Pardes’n Me…

Thanks to Yael for showing me this aspect of Rabbinical Judaism and a methodology of looking at passages of scripture – Pardes.

The Pardes typology describes 4 different approaches to Biblical exegesis in rabbinic Judaism. The name, sometimes also spelled PaRDeS is an acronym for the 4 approaches:

  • Pshat (פְּשָׁט) — the “simple meaning” of a verse or passage
  • Remez (רֶמֶז) — “hints” of a deeper meaning beyond just the literal words
  • Drash (דְּרַשׁ) — “interpretation”; unraveling midrashic meaning by comparing words and forms in the passage to similar occurrences elsewhere
  • Sod (סוֹד) — the “secret” or mystical meaning of a passage, as given through inspiration or revelation

I have noticed that this method allows for various meanings from one single passage and allows for each person to sit at the table to discuss that passage (as equals). Some might find just a literal meaning, some might find a mystic meaning, while others search for a ‘deeper meaning’ within the passage. All in all – it allows for passages to speak on many levels other than just a single idea.

Demonstration #1 (ask and you shall recieve – prayer idea)

– Literally, simply ask (pray/action) and you will recieve (outcome) from God

– Interpretation, can also mean ask (pray/action) involves us and what we believe (action on our part) – so as to see the recieve (outcome) from God – prayer can mean in between asking and recieving there is involvement of us.

– Mystically it can mean that the action (praying) draws us closer to God (the giver) via the spiritual connection developed in the action itself.

Demonstration #2 (The Word becomes Flesh)

– Literally, simply can mean Jesus (word of God becomes a human person)

– Interpretation, can also mean it is applicable to all of us. John could be using this as an outline for his writings as a way to reflect the gospel breaking into human reality. The word (biblical teachings) becomes flesh (through us living those ideas out).

– Mystically, it can mean this idea goes way back to the God-head – the words of God which existed from the beginning – were spoken – and found their way from this essence – which later becomes Jesus. Somehow in this contact with the teachings we are interacting with God.

Now I find the methodology very useful because it gives us more than just a literal sense to a passage (and I never even got into the wordplay aspect of this – which I think Yael is almost an expert at) and allows us to see more than just ‘one thing’. I think within faith systems this is very important because I have seen literalness become a very rigid system to which all must obey – yet it is in the literal component I see the least coming forth from the teachings – more needs to be fleshed out. Now mine were simple examples, and I am sure there are lots of others way of looking at those passages, but that’s where I see the glory of this method – you’re more than welcome to speak also.

Not saying we will find concensus on what the passage is saying but we will find that the teachings we bring forth are what is important. I have merely taken sentences and shown they can be extrapolated from for ‘more to a meaning’ from a passage. I think this is good – and this is what I shoot for in my studies – both in studying a passage and in blogging on ideas.

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12 thoughts on “Pardes’n Me…

  1. Yes, I think just reading everything literally gets mind-numbing very quickly. How interesting is it to read the same words over and over and over? To me, that falls into the category of vain repetition!

    For myself, I mostly prefer to stay at the d’rash level; I don’t usually like the mystical all that much. D’rash, story-telling, that’s more my style.

    Don’t suppose you’ll get many comments with this post though! You’re really getting out there picking up ways of interpreting texts from Jews! Anyway, the reality of it all is everyone makes interpretations, whether they admit it or not.

    Enjoy your studies!

  2. I like this system too. There are layers of wisdom in Scripture and its imperative that we investigate all these angles so we know what the verses are telling us.

    The mystical is the most challenging but I found reading Meister Eckhart’s writings on Cain-mysticism as opposed to Abel-mysticism to be very helpful. Anger bubbles up out of Cain-m whereas its totally absent in Abel-m. Cain-m is animalistic whereas Abel-m is rational.

  3. Yael, I truly love the various perspectives in the passages you bring forward – it always opens my mind to new thoughts and ideas (which to me is suach a great gift). I love those passages and the variety of thought that comes out of them – when I only see people that read the literal it is kind of sad – they are missing what the passage can truly mean in more well rounded depth.

  4. SocietyVs,

    But using this methodology, how do we keep this from being completely guesswork? The entire “ask and you shall receive” passage is as follows:

    “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matt. 7:7-11)

    Notice Jesus uses very specific examples of bread/stone and fish/serpent? He also contrasts that even evil people give good gifts—how much more a good God will do. (This is in keeping with the comparison/contrast of loving those who love you; how even evil people can do that.)

    The literal seems straightforward—ask and god will provide. But taking this to the next level of “hints” of a deeper meaning—we could veer off in a variety of different directions.

    Was Christ comparing this to the patronage/client relationships of Roman society? Was Christ limiting it to only certain things one could ask for? Note he had just said God knew what we needed. Can I ask for a Hummer, or will God only provide Volkswagens? Is the “knocking” an allusion to Rev. 3:20?

    I agree we can start to wander off in a huge variety of directions on these verses—is there any way in which we can use this method to say, “No—that is NOT the way God intended it to go?” Or does “anything go”?

    We go to midrash, and this could be a comparison to the Manna (bread) or the Serpent (Moses) or the fishing of men (Peter/Simon) or David getting the bread, or…we could go on and on. And, as you point out, it could me God wanting us to be involved in determining what we actually want.

    By the time you get to “mystical” meaning—we can say just about anything. What is particularly troubling, though, is how the “hints” and “interpretation” and “mystical” always end up contradicting the “literal” in the difficult passages.

    The article you cited says, “As a general rule the deeper meaning never contradicts the baser meaning.” But note the qualifier of “as a general rule.”

    So when I see the literal, “ask and you shall receive” I am informed that the real meaning is not asking and receiving. When I am told God will provide your food and clothes; to not worry, I am informed the real meaning IS to worry, and the “providing” is by the believer working a job and having a bank account.

    Which brings me back to my question—how, using this methodology, could you ever say to someone they have interpreted a verse incorrectly?

  5. “The literal seems straightforward—ask and god will provide” (Dagoods)

    I actually have never disagreed with you on this point – I think the idea God gives to those who ask is a legit one. The passage seems to point to this idea – we both know that.

    “But taking this to the next level of “hints” of a deeper meaning” (Dagoods)

    But a close look at that exact passage reveals a lot about ‘more to it’ than what is there. First off, ask – seek – knock – well what does that all mean? Oddly enough – the three things add up to ASK – again what does the writer mean by using that formula? I think we all agree asking, seeking, and knocking are all different. Maybe in the whole thing about ask and recieve – there is more to it than just a simple – ‘can I have such and such…’.

    “Or does “anything go”?” (Dagoods)

    For me, the passage is literal in one sense (it is a actual thing we do and expect) – but the way we do it – well that’s up for debate I think. The writer does use three different examples of looking into God – 1 of the 3 is asking. As for the recieve part I cannot speculate on – I am not the giver in that part of the passage.

    Also, Jesus does use 2 literal examples to make a point – but I find it very odd that he uses 2 examples of people giving gifts to one another (not God or some entity giving gifts to people). Is he contrasting that giving with the giving of the Law/teachings at Sinai? (which would be a good gift and one they could as easily as they choose look into and ‘live by them’). But that would be reading too much into the literal for some – but I think Jesus is pointing to the idea of people working with people as a community of God. I could be wrong here – but even my interpretation does not take away from the process of asking, then seeking, and knocking.

    So not anything ‘goes’ – the intent is still quite simple – asking God and what is involved (from us) in that process. This passage has been made to mean a lot of things – like ask and you will ‘get’ – but to me that’s not the word used. Recieve also is dependant upon God and how that works out – and that will always remain somewhat mysterious. But the passage is about ‘asking God’ and how we as ‘humans’ address this arena.

    “What is particularly troubling, though, is how the “hints” and “interpretation” and “mystical” always end up contradicting the “literal” in the difficult passages.” (Dagoods)

    I think I have discussed 2 passages in this blog – how do they contradict the actual passage themselves? From the ASK passage I would say there is a process laid out – asking, then seeking, and knocking – to follow in the whole ‘ask and you shall recieve’. Now this process leads me back to the teachings (my opinion), community, and ultimately towards God – is this not the actual intention of ‘asking’? So what if the recieving part remains mysterious – like I said – who can truly answer that aspect of it? But I am aware that it does happen (recieve).

    “am informed the real meaning IS to worry, and the “providing” is by the believer working a job and having a bank account” (Dagoods)

    See this is what I don’t get – you rule out the human as any use to God irregardless. This is so much the pattern of the bible from Abraham to Paul I am not sure why you make that assumption? Name any figure in the bible or any story in the bible and chances are God was using a human(s) to make a difference in the said scenario. This does not prove God mind you but it does prove that even the writer’s of the bible thought this way – about 99% of the time.

    So now we take a look at a passage and you rule ‘humans cannot be involved’ since we are ‘asking God (who is seperate from humans)’…I have to say that does not exactly fit the biblical pattern. Most of the time God used human(s) to get something done – why would I think any different now?

  6. For another literary example to help clear this up – I also offer this sentence (from a, ad for a bar in Regina called Soho’s):

    ‘Soho is single’

    – If we took that as literal – how could a bar (non-living entity) be single? So the literal here does not work since the word ‘single’ is being used to mean something else.

    – What the sentence is trying to convey is an idea – a thought – like ‘Soho is for singles’ or ‘Soho stands alone’. Although the bar is not actually ‘single’ the sentence is conveying something from that word nonetheless.

    Now when I look at whole passages of scripture – I am quite aware that wordplay is in effect also – and trying to find a meaning inside the literal is also something that exists. We used the ASK passage – which is also a wordplay of some sort – since ask, seek, knock = ASK (what does the writer mean by using that?). That’s the kind of stuff I see a lot in scripture in general and to go by literal is not going to answer all of the stuff the writer is conveying. I think this is logic we can all see?

  7. SocietyVs,

    Let me take a step back to see if I can clarify my concern.

    The New Testament was written 2000 years ago to a very different culture, with very different problems, in a language now dead. I find it curious when Christians attempt to apply principles stated within that time to today’s society; under the guise it is somehow divine and therefore applicable even now.

    They didn’t have bank accounts, or retirement plans, or college funds, or needs for barred doors to protect valuables, or insurance policies. As peasants, their energy and time was spent on simple survival, both physically and culturally. To them, a concept of “ask and receive” would be pure heaven; incomprehensible. Assurance that God would take care of their simple needs—clothes, food and shelter—would be of their primary interest.

    Now we are far more self-sufficient. We are not consumed with obtaining enough food to live this week—our bank accounts have an overabundance to replenish our shelves. We have more valuables (TV’s, DVD’s, X-box, etc.) than these people could ever imagine. And, if we DO lose it all, we have insurance to replace it.

    Which makes me think people rely upon money more than God. If a Christian tells me this book is from God, and we should rely upon God for our sustenance, but then relies upon money…well…the phrase “do as I say not as I do” comes to mind. Simply put—in practice Christians don’t believe God and ONLY God will provide; they think their own hard work and bank account will.

    So I blogged on it. You questioned my reading of certain verses, and I replied:

    DagoodS: Am I reading the verses too literal? How can we allegorize the notation of faith that can move mountains? Or ask and it will be given to you? Matt. 7:7. Or that it is at the Lord’s will as to whether you live or die? James 4:15. Or God will supply all your needs? Phil. 4:19. Or how do we allegorize Matt. 6:25-31?

    You made several statements implying my reading of these verses was too literal, and they could be fleshed out by some different methodology to mean something not quite what I was saying:

    SocietyVs: I have seen that some intepretations of actual literal events need not be always made for literal points.

    SocietyVs: I am sorry, I just find some of the statements you made as pigeon holing for someone that has faith in God – and assumptions about how God works as narrow.

    SocietyVs: I do believe I provided you a method from a Jewish lady once – or do you recall that? In that method – based on rabbinical ideas – we see that allegorical is part of the interpretation, so is symbology, and literalness.

    SocietyVs: As for prayer and ideas of ‘faith’ – why can’t these be open to interpretation as well – why do they have to be literal (one of way of looking at it) and that’s that?

    SocietyVs: I trust those words to lead me to values to that will enhance my life – not to some bank teller of a God who obeys my every idea and whim (ie: ask and you shall receive (every time)) …

    SocietyVs: …and I think God is leaving this in His community’s hands to help provide and care for one another (every time))

    And so you presented this methodology. But all this method does is add meaning—raising the question as to, even with the added meaning, how was my original point incorrect under this methodology. Again, I must point out that the article you cited says as a general rule, the added meanings cannot contradict the literal meaning. Another commentator saw this problem, and pointed it out:

    Micah Cowan: I don’t care how many meanings we come up with. What I desire to know, is by what method do you discard the meanings that don’t sit right with you? You keep giving a method for adding extra meanings; what I want to know is what method or you using for the ones you’re subtracting? (emphasis removed)

    Let me try this for an analogy:

    DagoodS: This verse means “ball.”
    SocietyVs: Ah, but it can also mean “bat” and “base” and “score.”

    DagoodS: O.K. But it still means at least “ball.”
    SocietyVs: That is far too narrow. See all the other things it can mean?

    DagoodS: Fine. Even with all those things, show me a method we can know it does NOT mean “Ball.”
    SocietyVs: Why does everything have to be just one thing? I think can be interpreted a number of different ways.

    DagoodS: Great. But what is the method by which it does not mean “Ball”?
    SocietyVs: I use a four-part Jewish method.

    DagoodS: Right. But what is the method by which it does not mean “Ball”?
    SocietyVs: I never disagreed it didn’t meant “Ball.”

    But if it means “Ball” we have a situation where the basic, simple, literal interpretation is “Ask and you shall receive.”

    Further, you may not realize it, but you are contradicting the simple, literal interpretation by having the deeper meaning contradict the baser meaning. Notice the difference in these three statements:

    1) “Ask and you shall receive.”
    2) “Ask and you may or may not receive.”
    3) “Ask the right thing and you shall receive.”

    The Bible, within its context, does not put such qualifications on the terms. Yet your interpretation does.

    Finally, I will ask. Again. How, using this methodology, could you ever say to someone they have interpreted a verse incorrectly?

    Notice the terms you use. “I think…” “For me…” “…I find it…” “…my interpretation…” “I would say…” Now, I appreciate much of this is terms of art—it is how you write. But it exemplifies exactly what I am seeing. This IS how you feel. How you think. How you interpret it. Yet how can you tell someone else (say…me?) when THEY say, “I think…” that it is incorrect under this method?

    Oh, another point of clarification. I did not mean to imply humans could not be involved in the providing. (Although to be technically correc, the Bible lists both human and divine providence. Not just human.) What I see, however, is self-providing. Not reliance upon a God who will provide through another human, but the human relying upon themselves to provide for themselves, and then thanking God they were smart enough themselves to have a bank account, an insurance policy, a stock portfolio, etc.

    SocietyVs, if Jesus was alive today—would he have a bank account?

  8. I just saw your last comment.

    Frankly, I am not certain what “Soho is Single” means. Either literarily, or by implication. Is it singular or unique? Or is it for singles? The way to understand it would require context. Perhaps the visual image, or the music, or some other information.

    Here, I look at the context of the society, the other verses, and the general doctrines of a God (Jesus) intimately involved in Earth’s affairs. To the point of counting hairs on head, and sparrows falling.

    Could one rob a church protected by such a God? Could a person protected by this God starve to death on His watch?

    Yet what this method is claiming is by looking “deeper” we learn God wants us to have locks and bank accounts ‘cause to do otherwise is stupid. I guess the “deeper” meaning is to have faith in Wiser—not God.

  9. “Assurance that God would take care of their simple needs—clothes, food and shelter—would be of their primary interest.” (Dagoods)

    I agree – it started off as that base existence – 100% true. So does the gospel make more sense to those in poor conditions than it does to those in wealthy conditions? Are the conditions we now see in the West part of the Protestant Ethic and it’s search to enact these teachings in society? We can truly split hairs on what ‘is’ and what ‘was’ – but the way I see it – those gospels look forward also and not only backwards – and things change and times change. The base message does not.

    Those same things – clothes, food, and shelter are still primary concerns for most people in society – that hasn’t changed. Both poor and rich need a place to sleep tonight, food to eat, and something to wear. I can say clearly I do rely on God for those things – cause at one point I had none of those things (or the means for them) – but because now I do have the means – God becomes useless? How do you think I got the means/integrity in the first place? So even with your idea this is ‘outdated’ – that’s an opinion – not a fact.

    “in practice Christians don’t believe God and ONLY God will provide; they think their own hard work and bank account will.” (Dagoods)

    True – I commented on your blog about it – a few times. I still think your reasoning is full of holes since it breaks faith down to one literal idea – and seems to assume in poverty only then will the community of God trust God; this is also not a biblical trend – so I had to say something.

    Look at the lives of Joseph, David, Solomon, Abraham, and Jacob – were these people poor? Even the early community of Acts had some good portion of wealth ‘saved up’ for use in their work and had ‘homes’. Your idea is narrow because prior to Jesus ever teaching in Israel Jewish people were living very adequately at various periods of time – and they still managed to serve and follow God. We can say the same thing about those people – because they ‘had stuff stored up’ so they were not ‘trusting God’. Your pattern is found in the Tanakh and gospels – this is true – but it’s not the norm for a healthy community of God and this seems clear to me. What I do think is the pattern is socialism – and I know I will be supremely sh*t on for that idea.

    “But all this method does is add meaning—raising the question as to, even with the added meaning, how was my original point incorrect under this methodology.” (Dagoods)

    I would say simply, if you think you are right – then live by your observation (which is the idea from the Torah and the gospels – ‘to live by them’). If you find your observation is wrong – then correct it. That is what I have done and thus I raise questions about your interpretation. I say the literal is accurate – and you seem to point to it being the best interpretation – I think the added meaning means more – because I have to look at the bigger picture here – what does God want for anyone in that passage (reliance on Him or self-reliance?). The fact terms like ‘seek’ and ‘knock’ are used seems to signify to me that we are to be more involved than just getting on our knees and ‘asking’. Those are the points I raise Dagoods – literal can be literal if we choose it to be – but I think it becomes very narrow from that point on (which is also something you dislike in fundies but I am beginning to sense that scope has widened).

    So the original point being ‘ask and recieve’ is an idea – with more to it as even you point out with the ‘whole passage’ to be looked at. Your original idea is accurate – I have never said it wasn’t – it’s how that works out and looks that we seem to differ greatly on. I think it’s a real thing (ask and recieve) – but you think if it is not done a certain way or in a certain mindframe then the Christian is not legit – I think this is narrowing faith to the point of extremes.

    “The Bible, within its context, does not put such qualifications on the terms. Yet your interpretation does” (Dagoods)

    Not really Dagoods, I do think the idea is legit (ask and you receive) – but at the same time I am not so nieve to think just because it says a line that it is a formula of some sort…do you think the disciples were writing formulas?

    “This IS how you feel. How you think. How you interpret it. Yet how can you tell someone else (say…me?) when THEY say, “I think…” that it is incorrect under this method?” (Dagoods)

    It’s also called being generous and humble – I know that I am not the ‘answer’ to the question – I am someone that comments on the question. I write like that because I do not accurately represent any Christian denomination nor do I want to speak for others within my faith – so you see a lot of ‘I’ in my writings – so there is no confusion. I never said you are altogether incorrect (I rarely use this word) – but I do raise concern with your approach to the passage – it’s very narrowing – to an extreme I think. I have all the right to disagree with your interpretation since I am not sure what any faithful person would get out of it over time? It’s barely fleshed out and simply states ‘to trust God one must follow this one literal idea or they do not trust God’. If this is so, you make it almost appear as if no one trusts God in the West…the premise falls apart for me right there – and I think that is an extreme view.

    “but the human relying upon themselves to provide for themselves, and then thanking God they were smart enough themselves to have a bank account, an insurance policy, a stock portfolio, etc.” (Dagoods)

    You know I don’t disagree with some of this when fleshed out. But even self-reliance only gets you so far – at some point – things beyond our control happen to make things work out (not so much in the stocks and finance aspect but in actual living). I happen to think I am very self-reliant as a married person – but I also realize that I am married. For me, faith is like that also – I think the idea is to become a self-reliant person based on those teachings (not a baby who needs someone to take care of him all the time) – but I realize my faith became inseperable from me at some point – it was the foundation stone where I started building hope. Now some of that is me – and I thank God that it is me doing the work – but the thankfulness goes back to God – I never wrote nor supplied these teachings – I only followed them.

    “SocietyVs, if Jesus was alive today—would he have a bank account?” (Dagoods)

    This is all hypothetical – but yes I think he might (if he was born and raised in North America). He worked as young man as a carpenter – a trade – and likely did as was asked by his dad. Now if his dad was a Jewish carpenter in New York – I think he would advise the boy Jesus to have one. I am guessing mind you.

    “I guess the “deeper” meaning is to have faith in Wiser—not God.” (Dagoods)

    I would say it is safe to say – have faith in God and in others – we do it anyways.

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