“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15 KJV
In rabbinic Judaism there are four types or levels of study called pardes. These are:
- P’shat (פְּשָׁט) – “surface” is the literal or direct interpretation, taking the words at their most basic and literal meaning.
- Remez (רֶמֶז) – “hints” the allegoric. the hidden or symbolic meaning when we look a little deeper, just beyond the literal interpretation.
- D’rash (דְּרַשׁ) – “concept” here we seek more wisdom by comparing the literal and symbolic meanings with other scriptural references.
- Sod (סוֹד) – the secret or the “mystery” revealing the mystical meaning, revealed to us by inspiration or revelation.
Pardes is like climbing Jacob’s ladder. An extended meaning never contradicts the base meaning, but rather expand our understanding. Because it is all a part of the same ladder, there we should see considerable overlap as we climb. Pardes takes us to the four corners of the earth, searching God’s Word for His truth. And at the very top, we take all of this inward, revealing God’s will for our true selves.
P’shat – Surface
“In the beginning Elohim created the Earth and the Heavens. Over the surface of the abyss was darkness, waste, and formlessness; she became the Earth. The Spirit of Elohim hovered over the surfaces of the waters.” -Genesis 1:1-2, personal translation
The first rung is the plain or contextual meaning of the text, P’shat (pronounced peh-shaht’ – Hebrew for “simple”). P’shat is the first stone in the foundation of Scripture understanding. In the verse above, we can all see and understand simply that there was a beginning to this world. We can know that Elohim, God, had a hand in that creation, that he took what was there and made something of it. This is the plain and simple meaning of the text. We can look at it in context with the rest of the chapter. We can gain incite from the literary style, look at it from a cultural perspective, and even view it as a point in history. We know there was a creation, as all things are here now.
Keep in mind when using this approach that the authors of the scriptures are not always literal in what they say. Inanimate objects may be used at times to describe people, places, or things. It must till be understood that these are figurative. At other times inanimate objects are brought to life in the scriptures, these too are most likely figurative. The same is true of figurative statements. And, sometimes these figurative things are give to help us look a little deeper. In addition, sometimes stories are just stories the point of scripture is to help us understand God, not teach science or history.
Remez – Hint
Remez (pronounced reh-mez’ – Hebrew for “hint”) follows p’shat with the allegorical deeper meaning. It starts getting into the implied meaning of the text. We begin to look for the deeper meaning by looking at the text from another angle. Notice in the quote from Genesis above the text reads differently from the KJV:
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” -Genesis 1:1-2
Did it change the p’shat meaning? No. Did it offer another way of looking at it? Yes. In one God moves, on the other Elohim hovers. In one the Earth is female, the other gender-less. Both are correct, yet both are different ways of looking at the same text. Words in every language have a variety of meanings. We should explore them.
D’rash – Concept
The metaphorical meaning is just one more rung up in D’rash (pronounced deh-rahsh’ – Hebrew for “concept”). D’rash or Midrash, is how we apply both p’shat and remez. Here we take multiple verses and put them together to make a “new scripture” with deeper meaning. We saw d’rash applied when speaking on unconditional love:
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it (Matthew 26:24-25). Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:285-30). And all those who are begotten through me are partakers of the glory of the same, and are the Church of the Firstborn” –DaC 90:3c CoC, 93:20 LdS
This takes a verse talking about Jesus’ sacrifice, us picking up our crosses and following Him; both very difficult sounding tasks. It adds His teaching that through Him, our burdens will be light. And, it ends reminding us that by doing this we will be with Him, partaking in His Glory. We gain much by reading these in the light of p’shat and remez. Separately they each teach us wisdom. By adding d’rash, we put them together and find deeper truth.
Sod or Sud – Mystery
“Wherefore, I will explain unto you, this mystery, for it is mete unto you to know, even as mine apostles.” -Avahr 32:11
Sod (pronounced sawd like sawed, sood like wood, or sōd – Hebrew for “hidden”) is the “secret” or mystical meaning of the text. When Jesus taught that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood, he chased people away becasue they didn’t understand the deeper, true mystical meaning behind his words (John 6:53-56). He was speaking of the ritual of the Sacrament of Communion, as He taught it to his disciples at the Last Supper. Bread is the symbol of the Spring harvest, grapes Autumn. They are the Alpha and Omega of the harvest season. In Exodus 25:30 God commanded that “the bread of the Presence [be placed upon] on the table before me always.” Likewise, Jesus told us in Matthew 28:20 “I am with you always.”
Much could be said on the topic of the bread and the wine being the flesh and the blood of Christ. Yet those that sought to follow Jesus to be fed physically left him when he fed them spiritually. This is why the mystery is hidden, it is plane to those seeking to find. Note here we are using the other pardes to see the mysteries of God, for they are hidden in plain site. This is sod being used with d’rash. Yet sod is also revelation and inspiration. Revelation is the voice of the Lord coming speak to us, angels visiting us, directly teaching as we read Joseph Smith Jr. enjoyed in the Book of Avahr. Inspiration is the burning of the bosom, the spirit guiding us as we read Oliver Cowdery felt in Avahr 17. Both of these gifts may be ours, if we seek the Truth and Blessings of God.
Kabbalah – Reception
“O all ye that are pure in heart, lift up your heads and receive the pleasing word of God, and feast upon his love; for ye may, if your minds are firm, forever.” -Jacob 2:50 RAV, 3:2 OPV
In Mormon Kabbalah we use the pardes for the internal and eternal progression. Many would see Sod as the true Kabbalistic approach, and they wouldn’t be fully incorrect as it is a rung in the ladder. However, to have a truly Kabbalistic view of the scriptures we combine all of these and receive them. This is to say we take their message inward. As has been stated before, the scriptures were not written to teach us history, but to bring us closer to God. In Kabbalah, when we read the scriptures we are everyone in every story. We are Moses, and we are the Pharaoh. We are Peter the Saint and Simon the Magician. We are Moroni and we are the Lamanites trying to destroy him.
Rather than read the scriptures merely as an analogy, we seek the various forms of philosophical and religious thought based on a mystical insight. We use the wisdom God grants us into the divine nature to see the symbols of dynamic processes in the Order of God. Looking at the Creation through the eyes of Kabbalah to the uninitiated, it appears that everything was created through the letters of the Hebrew language and Divine Names. However, once initiated we realize that the scriptures are written in a form of linguistic mysticism. In them we find the Male and Female Parent Gods, and worship the Son, Jesus Christ. Through teshuvah we enjoy Christ’s Grace, and grow in it by way of the Holy Spirit, being the temples of God. Our physical temples, altars, tools, and rituals are all symbolic of our internal journey.
“Study my Word which hath gone forth among the children of men; and also study my Word which shall come forth among the children of men, or that which you are translating, yea, until you have obtained all which I shall grant unto the children of men in this generation; and then shall all things be added thereunto.” -Avahr 19:38-40