Midrash מדרש means “inquiry”. But the Hebrew word is stronger than that. It comes from the verb, Darash דרש meaning “he demanded” - required. In the sense of “he demanded answers”, he “inquired”.
Knowledge necessitates desire and effort.
The Tora is a text of many meanings. Most of them are hidden. The Infinite wants us to “demand answers” from the Tora. To discover its meanings. And put the insights into actions.
The Tora is the “saying” Maamar, it is the “thought” Makhashava. It is the capacity of meaning itself. A place to engage meaning. As we engage the Tora, our efforts to discern its meanings, also bring to light our own meanings. Our values, our language, our assumptions, our worldviews. We do this as a spiritual community. We share understanding, while we transcend together.
The spirituality of Tora seems to cluster into three kinds of Midrash. The areas of inquiry are: Agada, Halakha, and Kabala.
Agada אגדה is the “tale”, the narrative tradition. Our goals, our challenges, where we come from, and where we are going.
Halakha הלכה is the “going”, the way, the legal tradition. Our human rights, our personal freedoms, our mutual responsibilities, our negotiations.
Kabala קבלה is the “reception”, the spiritual tradition. Our insights, our compassionate actions, our system, our transcendence.
Of course, these three discussions entangle eachother, giving eachother contexts.
By these kinds of Midrash, the infinite imbues our humanity with meaning. It is like learning a language. Meaning takes effort. But it is more than our words, it is our actions - every aspect of our humanity.
There are also four worlds of meaning: Pshat, Remez, Drush, and Sod.
Pshat פשט is the “plain”, the unembellished meaning, the naked truth. The things that appear to be. What you can see, hear, smell, taste, touch. Matter-of-fact. The literal meaning, the obvious point of the analogy. The raw data. The evidence.
Remez רמז is the “gesture”, the indication, the subtle nod, the hint, the clue, the suggestion. These are the patterns that you can detect. When you wonder why, you look for answers. The emotional pull, the logical conclusion. The evaluation, the analysis. But where do the clues lead to?
Drush דרוש is the “demanded answer”. The insight. The knowledge we struggle for. The plot of the story, the principles of the ethical behavior, the laws of nature. The deep meaning. The vision, the integrity, the science. The synthesis. The comprehensive paradigm that imbues all the diversity of experiences with meaning. The thought that can make sense of the world.
Sod סוד is the “mystery”, beyond any understanding, the experience of infinity. There is a transcendent meaning, utterly free, utterly unshakable. We trust the Infinite even while we cannot understand. We know, even while we cannot describe. We know more than we know. It is faith in God. It is confidence in the infinite. We can always go beyond. Even when we know facts, we can doubt. Even when we lack facts, we can trust. We can imagin other ways. We can sympathize with other points of view. We can pursue the best options. Seek out new options. There is more to knowing than any particular thing we happen to know.
Together these four levels of meaning, Pshat-Remez-Drush-Sod, spell P-R-D-S: Pardes פרדס “Paradise”.
By these levels of meaning, we learn love and power. By these levels of meaning, we do love and power.
We see the Pshat - how the things of this world are. But we know the Sod - there is more. We can pursue the Remez of the patterns of things. We can envision the Drush and build a world to come.