The Meaning of PARDES

PARDES                                                               פרדס

Pardes is a Jewish surname and the origin of the English word “paradise“. Sephardic derivations used as a family name include Paredes and Paradiso.

In Spanish, “paredes” are “walls”, and “paraiso” (without a “d“) means “paradise“. The surname Pardes is Hebrew. The similar sounding Spanish words are descended from the Latin adoption of the Greek adaptation of one man’s translation of Persian.

    Pardes is not a particularly common surname (even among Jews). Many people (outside of Israel) do not instantly recognize it as being Hebrew or Jewish in origin. Jews were one of the last groups in Europe to adopt usage of family surnames. It was not uncommon for individuals, at different times, to adopt a different spelling, pronunciation, or even last name from other members of the same family – and/or for families sharing the same surname to not be related. Traditional Jewish personal identification was, and in some contexts remains, based upon first names (of individuals as children of their parent of the same sex) – similar to Slavic patronymic usage. Nevertheless, there are apparently (Portuguese?) Jews bearing the surname Pardes buried hundreds of years ago in the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the United States.

In India, the meaning of “pardes” is a little different. “Pardes” refers to a “wandering (Indian) person”, “foreign land“, and/or “abroad”. Pardes is a Hindi word that for South Asians means “Home away from home”. There are at least three Bollywood films with the word in the title: Pardes (1997 in Hindi), Des Pardes (1978 in Hindi) and Des Hoya Pardes (2004 in Punjabi). The songs and stories are quite well-known.

    Humans have erected walls and fences for thousands of years. There are many people who choose and prefer to live in gated communities. Although there is probably NO connection at all with the surname Pardes, Jews in Europe and in Arab countries have at various times been forced to live in walled ghettos – or to “wander” (sometimes “abroad” to “foreign lands”).

Pardes was originally associated with the huge, often walled (hunting) parks and/or gardens of ancient Persian kings and nobles. The word “pardesu” was borrowed from Old Persian by Late Babylonian (and Akkadian), and then entered Biblical Hebrew as “pardes” (פרדס). The general meaning or interpretation is of a (walled) enclosure, preserve, (cultivated) garden, grove, orchard, forest, plantation, or (royal) park with (fruit) trees (and animals for hunting), or what might be considered as “Paradise“.

In the oldest Eastern Iranian language of Avestan, “pairidaêza” means “walled” or an “enclosure”. The word (form) is not clear in other Old Iranian languages, but may, however, be hypothetically reconstructed, for example, as Old Persianparidayda” – adopted in Elamite as “partetas” (“domain”). “Pairidaêza” is a compound of “pairi” (meaning “around”) and “daêza” (meaning “walled”). Incidentally, the Greek prefix “peri” also means “around“, “about“, and/or “enclosing“. The English word “dough” is related to the Avestic base “dheih” (“to form, build”). In modern Persian (Farsi) and Arabic, “firdaws” (“garden“, “paradise“) is a compound of “pairi” (“around“) and “diz” (“to make” or “form” – a wall).

The Avestanpairidaêza” came to indicate walled estates, especially the carefully tended royal parks and menageries, but the idea of a walled enclosure was not preserved in most Iranian usage, and generally came to refer to a plantation or other cultivated area, not necessarily walled. For example, the Old Iranian word survives in New Persian as “pālīz“, which denotes a vegetable patch. The concept seems to have fared better in Sanskrit, as “a place enclosed with a wall“, and in Armenian as “a pleasure ground with flowers and shrubs near the king’s house, or castle.”

In Greek, “pairidaêza” became “parádeisos” (παράδεισος), probably first appearing in the early 4th century BCE as “ho parádeisos” (“park for animals”). Avestan was the language used to compose Zoroastrian hymns. Zoroastrian religion encouraged maintaining arbors, orchards, and gardens. Even the kings of austere Sparta were edified by seeing the Great King of Persia planting and maintaining his own trees in his own garden. Xenophon, a Greek mercenary soldier (sometimes credited as being the original “horse whisper”) spent some time in the Persian army before becoming a writer.

In his Anabasis, Xerophon recorded the “pairidaêza” surrounding cultivated gardens and orchards as “parádeisos” (παράδεισος), referring not to the wall itself, but to the huge parks that Persian nobles loved to build and hunt in. The Aramaic word “pardesa” (פרדסא) similarly reflects “royal park”. The English word “paradise” came from the Old Frenchparadis“, inherited from the Latinparadisus” which was also of Greek origin. The Septuagint used “parádeisos(παράδεισος) to translate both “pardes” (פרדס) and “gan” (גן), the more classic Hebrew word for “garden“.

This word “parádeisos” (παράδεισος) was used in the Greek Septuagint translation of Genesis to refer to the Garden of Eden. Old English eventually borrowed the word and meaning around 1200. English translations of New Testament Luke xxiii 43 have it mean “heaven” (“a place like or compared to Paradise“).

The word “Pardes” (פרדס) appears three times in the Tanach (or Hebrew Bible): Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) 4:13, Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 2:5, and Nechemiah 2:8. The meaning is generally understood as “an orchard with many types of fruits“.

This may be from use in Kohelet 2:5: “עשיתי לי גנות ופרדסים ונטעתי בהם עץ כל פרי
“I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits
[“I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees“]

But in Shir HaShirim 4:13 it says: “שלחיך פרדס רמונים עם פרי מגדים כפרים עם נרדים
“Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard” [“Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates With choice fruits, henna with nard plants”]

Ibn Ezra thought that “a ‘gan‘ (גן) has many types of trees, and a ‘pardes‘ (פרדס) has only one type“, but the Biblical use and/or later Rabbinic interpretation of the word “pardes” (פרדס) may have evolved over time – from being specifically a pomegranate orchard (as some think in Shir HaShirim), to an orchard with many types of trees [Vayikra Rabba 13], to finally an orchard where people would go to relax and play.

While “pardes” (פרדס) in Modern Hebrew can still refer to an orchard in general, it is probably most commonly thought of as referring to an “orange (or citrus) grove”.

In Post-Biblical Hebrew, “Pardes” also refers to an esoteric philosophy. The word “pardes” is used metaphorically for the veil surrounding the mystic philosophy (Hag. 14b), but NOT as a synonym for “the Garden of Eden” or “paradise“. The popular conception of “paradise” as a blissful heavenly abode for the righteous after death is expressed by the term “Gan Eden,” in contradistinction to “Gehinnom” (or “hell“).

Probably the most famous/well-known Pardes story is about four first century rabbis (Tosefta Hagigah 2 baraita) Four Who Entered Pardes (the Orchard/Paradise):

    Four men entered/visited the Orchard Paradise [פרדס]: (Shimon) ben Azzai, (Shimon) ben Zoma, (Elisha ben Abuya) Acher, and Akiva (ben Josef). One peeked and died; one peeked and was smitten; one peeked and cut down the shoots; one ascended safely and descended safely. Ben Azzai looked and died; Ben Zoma looked and went mad; Acher destroyed the plants; Akiva entered in peace and departed in peace.

From ancient days, rabbis (and mystics) have understood that there are four levels of Biblical (Torah) meaning and interpretation: P’shat (פשט), Remez (רמז), D’rash (דרש), and Sod (סוד). Each is a normal approach for interpreting scripture/text, where each layer of meaning is deeper and more intense than the previous. As an analogy, think of peeling layers of an onion. Fourfold method of textual interpretation [hermeneutics] in Judaism is implicit in the Mishnah, Baraitot [the external tractates] and Talmud.

The Hebrew mnemonic/anagram פרד”ס (PaRDeS or “PaRaDiSe” if you prefer English) is used to remember/refer to the four levels. The first letter of the Hebrew word for each level of understanding (Peh (פ), Resh (ר), Dalet (ד) and Samekh (ס) is taken and vowels are added for pronunciation, (sinceHebrew is usually written without vowels) giving the word PARDES (פרד”ס) with the meaning “walled garden”, “orchard” — or through the wonders of transliterative translation, “Paradise”).

The wall around the garden is what Kabbalists have referred to as the “malbush” or “garments” of the text, almost always in reference to the Torah [“Old Testament“].

P’shat (פשט) means “simple”. The P’shat is the plain, simplest, literal meaning based on the text and context. It is the understanding of what is written in its natural, normal sense using the customary meanings of the word’s being used, literary style, historical and cultural setting, and context. The p’shat is the keystone of understanding. If we discard the p’shat we lose any real chance of an accurate understanding and we are no longer objectively deriving meaning from the Scriptures (exegesis), but subjectively reading meaning into the scriptures (eisogesis). The Talmud states that no passage ever loses its p’shat: A verse cannot depart from its plain meaning. Within the p’shat you can find several types of language, including figurative, symbolic and allegorical.

Remez (רמז) is an additional “hint”. This is where another (implied) or extended meaning, association or metaphor alluded to in the text, usually revealing a deeper meaning.

D’rash (דרש) [also called a “Midrash” (מדרש)] refers to “searching” for the “concept” and the allegories and homilies that can be derived from it. A d’rash is a teaching, exposition or application of the p’shat and/or remez. A midrash is a type of eisegesis, reading one’s own thoughts into the text, as opposed to exegesis, which is extracting from the text what it actually says. Other materials or texts are often brought in as commentary to illuminate the story. For instance, taking two or more unrelated verses and combining them to create a new verse with a third meaning. The contextual, non-contextual, moral and/or philosophical explanations could be considered comparable to a “sermon.”

There are three rules to consider when utilizing the d’rash interpretation of a text:

1. A d’rash understanding cannot be used to strip a passage of its p’shat meaning, nor may any such understanding contradict the p’shat meaning of any other scripture passage. As the Talmud states, “No passage loses its p’shat.”

2. Let scripture interpret scripture. Look for the scriptures themselves to define the components of an allegory.

3. The primary components of an allegory represent specific realities. We should limit ourselves to these primary components when understanding the text.

Sod (סוד) means: “hidden“/”secret”. This understanding is the hidden, secret or mystical meaning of a text. Sometimes it deals with meanings arrived at by considering numerical values of Hebrew letters, alternative spellings, meanings of names, significant numbers, etc. Therefore, understanding the Bible at the sod level is facilitated by knowledge of Hebrew. One rabbi said that sod is the story as if God whispered it in your ear.

The four levels of PaRDeS meaning are directly linked to the four universes of creation, the so-called AYBA:

1. P‘shat, the literal meaning and the contextual, philological level, is related to the World of Assiah, the World of Actions, in which we live.

2. Remez, the allegorical meaning, cross-reference to other texts; rational or philosophical level, is related to the World of Yetzirah, the World of Formation, the angelic realm.

3. D‘rash, the moral or homiletic meaning and aggadic/midrashic [interpretation via d’rash] level, is related to the World of Briah, the World of Creation, the archangelic realm.

4. Sod, the mystical or anagogic meaning, is related to the World of Atzilut, the World of Archetypes or Emanations, the realm of the Divine Names.

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