In order to discuss various levels of Torah interpretation we must understand
how the various levels of Divine emanation manifest themselves in different
domains of existence.
The levels of Divinity are represented by the four letters of the ineffable
proper name of Gd, the Tetragrammaton (Havayah) YHVH. As explained
in Kabbalah and Chassidism, each letter corresponds to a new level in unfolding
of the Creation. The letter Yud (Y) corresponds to the original idea to
create, which is a seminal point of the creation process. Thus this letter in
Hebrew resembles an extended dot.
The second letter of Havayah, the first of the two letters Heh (H),
represents the means by which the giving (or creating) is accomplished, which is
an expansion of the original point of Yud.
The third letter, Vav (V) represents the emanation of the creative
force, the ray of light, which pervades the worlds all the way through various
levels of creation.
And, finally the last letter, which is the second letter Heh (H),
represents the final expansion of the creative force, which allows for the
multiplicity of created forms of existence.
The following parable may be useful in understanding this concept. The first
letter, Yud, represents the coin of charity. The second letter (the first
letter Heh) represents the giving hand that holds the coin. (The
numerical value, the gematria, of the letter Heh is 5 corresponding to
five fingers of the hand.) The third letter, Vav, whose Hebrew form
resembles a vertical line, represents the outstretched arm that offers the coin
to the poor. And, finally, the last letter, the second letter Heh,
represents the receiving hand of the poor. This analogy serves as a metaphor for
various stages in Creation process.
We must note here that the first letter Yud is not a simple point. In
Hebrew script, it has a small apex directed upward. This apex of the Yud represents
the original desire to impart or create.
Our Universe consists of four general worlds: Atziluth the world of
Emanation, Briyah the world of Creation, Yetzirah the world of
Formation and Assiyah the world of Action. Atziluth is the world in
which the Sefiroth are still absorbed in the Light of the Infinite and no
independent existence is felt. It is the world of total goodness. Creation ex
nihilo takes place in the world of Briyah. It is the world of the
Throne of G‑d in which independent existence is first felt, though completely
subjugated to the Creator. In this world we first find vestiges of evil, albeit
totally dominated by good. The third world is Yetzirah, the world of
Angels, were there is equilibrium of good and evil. The fourth world, Assiyah,
consists of two levels: Assiyah Ruchni the spiritual world of action and
Assiyah Gashmi the physical world in which we live. This world is
dominated by evil. Above Atziluth exists the domain called Adam Kadmon Primordial
Man, the archetype of the Creation.
The Hebrew word Olam (world) comes from the word helam concealment.
In fact, the world is only a concealment of Gds presence, which makes possible
independent existence. The further we descend on the ladder of creation, the
more concealment we encounter.
The apex of the Yud corresponds to Adam Kadmon, the Yud to
Atziluth, the first Heh to Briyah, the Vav to
Yetzirah and the final Heh to Assiyah.
On the level of Sefiroth, the apex of the Yud corresponds to Kether (which is Desire and Will), Yud to Chokhmah (Wisdom),
first Heh to Binah(Understanding), Vavto six Midothand
the final Heh to Malkhuth.
On the level of soul, we start from the first, lowest level called Nefesh (Breath
of Life), which is responsible for the motor function of the body. Then follows
Ruach (Spirit), which is responsible for the emotive faculties. Neshamah (Soul) is responsible for the intellect. These are crowned by Chayah (Living force) and Yechidah (Singular soul).
The Torah may be viewed, generally speaking, on five different levels. The
first four levels are called PaRDeS, which is an acronym for Pshat,
Remez, Drush and Sod. Pshat is the most basic literal
meaning of the Torah text. It is not necessarily identical to the apparent plain
meaning of the text, but is an explanation of the text based on the tradition as
it has been handed down in the Oral Torah (Mishnah and Talmud) following closely
the literal meaning. Most traditional Jewish editions of the Torah are published
together with Rashi's commentary, which is the classic example of Pshat exegesis.
The second level, called Remez, departs from the literal meaning of
the text in search of hints and allusions. Linguistic analysis of the text and
gematria are basic techniques of the Remez exegesis.
The third level, Drush, is the homiletic exposition of the text. It
includes moralistic homilies as well as derivation of legal rulings based on the
text. It is typically found in aggadic and halakhic midrashim.
The fourth level, Sod, literally means secret. It involves
esoteric interpretation of the scripture and is the subject of Kabbalah.
Finally, the fifth level, Sod of Sod, the secret of secrets, is
the innermost meaning of the Torah as it is expounded in the philosophy of
As stated in the Zohar,
“Three things are bound up one with the other: Israel is bound with the
Torah and the Torah is bound up with G‑d.”
All of the levels of Torah exegesis as well as the levels of the soul are
related to the four letters of the Tetragrammaton, the Proper Name of G‑d: