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Home » Shoftim

Shoftim: Lower is Higher

Submitted by on August 13, 2006 – 4:24 amNo Comment | 2,513 views

Man and Bread

Our Parsha declares that “man is the tree of the field.” Our sages comment that the fruit of the tree is man’s primary sustenance. Though our diet contains many foods that are entirely unrelated to the tree, the Torah insists that only “bread can fully satiate the heart of man.” (Psalm 104) We do in fact eat all kinds of foods but hunger is never fully satisfied without bread, which grows from the ground, as does the tree.

Four Elements

All of creation can be divided into four elements.

  1. The first is the inanimate, the mineral, that exhibits no outside indicators of life.
  2. The second is the vegetable that enjoys vertical motion (through growth) but is incapable of lateral movement.
  3. The third is the animal, which demonstrates its enormous life energy through both vertical and lateral movement.
  4. Man towers above all. Man demonstrates signs of life not only on the outside but also on the inside. No creature has comparable intellectual and communicative skills.


This hierarchy raises a question. Why is man sustained by that which is lower than he is? Does logic not dictate that lower life forms be sustained by higher life forms? Conversely, does the higher life form not somehow compromise its purity by receiving life energy from a lower life form?

A Converse Hierarchy

This question forces us to reevaluate the face value of the world as it appears to us. Kabbalah teaches that, creatures, which appear lower on the totem pole, originate on a level that is in fact higher. Its lofty origins enable it to journey forth to so low and distant a state because a stronger source is capable of sending its offspring much further than a weaker source.

When we view the hierarchy from this perspective we discover that the origin of vegetation is in fact greater then that of man. Man is not sustained by the bread’s substance, which is lower than he is, but by G-d’s energy within it, which comprises the spiritual origin of the bread.