What is the single most important factor that differentiates Homo sapiens, human beings, from animals?

My sixth grade biology teacher began one morning lesson with that question. An argument erupted in the classroom. Communication? Higher order reasoning? An awareness of right and wrong? We were tossing around ideas and spewing sixth grade philosophy. Like a good scientist, my biology teacher challenged all of our ideas. Animals have sophisticated reasoning skills. The US Navy studied the communication of dolphins and discovered that they effectively notify other dolphins of imminent danger with a whistle from across the ocean. Primates may have even demonstrated an awareness of right and wrong. Our teacher had stumped us. Finally, she came to the climax of our lesson that day. Humans are animals, and there are no basic differences between us and them. Our naive sensibilities were shattered.

I continued to argue with her, although I probably ran out of rational arguments somewhere along our debate. Yet I couldn't concede; I intuitively disagreed with her thesis.

Scientists and sociologists recently toyed with the idea that humans possess a unique "theoretical awareness of their surrounding environment as well as their own selves." Although animals have great intelligence, they do not have this type of objective knowledge. I found this modern school of thought interesting because it seems to run parallel to a well-known Kabbalistic idea.

The Kabbalah differentiates all matter and life on earth into four general classifications. The first rung is inorganic matter like earth, water and metals. Next, there is plant life, followed by animal life and finally, humans (or as the Kabbalists call us, "the speakers"). This four-part hierarchy is very significant, for the objective of each class is to link with a higher one and climb one step closer to our Creator. It is the spiritual eco-system. Here's how it works: Nestled in rich, luscious soil is a delicate seed that is watered until it sprouts new life. Nutritious grass and sweet fruits and vegetables then sustain the animal kingdom. Humans can consume from of all three subgroups—inorganic, plants and animals. We can then carry the baton to the finish line by lifting up all of these subordinate links. But this multiple promotion doesn't happen unless there is an authentic human being, a mentch, eating the food. If the eater is animal-like, then the lift up is repressed and doesn't culminate.

For an animal, the instinct of self-preservation and hedonism is natural and even G‑dly. For a human to act like an animal is not only a pathetic squander of talent, but a disservice to animals who expect to become part of a higher unit through us.

That's why G‑d tells us, "And every [kosher] animal has a split hoof and has a hoof cloven into two sections…" (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17).

This law holds the secret to the animal's safe passageway from animal to human being.

A kosher animal stands on split hooves. Kabbalistically speaking, the right and left hooves symbolize two disparate personality types, the right side representing love, kindness, and the inclination to say yes! The left represents discipline, tough love, and a resounding no! The split hoof is a balanced psyche. Naturally, we tend to side with one modality more than the other. It's either right or left. The beauty of the human psyche is the ability to liberate ourselves from being bonded to our natural instincts.

Perhaps this is why we don't see many animals going for therapy (at least not of their own volition) since the very nature of the visit is the belief that we could shift the behaviors, or the internal paradigms, that are not working for us.

The moment that we step out of our comfort zone and try out a more effective way of being, we become real mentches—a G‑dly being. In this way, we utilize food energy to live a richly meaningful life.

Animals are incredibly effective communicators. Split-hooved animals even have a way of beseeching us to do them a favor and be mentches!