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Rabbinic writings (e.g. * Rabbah and other midrash) use the words "mashal" (noun) and "nimshal" (verb). What do these terms mean in English? I've heard "parable" or "allegory" for the noun but I am very uncertain about "nimshal". How should I understand these words when I encounter them in this context?

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There are no best practices regarding transliteration so long as it is reasonably understandable – Double AA Mar 31 '13 at 16:27
while this is asking for a translation, it is asking for a term which has utility almost exclusively within a religious context. Is it so off topic? By the way, I vote for "deciphered interpretive application". – Danno Mar 31 '13 at 18:01
@Yoel, I've made an edit to try to make the on-topic-ness more clear. Does this look ok to you? – Monica Cellio Mar 31 '13 at 18:38
@Yoel, done. (I wanted to make sure you were ok with its edited form before proceeding.) – Monica Cellio Mar 31 '13 at 19:23
@Dan I'm not sure that this is exclusively religious in context. The example given is, however, Mashal and Nimshal are words that young children learn in school(Israeli) when dealing with things like fables. My daughter's first day at Gan was the teacher giving a long mashal, and then explaining and even longer nimshal(which I had to sit through). – Rabbi Michael Tzadok Apr 1 '13 at 21:10
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Mashal= Parable. It is a story or comparison for the sake of conveying a deeper truth.

Nimshal= Technically it means moral. It is the deeper truth being hinted at in the story.

For instance in Aesop's fables, like the tortoise and the hare, in which a bullying hare is challenged to a race by a tortoise. The hare takes off, and confident of victory naps, the tortoise though tired continues to plug on, and when the hare awakes he sees the plucky tortoise win. The Nimshal, is 'many people have good natural abilities which are ruined by idleness; on the other hand, sobriety, zeal and perseverance can prevail over indolence. Source.

Oh on a gramatical note. משל is both a noun and a verb in the Paal(or Qal depending on how scholarly you want to be) form. While נמשל is also both a noun and a verb in the Niphal. The diference being that the Paal is active/stative while the Nifal is passive/reflexive. Source.

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"nimshal" means something like "to be compared with" or "to be like".

It's also used in a general sense as the lesson learned from the "mashal".

I'll add that "nimshal" isn't commonly used in modern Hebrew, and many people don't know the difference between the two.

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Mashal is, as you say, the story which is trying to teach a lesson

The nimshal is the lesson which that story teaches--the moral of the story.

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