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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sefer Yetzirah The Creation

Sefer Yetzirah: The Creation

To harmonize the Biblical statement of the creation "ex nihilo" with the doctrine of the primordial elements, the Sefer Yetzirah assumes a double creation, one ideal and the other real.

Their name is possibly derived from the fact that as numbers express only the relations of two objects to each other, so the ten Sefirot are only abstractions and not realities. Again, as the numbers from two to ten are derived from the number one, so the ten Sefirot are derived from one, the spirit of God. The spirit of God, however, is not only the commencement but also the conclusion of the Sefirot, "their end is fixed in their beginning, as the flame is bound to the coal" (i. 7). Hence the Sefirot must not be conceived as emanations in the ordinary sense of the word, but rather as modifications of the spirit of God, which first changes to air, then becomes water, and finally fire, the last being no further removed from God than the first.

Besides these abstract ten Sefirot, which are conceived only ideally, the twenty-two letters of the alphabet produced the material world, for they are real, and are the formative powers of all existence and development. By means of these elements the actual creation of the world took place, and the ten Sefirot, which before this had only an ideal existence, became realities. This is, then, a modified form of the Talmudic doctrine that God created heaven and earth by means of letters (Berachot 58a). The explanation on this point is obscure since the relation of the twenty-two letters to the ten Sefirot is not clearly defined.

The first sentence of the book reads: "Thirty-two paths, marvels of wisdom, hath God engraved...," these paths being then explained as the ten Sefirot and the twenty-two letters. While the Sefirot are expressly designated as "abstracts", it is said of the letters: "Twenty-two letters: God drew them, hewed them, combined them, weighed them, interchanged them, and through them produced the whole creation and everything that is destined to come into being" (ii. 2).

The letters are neither independent substances nor yet as mere forms. They seem to be the connecting-link between essence and form. They are designated as the instruments by which the real world, which consists of essence and form, was produced from the Sefirot, which are merely formless essences.

Sefer Yetzirah The Book of Creation: Teachings

Sefer Yetzirah The Book of Creation: Teachings

Both the macrocosm (the universe) and the microcosm (man) are viewed in this system as products of the combination and permutation of these mystic characters,[6] and such a use of the letters by the Jews for the formation of the Holy Name for thaumaturgical purposes is attested by magic papyri that quote an "Angelic Book of Moses," which was full of allusions to Biblical names.

The linguistic theories of the author of the Sefer Yetzirah are an integral component of his philosophy, its other parts being astrological and Gnostic cosmogony. The three letters are not only the three "mothers" from which the other letters of the alphabet are formed, but they are also symbolical figures for the three primordial elements, the substances which underlie all existence.

According to the Sefer Yetzirah, the first emanation from the spirit of God was the ruach (= "spirit," "air") that produced water, which, in its turn, formed the genesis of fire. In the beginning, however, these three substances had only a potential existence, and came into actual being only by means of the three letters; and as these are the principal parts of speech, so those three substances are the elements from which the cosmos has been formed.

The cosmos consists of three parts, the world, the year (or time), and man, which are combined in such a way that the three primordial elements are contained in each of the three categories. The water formed the earth; heaven was produced from the fire; and then produced the air between heaven and earth. The three seasons of the year, winter, summer, and the rainy season, correspond to water, fire, and in the same way as man consists of a head (corresponding to fire), torso, and the other parts of the body (equivalent to water).

The seven double letters produced the seven planets, the "seven days," and the seven apertures in man (two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, and one mouth). Again, as the seven double letters vary, being pronounced either hard or soft, so the seven planets are in continuous movement, approaching or receding from the earth. The "seven days," in like manner, were created by the seven double letters whereat they change in time according to their relation to the planets. The seven apertures in man connect him with the outer world as the seven planets join heaven and earth. Hence these organs are subject to the influence of the planets, the right eye being under Saturn, the left eye under Jupiter, and the like.

The twelve "simple" letters created the twelve signs of the zodiac, whose relation to the earth is always simple or stable; and to them belong the twelve months in time, and the twelve "leaders" in man. The latter are those organs which perform functions in the body independent of the outside world, being the hands, feet, kidneys, gall, intestines, stomach, liver, pancreas, and spleen; and they are, accordingly, subject to the twelve signs of the Zodiac.

In its relation to the construction of the cosmos, matter consists of the three primordial elements, which, however, are not chemically connected with one another, but modify one another only physically. Power (δύναμις) emanates from the seven and the twelve heavenly bodies, or, in other words, from the planets and the signs of the zodiac. The "dragon" rules over the world (matter and the heavenly bodies); the sphere rules time; and the heart rules over the human body. The author sums up this explanation in a single sentence: "The dragon is like to a king on his throne, the sphere like a king traveling in his country, and the heart like a king at war."

Sefer Yetzirah: The philological

Sefer Yetzirah: The philological is discussed first, since it is necessary for an elucidation of the philosophical speculations of the work. The twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet are classified both with reference to the position of the vocal organs in producing the sounds, and with regard to sonant intensity. In contrast to the Jewish grammarians, who assumed a special mode of articulation for each of the five groups of sounds, the Sefer Yetzirah says that no sound can be produced without the tongue, to which the other organs of speech merely lend assistance. Hence the formation of the letters is described as follows:

* With the tip of the tongue and the throat
* Between the lips and the tip of the tongue
* In the middle of the tongue
* By the tip of the tongue
* By the tongue, which lies flat and stretched, and by the teeth (ii. 3)

The letters are distinguished, moreover, by the intensity of the sound necessary to produce them, and are accordingly divided into:

* Mutes, which are unaccompanied by sound, such as מ
* Sibilants, such as ש, which is therefore called the "hissing shin"
* Aspirates, such as א, which holds a position between the mutes and sibilants, and is designated as the "airy א, which holds the balance in the middle" (iv. 1; in some eds. ii. 1)

Besides these three letters, which are called "mothers," a distinction is also drawn between the seven "double" letters and the twelve "simple" letters, the remaining characters of the alphabet.

The Sefer Yetzirah

The Sefer Yetzirah describes how the universe was created by the "God of Israel" (a list of all of God's Hebrew names appears in the first sentence of the book) through "32 wondrous ways of wisdom":

* Ten Numbers ('Sefirot,' the origin for the Sefirot of later Kabbalah)
* The Twenty-Two Letters of the Hebrew alphabet—
o Three "Mother" Letters (אמש)
o Seven "Doubles" (בגדכפרת)
o Twelve "Simples" (הוזחטילנסעצק)

These divisions correspond to Jewish concepts such as the 3 letters making up God's name (yud, he, and vav), the 7 days of the Jewish week, the 12 tribes of Israel, and the 12 months of the Hebrew calendar, as well as to early "scientific" or philosophical ideas such as the 4 elements (fire, water, air, earth), the 7 planets, 10 directions, the 12 Hebrew names for the astrological symbols in the sky, various human physical functions, and a list of the parts of the human body. The book describes how God used the 10 sefirot and the 22 Hebrew letters in various combinations, and finally (as described in the closing section of the book), how he revealed this secret to Abraham as a covenant with him. God's covenant with Abraham is described as being two-fold:

1. Between the 10 toes of the feet is the "covenant of the circumcision" (mila in Hebrew, which also means "word")
2. Between the 10 fingers of the hands (also identified with the 10 sephirot) is the "covenant of the tongue" (lashon in Hebrew, which also means "language")

The last sentence describes how God "connects" the 22 letters of the Torah to Abraham's tongue, and reveals its secret to Abraham.

Sefer Yetzirah The Book of Creation Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan has translated Sefer Yetzirah, the oldest and most mysterious of all kabbalistic texts, and now brings its theoretical, meditative, and magical implications to light. He expounds on the dynamics of the spiritual domain, the worlds of the Sefirot, souls, and angels. When properly understood, Sefer Yetzirah becomes the instruction manual for a very special type of meditation meant to strengthen concentration and to aid the development of telekinetic and telepathic powers. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sefer Yetzirah

Sefer Yetzirah (Hebrew, "Book of Creation", ספר יצירה) is the title of the earliest extant book on Jewish esotericism.

The Sefer Yetzirah is devoted to speculations concerning God's creation of the world. The ascription of its authorship to the biblical patriarch Abraham shows the high esteem which it enjoyed for centuries. It may even be said that this work had a greater influence on the development of the Jewish mind than almost any other book after the completion of the Talmud.
The following text came from the 1906 Public Domain Jewish Encyclopedia. This entry thus needs updating by people familiar with the subject.


A cryptic story in the Babylonian Talmud states that "On the eve of every Shabbat, Judah ha-Nasi's pupils, Rab Hanina and Rab Hoshaiah, who devoted themselves especially to cosmogony, used to create a three-year-old calf by means of the Sefer Yetzirah, and ate it on the Sabbath" (Sanhedrin 65b, 67b). All the miraculous creations attributed to other rabbis of the Talmudic era are ascribed by rabbinic commentators to the use of the same book.

A mishnah (vi. 15) declares that the Biblical patriarch Abraham was the recipient of the divine revelation of mystic lore; so that the rabbis of the classical rabbinic era, and philosophers as Saadia, Donnolo, and Judah ha-Levi never doubted that Abraham was the author of the book. In Pardes Rimon, Moses ben Jacob Cordovero (Ramak) mentions a minority opinion that Akiba authored it, and takes it to mean Avraham wrote it and Akiba redacted it to its current form.

According to modern historians, the origin of the text is unknown, and hotly debated. Some scholars emphasize its context among various Medieval kabbalistic texts arising after the 10th century CE, while other scholars emphasize the earlier traditions apparently referring to it and its earlier textual features. Some of the core ideas in the book seem to have a Babylonian origin. The idea of the creative power of the various sounds is possibly Egyptian. The division of the letters into the three classes of vowels, mutes, and sonants is Hellenic, although this classification necessarily underwent changes when applied to the Hebrew letters. The historical origin of the Sefer Yetzirah is accordingly placed by Reizenstein in the second century BCE. The Hebrew grammatical form places its origin closer to the period of the Mishna around the second century CE, by Benton.

In a manuscript (cite?) in the British Museum, the Sefer Yetzirah is called the Hilkot Yetzirah and declared to be esoteric lore not accessible to anyone but the pious, and only to be used for Kabbalistic purposes.


The Sefer Yetzirah exists in multiple versions: 1) The Short Version, 2) The Long Version, 3) The Saadia Version, and 4) The Gra Version.[4] The differences among these versions tend to be minor.

1) and 2). The Short Version comprises about 1300 words while the Long Version about twice that. In the 13th century CE, Abraham Abulafia noted the existence of both of them.

3). In the 10th century, Saadia Gaon reorganized the Longer Version for his commentary on the Sefer Yetzirah, now called the Saadia Version.

4). In the 16th century, the Ari (Isaac Luria) redacted the text to harmonize it with the Zohar, and then in the 18th century, the Gra (Eliyahu the Gaon of Vilna) further redacted this, now called the Gra Version.


The Sefer Yetzirah is devoted to speculations concerning God and the angels. The ascription of its authorship to Abraham, shows the high esteem which it enjoyed for centuries. It may even be said that this work had a greater influence on the development of the Jewish mind than almost any other book after the completion of the Talmud.

The Sefer Yetzirah is exceedingly difficult to understand on account of its obscure style. The difficulty is rendered still greater by the lack of a critical edition, the present text being much interpolated and altered. Hence there is a wide divergence of opinion regarding the age, origin, contents, and value of the book, since it is variously regarded as pre-Temple era.