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Pardes refers to (types of) approaches to biblical exegesis in rabbinic Judaism (or - simpler - interpretation of text in Torah study). The term, sometimes also spelled PaRDeS, is an acronym formed from the name initials of the following four approaches:
Each type of Pardes interpretation examines the extended meaning of a text. As a general rule, the extended meaning never contradicts the base meaning. The Peshat means the plain or contextual meaning of the text. Remez is the allegorical meaning. Derash includes the metaphorical meaning, and Sod represents the hidden meaning. There is often considerable overlap, for example when legal understandings of a verse are influenced by mystical interpretations or when a "hint" is determined by comparing a word with other instances of the same word.
Some books such as Tolaat Yaakov, divide Pardes into Peshat, Remez, Din (law), and Sod. According to this understanding, Derash is divided into the homiletics, which are classified under Remez, and legal interpretations, which are classified under Din.
Both mystical and rational religious Judaism however, together rooted in mainstream Rabbinic literature and Mitzvot observance, accepted common truth in Peshat, Remez and Drush levels of Judaism. In this way, Jewish religious esotericism is inseparable from exoteric Judaism. Their esoteric meanings did not deny the truth of exotericism, but rather reinforced the need for exoteric Halacha Jewish law and practical observance of the 613 Mitzvot as God's plan in Creation.
The mystical view of esoteric Sod-Secret as the elite doctrines of Kabbalah also gave conceptual context to Peshat, Remez and Drush: in the mystical unfolding of the spiritual Four Worlds, each realm corresponds to a level in PaRDeS. God's immanence is found at successively descending levels of reality. Torah descends from on High, while man ascends the levels of PaRDeS exegesis in Torah from Below. In this sense, ascending the four levels of interpretation reveals greater divinity in Torah; the exoteric and esoteric are linked in a continuous chain. While rationalists read Rabbinic Aggadah legends metaphorically, kabbalists read them as allusions to Kabbalah.
Within mainstream exoteric classic Rabbinic literature, such as the Talmud and Midrashim, Halacha is Jewish legal discussion and ruling, while Aggadah is Jewish theological/narrative discussion. As two approaches in exoteric Judaism, so Peshat-Simple, Remez-Hinted and Drush-Homiletic exegeses methods, which work exoterically, can be used in either Halachic or Aggadic contexts.
(Gen. 1,2) And the earth was empty (tohu) and formless (vohu).
Rashi - The Hebrew word 'tohu' means astonishment in English and the word 'bohu' means emptiness and next to emptiness. Thus the phrase is 'amazement and desolation'. This means that a person would be amazed and astonished at anything that was there.
There is a traditional Rabbinic passage describing spiritual history that relates the 6 days of Creation to the 6000 years the World will exist, and the Sabbath to the 7th Millennium Messianic Era. The first 2000 years of Creation from Adam, through Noah and the Tower of Babel, to Abraham were 2000 years when God was hidden. The next 2000 years from the Israelite Patriarchs, through the Giving of the Torah at Sinai, to the 1st and 2nd Jewish Commonwealths and Temples in Jerusalem, were 2000 years of Divine revelation. The final 2000 years of preparation when the Jewish Messiah is waited for, are 2000 years balanced between Divine concealment and revelation.
A Remez-allusion to this is found in the first verse of the Torah:
"In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth"
בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ.
Of these 7 words, only Hashamayim-Heavens has no letter א Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, numerical value of 1 (gematria). Aleph, hints at its etymological variants "Aluph" (Chief/Ruler) and "Eleph" (One Thousand), the first representing the 1 God, the second representing 1000 years. Hebrew root words are generally made from three consonant letters, as vowels are read in pronunciation instead. Hebrew reads from right to left. Of the 6 words with Aleph in them in the verse: in the first 2 Aleph is positioned as third letter (concealed God in the first 2000 years), in the next 2 Aleph is positioned as first letter (revealed God in the middle 2000 years), in the last 2 Aleph is positioned as second letter (balance between concealed and revealed God in the last 2000 years).
This is a Remez-allusion exegesis, but gains further meaning in Kabbalah Jewish mysticism (Sod-Secret exegesis) by the Kabbalistic doctrine that Creation was ennacted through the Hebrew letters of the Torah.
(gemara makkos 2b) Q. A hint that the law of conspiring witnesses is in the Torah, where is it?
A. There is no such hint, because it is stated explicitly (Deut 19,19) You do to them what they conspired to do to the accused.
Q. But a hint that conspiring witnesses receive a whipping [if they cannot be punished by doing to them as they conspired] according to the Torah, where is it?
A. As it says (Deut 25,1-2) They caused the righteous to be righteous and the evil to be evil. And therefore the evil get whipped.
Q. Because they caused the righteous to be righteous and the evil to be evil. And therefore the evil get whipped?
A. But there must have been witnesses who testified that the righteous were evil. And other witnesses came and caused the righteous to be known as righteous as they were before, and caused the previous witnesses to be known as evil. And therefore the evil get whipped.
(gemara makkos 23b) Rabbi Simlai deduced that there were 613 mitzvot taught to Moses at Mount Sinai. The verse says that (Deut 33,4) Torah was given to us through Moses at Sinai. The gematria of Torah is 611. And one should add to them the first two of the Ten Commandments that were given directly by God to the Jews [this is known because they are written in the first person singular], making the total 613.
In his Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides wrote the most important book of Medieval Jewish philosophy. In it he declares his intention to conceal from the average reader his explanations of Sod esoteric meanings of Torah. Religious Jewish Rationalists read Maimonides' Aristotelianism as a mutually-exclusive alternative metaphysics to Kabbalah, as does the mainstream academic view on Maimonides. According to this, Medieval Jewish Rationalists and their heirs today hold that only philosophy can extend the human capacity as much as possible to understand Divine secrets, rather than a revealed theosophy like Kabbalah. Some academics hold that Maimonides' project fought against the Proto-Kabbalah of his time. Kabbalists and their heirs, however, read Maimonides according to Kabbalah or as an actual covert subscriber to Kabbalah. According to this, he employed rationalism to defend Judaism rather than limit enquirey of Sod only to rationalism. His rationalism, if not taken as an opposition, also assisted the Kabbalists, purifying their transmitted teaching from mistaken corporeal interpretations that could have been made from earlier Jewish mysticism, though Kabbalists held that their theosophy alone allowed human access to Divine mysteries. In this passage, Maimonides mentions Divine secrets within Torah:
"Adam and Eve were at first created as one being, having their backs united: they were then separated, and one half was removed and brought before Adam as Eve." Note how clearly it has been stated that Adam and Eve were two in some respects, and yet they remained one, according to the words, "Bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh" (Gen. ii. 23). The unity of the two is proved by the fact that both have the same name, for she is called ishah (woman), because she was taken out of ish (man), also by the words, "And shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh" (ii. 24). How great is the ignorance of those who do not see that all this necessarily includes some [other] idea [besides the literal meaning of the words].
Kabbalah does not read Scripture as analogy, but as theosophical symbols of dynamic processes in the Supernal Divinity. According to this, Creation was ennacted through the letters of the Hebrew language, particularly Divine Names. The Midrash describes God "looking into the Torah to Create the World", which Kabbalah extended into a linguistic mysticism. United with the Infinite Divine, the text of the Torah becomes one long Name of God, or alternatively, God's revealed Being as represented in this World. Kabbalists endeavoured to perceive the unlimited Divinity in the Torah of the Tree of life, through the exoteric Torah of the Tree of Knowledge, the two representing transcendent and immanent revelations of God in the Sephirot, uniting Tiferet ("The Holy One Blessed Be He") and Malkuth (Feminine Shekhinah).
The teachings of Isaac Luria, which form the basis of modern esoteric Kabbalah, read the mythological doctrine of Shevirat HaKeilim ("Shattering of the vessels in God's Persona) from the account of the Edomite Kings of Genesis 36:31 and I Chronicles 1:43:
"These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before there reigned any king over the children of Israel..."
In Kabbalah, based on exoteric Midrash, the Hebrew Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, embody the sephirot of Chesed-Kindness, Gevurah-Strength and Tiferet-Beauty. Kindness and Judgement are polar forces and Beauty harmonises. The imbalances emerged in Ishmael and Esau, while the harmony fathered the 12 tribes of Israel. Ishmael and Esau are considered the spiritual roots of the Nations, deriving from the initial unrectified spiritual Realm of Tohu-Chaos, whose pristine Divine potential was too high to be contained in Existence, shattering its vessels which fell down into exile. The Israelites relate to the lower Realm of Tikun-Rectification. The Messianic Era for all people will embody both advantages of the high lights of Tohu in the rectified vessels of Tikun, when "all Nations will ascend the mountain of God". Edom, the progeny of Esau, corresponds to unrectified Gevurah-Strength, the waste of which vitalises the kelipot shells. Gevurah is the constricting force in Creation, allowing independent Existence, but also causing the initial vessels of Tohu to act independently and shatter. The Edomite Kings who reigned before any king in Israel, while also being historical people according to Peshat, in Kabbalah both embody and symbolise the vessels of Tohu that shattered. The verses name eight kings, the breakages in the eight emotional sephirot from Daat to Malchut. Death is the lights-souls reascending and the vessel fragments falling, animated by remnant sparks of light. Of the eighth king, only Genesis says he died, as Malchut remained partially intact. 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, 2-3:
And the Earth was chaos and void (the World of Tohu), with darkness upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God hovered (מרחפת-"Merachepet", the sparks animating the fragments externally) over the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light..(the World of Tikun, allowing stable reception of Divine revelation)
"Merachepet" divides into 288 (רפח) sparks animating within the מת-"dead"-fallen fragments.
In a discourse Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitch Rebbe, asks where Hasidic thought fits in with Pardes exegesis. Habad is the intellectualist school in Hasidic Judaism, translating the mystical faith of General-Hasidism and the movement's founder into intellectual articulation. The works of the last Habad leader focus on uniting the different aspects of traditional Jewish thought, exoteric and esoteric, through the Hasidic explanation. The four levels of Pardes in Kabbalah articulate the Four spiritual Worlds and the four soul levels in Action, Emotion, Understanding and Wisdom. In the discourse he describes General-Hasidism relating through faith to the essence of the soul, the Torah, and God (Hasidic focus on Divine Omnipresence perceived by the soul's essence). In esoteric Kabbalistic terminology this relates to the fifth (highest) primary World of Adam Kadmon, and the above-conscious fifth (highest) soul level of Will (internal aspect: soul-root "Delight"), called in Kabbalah "Yehida-Unity". He describes Habad thought articulating in intellectual grasp the essence-fifth level of Torah exegesis, Hasidut-Yehida not listed above the four levels of PaRDeS because as essence it is not limited to a particular form. Peshat, Remez, Drush and Sod are constrained by their limited disciplines: from Peshat describing material perception to Sod-Kabbalah limited to the esoteric supernal emanations of God. As essence, Hasidic thought, investigated intellectually in Habad, both transcends all four levels of Pardes in its own exegetical explanation, and permeates within the four. Yechida-Essence is revealed through the four levels of Pardes, but not constrained by them. The particular exegeses of PaRDeS become connected together in light of the Hasidic exegesis. In this way, the discourse describes Kabbalah, which gains psychological understanding through Hasidism, being actually a limited esoteric commentary on Hasidism's Yehida-Essence. Kabbalah remains transcendent, while Hasidic thought emphasises action, as the Atzmut essence of God receives its only true revelation in the ultimate Material purpose to Creation, the Omnipresent Divinity related to in Hasidic thought.
The Pardes system is often regarded as mystically linked to the word pardes (Hebrew פָּרְדֵּס), meaning orchard. "Pardes" is etymologically related to the English word "paradise", and the Quranic Firdaus (Arabic فِردَوس) among various other forms, in that they all share a common origin in an Old Iranian root, attested in the Avestan language as pairi.daêza-. It occurs only three times in the Tanakh, namely, in Song of Songs 4:13, Ecclesiastes 2:5, and Nehemiah 2:8. In the first of these passages it means "garden"; in the second and third, "park." In the apocalypses and in the Talmud the word is used of the Garden of Eden and its heavenly prototype. From this usage, comes Christianity's denotation of Paradise as the abode of the blessed.
The Pardes exegesis system flows from traditional belief in the text as Divine revelation; Mosaic authorship in regard to the Torah, prophetic inspirations in the rest of Tanakh, and belief in Oral Torah transmission. Modern Jewish denominations differ over the validity of applying modern historical-critical exegetical methods to Scripture. Haredi Judaism regards the Oral Torah texts as revelation, and can apply Pardes method to read classic Rabbinic literature. Modern Orthodox Judaism is open to historical critical study of Rabbinic literature and some application to the later Biblical canon. Additionally, some Modern Orthodox scholars have looked at Bible Criticism on the Torah, incorporating some of its views within traditional belief in Mosaic revelation. Non-Orthodox denominations apply critical method throughout, but with different theological conclusions.
Beginning with Samuel David Luzzatto in the nineteenth century, there has been an approach to understanding the Torah that finds statements in classical Jewish commentaries on the Bible that would allow acceptance of revelation, and still use Lower Criticism. Comments of Rashbam, Ibn Ezra, Ibn Caspi, Judah Ha-Hasid, and Abravenel have been used in this historical-philological form of Peshat.
In the 20th Century, the Conservative Judaism philosopher-theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel, while accepting modern scholarship, saw existentialist revelation and Divine encounter as the foundation of legitimate Bible interpretation. His 1962 masterwork, Torah min HaShamayim BeAspaklariya shel HaDorot (Torah from Heaven in the Light of the Generations) is a study of classical rabbinic theology and aggadah (spiritual thought), as opposed to halakha (Jewish law) in revealing the Divinity of Torah study. It explores the views of the Rabbis in the Talmud, Midrash and among the philosophical and mystical traditions, about the nature of Torah, the revelation of God to mankind, prophecy, and the ways that Jews have used scriptural exegesis to expand and understand these core Jewish texts in a living, fluid spiritual exegesis.
The Pardes typology has some similarities to the contemporary Christian fourfold allegorical scheme. The great Muslim scholar and Imam, Ja'far al-Sadiq, the last Caliph before the schism of Sunni and Shia expresses in similar fashion that the Quran has four levels of interpretation similar to that of the PaRDeS: “The Book of God has four things: literal expression (‘ibāra), allusion (ishāra), subtleties (laṭā’if), and deepest realities (ḥaqā’iq). The literal expression is for the common folk (‘awāmm), the allusion is for the elite (khawāṣṣ), the subtleties are for the friends of God (awliyā’), and the deepest realities are for the prophets (anbiyā’)."