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The Five Levels of Interpretation

The Five Levels of Interpretation

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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 Chassidism.

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:

Dr. Alexander Poltorak, who holds a PhD in theoretical physics, is a noted lecturer on the intersection of science and Torah and author of books on the Jewish holidays, intellectual property management. He authored A Light unto My Path -- A Mezuzah Anthology. He is CEO of General Patent Corporation, a patent licensing and enforcement firm. Follow his blogs at Quantum Torah.
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November 15, 2010
Just keep teaching me. I'm very interested in the Torah teachings the alphabet and what everything means
Sandra Kramer
Poland, Ohio
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