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
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):
forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to
the land that I will show you.
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 kabbalisticly 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:
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 400years. 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
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.