Book of Formation - Sefer Yetzirah


Chapter I

[ I.1 – I.14 ]

Mishnah 1, part 1

By the grace of G-d 
Copyright © 2009-17 Nathaniel Segal 

Mishnah * I.1.1.  The Almighty engraved and created His world with thirty-two separate paths of wisdom.

[ With thirty-two separate paths of wisdom, the Almighty engraved and created His universe. ]


Mishnah I.1.1.  With thirty-two separate paths of wisdom - The ten vowels and twenty-two consonants of the Hebrew alphabet.  The Almighty spoke nine times * in the Biblical book of Genesis – "Let there be. . . ." – using combinations of these consonants and vowels in order to create the Universe.

Only Hebrew consonants are written in a Torah scroll, the accurate record of G-d's Ten Statements in Genesis from which the Universe is created.  You are likely to find the expression "Ten Utterances." I find the word 'utterance' a bit archaic, so I have chosen the contemporary, and accurate, word 'statement'.  The text of the Torah has been carefully preserved since Moses wrote out thirteen Torah scrolls in the last year of his life.  Moses also taught how to pronounce each word and how to enunciate phrases and sentences – the tonality for reading and studying the text out loud.  Furthermore, Moses taught how to understand what was written.

In the tradition from Moses, we read the text of Scripture out loud formally by using a set of rules that are the same in every Jewish community.

The ten vowels are discussed in the third part of this mishnah.  The division of the one mishnah into parts is Nathaniel's way of presenting the lessons.

G-d's messages – His instructions – are transmitted in twenty-two written letters with ten unwritten vowels.  These letters and vowels resemble messages transmitted in today's digital media, except that digital media only use two symbols, two "letters."  Sometimes, these two symbols are represented by "off" or "on."  Sometimes by '0' or '1';  sometimes by magnetized "clockwise" or "counter-clockwise."

Contrast this with the rich possibilities presented by the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

* The Almighty spoke nine times - The first Divine words of creation are hinted in the first words of the book of Genesis.  A satisfactory translation of these words is, "When G-d began to create the heavens and the land, although [what would become] the land [on the second day] was amazingly disordered, although darkness faced the tehom, and although a fierce swirling hovered around [what would become] the surface of waters, G-d said, 'Let there be light.'"

A hint in the first words of Genesis declares that time should begin.  This is a moment which has no moment before it.  The words also hint that a tehom should come into being from previous nothingness.  Tehom describes the nature of the centers of the Earth and the Sun, for example.  The core of the Earth is in a plasma state, neither solid, liquid, or gas.  The heat and pressure at the core of our planet resemble the interior of the Sun but on a small scale.  Immense energy (heat) prevents charged particles (what scientists call electrons and protons) from bonding to form even simple atoms.  This is a description of the plasma state of matter.  Scientists tell us that about 98 to 99 percent of the Universe is still in a plasma state.

The first words of Genesis could be reworked as, "Let time begin, and let energy and particles begin to exist."  This reworking of the first verses of Genesis implies a boost to the number of G-d's statements to ten – the Ten Statements (Utterances) of Genesis.

The second time that the Almighty spoke in the Biblical book of Genesis was to say, "Let there be light."  Until then, light wave-particles were trapped in the plasma.  If we could have seen this plasma from the outside, it would have appeared absolutely dark.  This is the nature of plasma.  When a photon (as scientists call the basic quantum of light) is emitted from an ion in a plasma, it is immediately absorbed by another ion.  No light leaves a plasma until it cools to become a gas nebula (on the large scale).

Even inside the sun today, it takes thousands of years, on average, for light generated at the sun's center to reach the sun's surface atmosphere and become freely radiating light.  (So I've read.)

On the human scale, lightning is a discharge of light from plasma ions in a lightning and thunder storm.  Where two air masses collide at a weather front, molecules are ripped apart into ions – charged particles – to turn into a plasma state.  At the same time, ground under a thunder storm acquires a positive charge.  The negative charge of the storm reorganizes the ground's charge.  The negative charge in the clouds repels negativity underneath like opposite sides of magnets repel each other.  In magnets, opposite charges are commonly called "north" and "south."  Within the ionized region of this weather front, no light escapes until a patch of plasma cools or overheats (as I understand this).  Then, excess electrons – negative ions – shoot out of the storm front in the form of lightning.  The electrons have pooled and flowed toward a ground pool of excess positive ions.  The outcome is a ground to cloud (cloud to ground) corridor with no charge.  The corridor lights up dramatically as the plasma dissipates.  Particles of light that had been trapped are instantly released.

The first light of Creation flared and glowed, swirling and hovering over the initially created plasma of energy and particles.

* The Almighty spoke nine times - G-d created all human souls on the sixth day – of the Seven Days of Creation – by the tenth statement, "Let us make a man. . . ."  'A man', here, means one wise, flame-like human soul.  We are all sparks of this First Soul.  Also, just as a flame rises up from what is burning, so our souls are burning to return to our pristine source.  Our souls are in the image of G-d, as it were.  "As above, so below."  See my Tree of Life, which is the holy image of a living person.

thirty-two separate paths of wisdom - One of G-d's names appears thirty-two times within the Ten Statements.  This name expresses how G-d acts severely.  The Book of Formation counts each appearance of this name as a separate path of wisdom that is embedded within the Ten Statements.

What is G-d's severity here?  He confines Himself to only a revelation by speech.  Within His creation – the Universe – He reveals nothing about His thoughts.  He reveals nothing about His essence.  These are a great emptiness for those whom He has created.  However, this so-called emptiness is not empty of G-d.  He transcends creation.  He exists after creation just as He was before creation.

G-d teaches us that one of His names represents existence.  First G-d teaches Moses, "I am what I am."  This is not name, though.  This is an explanation of one of His names – the one that corresponds to pure, unconditional existence.  This is the name of four letters, and these letters express both existence and timelessness.  In Hebrew, when these four letters are rearranged (and sometimes dropped or duplicated) the letters spell out four permutations – "He was, He is, and He will be."

thirty-two separate paths of wisdom - The thirty-two teeth typically found in adult human jaws correspond to these paths.  We are born to develop twenty primary teeth – called "milk teeth" or "baby teeth."  As our skulls and jaws grow larger, permanent adult teeth begin to grow in, pushing out the baby teeth.

Sixteen teeth are rooted in both adult jaws.  The teeth are arranged in right-to-left symmetry, so we can describe human dentition in terms of eight teeth on each side the jaws and upper and lower teeth corresponding to and complementing each other.

Growing states of consciousness accompany this physical growth.  Just as each primary tooth is lost and replaced, higher levels of awareness and knowledge replace our earlier, more immature attitudes and viewpoints.  The Book of Formation speaks to adults with a full set of "thirty-two" teeth – paths of wisdom.  In terms of consciousness, the twenty baby teeth represent a lesser order of magnitude than the adult set of thirty-two.  The adult set of teeth represents a distinct adult perspective which cannot be appreciated by youngsters.

As a student of this book, you are faced with a dilemma.  If you do not yet have an adult perspective – you view yourself, others, and the world in an immature way – you are not ready to study the Book of Formation.  On the other hand, if you are not ready, how will you grow to be ready?  What regimen of education helps develop enough maturity to study and learn from this book?

The book itself contains an embedded answer.  We see four key words here at the book's beginning:

Similarly, King David says in Psalm 111, verse 10, in plain language but in reverse order, "The beginning of wisdom is fear of the L-rd."  Rephrased in the order of the Book of Formation, the verse could read, "Fear of the L-rd [the Almighty] is the beginning [created] of [wisdom]."  The fourth key word answers the question "where?", so when we read the Book of Formation in terms of human consciousness, "His world" is each individual person who was, is, or will be created.

the Almighty - the Creator

the Almighty - About a dozen names for G-d are listed here in the Book of Formation.  Each name describes Him in each different way that He manifests Himself in Creation.  Each name corresponds to a type of Divine activity or engagement.  I have conflated these names into two English words – 'the Almighty'.

If any name were to be spoken out loud, this would be according the way that a student heard it from his or her teacher.  There is no place in my essays to teach a pronunciation for any name.  See more about this topic further on.

the Almighty engraved - The Hebrew word order cannot be duplicated in English:

with thirty-two paths
he engraved
[Who engraved?]  the Almighty
and created His world

engraved - the laws of Nature.  In Hebrew, the word for 'engraved' is related to a word for 'law'.  Nature was "engraved" at the beginning of Creation, not to be violated (except for the exceedingly rare Divine miracles).

engraved - He said ten statements in Genesis, and these remain unchanged as if they were engraved.  In terms of an analogy, engraving is permanent since the stone which has been carved out cannot be replaced in a way that restores the integrity of the stone.  Engraving cannot be reversed.

Writing is a contrasting analogy.  In writing, one adds ink or graphite to a sheet of paper.  To the extent that the ink or graphite can be removed, the integrity of the paper is restored.

and created His world - His own consciousness in which the cosmos is embedded.  In addition,

His world - "His world" instead of "the world."  The initial step for creating the world was for G-d to assemble His Divine "mouth," as it were.  All creation stems from G-d's speech.  In order for G-d to speak the world into existence, He created His world, which is an abstract, non-material speaking apparatus.  This apparatus, so to speak, is hinted in the first words of the Biblical book of Genesis, "When G-d began to create. . . ."  G-d began to create by forming Divine "speech organs" at the first moment.  The Divine "mouth" contains qualities of sky (heaven) and minerals (earth).  'Sky' is humid air.  Our teeth and bones are primarily mineral formations.  Flesh is a fusion of organic molecules found in the atmosphere and of organic minerals in the earth.

* Definitions and Pronunciation

^ Mishnah -
^^ Top of page