We are all familiar with the story of two people who decide to bring their disagreement before the rabbi: The first person presents his case and the rabbi says, “You’re right.” The second person stands and pleads his case before the rabbi. The rabbi listens and then says to the man, “You’re right.” At which point the Rebbetzin interjects by asking, “How can they both be right?” To which the rabbi replies, “You’re also right.”

The sages state regarding the disagreements (machlokot) within the realm of Torah learning, that “both these and those are the words of the living G‑d”--we need to view both sides as presenting the words of G‑d. Although legally only one opinion may dominate, we still, in a spiritual sense, take into consideration the second opinion.

Such a disagreement is found regarding the opening verse of this week’s Torah reading, which deals with the commandment to bring the first of one's fruits—known as bikkurim--to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem,

At what point does the nation of Israel become obligated to fulfill this mitzvah? The Torah says, “when you come into the land ... and you possess it and settle in it.” The Jerusalem Talmud understands the words “when you possess it and settle in it” as obliging the bringing of first fruits only after the fourteen years of conquest and division of the land of Israel under the guidance of Joshua. The Midrash, however, emphasizes the first part of the verse and holds that the mitzvah takes effect immediately upon entering the land.

Meanings and parallels

The inner meaning of the mitzvah of bikkurim is to give praise and thanks to G‑d on behalf of all of the goodness which He has bestowed. In a religious sense, this mitzvah of giving thanks is reflected in the thanksgiving that every Jew gives to G‑d on a daily basis. This daily offering of thanks then can be fixed to two different time periods during the day, corresponding to the two opinions about the timing of the mitzvah of bikkurim.

One type of thanksgiving parallels the idea of the first fruits being brought immediately upon the Jews' entry into the land. In our life, this refers to the very beginning of the day. When a Jew opens his eyes, he or she immediately gives thanks to G‑d by reciting the prayer, “I give thanks ... that You have returned to me my soul.” This is said even before the hands are washed, a time when one is actually forbidden to say words of Torah. It is a burst of thanks based on the simple and pure faith implanted in our hearts.

The second time that we give thanks during the day corresponds to the second opinion—that bikkurim were brought only after the land was settled. This time of thanks comes with our morning prayers. Here, we mediate on G‑d’s greatness and the abundance of His kindness. As a result of this meditative experience, we are inspired with a sense of thanks toward G‑d. This type of thanks does not blurt itself out, but rather comes as a result of deep thought and intellectual reflection.

An advantage exists in each type of thanks over the other. The first reflects the depth of one’s faith, but is likely to be a very abstract and amorphous response. The second, steeped in intellect, may lack the spontaneity and power of the first, but truly penetrates the entire personality of the individual.

It is the fusion of these two approaches — “both these and those are the words of living G‑d” — that creates a sense of wholeness and completeness.