The 4 Levels of Torah (Bible) Study
Pardes refers to types of approaches to biblical exegesis or to interpretation of text in Torah study. The term, sometimes also spelled PaRDeS, is an acronym formed from the same initials of the following four approaches:
- Peshat (פְּשָׁט) — “surface” (“straight”) or the literal (direct) meaning. The Peshat means the plain or contextual meaning of the text. What does it actually say. Every word, phrase, and thought has a meaning, there is no word that is redundant or idle. Even if it appears to be, it is not. It is filled with meaning for us to learn.
- Remez (רֶמֶז) — “hints” or the deep (allegoric: hidden or symbolic) meaning beyond just the literal sense. Remez is the allegorical meaning, the underlying theme or story that is told while speaking of other things. It is how prophecy is laid into the story of history. This level shows the plan for Yashua’s redemption and restoration.
- Derash (דְּרַשׁ) — from Hebrew darash: “inquire” (“seek”) — the comparative (midrashic) meaning, as given through similar occurrences. Derash includes the metaphorical meaning. It’s where truth and principle are presented. Truth can only be truth if it is confirmed. Confirmation as we know must come in the form of evidence and evidence must be at least two or three witnesses.
- Sod (סוֹד) (pronounced with a long O as in ‘soda’) — “secret” (“mystery”) or the esoteric/mystical meaning, as given through inspiration or revelation. The Sod level is the mysterious and coded level, the hidden meaning. This involves the understanding of numbers along with the meaning associated with certain numerical values. For example, the number 1 represents “Echad” or Oneness, “Two” represents struggle, division or witness, etc. This level also involves the meanings of names.1
Each type of Pardes interpretation examines the extended meaning of a text. As a general rule, the extended meaning never contradicts the base 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.2