A wise teacher knows that he’ll lose his students if he expresses his abstract wisdom in too-lofty terms. He knows that he must contract his wisdom, using simple terms that the audience can relate to and understand. But this is difficult and sometimes painful for the teacher. He must leave the comfort of his knowledge and expertise to meet his students where they’re at. He must limit the light of his wisdom, masking some of its beauty.

This descent, however, will ultimately lead the scholar to a deeper appreciation of the wisdom. Because when one is forced to explain an abstract idea in concrete terms, when one is forced to create an analogy to help people grasp an intangible idea, one will attain a deeper level of understanding. The teacher has to reach the essence and soul of the idea, and only then will he succeed in condensing the concept and expressing it with an appropriate analogy.

This, explain the Kabbalists, is the deeper meaning of G‑d’s first communication with Abram (Abraham’s original name):

Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you.1

This commandment contains multiple layers of meaning. Yes, Abram was to leave Mesopotamia and travel to what would become the Land of Israel, but there is a mystical meaning to the verse as well. Abram represents abstract wisdom. The word Abram comprises two words: av, “father,” which in Kabbalistic terminology is a metaphor for wisdom, and ram, which means “elevated.” Thus, Abram is exalted wisdom. (At the time, Abram was living in Charan, which Kabbalistically represents the “neck.” The neck metaphorically blocks the abstract wisdom of the mind from descending into concrete language that could inspire emotions in the heart.)

Abram’s physical journey was a symbol of his spiritual journey. The journey meant leaving the comfort of his own thoughts, and expressing his abstract ideas of monotheism and morality to people who were on a far lower spiritual and intellectual level than himself. Yet, this downward journey, this descent, led Abram to greater heights. As G‑d promised Abram, as a result of his journey:

I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will aggrandize your name, and [you shall] be a blessing.

Abram’s journey was far from challenge-free. He was forced to descend to Egypt, where his wife was abducted. His close relationships with his nephew Lot and concubine Hagar were tested. G‑d informed him that his descendants would be enslaved for 400 years. Yet Abram understood that the more challenging the journey, the greater the spiritual gain. Abram understood that a descent is critical to, and therefore part and parcel of, the journey upward.

The story of Abram is the story of every soul.

The soul originates in the spiritual worlds, surrounded by divine wisdom and awareness. The soul is then called upon to begin the journey we call life. This journey from the spiritual worlds to life in this physical world seems to be a descent for the soul. No longer can it bask in the glow of spiritual enlightenment and closeness to the Infinite Light. No longer can it remain in the realm of abstract ideas. On this earth, the soul must attend to the concrete needs of the body: food, shelter and comfort. The soul is no longer in the world of av ram, the world of abstract knowledge and enlightenment. The soul is right here on planet Earth.

Yet, like Abram, like the wise teacher forced to condense his wisdom into a parable, the soul must now express its relationship to G‑d in a concrete way. By using physical objects to fulfill the divine will, by developing an awareness of the divine on this earth, the soul reaches greater heights than it would if it had never embarked on the journey.2