In the fabled town of Chelm, that backward city of fools,1 the townspeople were once wondering how it came to be that their mayor assumed his position.

They approached their leader, known to them as “Mr. Mayor,” and asked him how it was that he, of all people, had been chosen to lead the town.

“I’ll tell you the truth,” replied the mayor, “it was really quite simple. When elections were called, a call went out, ‘Who can be mayor?’ I didn’t know much about being a mayor, but I replied, ‘Well, my name is Meir, and I’ve been a Meir all my life, so I may as well be the mayor!’

“And that’s how I became mayor of Chelm!”

Is it really that simple? Suppose your daughter is misbehaving. Do you just call her “good girl,” and poof!—it all magically goes away? Can you simply call your struggling business colleague a “success story” and expect him to perform? If your student is lagging behind in his studies, will calling him a “smart student” do the trick?

Let’s turn to the Parshah to find out.

Wait It Out Three Years

Among the many mitzvahs in the Parshah of Kedoshim, we read about how we cannot partake of freshly planted fruit trees right away: “When you come to the Promised Land and plant any tree bearing edible fruit, you must avoid its fruit as forbidden growth for three years . . . Then, in the fourth year, all the tree’s fruit shall be holy and it shall be something for which G‑d is praised.”2,3

What is the reason for this prohibition? Why must we wait for three years until we’re allowed to eat the fruit of a new tree? Is this just another one of “those things” that we’re not supposed to understand?

And while we’re asking questions, what is the significance of the fact that the fourth year’s produce must be eaten in Jerusalem, deemed as “something for which G‑d is praised”?

Fixing an Old Mistake

The Midrash tells us a fascinating thing: the three years we wait to eat new fruit correspond to another set of three associated with a fruit, which ended in catastrophe—the Tree of Knowledge. When G‑d first placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and warned them not to eat of that tree, the Midrash tells us that it was on a Friday afternoon, a mere three hours before Shabbat. What’s more, we learn another important detail: the plan was to allow Adam to eat the fruit once Shabbat came in. Had he practiced just a bit of restraint and waited those three hours, the calamity of the sin of the Tree of Knowledge would have been averted and everything would have been different.

Alas, Adam couldn’t hold back, and so today when a Jew grows new fruit trees, he waits for three years as a way of rectifying that sin. After the wait, the fruit are eaten in sanctity in Jerusalem.4

Fixing the Root of the Problem

This is all very fascinating. But there’s more: the correlation goes beyond “fruit” and the shared number three. It goes deep into the thematic relationship between what we do with the fruit in that fourth year and what occurred so long ago in the Garden of Eden.

Let’s take a look.

The Torah tells us that in the fourth year we are to eat the fruit in Jerusalem as “something for which G‑d is praised?” What does this mean?

Come to think of it, what are we really doing when we praise G‑d on any day? Does G‑d need to be praised? Obviously not! So, what, then, are we really accomplishing when we praise G‑d?

Here the Kabbalists lend us a profound insight into how the human psyche works. After all, it is axiomatic to the Kabbalistic school of thought that everything in the human being mirrors G‑d, as we are created in “His image.” So, to “understand” G‑d, it is helpful to understand ourselves.

You know a good way to motivate someone to be generous and kind? To call them a “nice person.” Repeatedly. The more you tell someone how nice they are, how much they give, and how kind they are to everyone, the harder it will become for them not to be so, and chances are, eventually, they will indeed do so. Every person possesses a streak of each positive character trait within himself, lurking beneath the surface, so when you call for it, you summon up that quality and bring it to the fore.

This is all a metaphor for G‑d and His relationship with the world, say the Kabbalists. Of course, after just a second’s thought, it is plainly obvious that G‑d is far removed from this universe, completely aloof from a space in which He should care about creation in any way. How, then, can we humans motivate Him, so to speak, to play the character of “Creator in Chief” and “care” enough to continue animating this lowly earth?

By praising Him about it. By doing so, we summon up the parts of G‑d that are usually concealed, those character traits that are normally entirely dormant, so that they manifest in a way that cares and relates to Creation.

This is why our prayers are so full of praise about Creation and its magnificent breadth: not because G‑d needs our praise, but because we are hoping to elicit a reaction from on High that will manifest that part of Him that is indeed a “Creator” and continues to give us life.

This, then, is what eating the fruit in Jerusalem in the fourth year and praising G‑d is all about. The sin of the Tree of Knowledge caused a rupture in Creation, and much of G‑d’s presence in this world retreated back into His essence. So, by eating the fruit in a holy place and, more importantly, praising G‑d, we are calling that presence back, actively motivating G‑d to reintroduce Himself to this earth.

Call Me the Mayor

So, yes, if your child is misbehaving a bit too often and all the yelling, preaching and threatening isn’t working, it may be a good idea to flip the script and start calling her a great kid, praising her for all the good things she does and the times she performed well. The more you do that, the more you bring out that type of behavior—eventually turning the tide.

Your friend isn’t making the cut at his workplace? Try telling him how successful he is and how capable he can be. If you do that often enough, it will summon up those very qualities and help him get over the hump.

If you feel that your parents don’t love you enough, try telling them about how much you feel they really love you. Remind them of the times when they were so very loving and highlight how much they did demonstrate loving sentiments to you. Call them the most affectionate parents ever. After a while, they’ll start living up to your assessment.

The ticket to your struggling student’s future may just lie in your repeated narrative that he is smart, he is not stupid, and he can succeed. Say it often enough, and he’ll start believing and acting on it too.5