In the Torah portion of Shoftim we learn: “The testimony of one witness does not stand against a person with regard to any sin or iniquity that he may have committed; a case can be established [only] through the testimony of [at least] two or three witnesses.”1
Specifically, there are two categories of witnesses: a) witnesses who verify specific facts or events;2 b) witnesses who were themselves an integral part of the events.3
An example of the first category are witnesses to a loan, whose sole purpose is to verify the deed. They have no part in the legal transaction; even if the loan were transacted without witnesses the borrower is no less obligated to repay the lender.
An example of the second category are witnesses to a marriage; their presence constitutes an integral part of the ceremony itself; according to Jewish law4 a couple cannot become husband and wife without the presence of bonafide witnesses.
These two categories of witnesses, witnesses who verify and witnesses who are an integral part of the event itself, exist within a spiritual context as well.
Scripture states:5 “‘You are My witnesses,’ says the L-rd.” In commenting upon this verse, the Zohar provides two explanations:6 a) “You” refers to the Jewish people; b) “You” refers to heaven and earth, concerning which it is written,7 “Today I call heaven and earth as witnesses before you.”
These two sets of witnesses, the Jewish people and heaven and earth, correspond to the two previously described categories of witnesses in the following manner:
The testimony of witnesses is only germane to a matter that is otherwise concealed; something that is revealed to all does not require witnesses.8
In a spiritual sense this means witnesses are not needed to testify to the fact that G-d provides life, for this is known to all.9 One need but observe the manner in which the universe is conducted and one will readily perceive G-d’s handiwork and the Divine life force that vivifies all creation.
Even with regard to G-dliness that can only be believed in but not perceived, witnesses and testimony are superfluous. For although this degree of G-dliness cannot be grasped intellectually, intellect itself decrees that there are levels of Divinity that go beyond the bonds of intellect. Once a thinking person concludes that G-dliness must permeate this world in order for it to exist, he will eventually realize that the degree of G-dliness that provides this world with life is not the most critical; there are levels that entirely transcend the world and man’s intellect.
Therefore, with regard to this level as well, the testimony of witnesses is not germane, for though this level of G-dliness is not in a state of revelation — it is suprarational — nevertheless, intellect itself demands that it exist. Therefore, this level too falls within the purview of “something that will eventually be revealed to all,” concerning which testimony does not apply.
Testimony and witnesses do, however, apply to G-d’s essence , which is totally concealed from intellect, and indeed is concealed from any revelatory level. Here, witnesses are necessary to reveal His essence. This is accomplished in ways reflecting the two types of witnesses:
The infinite power vested within heaven and earth serves as “ascertaining witnesses” to G-d’s true infinitude; the Jews’ ability to draw down G-d’s essence within this world through their spiritual service is the form of witnessing wherein the witnesses are “witnesses who are an integral part of the event itself.”
Jews are able to accomplish this because they are rooted in G-d’s essence; they are therefore able, through their service of Torah and mitzvos , to draw His Essence into this world.
Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XIX, pp. 188-196.
Emotions — A Tree of the Field
In the Torah portion Shoftim we are commanded to treat trees with respect, for “Man is a tree of the field.”10 What is the resemblance between the loftiest creature and lowly vegetation?
The special quality of plants and trees lies in their attachment to the earth, the source from whence they derive their existence and nourishment. This is particularly true with regard to trees. Other plant life, such as grain, vegetables, etc., do not exist in such a continually attached state, for they soon wither and die. The fact that trees are able to withstand winter’s frosts and summer’s heat indicates that they have a particularly strong attachment to the earth, an attachment that enables them to endure difficult times and continue to bear fruit.
Man is a microcosm;11 just as the world as a whole is composed of inanimate matter, vegetable matter, animals and men, so too are these qualities to be found within each and every individual.
A person’s emotive traits are likened to vegetation,12 for they embody growth and development. And although intelligence grows as well, intellect also has an “animal” aspect in that it constantly undergoes movement and change, similar to an animal’s ability to roam. Further, man’s emotive traits tend to be self-limiting — a kind person is inevitably gentle, a severe person will almost always deal with others in a stern manner. For this reason too, the emotive traits are likened to vegetation.
Comprehension, however, understands things as they truly are, not as the person wishes them to be. The conclusions drawn from a concept will vary according to the concept itself, leading sometimes to kindness and sometimes to severity.
Just as in the macrocosm, vegetation is unique in its constant unification with its source, so too within man, the emotive powers are always attached to a person’s essence. This also explains why emotional traits and tendencies are so powerful, and why it is so very difficult for a kind person to become severe, etc.
By likening man to “a tree in the field,” the Torah is in effect telling us that the true test of an individual is not so much his intellectual qualities but his emotional ones; it is they that take the measure of the man.13
It follows that man’s labor and toil with regard to self-improvement is to be directed more towards refining his emotional traits than towards refining his mind;14 perfecting and polishing one’s emotive character has the greatest impact on a person’s essence.
In fact, refining one’s emotive traits is deemed to be so important that intellectual comprehension is not considered complete if it does not affect one’s emotions — “Know this day and take [this knowledge] unto your heart.”15
Just as this is so with regard to each individual, so too regarding the Jewish people as a whole:
All Jews are descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and as such are constantly attached to them and their qualities. The main qualities of the Patriarchs lay not so much in matters of intellect as in emotion,16 for Avraham epitomized kindness and love, Yitzchak severity and fear, Yaakov mercy and beauty — the three traits that encompass the emotional spectrum.17
These sterling qualities — the “trees of the field” — are the birthright of each and every Jew. They must merely be revealed, refined and developed to the greatest possible extent.
Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XXIV, pp. 115-119.
1. Devarim 19:15.
2. See Kiddushin 65b.
3. See Tumim 90:14.
4. Kiddushin ibid.; Rambam Hilchos Ishus 4:6; Tur and Shulchan Aruch Even HaEzer 42:2 and commentaries ibid.
5. Yeshayahu 43:10; ibid. verse 12.
6. III 86a.
7. Devarim 30:19.
8. Likkutei Torah, Pikudei 4a and onward. See also discourse titled VaYakam Eidus ch. 1, in Sefer HaMa’amarim 5700.
9. See Likkutei Torah, Vaes’chanan 6a and onward; ibid. Emor 31b and onward; Sefer HaMitzvos of the Tzemach Tzedek , Mitzvos HaAmonas Elokus ch. 1, et al.
10. Devarim 20:19.
11. Tanchuma, Pikudei 3. See also Avos d’Reb Nasan ch. 31:3.
12. Torah Or 4a.
13. See Hemshech Te’erav III , p. 1221.
14. See Ma’amarim titled Al Ta’atzar p. 6ff, Ain HaKadosh Baruch Hu Ba 5685; VaYisa Aharon 5694.
15. Devarim 4:39.
16. See Torah Or , beginning of Torah portion Va’eira. See also Tanya ch. 18.
17. See Tanya ch. 3; Torah Or 1b.