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:

Talmud Shabbat 63a - Rabbi Kahana objected to Mar son of Rabbi Huna: But this refers to the words of the Torah? A verse cannot depart from its plain meaning, he replied.

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:

  1. When an inanimate object is used to describe a living being, the statement is figurative. Example: Isaiah 5:7 - For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant; and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.
  2. When life and action are attributed to an inanimate object the statement is figurative. Example: Zechariah 5:1-3 - Then I turned, and lifted up my eyes, and looked, and behold a flying scroll.  And he said to me, What do you see? And I answered, I see a flying scroll; its length is twenty cubits, and its width ten cubits.  And he said to me, This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole earth; for everyone who steals shall be cut off henceforth, according to it; and everyone who swears falsely shall be cut off henceforth, according to it.
  3. When an expression is out of character with the thing described, the statement is figurative. Example: Psalm 17:8 - Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of your wings ...

Remez  (pronounced reh-mez' - meaning "hint")

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:

  1. A drash understanding can not be used to strip a passage of its p'shat meaning, nor may any such understanding contradict the p'shat  meaning of any other scripture passage.
  2. Let scripture interpret scripture wherever possible. 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.

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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