The Hebrew/Aramaic word PARDES is spelled in Hebrew and Aramaic without vowels as PRDS. PaRDeS refers to a park or garden, esp. the Garden of Eden. The word appears three times in the Aramaic New Testament (Lk. 23:43; 2 Cor. 12:4 & Rev. 2:7).
The word PRDS is also an acronym (called in Judaism "notarikon") for:
These are the four levels of understanding the scriptures. Each layer is deeper and more intense than the last, like the layers of an onion.
The first level of understanding is Pashat (simple). The Pashat is the literal meaning. It is similar to what Protestant hermeneutics calls "Gramatical Historical Exegesis" and also similar to what Protestant Hermeneutics calls "The Literal Principle."
The Pashat is the plain, simple meaning of the text; understanding scripture in its natural, normal sense using the customary meanings of the words being used, in accordance with the primary exegetical rule in the Talmud that no passage loses its Pashat (b.Shab. 63a; b.Yeb. 24a). While there is figurative language (like Ps. 36:7) symbolism (like Rom. 5:14); allegory (like Gal. 4:19-31) and hidden meanings (like Rev. 13:18; see also 1 Cor. 2:7) in the Scriptures, the first thing to look for is the literal meaning or Pashat.
The following rules of thumb can be used to determine if a passage is figurative and therefore figurative even in its Pashat:
The Pashat is the keystone of Scripture understanding. If we discard the Pashat we lose any real chance of an accurate understanding. We are left with a no-holds-barred game of pure imagination in which we are no longer objectively deriving meaning from the Scriptures (exegesis), but subjectively reading meaning into the scriptures (eisegesis) Thus the Talmud twice warns us: "No passage loses its Pashat" (b.Shab. 63a; b.Yeb. 24a).
The next level of understanding is called in Hebrew Remez (hint). This is the implied meaning of the text. Peculiarities in the text are regarded as hinting at a deeper truth than that conveyed by its Pashat. Often this "hinting" back refers to a prior example where the same word or concept has been previously taught in the text. Hinting back to a prior understanding reinforces the intended meaning in the now and present of the speaker.
An example of implied "Remez" meaning may be found in Ex. 21:26-26-27 where we are told of our liability regarding eyes and teeth. By the "Remez" understanding we know that this liability also applies to other body parts.
Another level of understanding the Scriptures is called in Hebrew "drash" meaning "search", this is the allegorical, typological or homiletical application of the text. Creativity is used to search the text in relation to the rest of the Scriptures, other literature, or life itself in order to develop an allegorical, typological or homiletical application of the text. This process involves eisegesis (reading of the text) of the text. But understand, before something can be like something else, it can never remove the reality of what it compares itself to. The context determines the peshat, and then and only then can be have a drash. We cannot have a drash without a prior peshat!
Three important rules of thumb in utilizing the drash level of understanding a scripture are:
The final level of understanding the Scriptures is called in Hebrew "Sod" meaning "hidden". This understanding is the hidden, secret or mystic meaning of a text. This process often involves returning the letters of a word to their prime-material state and giving them new form in order to reveal a hidden meaning (interpreting them through the numbers of the letters for example). An example may be found in Rev. 13:18 where the identity of the Beast is expressed by its numeric value 666.