Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation

Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780877288558
Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
Publication date: 05/01/1997
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 474
Sales rank: 210,561
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.94(d)

About the Author

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan was born in New York City and was educated in the Torah Voda'as and Mir Yeshivot in Brooklyn. After years of study at Jerusalem's Mir Yeshiva, he was ordained by some of Israel's foremost rabbinic authorities. He also earned a master's degree in physics and was listed in Who's Who in Physics in the United States. In the course of a writing career spanning only 12 years, Rabbi Kaplan earned a reputation as one of the most effective, persuasive, scholarly, and prolific exponents of Judaism in the English language. He died on January 28, 1983, at the age of 48.

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Sefer Yetzirah

The Book of Creation


Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 1997 The Estate of Aryeh Kalpan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-87728-855-8



With 32 mystical paths of Wisdom
engraved Yah
the Lord of Hosts
the God of Israel
the living God
King of the universe
El Shaddai
Merciful and Gracious
High and Exalted
Dwelling in eternity
Whose name is Holy—
He is lofty and holy—
And He created His universe
with three books (Sepharim),
with text (Sepher)
with number (Sephar)
and with communication (Sippur).

With 32

As the next stanza will explain, these 32 paths are manifest as the 10 digits and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The 10 digits are also manifest in the Ten Sefirot, which are the most basic concepts of existence.

The letters and digits are the basis of the most basic ingredients of creation, quality and quantity. The qualities of any given thing can be described by words formed out of the letters, while all of its associated quantities can be expressed by numbers.

Numbers, however, cannot be defined until there exists some element of plurality in creation. The Creator Himself is absolutely simple, containing no plurality whatsoever. He is the most absolute unity imaginable. Therefore, plurality only came into existence with the advent of creation. Only then could numbers be defined.

The first elements of plurality in creation involved the Ten Sefirot. Hence, it was the Sefirot that defined the numbers, and therefore, the concept of quantity in general.

Most of Sefer Yetzirah will deal with these 32 paths, as they are manifest in the letters and numbers. The 32 paths, themselves, however, will not be mentioned again. The early Kabbalists define these 32 paths as different states of consciousness. A list of these is given in Appendix II.

According to the Kabbalists, these 32 paths are alluded to in the Torah by the 32 times that God's name Elohim appears in the account of creation in the first chapter of Genesis. In this account, the expression "God said" appears ten times, and these are the Ten Sayings with which the world was created. These Ten Sayings parallel the Ten Sefirot. The first saying is said to be the verse, "In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth" (Genesis 1:1). Even though "God said" does not appear here, it is implied and understood.

The other 22 times that God's name appears in this account then parallel the 22 letters of the alphabet. The three times in which the expression "God made" appears parallel the three Mothers. The seven repetitions of "God saw" parallel the seven Doubles. The remaining twelve names parallel the twelve Elementals. See Table 2.

In general, none of the names of God refer to the Creator Himself. The Creator is only referred to as Ain Sof, which means the Infinite Being, or simply, the Infinite. The names used in scripture and elsewhere merely refer to the various ways through which God manifests Himself in creation.

The name Elohim, which is used throughout the first chapter of Genesis, refers to the manifestation of delineation and definition. Each of the 32 paths therefore served to delineate and define a particular aspect of creation. Man is seen as a microcosm, with each thing in his body paralleling something in the forces of creation. Thus, for example, the six days of creation have parallels in man's two arms, two legs, torso and sexual organ. This is the significance of the Torah's statement that God formed man "in the image of God" (Genesis 1:27). Note that the word for "God" here is Elohim. This is because man's form parallels the structure of the delineating forces that define creation.

The Kabbalists note that the 32 paths of Wisdom have their parallel in the human nervous system. Thirty-one of these paths then parallel the 31 nerves that emanate from the spinal cord. The thirty second and highest path corresponds to the entire complex of cranial nerves, which are twelve in number.

The nervous system serves a double purpose. First, it transmits messages from the brain to all parts of the body, allowing the mind to control the limbs and organs. Secondly, the nervous system transmits information from the various senses to the brain. Four of the senses, sight, hearing, taste and smell, come directly through the cranial nerves, which are entirely in the brain. The impulses that come from the lower 31 nerves deal primarily with the sense of touch and feeling.

Like the nerves, each of the 32 paths is a two way street. First it is the channel through which the Mind exerts control over creation. Secondly, however, it is also the path through which man can reach the Mind. If an individual wishes to attain a mystical experience and approach the Mind, he must travel along the 32 paths.

In Hebrew, the number 32 is written Lamed Bet () This spells Lev, the Hebrew word for heart. It is in the heart that the action of the Mind is manifest in the body. As soon as the influence of the mind ceases, the heart ceases to function, this being the definition of death.

The heart also provides lifeforce to the brain and nervous system. When the heart stops pumping, the nervous system can no longer function, and the mind no longer exerts influence on the body. The heart therefore serves as a causal link between mind and body.

It is for this reason that Sefer Yetzirah calls the heart "the king over the soul" (6:3). It also describes the mystical experience as a "running of the heart" (1:8).

The Torah is seen as the heart of creation. The first letter of the Torah is the Bet ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of Bereshit ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII])—"In the beginning." The last letter of the Torah is the Lamed ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of Yisrael ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII])—"Israel." Together, these two letters also spell out Lev ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), meaning heart. The 32 paths are contained in the Torah, which is the means through which the Mind is revealed. It is also the link between the Mind and the physical universe. The Torah is therefore expounded in 32 different ways, as taught by Rabbi Yosi of Galili.

The two letters Lamed ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and Bet ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) also share another unique distinction. As a prefix, Lamed means "to." and Bet means "in." The three letters of the Tetragrammaton, Yud ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), Heh ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), and Vav ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), can also serve as suffixes for personal pronouns. The suffix Yud means "me." Heh means "her." and Vav means "him."

In the entire alphabet, there are only two letters to which these suffixes can be joined, and these are Lamed and Bet. These then spell out the words:


The two letters, Lamed and Bet, are the only ones in the entire alphabet which combine with the letters of the divine name in this manner.

The number 32 is the fifth power of two (25). As the Sefer Yetzirah explains (1:5), the Ten Sefirot define a five dimensional space. The 32 paths correspond to the number of apexes on a five dimensional hypercube.

This is not as difficult as it might seem. A line, which has one dimension, has two (21) apexes or ends. A square, having two dimensions, has four (22) apexes or corners. A cube, which has three dimensions, has eight (23) corners. We thus see that with the addition of each dimension, the number of apexes is doubled. A four dimensional hypercube has 16 or 24 apexes, while a five dimensional hypercube has 32 or 25 apexes.


The Hebrew word for "paths" here is Netivot ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), a word that occurs only rarely in scripture. Much more common is the word Derekh ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). As the Zohar slates, however, there is an important difference between these two words. A Derekh is a public road, a route used by all people. A Nativ, on the other hand, is a personal route, a path blazed by the individual for his personal use. It is a hidden path, without markers or signposts, which one must discover on his own, and tread by means of his own devices.

The 32 paths of Wisdom are therefore called Netivot. They are private paths, which must be blazed by each individual. There is no open highway to the mysteries—each individual must discover his own path.

The numerical value of Nativ ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) is 462. This is twice the number of the 231 Gates discussed below (2:4). These gates are a means through which one ascends and descends along the 32 paths.


These paths are said to be mystical, Peliyot ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) in Hebrew. This comes from the root Pala ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), which has the connotation of being hidden and separated from the world at large. Not only are these paths individual, but they are hidden, concealed and transcendental.

This is very closely related to the word Peleh ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), meaning a miracle. A miracle is separated and independent from the laws of the physical world. It is also influenced by hidden forces. As such, it is a link with the mystical and transcendental plane. The same is true of the paths of Wisdom.

According to the Zohar, the word Peleh specifically relates to the paths of Wisdom. The type of miracle denoted by the word Peleh is specifically one that is accomplished through the manipulation of these paths. The methods of manipulating these paths is one of the important teachings of Sefer Yetzirah.

The Sefer Yetzirah later calls the three Mothers, "a great mystical (muPhLA) secret" (3:2). The first of the three Mothers is Aleph ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) When spelled out, Aleph ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) has the same letters as Peleh([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]).

According to the Kabbalists, the letter Aleph denotes Keter (Crown), the highest of the Sefirot. It is with regard to Keter that Ben Sirah said, "In what is mysterious (muPhLA) for you, do not seek."

The Kabbalists call Keter the level of Nothingness (Ayin). It is on this level that the laws of nature cease to exist, and can therefore be altered.

As the book Raziel points out, the three letters of Peleh ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) represent increasingly hidden values. According to the phonetic families defined by Sefer Yetzirah (2:3), the first letter, Peh ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), is pronounced with the lips, the second letter, Lamed ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), with the middle of the tongue, and the final Alef ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), with the throat. Thus, the first letter is pronounced with the outermost revealed part of the mouth, while the last is voiced with the innermost concealed part. The word Peleh thus denotes the transition from the revealed to the concealed.


These 32 paths are said to be paths of Wisdom (Chakhmah). In a Kabbalistic sense, Wisdom is seen as pure, undifferentiated Mind. It is pure thought, which has not yet been broken up into differentiated ideas. Wisdom is the level above all division, where everything is a simple unity.

It is in recognition of this that the Talmud states, "Who is wise (Chakham)? He who learns from every man." It is on the level of Wisdom that all men are one. Hence, if one is on this level, he must learn from every human being, and indeed, from all creation. According to the Baal Shem Tov, this means that a person on the level of Wisdom must even learn from Evil. It is only on levels below Wisdom that people are separated into different individuals. Only on lower levels does the division between good and evil exist.

The Talmud likewise states, "Who is wise? He who perceives the future." This is because Wisdom is the pure mind force that transcends time. On the level of Wisdom, past, present and future have not yet been separated. Hence, on this level, one can see the future just like the past and present.

The antithesis of Wisdom is Understanding. The Hebrew word for Understanding is Binah ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), which comes from the root Beyn ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), meaning "between."

Understanding is the level immediately below Wisdom. It is on the level of Understanding that ideas exist separately, where they can be scrutinized and comprehended. While Wisdom is pure undifferentiated Mind, Understanding is the level where division exists, and where things are delineated and defined as separated objects.

On the level of Wisdom, all men are included in a single world soul. Understanding is the level of Neshamah, where the soul of each individual assumes a distinct identity, and each one is seen as a separate entity.

The divine name associated with Understanding is Elohim. This is a plural word, since Understanding implies a plurality of forces. It is the name Elohim that is used throughout the entire first chapter of Genesis in describing the act of creation. The 32 times that this name occurs correspond to the 32 paths of Wisdom.

This resolves an important difficulty. If Wisdom is a simple undifferentiated Mind, how can it be manifest as 32 distinct paths? But actually, Wisdom is undifferentiated, and it is only through the power of Understanding that it is divided into separated paths. These paths are therefore designated by the name Elohim, the name associated with Understanding.

An example would be water flowing through a system of pipes. Water itself is an undifferentiated fluid, having no essential (macroscopic) structure. Structure is only imposed on it when it flows through the system of pipes. In the analogy, Wisdom is the water, while Understanding represents the pipes that channel it.

The 32 paths are expressed as the letters and numbers. Since these represent division, they are manifestations of Understanding. Hence, Wisdom represents nonverbal thought, while Understanding is its verbalization.

In this respect, Wisdom and Understanding are seen as being male and female respectively. In the Kabbalah, Wisdom is seen as the Father (Abba), while Understanding is the Mother (Immah). The male represents unchanneled creative force. This can only be brought into fruition when delineated, enclosed and channeled by the female womb. It is for this reason that the Sefer Yetzirah (1:2) calls the primary letters "Mothers."

This also resolves another difficulty. Earlier, we said that the 32 paths represent the heart, since the Hebrew word for heart, Lev, actually spells out the number 32. The heart, however, is normally associated with Understanding, while these paths are said to pertain to Wisdom. But the paths merely channel Wisdom, while the substance of the paths themselves is Understanding.


The text states that the Creator used these 32 paths to "engrave" so as to create His universe.

The Hebrew word here is Chakak ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). This usually has the connotation of removing material, as in the verse, "Engrave (chakak) yourself a dwelling in a rock" (Isaiah 22:16). Derived from this root are the words Chok ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and Chukah ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), meaning "rule" and "decree," since rules and laws serve to remove some of the individual's freedom of action. Thus, the word Chakak is closely related to Ma-chak ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), meaning "to erase," as well as to the root La-kach ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), meaning to "remove" or "take."

The word Chakak is very closely related to the concept of writing. The main difference between engraving (chakak) and writing is that when one writes, one adds material such as ink to the writing surface, while when one engraves, one removes material. When The Bible uses the work Chakak to designate writing, it is referring to such systems as cuneiform, where the text was written by removing wedges of clay from a tablet.

To understand why the author uses the term "engraved" here, we must understand the idea of creation. Before a universe could be created, empty space had to exist in which it could be made. But initially, only God existed, and all existence was filled with the Divine Essence, the Light of the Infinite (Or Ain Sof). It was out of this undifferentiated Essence that a Vacated Space had to be engraved. The process, known to the Kabbalists as the Tzimtzum (Constriction), is clearly described in the Zohar:

In the beginning of the King's authority The Lamp of Darkness Engraved a hollow in the Supernal Luminescence ...

The hollow engraved in the Supernal Luminescence was the Vacated Space, in which all creation subsequently occured.

The undifferentiated Light of the Infinite which existed before the Constriction is on the level of Wisdom, which is pure undelineated Mind. The power of constriction is that of Understanding, this being what the Zohar calls the "Lamp of Darkness." It is negative light, or negative existence, which can engrave a hollow in the Divine Essence.

Excerpted from Sefer Yetzirah by ARYEH KALPAN. Copyright © 1997 The Estate of Aryeh Kalpan. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents



The Text          


The Talmudic Period          

Texts and Commentaries          


Chapter One          

Chapter Two          

Chapter Three          

Chapter Four          

Chapter Five          

Chapter Six          


Appendix I: Other Versions of Sefer Yetzirah          

Short Version          

Long Version          

Saadia Version          

Appendix II: The 32 Paths of Wisdom          

Appendix III: The Gales          

Appendix IV: Editions and Commentaries          

Printed Editions          

Other Books Containing Sefer Yetzirah          






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