Understanding Scriptures

The Great Synagogue in Jerusalem

In Judaism there are four levels of understanding the Scriptures. These four levels are known by a Hebrew acronym PRDS (pronounced PaRaDiSe, more commonly Pardes).

The Hebrew word Pardes refers to a park or a garden, such as “the Garden of Eden” (Gan Edon). Pardes is an acronym:

1. Pashat –

  • a) Simple,
  • b) Obvious,
  • c) Literal

2. Remez –

  • a) Hint

3. Drash –

  • a) Search

4. Sod –

  • a) Hidden,
  • b) Secret,
  • c) Mystical

Each is a different level of study. Most of us do well at the Simple or Pashat level.

Simple or Pashat

The first level of understanding is Pashat (Simple, Obvious, Literal). The Pashat is the literal meaning like reading Torah at its “face value”. The plain, simple meaning of the text; understanding scripture in its natural, normal since using the customary meanings of the words being used, in accordance with the primary exegetical rule in the Talmud that no passage loses its Pashat. (Shab. 63a;b. Yeb.24a)

Use these rules of thumb to determine if a passage is figurative and therefore figurative even in its Pashat:

1. When an inanimate object is used to describe a living being, the statement is figurative. (Prov. 18:10)

  • The name of Hashem is a tower of strength; through it is a righteous person will race and be strong. (Stone edition)

2. When life and action are attributed to an inanimate object the statement is figurative. (Prov. 18:10)

  • The name of Hashem is a tower of strength; through it is a righteous person will race and be strong. (Stone edition)

3. When an expression is out of character with the thing described, the statement is figurative (Prov. 17:18)

  • The man who lacks [an understanding] heart will give his handshake to be a co-signer for his friend. (Stone edition)

Hint or Remez

The second level of understanding is Remez (Hint). This is the implied meaning of the text. Peculiarities in the text are regarded as hinting at a deeper truth than that conveyed by its Pashat.

Proverbs 18:10 – The name of Hashem is a tower of strength; through it is a righteous person will race and be strong. (Stone edition)

  • One who trusts in G-d regects the lure of enticement and gains tremendous strength and protection (Rabbeinu Bachya, from the Stone edition)

Proverbs 17:18 – A person with sense clasps hands; he becomes surety before his neighbor. (Chabad.org)

  • Rashi – he clasps with the wicked to go in their ways, while he is already a guarantor for his friend. He already accepted surety for the Holy One, blessed be He, to keep His commandments. (Chabad.org.)’

Search or Drash

The third level of understanding is Drash (Search). This is the allegorical, typological or homiletical application of the text. Creativity is used to search the text in relation to the rest of the Scriptures, other literature, or life itself in order to develop an allegorical, typological or homiletical application of the text.

  • Allegorical: A story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one.
  • Typological: Study of or analysis or classification based on types or categories. (merriam-webster.com)
  • Homiletical: The art of preaching. It comprises the study of composition and delivery of a sermon or other religious discourse. The sermon, homily (a commentary that follows a reading of scripture) and catechetical (instruction by word of mouth) instruction. (wikipedia.org)

Three important rules of thumb in utilizing the Drash level of understanding a scripture are:

1. A Drash understanding can not be used to strip a passage of its Pashat meaning.

2. Let Scripture interpret scripture. Look for the Scriptures themselves to define the . components of an allegory.

3. The primary components of an allegory represent specific realities. We should limit ourselves to these primary components when understanding the text.

Hidden or Sod

The fourth level of understanding is Sod (hidden). This understanding is the hidden, secret or mystic meaning of a text. This process often involves returning the letters of a word to their prime-material state and giving them new form in order to reveal a hidden meaning.

A small fragment of study on Gen 1, 1-3 as an example only, showing how letters with numbers reveals a hidden meaning:

The sparks of holiness animate Creation down to Material Existence. In the highest World Atziluth, the general root-sparks number 288, read out by gematria from Genesis 1, 1-3:
“And the Earth was chaos and void (the World of Tohu), with darkness upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of G-d hovered (“Merachepet”, the sparks animating the fragments externally) over the face of the waters. And G-d said, Let there be light….(the World of Tikun, allowing stable reception of Divine revelation).”

We will look at the word “merachepet”:
The Hebrew word merachepet is:. מרחפת
The numerical value of these letters in Hebrew is (you have to read this from right to left):
מ = 40, ר= 200, ח= 8, פ= 80, ת= 400
מרחפת in English means to hover, or to float.

From the Hebrew word Merachepet the Hebrew letters in English would be: M-R-CH-P-T (there are no vowels in Hebrew, so in English we add vowels to pronounce the Hebrew word).

The value of these English letters translated from the Hebrew are: M = 40, R = 200, CH = 8, P = 80, T = 400
The R (ר), CH (ח), P (פ), are all wrapped between the M (מ), and the T (ת). So we add the letters that are wrapped up separate from the letters that are wrapping them.

  • R = 200
  • CH = 8
  • P = 80
  • Total: 28
  • M = 40
  • T = 400
  • Total: 440

The conclusion is:
“Merachepet” divides into 288 sparks animating with the “dead” fallen fragments. (from: wikepedia.org)
R, CH, P (288) = sparks animating within the M, T (440) fallen fragments (dead).

Closing Note:

I suggest staying with the simple or pashat, and maybe looking at the hint or remez once in a while. I know for me it’s plenty of work sometimes just learning the simple understanding.

by, Jim Behnke

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