The Gemara on today’s daf quotes a Mishna from Massekhet Bikkurim (1:3) that teaches that bikkurim – first fruits brought to the Temple – are only brought from the seven species of fruit about which Israel is uniquely praised (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates – see Devarim 8:8). Even these are limited to quality produce. The Mishna continues and teaches that dates growing in the mountains or produce growing in valleys also cannot be brought as bikkurim.
What if such lower quality fruits were set aside as bikkurim?
Rabbi Yoḥanan teaches that even if these fruits were brought they would not become sanctified; Reish Lakish rules that they would become sanctified, just as lower quality animals brought as sacrifices in the Temple would be acceptable, assuming that they met the basic requirements of a sacrifice.
The Gemara asks: Why does Rabbi Yoḥanan disagree?
In response, Rabbi Elazar says that he saw Rabbi Yoḥanan in a dream, and he said a wonderful thing. The passage that commands that bikkurim be brought (Devarim 26:2) says that the farmer must take me-reishit – “from the first of all the fruit” – which is a limiting expression that teaches that not all fruit is taken – only the seven species. Furthermore, the pasuk continues, that the bikkurim come from me-artzekhah – “from your land” – which, again, is a limiting expression teaching that it is not brought from all areas of the land – excluding low quality fruits from mountains or valleys.
We find a number of times in the Talmud that Rabbi Elazar relates that Rabbi Yoḥanan, his friend and teacher, appeared to him in a dream, leading to a new interpretation and clarification of Rabbi Yoḥanan’s teaching. The Gemara is not clear, however, about whether Rabbi Elazar actually spoke to Rabbi Yoḥanan in the dream and that his teacher shared this approach, or if his appearance in the dream simply served as an affirmation that Rabbi Elazar’s suggestion was correct.
In his Ḥokhma u’Mussar, Rav Simḥa Zissel Ziv, the Alter of Kelm uses this story to teach that a Sage’s Torah teachings are only accepted in the upper worlds if they are understood and accepted in the lower world. From this he concludes that it is the responsibility of every person to make sure that his activities, traditions and Torah teachings are clarified in the course of his lifetime.