Once there was a man who grew up isolated in the mountains and had never laid eyes upon another human. His primary sustenance was wheat and he knew only raw wheat.
One day, he came upon a village and noticed the people of the village were eating strange foods.
He inquired of one woman, “What are you eating?” She said: “I am eating bread.” He asked: “What is it made from?” She said: “It is made from wheat.”
The man approached a second villager and asked: “What are you eating?” He said: “I am eating cake.” The man of the wilderness said: “And what is it made of?” He replied: “It is made from wheat.”
And so it happened that as he went inquiring from person to person, each one dining on a substance of a different shape and texture, whatever they ate was made from wheat.
Finally, he declared to the villagers: “I am far superior to all of you; for I eat wheat itself, while you eat foods derived thereof.”
He returned to the wilds, only to spend the rest of his life missing out on, and unaware of, the pleasures of the world in all of their varieties.
——- Sefer Ha’Zohar, Vol. 2, folios 176a-b; Sif’ra D’Tzni’uta, Ch. 1
Because of that view, he knew nothing of the delights of the world, they were lost to him. So it is with one who grasps the principle and does not know all those delectable delights deriving, diverging from that principle.
The man from the mountains claims to be a master of wheat, a master of Torah (the Five Books of Moses). Traditionally, “master of wheat” means one who has mastered the oral tradition. In this parable, wheat and its products (kernels, bread, cake and pastry) symbolize four levels of meaning in Torah: simple, homiletical, allegorical and mystical.
The mountain man assumes that because he understands the simplest, literal meaning of the Torah, he has achieved the essence and hence does not need to delve deeper. Although the essence is often the goal of mysticism, this parable implies that essence is inadequate unless it leads to the exploration of deeper levels of meaning inherent in every word.