There is a method used by the rabbis in understanding sacred texts. We can apply this method to understand all literature but it is particularly useful in discussing texts from the Bible.
The method is called PARDES. In Hebrew, PaRDeS is an orchard. An orchard often has many different kinds of fruit trees all living happily together. PaRDeS is a way to remember, an acrostic.
The peh stands for peshut , which means simple. In other words, all texts may be interpreted in their simplest form. These encompass the "who, what, when, and where" questions. When reading a news story, the answers to these questions are written in the first paragraph. They are easy to ascertain and to report. This is what happened, and there is no interpretation given.
The reish stands for remez, which means the hints or clues we find within the story. Here we may begin to think of why something has happened. Or, does this remind us of something else that has occured? We may not have any satisfactory answers, but we are reminded of something, and we begin to extrapolate as to what may happen, or what the author is trying to convey.
The dalet stands for drash, or the story about the story. Here we begin to interpret and learn lessons from the story. When I give book report assignments or papers for students to write, I often ask them what are the characters learned in a story, or what the lesson for life is. There may be many lessons. For example, we may interpret the lesson of the Three Little Pigs in many ways. One may be that it is important to have brothers who live nearby. Another, and perhaps the most standard interpretation, is that it is better to work and build something strong before playing. In other words, don't build something in a shoddy way. Still another may be that there is always someone who wishes you harm, and we must have strong borders and boundaries so they cannot blow our house down. It has been said that the Torah has seventy facets and it all depends upon how we look at a story to interpret the meaning.
This brings us to the samech, which stands for sod, meaning secret or hidden. In every story there is another meaning. This is the meaning the author wanted to convey, though he does so in a hidden or cryptic way. Yeshua said, "Let those who have ears, hear what I am saying." Some think that he deliberately obscured some of his meanings so that those in power would miss them, and the common people would understand.
It is my personal conviction that we understand according to the light we have at the moment, as well as according to the need we have and the questions we ask. So, without further explanation, let us begin to unravel the Purim story.
Esther was born in Persia, in the Diaspora, and somehow lost her parents. She was raised by a cousin (Mordechai). During the course of time, the pagan king of the region, Ahasheverus, sought a new wife, as his own wife had become rebellious and refused to follow his instructions. He chose Esther. Mordechai, being a Jewish cousin, sat by the palace gates in order to calm his heart and so he would know that Esther was doing all right. As he sat there, he uncovered an assassination plot against the king and informed Esther, who informed the king. Thus, the king’s life was saved.
Now there was a horrible man, Haman, who aspired to be a person of importance. He loved being bowed to and honored. Mordechai refused to do this and it rankled Haman. Haman vowed to kill Mordechai and all who were like him. As he was forming his plot of revenge, he was summoned to the king. The king asked him to take Mordechai around the kingdom on a horse to honor him! This was enough for Haman and he gained the king’s approval to kill all the Jews. We all know what happened. Esther rose to the challenge, told the king the horrible plot and Haman was hanged. Then, the Jews gained permission to fight back and won.
This is the simple story—the peshut version.
We now go on to the remez, or hints and clues. We know that Esther was in the palace for a reason. God puts us in the places we are, so we may serve his purposes. We may not understand why, at the time, but we all are living and working in specific places at specific times, according to his will.
What things come to your mind as you read the Purim story?
Then we come to the drash, and the lessons are many and deep. We all know the famous line spoken by Mordechai, "Who knows but that you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?!" Well, who knows? What things are you being asked to do? Are they as serious as risking your life by talking to a king? What about the plot uncovered by Mordechai? He "just so happened" to overhear it. He "just so happened" to be able to help. What about choices? Vashti, the king’s first queen, made a choice. What choice are you being asked to make today? Are you willing to pay the price?
Perhaps you, like Haman, are consumed with anger and are plotting revenge. Beware! You may find yourself hung on the very gallows you have built for another.
We can often find the lesson, or drash, by asking questions. What questions come to your mind as you read the story?
Finally we arrive at the sod or secret. This is the hidden message. Perhaps it’s a hidden message only for you. One of my favorite insights is that even though the Name of God is not mentioned even once in this story, it is obvious that he is orchestrating events. Do you feel as though hope is lost? It most certainly is not. Do you feel as though things are spinning out of control? They may look and feel that way but the author hasn't finished writing!
There is another lesson I love, and that is that not everything is as it appears. Haman was not a loyal subject of the king. Esther hid her identity. Mordechai was not an obscure cousin, lurking in the shadows. Perhaps the most important secret is that the Jews were not about to be slaughtered. Not then, and not now. Not ever.
Look up. God is the author of events. It is not over and it may very well turn out to be exactly the opposite of what we fear.