Here are some notes from one of my classes I had this morning. It gives you a glimpse into how rabbi’s used to study, read, interpret, etc. Scripture.
The Reading Methodology of the Rabbi’s – “PARDES,” the Hebrew word for “a cultivated garden.” The Rabbi’s believed that the Bible comes to us on a fourfold level. Reading at all these levels can give us multiple meanings of a text. This isn’t to say that a text has no limits to its meaning, but there is more than only one meaning that can be drawn from any text. As you go further down the line, the deeper and deeper reading you achieve.
- Peshat – refers to the obvious/clearest, or historical meaning of the text. This is what the garden looks like at a distance.
- Remez – the hidden/inner/diagnostic meaning of the text. This is the fence around the garden. It’s what keeps you away from the garden. What is the fence you have to cross over to get into the garden? The fence can be one of two things – 1) either a moral limitation in you, or 2) an intellectual inability to connect it from one thing to another. There is a gateway in, and that gateway is to struggle with the text alone.
- Drash – the moral/applied meaning of the text. Reading the Bible for personal instruction. Its when the text tells you, “you better do this!” This is the fruit on the vine in the garden.
- Sot – “anagogical” meaning of the text. “ago” (lead) & “ana” (up) in Greek, meaning the reading that leads you up. It’s the heavenly/mystical reading of the text. This is the seed in/from the fruit. Its what’s going to come from the seed that you can’t see right now. It’s the mustard seed that is the smallest of them all, but will grow to be the biggest tree/vine in the garden.
Here’s another way of thinking of how to read the Bible stemming from two Hebrew terms:
- Hagadah – A Hebrew word from the root haga meaning to “masticate,” or “to chew.” The image is a farm animal chewing cud, or a lion devouring prey. We translate it as meditate (Psalm 1).
- Halachah – A Hebrew word meaning “to walk.” These two go hand in hand because that which we meditate on we must walk in. It is knowing and doing. “The first without the second is to be irrelevant. The second without the first is to be a fanatic” (Abraham Heschel). Both together is mitzvah, which is the “fulfillment of command.”
Lastly, what I want to say is, Anyone can do this! It doesn’t just take me being a seminary student (soon to be graduate), a pastor, or a Biblical scholar to take this on. Granted, I have some more tools in my tool chest than many other people when it comes to Biblical study and interpretation due to my education. However, all that’s really needed is the Holy Spirit and anyone else can glean many things from the Bible. One doesn’t even really need to be able to read even. How do you think the ancients learned about God, His ways, and the gospel? For centuries God’s Word was carried around orally. They weren’t like many of us today who have multiple Bibles on our shelves. They were hears of the Word before they were doers of the Word, or even readers of the Word. They didn’t have the luxury of the many tools we have today that help with study and interpretation.
What I am trying to get across here is that you, with the help of the Holy Spirit, have what it takes to study, interpret, and meditate on (chew) God’s Word. Don’t just leave it up to the pastors, priests, scholars, etc out there. Even Jesus’ disciples were everyday people like many of us before Jesus came around and said, “Follow me!” I just want to encourage those of you out there to read the Bible. Dive in! Seek the Lord! Don’t just leave it up to us “learned” folk.
One last example, How do you read a love letter? Sure you read it with much care and attention. But you don’t read it with a dictionary or a commentary (or two or three). You hold it close to your heart and peer deeply into the words and phrases on the page(s). You may read it over and over again, but all it takes to resonate deep personal meaning is to know the words on the page and to know the author. The Bible works in the same fashion.
Now, I am not trying to discredit the education I have gone through along with many others. I think it has its importance too. I just want to empower the people to read God’s Word and seek God. God desires for you to know Him. He desires a deeper relationship with you. God wants you to know His love for you, your neighbor, and all creation.
As a final touch, read Isaiah 55.