: Understanding Torah

Dr Hollisa Alewine – Footsteps of Messiah 112 (A Gardener’s Guide to the Tree of Life)

Gardener’s Guide
to the Tree of Life
Days of Elijah Preparing the Bride

She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her,

and happy are all who hold her fast. (Pr 3:18)

The Torah is a tree of life, and obeying it is the path to fruitfulness. This fruitfulness deepens the relationship, stitching earth to Heaven, where the roots of the Tree extend upward. After all, our eyes really see the world upside down and turn it “right” side up. Or is it? Studying the Word rights the world in the mind and circumcised heart of the diligent disciple of Yeshua.

One of the frequent metaphors in Scripture is that of a tree representing a human being. “I see men like trees walking.” (Mk 8:24) The Torah brought to life in a human being is indeed like a tree of life walking. In fact, the Torah gives specific instructions on how to plant a tree:

When you come into the land and plant any kind of tree for food, then you shall regard its fruit as forbidden [orlah, uncircumcised]. Three years it shall be forbidden [orlah] to you; it must not be eaten. And in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. But in the fifth year you may eat of its fruit, to increase its yield for you: I am the Lord your God. (Le 19:23-25)

The above passage from Torah portion Kedoshim, Holies, provides a teaching moment from Sefer HaChinnukh §246 and 1 Corinthians 10:23-30. Sefer HaChinnukh is a set of books explaining each commandment in the Torah. Since the Days of Elijah prepare the way of Yeshua’s return, the holiness of the tree, representing human beings, instructs us in how to develop our circumcised hearts in holiness. One of the traditional views of Elijah is that he is associated with circumcision, zeal for the Torah.

Holiness is often the result of a process. For instance, the seventh day of Creation was the first thing called holy in Scripture, and it was the result of a process of creation.

Holiness in the Mishkan or Mikdash was something to be maintained and guarded after processes of purification.

Holiness in a person is a matter of growing in sanctification. The mitzvot are the method of achieving holiness, not salvation. 

Since the tree is often a metaphor for human beings in Scripture, the growth of a goodly (fruit) tree is a metaphor for growing in holiness.

In simple terms, a tree “planted” in the Land of Israel must be set apart for three years before its fruit may be eaten freely by anyone (assuming holy portions are removed first even after it ages into circumcision). In the fourth year, its fruit is to be eaten in the Temple by the owner or turned into money with a fifth added to be taken to the Temple and enjoyed. 

Only after the tree loses its orlah status is someone subject to a guilt offering if he/she took a holy portion designated for the Temple. If someone were to eat the set-apart fruit by mistake then, it would require a guilt offering plus a fifth, which is for taking holy things unwittingly.

Three Levels of Holiness:

The tree is planted in Israel and grows for three years
The tree is holy to Adonai to be consumed by the planter only in Jerusalem, circumcised
The tree finally is subject to terumah, holy tithes, firstfruits, shmittah, yovel, but otherwise freely consumed or sold by the owner; also a person may opportunistically eat of it (but not gather).

By the Torah’s expression, this law applies only in the Land of Israel. The sages, however, see some doubt, and have extended this law of tree orlah, un-circumcision outside the Land of Israel. Although they do not extend the fourth and fifth year (and beyond) requirements because a Temple is lacking, they do prohibit eating the uncircumcised fruit for the first three years. This includes only trees planted in the ground, not trees in a container.

The opportunistic eater presents a problem: he/she does not know the tree’s age-stage of holiness. Trees don’t have signs with their birthday written on them.

In general, in Jewish law where there is doubt, the sages ruled stringently, not permitting it. However, in the case of the orlah (uncircumcised), “That which is certain is forbidden; what is in doubt is permissible.”

So which is it? It is explained thus…

“…if an Israelite has a tree of orlah in his garden and his neighbor comes and eats of its fruit, he is not duty-bound to inform him at all that it is orlah. The sages of blessed memory used the expression, ‘It is a doubt to me, and I will eat’; in other words, as long as a man does not know for certain that it is orlah, he is allowed to eat of it….’ Only if he knows it is forbidden is he punishable by whiplashes.” Sefer HaChinnukh §246

If a passerby doesn’t ask if it is orlah, he is permitted to eat it. This extends grace to the hungry traveler, yet the owner of the tree is still developing a deeper relationship with Adonai.

Now let’s see if Paul’s reasoning doesn’t make better sense when it comes to eating clean food in general…

All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake; FOR THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S, AND ALL IT CONTAINS. If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat *anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s. For why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? Whether then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Co 10:23-31)

Although an “unbeliever” can be an idol-worshiper, very often in the New Testament it is a Jewish person who has not believed Yeshua for various reasons. In such a case, the food they would serve would be kosher. He/she is not obligated to notify the eater anything about the meat. The eater is not obligated to ask.

See below a sample of the variety of ways “unbeliever” is used:

If “anyone” informs you a meat was sacrificed to idols, don’t eat it so the server will be convicted by his conscience. Don’t assume the relationship between the gardener and Heaven is growing in holiness! Quite the opposite! The eater’s freedom is limited if the server informs him of idolatry.

The model of the orlah is that the owner of the tree (an Israelite) is not obligated to tell an eater of the tree’s status, for the “doubt” makes the eater free to give thanks and enjoy the fruit. If, however, the grower informs the passerby of the tree’s orlah status, the eater may not eat.

The tree’s growth is a holy relationship between the planter gardener and Adonai, not an opportunistic eater. An Israelite gardener is assumed to have fulfilled all Torah Tree of Life requirements pertaining to the tree, making it “kosher” and spiritually healthy to eat for anyone.

Now, in review, can we see that “holy eating” is:

the result of a process. 
something to be maintained and guarded after processes of purification.
for the owner of the food growing and developing in sanctification.
for the passive recipient to give thanks and glory to the Creator. 

Since the deep, obligatory relationship is primarily between tree owner and Heaven, the amount of fruit a passerby eats is regulated by the Torah (Dt 23:24). The meat a guest eats is limited by the meal and whether the host is serving [clean] meat in good conscience.

For the serendipitous eater for momentary pleasure or fellowship, the experience is limited to moments of thankfulness and glorying in the providence of Adonai, the first owner and Creator of food. The tree owner, like the tree, grows into the holiness of circumcision and becomes a guardian of the Word.

*”anything” is assumed to be anything Scripturally defined as food

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