Witnesses are an important part of every judicial system. Yet, as is often the case, Judaism presents a deeper dimension and perspective on the function and purpose of witnesses.

According to the Talmud, there are two categories of witnesses, “clarifying witnesses” and “establishing witnesses.” Clarifying witnesses are witnesses in the conventional sense. They observe an event and later testify that the event indeed occurred; for example, witnesses can testify that a man borrowed one hundred dollars from his friend. The witnesses, however, have no part in the transaction; the borrower is morally obligated to repay the loan whether or not the witnesses testify. It is the loan that obligates him, not the witnesses.

The second category, “establishing witnesses,” is entirely different. According to Jewish law, there are events that have no legal significance unless there are witnesses present. For example, the witnesses at a wedding ceremony not only attest that the wedding took place, but actually establish the marriage itself. Without proper witnesses, the marriage would have no legal significance.

In other words, the “clarifying witnesses” reveal the legal reality, and the “establishing witnesses” actively participate in creating a legal reality. But these two categories of witnesses are not just legal definitions; they’re relevant to the inner, spiritual dimension of the Torah.

The prophet Isaiah tells us: “‘You are My witnesses,’ says the L‑rd.”1 We are the witnesses charged with the responsibility to “testify” and reveal the truth of G‑d throughout the earth. Our spiritual task as witnesses contains both dimensions, clarifying and establishing, We serve as “clarifying witnesses” when we recognize the presence of G‑d in the magnificent universe He created. When we remind ourselves and others of the good inherent in the world and within people.

Yet merely observing, appreciating and sharing does not capture the full potential and greatness of the Jew, for the Jew is a witness to a marriage, the marriage between Creator and creation, between the G‑d and the Jewish people, between heaven and earth. As previously explained, the witnesses of a marriage are “establishing witnesses,” part of the creation and establishment of the marriage.

To be a witness to the marriage of heaven and earth, the Jew must do more than appreciate and focus on the inherent G‑dliness found on earth. The Jew must partner with G‑d in creation. The Jew actively improves and elevates the world around him. He transforms the mundane by imbuing it with meaning and holiness. The Jew doesn't just tell a story, the Jew seeks to actively create it.2