Liz liked to read about the great minds of history—those individuals who conceived of and constructed the philosophies, theorems and academic systems which furthered the development of human intelligence and knowledge.

Yet Liz found that despite their enormous intellectual contributions to mankind, more often than not, the private lives of these famous personalities did not reflect their lofty ideas. On a personal level, their moral behavior left much to be desired.

Liz also discovered that the same could be said of many highly cultured societies. On the whole, societies that valued intellectual sophistication and cultural refinement were often just as lacking on a moral level, and their ethical standards did not reflect their exalted ideals.

Liz wondered: what was missing in the translation of the intellectual abstraction into the practical deeds of these individuals and societies?

The Torah reading of Shoftim (“Judges”) begins with the duty to establish a system of officers and judges in every community:

“Judges and judicial enforcers you shall place at all your city gates . . .” (Deuteronomy 16:18)

In addition to the obvious communal application, many of the commentaries see these instructions as directed also to the “small city” that is man—how each individual must spiritually guard his own body from negative influences.

In the words of the Siftei Kohen commentary:

“The human body is a city with seven gates—seven portals to the outside world: the two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and the mouth. It is incumbent upon us to place internal ‘judges’ to discriminate and regulate what should be admitted and what should be kept out . . .”

The theme of protecting our own spiritual resources and fighting against negative influences is reinforced at the end of the Parshah.

When you approach a city to wage war against it . . . you must not destroy its trees. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Is a tree of the field a man . . . ? Only trees that you know do not yield food you shall cut down . . . (Deuteronomy 20:19–20)

In instructing us how to wage a war, the Torah is also providing spiritual guidance for each of us in our personal struggles against our own base, animalistic inclinations. These inclinations must be overcome, controlled and subdued. They act as an “enemy,” fighting against the spiritual part of us that craves transcendence, spirituality and G‑dliness.

Waging war against our animalistic self is fighting against that part of us which resists this transformation. And in the context of this spiritual war, the Torah makes the famous analogy comparing man to a tree of the field.

The chassidic masters explain that just as our world consists of four “kingdoms”—mineral, vegetable, animal and human—so, too, does the human being incorporate these four realms within himself. Specifically, the “vegetable kingdom” in man are the emotions, and our “animal kingdom” is the intellect.

The difference between a plant and an animal is that while both exhibit development and growth, the plant remains rooted to its place, while the animal moves from place to place. Similarly, the growth and development of the emotional self takes place in, and is confined to, the boundaries of its particular place—a kind person, even as his kindness develops and matures, will remain kind; a stern person will almost always deal sternly. In other words, emotions are subjective: they may “grow,” but will not transcend their predefined “place.” The intellect, on the other hand, is capable of movement and change, like the animal’s ability to roam. Its conclusions are not predetermined by its “place”—its examination of a certain situation, for example, will sometimes lead to kindness and sometimes to severity.1

This begs the question: Is not the crowning glory and uniqueness of the human being the profundity of his intellect, rather than the depth of his emotions? Why, then, does the Torah compare man to “a tree of the field”?

Because the ultimate purpose of man’s intellect is that it should affect his emotions and cause them to follow his intellect’s prompting. Just as the greatest benefit of a tree is the fruit it produces, so too the greatest hallmark of man must be the fruit that his intellect produces—the knowledge being absorbed by his emotions to create the proper feelings, and then actions.

Only when our intellectual understanding does not remain in the realm of the abstract, but is translated into emotion and motive, ultimately affecting our actions, can we consider ourselves fully developed and complete human beings.

“Trees that you know do not yield food shall be cut down.” Intellect that remains cold and aloof is like a tree that has not produced fruit—it hasn’t served its function.

Emotions give credence to the intellect and lift it to a higher, deeper and more authentic experience, which on its own accord it would never attain. The true test of an individual is not so much his intellectual qualities but his emotional self, and refining one’s emotive character has the greatest impact on the individual.2

In the biblical personalities, the intellectual and emotional realms have traditionally been represented by men and women respectively.

Our patriarchs’ teachings were, to a great extent, an intellectual discipline—a system of thought and a hierarchy of values. But Judaism encompasses more than an intellectual tradition. Shabbat and holidays were not only observed, but also felt. These events were not merely ceremonies, but experiences to behold and sense. the mitzvot (divine commandments) are not only performed with precise rules and exactitude, but with the exuberance and vivacity of feelings.

The center of this training was not within the walls of the formal study halls. It was transmitted within the holy sanctum of family, through the tears and laughter, through the songs and the dreams, through the joyous smiles and the boisterous happiness, through the inner passion and the quiet but stubborn determination of the Jewish home.

All this was primarily found in the maternal realm, by the Jewish mothers who created the mood from the child’s youngest moments. While the fathers transmitted the necessary instruction, the mothers communicated the very heartbeat of Judaism.

Though intellectual commitment is important, in times of crisis or exile the emotional commitment is indispensable. Were it not for the translation of the intellect into this emotional experience, as epitomized by the Jewish mothers throughout the generations, the Jewish people would not have been able to survive the many upheavals that threatened their annihilation.

(Thus we find that in times of crisis, the biblical matriarchs assumed a more powerful spiritual role than the patriarchs, and were the determining force, saving our nation from grave errors. The matriarchs realized simple truths and acted instantaneously in times of upheaval. They followed their sensitive, intuitive, emotionally generated understandings, rather than the patriarchs’ intellectual analysis.

Our matriarch Sarah demanded the immediate expulsion of Ishmael—an act that was considered abominable by Abraham, until G‑d Himself corroborated it. Rebecca changed the course of destiny by intervening in an hour of crisis so that Isaac bestowed his blessings on Jacob, instead of the intended Esau. Miriam was responsible for the birth of Moses, by convincing her parents to have faith and reunite, despite the apparent illogicality of that action under the circumstances of their Egyptian bondage.

The examples of such women continue—women whose contributions in a time of transition determine the destiny of our people.3)

“Man is a tree of the field.” For, in truth, the greatness of man and of humanity is in the translation of the intellect into emotions, where the knowledge then becomes richer, deeper and more genuine.

Ultimately our emotions are what validate our intellect and make it our crowning human glory.