Jewish legend speaks of four rabbis of the first century of the common era who visited the "pardes" or "orchard" of esoteric knowledge. Their experiences were, on balance, not good. Ben Azzai died, Ben Zoma went mad, and Ben Abuya became a heretic. Only Akiva, it is said, entered in peace and left in peace.
Centuries later, the Spanish rabbi and mystic Moses de León (c. 1240 – 1305) reclaimed the ancient story for new purposes, inventing the acronym PRDS (vocalized as "pardes"), whose consonants each stand for a mode of textual interpretation. P designates "peshat" or the surface level of meaning. R designates "remez" or the hinting at hidden meanings. D designates "derash" or the inquiry into metaphorical meanings. S designates "sod" or the mystical levels of meaning. To learn Torah well is to be able to engage all these levels of reading.
"Pardes," in turn, is the origin of the English word "paradise"—a hybridizing of the image of the orchard with the spiritual goal of a supple and inquisitive mind.
The photographs that follow are, perhaps, a visualization of "pardes"—by way of a four part contemplation of a magnolia in the full bloom of May.