We have previously learnt (Sukkah 35a) that one of the reasons why an Etrog is referred to with the word ‘Hadar’ (see Vayikra 23:40) – which can be translated as ‘that dwells’ – is because the Etrog can dwell and grow on its tree from one year to the next.
The problem with this, as addressed in today’s daf (Rosh Hashanah 15a-b), is that an Etrog can grow and even be ready for picking in the sixth year, yet only be picked on the seventh (Shemitta) year – with each year having different rules for the laws of Ma’aser (tithes) and for Shemitta sanctity. Consequently, the question considered in today’s daf is whether we determine the status of an Etrog according to when its fruit emerged, or when it was picked?
In short, the answer is that we treat Etrogim uniquely, as the Rambam – basing himself on our daf – rules (Hilchot Shemitta V’Yovel 4:12): ‘With regard to an Etrog, even if it was the size of a bean before Rosh HaShanah [of the Shemitta year] and it then grew to the size of a loaf of bread in the Shemitta year, it is obligated to be tithed like the produce of the sixth year. [Conversely,] even if it had reached the size of a loaf of bread in the sixth year, since it was reaped in the Shemitta year, it is considered as the produce of the Shemitta year. As a stringency, the tithes are separated like the produce of the sixth year.’
What this means is that we technically treat the Etrog that grew in the sixth year and was picked in the seventh year as seventh year produce, but given the debate, we also overlay some of the sixth-year strictures onto the Etrog since it grew and could have been picked in the sixth year. As such, an Etrog that remains on a tree over the years has a rich and multi-faceted identity, reflecting its multi-generational presence on the tree.
As we know, we often describe the Torah as being like ‘a tree of life’ (see Mishlei 3:18) from which we all grow. Yet, based on today’s daf we can add a further layer of meaning to that metaphor – that by staying connected to the tree for long periods of time, it can help us foster a rich and multi-faceted Torah personality reflecting the different generations of Torah scholars amongst whom we grow alongside. Consequently, just as growth for an Etrog is not solely determined by when it was picked but also by the prior generations of Etrogim amongst which it grew, so too, growth for a Jew is not solely determined by the Torah that they have learnt, but also by their proximity to the prior generations of Torah scholars among whom they were blessed to grow, and from whom they were blessed to learn.