PaRDeS - the Four Levels of Interpretation
The four level of interpretation in Hebraic study are called: Parshat, Remez, D’rash & Sod. The first letter of each word P-R-D-S is taken, and vowels are added for pronunciation, giving the word PARDES (meaning "garden" or "orchard"). Each layer is deeper and more intense than the last, like the layers of an onion.
P'shat (pronounced peh-shaht' - meaning "simple")
The p'shat is the plain, simple meaning of the text. The understanding of scripture in its natural, normal sense using the customary meanings of the word’s being used, literary style, historical and cultural setting, and context. The p'shat is the keystone of Scripture understanding. If we discard the p'shat we lose any real chance of an accurate understanding and we are no longer objectively deriving meaning from the Scriptures (exegesis), but subjectively reading meaning into the scriptures (eisogesis).
The Talmud states that no passage loses its p'shat:
Note that within the p'shat you can find several types of language, including figurative, symbolic and allegorical. The following generic guidelines can be used to determine if a passage is figurative and therefore figurative even in its p'shat:
This is where another (implied) meaning is alluded to in the text, usually revealling a deeper meaning. There may still be a p'shat meaning as well as another meaning as any verse can have multiple levels of meaning.
An example of implied "REMEZ" Proverbs 20:10 - Different weights, and different measures, both of them are alike an abomination to the Lord. The p'shat would be concerned with a merchant using the same scale to weigh goods for all of his customers. The remez implies that this goes beyond this into aspects of fairness and honesty in anyone's life.
D’rash (pronounced deh-rahsh' also called "Midrash")
This is a teaching or exposition or application of the P'shat and/or Remez. (In some cases this could be considered comparable to a "sermon.") For instance, Biblical writers may take two or more unrelated verses and combine them to create a verse(s) with a third meaning. (The book of Hebrews uses D'rash to a great extent to make its arguments.)
There are three rules to consider when utilizing the d'rash interpretation of a text:
Sod (pronounced sawd or sood [like "wood"] - meaning "hidden")
This understanding is the hidden, secret or mystic meaning of a text. Some examples of this would be the "dragon," "whore of Babylon," and number "666," all from the book of Revelation. Others would include; Yeshua's command in John chapter 6:53, "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you." Or Paul's statement in Galatians 4:26, "But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all."
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