Sefer Yetzirah – The Book of Formation

Preface

Sefer Yetzirah is among the very earliest of Kabbalistic literature. It is unique in that it presents a cosmology in which the creation of the world is a divine result of God’s use of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and the ten numerations of the Tree of Life.

This edition of Sefer Yetzirah is a based upon the translations by Isidor Kalisch, published in 1877, and W.W. Wescott, published in 1887, while also consulting the more modern translation by notable Rabbinic sage Aryeh Kaplan. It is has been released for free viewing from Torah Driven Life for the edification of the body of believers.

All content copyright © 2012 by Simplicity Best Publications.

To obtain licensing permission for the use of this text in non-commercial works, or to contact the publisher for general communication, feel free to e-mail jjury@torahdrivenlife.com.

Chapter One

1 In thirty-two most mysterious and wonderful paths of wisdom did Yah, the Lord of Hosts, engrave His name: God of the armies of Israel, the Living God, merciful and gracious, eternal, dwelling on high, who inhabits eternity. He created this universe by the three books: by Writing, (sefer) by Numbers, (sefar) and by Speaking. (sippur)

2 There are ten numbers, the Sefirot, and there are twenty-two letters; these are the Foundation of all things. Of these letters, three are mothers, seven are doubles, and twelve are simple.

3 The ten Sefirot, formed from nothing, are seen in the fingers of the hands: five on one hand, and five on the other; and between them is the Covenant: circumcision of the heart, (literally, tongue) and circumcision of the flesh.

4 The ten Sefirot, formed from nothing, are ten, and not nine; ten, and not eleven. Learn this wisdom, and understand the knowledge of it. Investigate these numbers, and draw knowledge from them; fix the design in its purity, and pass from it to its Creator seated on His throne.

5 The Ten Sefirot, formed from nothing, have no end.

They are boundless origin, and boundless in end;
boundless in good, and boundless in evil;
boundless height, and boundless in depth;
boundless in East, and boundless in West;
boundless in North, and boundless in South.

The one and only God and king, faithful forever, seated on His throne, shall rule over all, forever and ever.

6 The Ten Sefirot, formed from nothing, have the appearance of lightning; they are infinite, having no end. The Word of God is in them as they burst forth, and as they return; they obey the divine command, rushing along as a whirlwind, returning to prostrate themselves at His throne.

7 The Ten Sefirot, formed from nothing, have their end rooted in their beginning, and their beginning rooted in their end, (Isaiah 46:9-10) even as is a flame to a burning coal, for our God is superlative in His unity, and does not permit a second one. Who can you place before the only One?

8 Concerning the Ten Sefirot, restrain your lips from commenting, and your mind from thinking of them. If your heart fails, return to your place, for is it written, “The living creatures ran and returned.” (Ezekiel 1:14) Upon this the covenant was made with us.

These are the ten emanations of number.

9 First is the Spirit of the Living God; praised and glorified be the name of the Living God of Ages. The Holy Spirit is His Voice, Breath, and Speech.

10 Second, He made breath from the Spirit, and formed twenty-two letters for speaking. Three of them are mothers, seven are double, and twelve are single; but the Spirit is first among these.

11 Third, from the Spirit, He formed and designed the Primitive Water, and from the void and formless place He made earth, even as a rampart, or standing wall, and varied its surface even as the crossing of beams.

12 Fourth, from the Water, He designed Fire, and from it formed for Himself a throne of honor, with Ophanim, Seraphim, Living Creatures, and ministering Angels. With these He formed His dwelling, as is written, “Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flaming fire.” (Psalm 104:4)

13 He selected three letters from the simple ones, and sealed them as forming His great Name, Yod-Hey-Vav, and He sealed the universe in six directions.

Fifth, He looked above, and sealed the height with Yod-Hey-Vav.

Sixth, He looked below, and sealed the deep with Yod-Vav-Hey.

Seventh, He looked forward, and sealed the East with Hey-Yod-Vav.

Eighth, He looked backward, and sealed the West with Vav-Hey-Yod.

Ninth, He looked to the right, and sealed the South with Vav-Yod-Hey.

Tenth, He looked to the left, and sealed the North with Hey-Vav-Yod.

14 These are the Ten Sefirot, formed from nothing: the Spirit of the Living God, Air, Water, Fire, Height, Depth, East, West, North, and South.

Chapter Two

1 The foundations are the twenty-two letters, three mothers, seven double, and twelve single letters. The three mothers, Alef, Mem, and Shin, are Air, Water, and Fire.

Alef is spiritual Air; (or breath)
Mem is mute as Water;
Shin is hissing as Fire.

The tongue of balance between merit and liability stands erect between them, placed in the equilibrium.

2 He has formed, weighed, transformed, composed, and created every living being, and every soul yet uncreated, with these twenty-two letters. 3 Twenty-two letters are formed by the voice, impressed on the breath, and audibly uttered in five situations:

in the throat, guttural sounds; (Alef, Chet, Hey, and Ayin)
in the palate, palatals; (Gimel, Yod, Kaf, and Qof)
by the tongue, linguals; (Dalet, Tet, Lamed, Nun, and Tav)
through the teeth, dentals; (Zayin, Samech, Shin, Resh, and Tsade)
by the lips, labial sounds. (Bet, Vav, Mem, and Pe)

4 He arranged these twenty-two foundation letters as on a sphere, with two hundred and thirty-one gates of entrance. The sphere may be rotated forward or backwards; for example, just as there is nothing better than joy, (Alef-Nun-Gimel) there is nothing worse than sorrow or plague (Nun-Gimel-Alef)

5 He showed the combination of the letters, each with each: Alef with all, and all with Alef; Bet with all, and all with Bet. In combining all together in pairs, these two hundred and thirty-one gates of knowledge are produced.

6 From nothingness He created something, and all forms of speech, and every created thing; from the empty void He made the solid earth; from the non-existent He brought forth Life. From the intangible air and empty space He hewed immense pillars. This is an illustration of the whole: twenty-two components in a single one.

Chapter Three

1 The three mother letters, Alef, Mem, and Shin, are the foundations of the whole. They resemble Balance: the good in one scale, the evil in the other, and the oscillating tongue of the Balance between them.

2 The three mother letters, Alef, Mem, and Shin, enclose a mighty mystery, most wonderful and marvelous, and are sealed with six rings. From them proceed Fire, Water, and Air; these are subsequently differentiated into male and female. (These three mothers first existed, and there arose three masculine powers, from which all things have originated.)

3 The three mother letters, Alef, Mem, and Shin, were in the beginning: the Expanse of the Heavens was created from Fire, the Earth was created from Primeval Water, and the Air was formed from the Spirit, which stands alone in the midst, and is the Mediator between them.

4 The three mother letters, Alef, Mem, and Shin, regarding the course of the Year, represent Heat, Cold, and a Temperate climate; the heat from the Fire, the cold from the Water, and the temperate state from the spiritual Air, which, again, decides between them.

5 The three mother letters, Alef, Mem, and Shin, again represent in the Human form, both male and female, the Head, the Belly, and the Chest: the head from the Fire, the belly from Water, and the chest from the Air which rests between them.

6 The three mother letters, Alef, Mem, and Shin, He created, formed, and designed, and then combined with their counterparts in the world, the year, and in mankind, both male and female.

7 He caused Alef to reign in the Air; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it the Air in the world, the temperate climate of the year, and the chest- the lungs for breathing air- in man.

8 He caused Mem to reign in Water; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it the Earth in the Universe, the cold in the year, and the fruit of the womb of mankind, being carried in the belly.

9 He caused Shin to reign in Fire; He crowned it, and combined it with the others. He formed by it heaven in the Universe, the heat in the year, and the head of Man and Woman.

Chapter Four

1 The seven double letters were formed as well: Bet, Gimel, Dalet, Kaf, Pe, Resh, and Tav. Each has two voices, either hard or soft, spoken in either strength or weakness. 2 These are the foundations: Life, Peace, Riches, Beauty, Wisdom, Fruitfulness, and Power. 3 They are doubles, because their opposites take part in life. Opposed to Life is Death; to Peace, War; to Riches, Poverty; to Beauty, Deformity; to Wisdom, Ignorance; to Fruitfulness, Sterility; to Power, Slavery.

4 The seven double letters point out the dimensions: height, depth, East, West, North, South, and the holy temple in the middle, sustaining all things.

5 The seven double letters are are seven, and not six; they are seven, and not eight. Reflect upon this fact; inquire about it, and make it so evident, and acknowledge that Creator to be on His throne again.

6 The seven double letters He formed, designed, created, and combined into the Stars of the Universe, the days of the week, and the openings of perception in man; from them He has also made seven heavens and seven celestial bodies, all from nothingness. He has, even further, preferred and blessed the sacred sevens. 7 The seven celestial bodies of the Universe are: the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn; the seven days are the days of creation; and the seven openings of perception in a man are two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and a mouth, through which he perceives by his senses.

8 He caused Bet to reign in Wisdom; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it the Sun in the Universe, the first day of the week, and the right eye of man.

9 He caused Gimel to reign in health; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it the Moon in the Universe, the second day of the week, and the right ear in man.

10 He caused Dalet to reign in fertility; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it Mars in the Universe, the third day of the week, and the right nostril in man.

11 He caused Kaf to reign in life; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it Mercury in the Universe, the fourth day of the week, and the left eye of man.

12 He caused Pe to reign in power; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it Jupiter in the Universe, the fifth day of the week, and the left ear in man.

13 He caused Resh to reign in peace; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it Venus in the Universe, the sixth day of the week, and the left nostril in man.

14 He caused Tav to reign in beauty; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it Saturn in the Universe, the seventh day in the week, and the mouth of man.

15 By these seven letters He also made seven worlds, seven heavens, seven lands, seven seas, seven rivers, seven deserts, seven days (as before), seven weeks from Pesach to Shavuot, and every seventh year a jubilee.

16 From two letters, He composed two dwellings; from three, six; from four, twenty-four; from five, one hundred and twenty; from six, seven hundred and twenty; from seven, five thousand and forty. From there on their numbers increase in a manner beyond counting, and are incomprehensible.

Chapter Five

1 There are twelve simple letters: Hey, Vav, Zayin, Chet, Tet, Yod, Lamed, Nun, Samech, Ayin, Tsade, and Qof. They represent the fundamental properties: speech, thought, movement, sight, hearing, labor, sexual appetite, smell, sleep, anger, taste, and laughter.

2 The twelve simple letters also symbolize twelve directions in space: northeast, southeast, the east above, the east below, the northwest, southwest, the west above, the west below, the upper south, the lower south, the upper north, the lower north. They spread out forever, to all eternity, and are the arms of the universe.

3 The twelve letters He designed, formed, combined, weighed, and changed, and He created with them the twelve constellations in the universe, the twelve months of the year, and the twelve important parts of the frame of man.

4 The twelve constellations in the universe are: Taleh, Shor, Teomim, Sarton, Ari, Betulah, Moznayim, ‘Akrab, Kasshat, Gedi, D’li, and Dagim. (Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagitarius, Capricornus, Aquarius and Pisces.) 5 The twelve months of the year are: Nisan, Iyar, Sivan, Tammuz, Av, Elul, Tishri, Marcheshvan, Kislev, Tevet, Shevat, and Adar. 6 The twelve important parts of the frame of man are: the right and left hands, the right and left feet, the two kidneys, the liver, the gall, the spleen, the intestines, the esophagus, and the stomach.

7 He caused Hey to reign in speech; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it Taleh in the universe, Nisan in the year, and the right foot of man.

8 He caused Vav to reign in thought; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it Shor in the universe, Iyar in the year, and the right kidney of man.

9 He caused Zayin to reign in movement; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it Teomim in the universe, Sivan in the year, and the left foot of man.

10 He caused Chet to reign in sight; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it Sarton in the universe, Tammuz in the year, and the right hand of man.

11 He caused Tet to reign in hearing; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it Ari in the universe, Av in the year, and the left kidney in man.

12 He caused Yod to reign in labor; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it Betulah in the universe, Elul in the year, and the left hand of man.

13 He caused Lamed to reign in sexual desire; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it Moznayim in the universe, Tishri in the year, and the gall in man.

14 He caused Nun to reign in smell; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it ‘Akrab in the universe, Marcheshvan in the year, and the intestines in man.

15 He caused Samech to reign in sleep; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it Kasshat in the universe, Kislev in the year, and the stomach of man.

16 He caused Ayin to reign in anger; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it Gedi in the universe, Tevet in the year, and the liver in man.

17 He caused Tsade to reign in taste; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it D’li in the universe, Shevat in the year, and the esophagus in man.

18 He caused Qof to reign in laughter; He crowned it, and combined it with others. He formed by it Dagim in the universe, Adar in the year, and the spleen in man.

Chapter Six

1 Three mother letters, seven double letters, and twelve simple letters; these are the twenty-two letters with which YHWH, the Lord of Hosts, high and exalted, dwelling in eternity, whose name is Holy, created. 2 These are the three fathers, fire, air, and water, progressing beyond them; the seven heavens, with their armies of angels; and the twelve limits of the universe.

3 The proof of these things, witnessing faithfully, the year of time, the universe, and man himself. He fixed these as testimonies of the Twelve, the Seven, and the Three; 4 the cycle of the year; Tali, the Dragon; (the constelation Draco) and the heart.

5 The Three are fire, water, and air; the fire above, the water below, and the air in the middle, which participates with both above and below.

6 Tali, the Dragon, is like a king on his throne; the cycle of the year is like a king in his own land, and the heart of man is like a king in warfare.

7 Our God made the states of opposition, good and evil: good for the good, and evil for the evil. Happiness is reserved for the just, and misery for the wicked ones. 8 There are Three, each one of which stands by itself; one is in the positive, the other in the negative, and one equalizes them.

9 Out of the Three, one stands apart; out of the the Seven, there are two Threes, and one stands apart. The Twelve symbolize war: Three of amity, and Three of enmity; Three which are life-giving, and Three which are death-dealing.

10 The Three of amity are the heart and the ears; the Three of enmity are the liver, the gallbladder and the tongue; the Three which are life-giving are the two nostrils and the spleen; and Three which are death-dealing are the mouth and the two openings of the body.

11 God, the faithful King, rules over all from the throne of His sanctity; One above Three, Three above Seven, and Seven above Twelve, and all are linked together, one with another.

12 After our father Abraham had seen, pondered over, investigated, and understood these things, he designed, engraved, and composed them, and received them into his hands. 13 Then the Lord of all appeared to him, and made a covenant with him; He kissed his head, named him after His own name, and called him his friend. 14 He then, as it is written, completed a covenant with him, and with his seed forever, who then believed on YHWHGod, and it was imputed to him for righteousness.

15 God ordained a covenant between the toes of his feet, that of circumcision of the flesh; and a covenant between the fingers of his hands, that of circumcision of the heart. (literally, tongue) 16 He bound the essences of the twenty-two letters on his tongue, and God disclosed their secrets to him.

17 God has drawn them through waters, burned them through fire, and stamped them in the storms of the air. He has distributed them among the seven stars, and has assigned them to twelve constellations.

Amen.

Appendix One – Thirty-Two Paths of Wisdom

Yetzirah 1:1 records, “In thirty-two most mysterious and wonderful paths of wisdom did Yah, the Lord of Hosts, engrave His name…” The text then goes on to indicate that these thirty-two paths are the ten Sefirot and the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alefbet.

The number “thirty-two,” with an internal division of 10, 3, 7, and 12, also bears significance to the Creation account in Genesis 1 from a Kabbalistic standpoint, illustrating the creative power behind the thirty-two paths.

Genesis 1

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

3 And God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

6 And God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

9 And God said, “Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called He Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth.” And it was so. 12 And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years. 15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. 17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, 18 and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.” 21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moves, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.” 23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creeps upon the earth after his kind. And God saw that it was good. 26 And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it. And have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creeps upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat.”And it was so. 31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

The Thirty-Two Paths

Let the reader notice that, in total, the word “God” is used thirty-two times in the creation account of Genesis 1, representing the Thirty-Two Paths of Wisdom. More specifically, the repeated phrases, “God said,” “God made,” and “God saw” are used a specific number of times, corresponding to exactly what we see taught later on in Sefer Yetzirah.

The phrase “God said” is used ten times, representing the ten Sefirot.

The phrase “God made” is used three times, representing the three mother letters. (Note: this is not the same word as the one used when it is said that “God created.”)

The phrase “God saw” is used seven times, representing the seven double letters.

The phrase “God” in a generic sense, and not tied to any of the three aforementioned qualifiers, is used an additional twelve times, representing the twelve simple letters.

These thirty-two divine actions of God, be it speaking, making, beholding, or simply being, are represented in Kabbalistic thought as the thirty-two paths of the divine origin of the universe.

Appendix Two – The Ten Sefirot

Yetzirah 1:2 records, “There are ten numbers, the Sefirot… these are the Foundation of all things.” The ten Sefirot are not so much numbers as they are enumerations. Although they are not explicitly named in Sefer Yetzirah, they can be known from other Rabbinic works, such as the Sefer HaBahir and the Sefer Zohar.

The traditional arrangement of the ten Sefirot will be shown as follows.

1. Keter

(Crown)

3. Binah

(Understanding)

2. Chokmah

(Wisdom)

5. Gevurah

(Strength)

4. Chesed

(Kindness)

6. Tiferet

(Beauty)

8. Hod

(Majesty)

7. Netzach

(Eternity)

9. Yesod

(Foundation)

10. Malkut

(Kingdom)

Appendix Three – The Hebrew Alefbet and Creation (in alphabetical order)

Hebrew Letter

Value

Perceptual

Temporal

Spacial

Anatomical

Aleph

1

Air

Temperate season

Atmosphere

Lungs

Bet

2

Wisdom

First day

The Sun

Right eye

Gimel

3

Health

Second day

The Moon

Right ear

Dalet

4

Fertility

Third day

Mars

Right nostril

He

5

Speech

Nissan

Taleh

Right foot

Vav

6

Thought

Iyar

Shor

Right kidney

Zayin

7

Movement

Sivan

Teomim

Left foot

Het

8

Sight

Tammuz

Sarton

Right hand

Tet

9

Hearing

Av

Ari

Left kidney

Yod

10

Labor

Elul

Betulah

Left hand

Kaf

20 / 500

Life

Fourth day

Mercury

Left eye

Lamed

30

Sexual desire

Tishri

Moznayim

Gallbladder

Mem

40 / 600

Water

Cold season

Earth

Womb

Nun

50 / 700

Smell

Marcheshvan

‘Akrab

Intestines

Samech

60

Sleep

Kislev

Kasshat

Stomach

Ayin

70

Anger

Tevet

Gedi

Liver

Pe

80 / 800

Power

Fifth day

Jupiter

Left ear

Tsadi

90 / 900

Taste

Shevat

D’li

Esophagus

Qof

100

Laughter

Adar

Dagim

Spleen

Resh

200

Peace

Sixth day

Venus

Left nostril

Shin

300

Fire

Heat season

Heavens

Head

Tav

400

Beauty

Seventh day

Saturn

Mouth

 

Three mothers Seven doubles Twelve simple

 

Appendix Four – Hebrew Alefbet and Creation (in alphabetical order)

Hebrew Letter

Value

Perceptual

Temporal

Spacial

Anatomical

Alef

1

Air

Temperate season

Atmosphere

Lungs

Mem

40 / 600

Water

Cold season

Earth

Womb

Shin

300

Fire

Heat season

Heavens

Head of Man

Bet

2

Wisdom

First day

The Sun

Right eye

Gimel

3

Health

Second day

The Moon

Right ear

Dalet

4

Fertility

Third day

Mars

Right nostril

Kaf

20 / 500

Life

Fourth day

Mercury

Left eye

Pe

80 / 800

Power

Fifth day

Jupiter

Left ear

Resh

200

Peace

Sixth day

Venus

Left nostril

Tav

400

Beauty

Seventh day

Saturn

Mouth

He

5

Speech

Nissan

Taleh

Right foot

Vav

6

Thought

Iyar

Shor

Right kidney

Zayin

7

Movement

Sivan

Teomim

Left foot

Het

8

Sight

Tammuz

Sarton

Right hand

Tet

9

Hearing

Av

Ari

Left kidney

Yod

10

Labor

Elul

Betulah

Left hand

Lamed

30

Sexual desire

Tishri

Moznayim

Gallbladder

Nun

50 / 700

Smell

Marcheshvan

‘Akrab

Intestines

Samech

60

Sleep

Kislev

Kasshat

Stomach

Ayin

70

Anger

Tevet

Gedi

Liver

Tzadi

90 / 900

Taste

Shevat

D’li

Esophagus

Qoph

100

Laughter

Adar

Dagim

Spleen

 

Three mothers Seven doubles Twelve simple

 

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