The Torah in Parashat Kedoshim (19:23-25) issues the commands relevant to the fruits of a newly-planted tree, and declares that the fruits are forbidden for the first three years after a tree’s planting (“orla”). The fruits of the fourth year are to be brought in Jerusalem and eaten amid giving praises to the Almighty (“kodesh hilulim le-Hashem”), and it is only on the fifth year when the fruit becomes entirely permissible without any restrictions.
The Ramban, commenting on these verses, explains that the fundamental objective of these laws is that one does not partake of his trees’ fruits until he first uses them in the context of giving praise to God. Just as the first fruits that ripen each year are brought to the Beit Ha-mikdash and given to a kohen (“bikkurim”), similarly, the first fruits produced by a new tree must be brought to Jerusalem and eaten there. The Torah forbids partaking of the fruits produced during the first three years, the Ramban explains, because these fruits are not suitable as an offering to God. It is only in a tree’s fourth year that it produces quality fruit, and therefore, in order for one to bring his tree’s first fruits to Jerusalem as an “offering” of sorts, he must refrain from the tree’s produce during its first three years.
Rav Chayim Elazary, in his Netivei Chayim, finds it significant that the Ramban speaks of the fruits of the fourth year as a “sacrifice.” (The Ramban’s formulation is “le-hakrivo lifnei Hashem ha-nikhbad.”) The fruits are eaten in their entirety; nothing at all is offered on the altar or given to a kohen. (Ibn Ezra actually writes that the fruits are given to a kohen, but this is in opposition to Halakha.) Seemingly, this produce hardly qualifies as a “sacrifice” in any sense of the term. If the Ramban uses this terminology in reference to this produce, Rav Elazary suggests, then we should perhaps expand our definition of the concept of “sacrifice.” Even if a person does not actually give anything of himself to the Almighty, and engages in a simple act such as eating, he is nevertheless considered as offering a “sacrifice” if he conducts his affairs in the manner prescribed by Halakha. Conducting one’s ordinary affairs, such as tending to his personal needs, is viewed as a “sacrifice,” as an offering to God, if this is done in accordance with the divine will as understood by our halakhic tradition. Hence, neta revai – the produce of the fourth year – is considered a “sacrifice,” as it is eaten under very specific conditions and subject to a strict code of laws. It thus establishes an important precedent for all our ordinary, mundane affairs, that can be transformed into sacred, hallowed endeavors when we meticulously ensure that they are conducted in precise compliance with the will of the Almighty.