It is a halachah conveyed to Moses at Sinai1 that it is forbidden to work the land2 in the last 30 days of the sixth year, just before the Sabbatical year, because one is preparing for the Sabbatical year. This concept - i.e., the prohibition [to work the land] established by tradition - applies in the era of the Temple [alone]. Our Sages [extended that prohibition], decreeing that one should not plow an orchard in the year preceding the Sabbatical year in the era of the Temple after Shavuot, nor a field of grain after Pesach. In the era where the Temple does not stand, we are permitted to perform agricultural work until Rosh HaShanah, as [permitted by] Scriptural Law.3
What is meant by an orchard?4 Any place where there are three trees in an area large enough to sow a se'ah of grain.5 Whether these are fruit-bearing trees or not and even when they belong to three different people, we consider them as if they were fig trees.6 If they were fit to produce a mass of dried figs of a weight of 60 maneh,7 we may plow the entire field because of them. [This applies] provided there is sufficient distance between them that cattle can pass through together with their implements.8
[Different laws apply] if there were less than three trees in an area fit to sow a se'ah or there were three, but [only] one was fit to produce 60 maneh or more and the other two were not fit to produce [a significant amount]9 or there were two fit to produce even 100 maneh and one is not fit to produce [a significant amount]. We may plow only the portion of the field necessary for [these trees], i.e., [an area whose radius is the space in which could stand] a person picking figs together with his basket.
If there were between three and nine trees and they were fit to produce 60 maneh, we may plow the entire field for their sake, even though there are some trees that are not fit to produce [a significant quantity of] fruit.10
When there are ten or more trees in an area fit to sow a se'ah, whether they are fit to produce [the above quantity of fruit] or not, we may plow the entire area for their sake [until Shavuot].11 If there were ten plantings12spread out13 in an area fit to sow a se'ah, we may plow the entire area for their sake until Rosh HaShanah.14 This is a halachah conveyed to Moses at Sinai.
If [the plantings] were planted in a row or in a semi-circle,15 we may only plow what is necessary for each of their needs.16 If there are squash plants together with the plantings, they can be counted in the sum of ten [plantings].17
What is meant by a planting? A sapling for as long as it is called a planting.18
[The following rules apply when] a tree was cut off and a new tree grew from its stump. If it was cut off a handbreadth or more above the ground, it is considered as a tree. If it was cut off lower than a handbreadth, it is considered as a planting.19
All of the above applies in the era of the Temple, as we stated.20 In the present era, by contrast, we are permitted to work the land until Rosh HaShanah. [Moreover,] even in the era of the Temple, it is permitted to remove stones from fields and fertilize them21 and to hoe22 in zucchini and squash gardens23and in parched land until Rosh HaShanah. Similarly, one may fertilize saplings,24 remove dried leaves and branches from them, apply dust to them, smoke under them, rip off stalks, trim their far-spreading branches, and apply foul-smelling matter to them. We may wrap their branches, trim them, make shelters around them,25 place water upon them, apply oil to the unripened fruit and perforate them. All of these tasks are permitted in the year preceding the Sabbatical year until Rosh HaShanah of the Sabbatical year even in the era of the Temple.
When unripened fruit from the sixth year enter the Sabbatical year or such fruit from the Sabbatical year enter the eighth year, we may not26 apply oil to them or perforate them.27 In the era of the Temple, one may not build steps at the entrance to valleys in the sixth year after the rains cease, because he is preparing for the seventh year.28
Even in the present age, we may not plant trees, graft trees, or extend vines29 in the sixth year unless there is time for the planting to become rooted30 and remain after taking root thirty days before Rosh HaShanah of the Sabbatical year. Usually, it takes two weeks [for a plant] to take root.
This is forbidden at all times, because of the impression that might be created, lest an observer think that they were planted in the Sabbatical year.31 Thus if a person planted, grafted, or extended [a tree of vine] in the sixth year, 44 days before Rosh HaShanah, he is allowed to maintain it. If he did so for a lesser time, he must uproot it. If he did not uproot it, however, the fruit it produces is permitted. If he dies before he uprooted it, we obligate the heir to uproot it.32
In his Commentary to the Mishnah (Sh'vi'it 1:1), the Rambam explains that Rabban Gamliel released this prohibition after the destruction of the Temple, because he maintained that the prohibition applied only when the Temple was standing.
The Rambam interprets this as referring to a situation where all the trees together are fit to produce 60 maneh, although some individual trees are not fit to produce a significant amount. The Ra'avad offers a different interpretation of Sh'vi'it 1:3, the Rambam's source. Rabbenu Shimshon also interprets the mishnah in that manner and the Radbaz and the Kessef Mishneh agree that, at first glance, their interpretation fits the wording of the mishnah more easily than the Rambam's.
In his Commentary to the Mishnah (ibid.:7), the Rambam quotes the Jerusalem Talmud which states that this applies only to a Greek squash plant which is large like a tree. The Radbaz states that the majority of the ten must be saplings.
In his Commentary to the Mishnah (ibid.), the Rambam states that this view is accepted, because it is supported by a Tosefta. The commentaries have questioned which Tosefta the Rambam is referring to.
The Rambam's ruling has also attracted attention, because it appears to contradict his ruling in Hilchot Ma'aser Sheni 10:13 which states: "When a tree was cut down from above the earth and [a new tree grew from its roots], the prohibition of orlah applies." The implication there is that as long as the stump of the tree is above the earth, the laws of orlah do not apply. Only when it is cut down from below the earth is it considered like a new tree. Here, by contrast, even a handbreadth above the ground is considered as an existing tree.
The rationale for the distinction can be explained as follows: In this context, we follow the figures of speech employed by people at large. As long as the stump is within a handbreadth of the ground, people will consider any new growth as a new entity. When, by contrast, the stump is more than a handbreadth, it is significant and any new growth is considered as an extension of the existing plant (Rav Yosef Korcus).
These and the following activities are forbidden in the Sabbitical year itself only by virtue of Rabbinic decree. Our Sages were not overly stringent and did not enforce these prohibitions in the months preceding the Sabbatical year.
Our translation for these and the following terms are derived from the Rambam's Commentary to the Mishnah (Sh'vi'it 2:1-5). Many of the activities mentioned were described in Chapter 1, Halachah 5, and notes.
The Tosafot Yom Tov(Sh'vi'it 2:2) explains that this leniency was granted in gardens where these plants grow and not in fields at large, because in the instance of these plants, the hoeing benefits the plants directly and not merely the field.
The first clause dealt with work with the land that is permitted in the latter months of the sixth year. This clause mentions work with trees. From this halachah it appears that the prohibition conveyed as a halachah to Moses at Sinai mentioned in Halachah 1 does not apply to work with trees.
Note Rav Kappach's edition of the Rambam's Commentary to the Mishnah (Sh'vi'it 2:5) which states that the text of that source also reflects this ruling. (He maintains that there is a printing error in the standard published text of that source. According to his view, the Rambam did not reverse his opinion regarding this law as some maintain.)
Even though the fruit reaches a third of its growth before the Sabbatical year begins or does not reach that point of growth until after the the Sabbatical year ends, this restriction is still applied, because of the impression the performance of these tasks will create.
I.e., replant the head of a vine or the trunk of a tree in the ground so that it will develop new roots and another source of nurture. Thus new growths will emerge from it [the Rambam's Commentary to the Mishnah (Sh'vi'it 2:6)].
Rabbi Akiva Eiger explains the basis for such a supposition. If the tree is not planted before 44 days preceding the new year, we count the beginning of its orlah years from Rosh HaShanah (Hilchot Ma'aser Sheni 9:10). Thus it will be considered halachically as if the tree was planted in the Sabbatical year.
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Freedom of choice has been granted to every man: if he desires to turn toward a good path and be righteous, the ability to do so is in his hands; and if he desires to turn toward an evil path and be wicked, the ability to do so is in his hands...
This is a fundamental principle and a pillar of the Torah and its commandments. For if G-d were to decree that a person be righteous or wicked; of if there were to exist something in the very essence of a person's nature which would compel him toward a specific path, a specific conviction, a specific character trait or a specific deed... how could G-d command us through the prophets 'do this' and 'do not do that'...? What place would the entire Torah have? And by what measure of justice would G-d punish the wicked and reward the righteous?