Book of Formation - Sefer Yetzirah

Chapter I

Mishnah 1, part 2

By the grace of G-d 
Copyright © 2009-13, 2016 Nathaniel Segal 

Mishnah * I.1.2.  (The Almighty . . . created His world . . .) in three realms — with a book, and a scribe, and a story.

Laws of Nature

The Book of Formation outlines all the Laws of Nature, including everything about human nature.  The laws of the physical world and their study are aptly called physics by scientists.  Laws concerning human nature are generally called metaphysics by those who enter this domain.  Metaphysics also addresses our place in the physical world and in physical bodies, as well as the purpose and nature of existence.

Today's scientists describe how our physical world works in a unified framework of space and time – what is now called space-time.  In the Book of Formation, though, Time is a realm/domain that can be isolated from space and location.

In the Book of Formation, "space" is called World.  Studying the realm of World, like studying space, concerns the components and qualities of matter and energy.  To a certain extent, studying the realm of World isolates it from Time and Consciousness (the third realm).  When we bring these realms of study together, we can study and measure motion – speed (velocity) and acceleration – types of constancy or change over time.

The third realm of creation is Consciousness.  In this realm, we are interested in awareness, choice, and intentionality.  We can also develop measurements of work in the ways that interest people – engineers, scientists, and so on.  We are no longer isolating one realm from another.  Communication is also a subject within the realm of Consciousness.  Humans communicate with other humans – or at least try to.  Humans and G-d communicate with each other – or at least try to.

The totality of our lives is outlined within these three realms.  Accordingly, my companion commentary on this page appears in parallel for each of these three realms.  This page leaves ample room for development, though.

Totality emerges from the three realms.  "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts."

General Companion

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 a speaking arrangement, so to speak.  What I just wrote does not exclude straightforward meaning.  The existence of the Universe does not change G-d at all – He owns the world, but the world does not own Him.  In addition, He did not abandon the world after He created it.  It remains His world since He is always interested in it.

The Book of Formation examines speech, both Divine and human, in terms of the twenty-two letters/consonants of the Hebrew Alphabet with a range of ten vowels.

three realms - Alternate English language translations are 'domains', 'frames of reference', 'divisions', and 'dimensions'.  A drawback with using the word 'dimension' is that the realms of Space and Time themselves have dimensions.  Time can be seen to have a past, a present, and a future, for instance.

In the Book of Formation, World has six dimensions * – right, left, front, back, top, and bottom.  In the case of geography these are south, north, east, west, up, and down.  In conventional mathematics, these six dimensions are treated as three axes with both positive and negative values (and the value zero).  The Book of Formation does not use negative values.  Such values have use and convenience in arithmetic.  However, people don't experience negative values as such.

If the arithmetic in my check register, for example, shows a negative balance, I experience a new relationship with my bank.  I have overdrawn funds on my account, which my bankers do not approve of.  This new relationship is not a pleasant one.  In ordinary language, we borrow the word 'negative' to describe such an experience.

(Actually, I write out predated checks [drafts] and enter debits in advance at my convenience.  I have planned payments before I actually receive a wage deposit.  Therefore, the balance in my check register is often negative for the purpose of arithmetic.  My bank is entirely unaware of my habits of paying bills.  My experience is not negative because of this negative arithmetic number.  Actually, I feel well organized.  By the way, even if I pay electronically, I can still write a personal check, and the bank still calls my account a checking account.  My "check register" is now an account register.)

six dimensions - In the small scale, one can speak of three dimensions.  Right and left are symmetrical to each other, for instance.  An atom may vibrate right-left, but neither direction is unique.  They are simply complementary opposites.  The same is true for an up-down vibration and a forward-backward vibration.  At this scale, a particle has only three freedoms of vibration.  This is a reductionist state from the human scale and the large scale.  On this latter scale, moving closer to the sun and moving away from the sun, for example, are not symmetrical movements.  While the distances of movement may be the same, each of these two movements produces distinct results.  One result is not a negative value of the other.  These are two of the six dimensions of space.

three realms - Alternate English translations . . .  A drawback with using the word 'division' is that it originates with the Latin prefix 'di[s]' which can distort this lesson in the Book of Formation.  This prefix is associated with 'away', 'in different directions', 'removal', 'reversal', 'asunder'.  The three s'farim (the Hebrew language term) of the Book of Creation do not contain qualities of reversal.  Concerning direction, the extent that they stand away from each other is for study – to compare and contrast.  Although they present different faces and facets, they are ultimately unified in Creation.

Use of the Latin prefix in the sense of 'apartness' and 'distinctive' is apt.  However, I would find myself inventing words like 'distinctivenesses' and apartnesses' to become nouns.

The phrase 'frames of reference' is a good translation, but Consciousness itself can be discussed as having three frames of reference – first person, second person, and third person.

'Domain' implies separate ownership.  In addition, we have a new use for it in the Internet.  A Universal Resource Locator (URL) points toward a web site's domain and to its domain name.

Altogether, I prefer to translate the Hebrew term s'farim as realms.

three realms - that impinge on each other.  This is a whole that emerges from three parts – a book (by itself), a scribe (by himself), and a story (by itself).

Companion - Book, Scribe, and Story

See Tanya, "Igeret HaKodesh," Chapter 5 at the beginning.

Companion - World / Location

Olam in the Hebrew language literally means World or Universe.  The Almighty is called "melech ha'olam," King of the Universe.  Olam consists of six spacial dimensions.  These dimensions are right, left, forward, upward, downward, and behind.  When forward is toward the rising sun, right is south, left is north, and behind is west.  These are the traditional cardinal points in the Bible. However, the six dimensions can be customized to any orientation when it's convenient.

The absence of negative values can be illustrated by standing under a shade tree.  The tree's trunk is to my right, let's say.  I move several paces to my left and find myself standing in sunlight instead of shade.  While the magnitude is equal to having taking the same number of paces to my right, the outcome is entirely different.  Up and down are experiences of the force of gravity.  The experience of gravity is passive in other directions or when standing still, though.

It can be useful to view the world as we did as children or toddlers.

On the human scale, these dimensions are generally used with plane geometry.  But on the large scale, we need to use spherical geometry.  The Earth, Moon, Sun, planets, and stars are close to spherical in shape.  Orbits across the earthly sky are curved.

As it is, in physics we learn to use vectors for location and movement.  Vectors have direction and magnitude.  Directions are indicated by measuring an angle from an arbitrary starting point.  Magnitude is a measurement in positive units and partial units.  Furthermore, vectors unify measurement of both physical and electromagnet forces, as well as time.

Mishnah I.1. [I.1]  With thirty-two separate paths of wisdom - The ten vowels and twenty-two consonants of the Hebrew alphabet.  The Almighty spoke ten times in the Biblical book of Genesis using combinations of these consonants and vowels in order to create the Universe.

More about the thirty-two paths of wisdom in the Companion for Consciousness.

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.  This text 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 which are the same in every Jewish community.

The ten vowels are discussed in the next part of this mishnah.

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.

Ten Statements - This phrase is often translated from Hebrew as "Ten Utterances."  I find the word 'utterance' a bit archaic, so I have chosen the contemporary, and accurate, word 'statement'.

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.

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 below.

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).

and created His world - to exist according to His laws of Nature.  In this case, 'world' – His world – refers to the entire universe, the totality of location, time, and consciousness.

in three realms - Besides types of divisions, also three scales of magnitude – the human scale, the small scale, and the large scale.

with a book - the small scale;  the laws of nature in small detail;  the "Theory of Everything."  On this scale, events seem to be deterministic.  From laws on this scale, the laws of nature on the human scale emerge.  Aspects of determinism are lost when moving to this ordinary scale.  "Emergence" is a scientific term.

On the small scale, some events appear the same whether proceeding in time from the present to the future or from the present to the past.  The arrow of time emerges on the human scale. Events cannot be run backwards on the human scale.

and a scribe - the human scale;  actualizing;  ordering and sequencing.  A book is read word by word, sentence by sentence;  and each letter has its place in the book or in speech.  If the order of words or sentences is changed, the book or speech is another one, if it's understandable at all.  Letters are especially finely tuned.  A word or sentence is rarely intelligible if even a few letters are moved or changed.  A human scribe is responsible for writing a fully accurate copy which is faithful to the original text.

and a story - communication;  the large scale;  the outcome.

Companion - Time / Chronology / Sequencing / Ordering

In the Book of Formation, the three dimensions of time are:  (1) the present moment;  (2) what has already happened (with linkage to the present moment but which cannot be changed);  (3) and choices for the future.

The future is not determined by the present.  The future cannot be predicted from the present.  The future can only be spoken about in terms of probabilities.  Certain outcomes from choices in the present are so unlikely that they can be dismissed from consideration.  The past cannot either be "retrodicted" – accurately described from conditions in the present.

The orbits of the Earth and Moon taken together are an example of something that cannot be predicted with excellent accuracy, only with reasonable probability.  At one time, it was believed that at the end of each year the Earth returned to the same spot (relative to the sun) where it had been the year before.  According to this mistaken idea, the Earth would follow its orbit of the previous year precisely during the new year.  These earlier generations were mistaken.  First, the orbit around the sun as described by an ellipse is the path of the center of gravity (center of mass) of the Earth-Moon frame but not the path of the center of the Earth.  Since the solar year is not a multiple of the length of the Moon's cycle, each year finds the Moon in a different position relative to the Earth and Sun.  Only the center of gravity of the Earth-Moon system could possibly be in the same place as a new year starts.  Second, the Earth responds to the gravity of several other planets whose cycles are also not multiples of the roughly 365 1/4 days of the Earth's year.  Venus, Mars, and Jupiter are the most powerful influences on the Earth from the standpoint of gravity.  Sometimes they are far away from the Earth (on the other side of the solar system).  Sometimes they are close to Earth, even aligned with the Sun.

These two issues alone demonstrate that the Earth's orbit is different every year.  Its orbit can only be predicted to a certain degree of accuracy.  A degree of accuracy means a probability.

Looking back, the position of the Earth at an earlier time can only be estimated – a probability.  Admittedly, the estimates for both the past and future are very accurate and very probable, but this is not determinism which was the belief of scientists for a number of generations.

Mishnah I.1.1.  [I.1]  With thirty-two separate paths of wisdom - in an order which is hinted at in the first chapter of Genesis.

paths - stages

the Almighty - Who existed before Creation, Who exists now, and Who will continue to exist after Creation ceases to exist.  This is symbolized in G-d's four-letter name which is not pronounced – the Tetragrammaton.  'Tetragrammaton' comes from Greek, simply meaning "four written letters."  Since this name of G-d is not supposed to be pronounced, it is called the ineffable name.

(Anyone who imagines that they know how to pronounce the name of four letters is fooling themselves.  They have never heard the pronunciation from someone who heard it from someone who heard it from someone going back in time to any reliable source.  People who do believe that they are pronouncing this name correctly are engaging in fantasy and conceit.  When reading out loud, Jews follow the tradition of substituting the sounds of another name of G-d for the four letters.  The predominant substitution is a name that evokes the idea of "lord" or "master."  'L-rd' is used in translating Scriptures or prayers.  When you see Hebrew vowel points printed with the four-letter name in a Bible or prayer book, you are seeing the conventional designations for which name to substitute in reading out loud.  If you survey the entirety of Hebrew Scriptures, you will find that a different set of vowel points is printed with these same four letters several times.  The Book of Formation never suggests or even hints at a pronunciation.  The four ineffable letters are visualized in meditation, though.)

In permutations, these four Hebrew letters are sufficient to express the three Hebrew words for 'was', 'is', and 'will be'.

engraved - in a sequence which establishes a message.  If the sequence is changed in any way, the message is almost certainly confused.  A change creates a new, unintended message.  In electronic communication, the original message is call a signal.  A garbled message contains noise.  However, a self-checking mechanism eliminates noise and restores the original signal.  "Engraved" signifies that G-d established self-checking mechanisms in creation.

The four letters of G-d's ineffable name (as discussed immediately above) are a distinct message when visualized, but they are pronounced according to tradition with another of G-d's names.  The Jewish tradition of rabbis learning from an earlier generation of rabbis is a self-correcting mechanism in the transmission of the Torah.

and created His world - reality;  according to His will.  In this case, 'world' – His world – refers to the entire universe, the totality of location, time, and consciousness.  Human mind experiments may describe "other worlds," the future, time travel (science fiction) or even other universes, but these are not likely to map out to reality.

in three realms - of magnitude –

with a book - the small scale,

and a scribe - the human scale, and

and a story - the large scale.

in three realms - Concerning time in the small scale, some events appear the same whether proceeding from the present to the future or from the present to the past.  The arrow of time emerges on the human scale.  Events cannot be run backwards on the human scale.

Companion - Consciousness

Mishnah I.1.1.  [I.1]  With thirty-two separate paths of wisdom - The Almighty spoke ten times in the Biblical book of Genesis.  "Let there be . . ."  All human souls were created on the sixth day — of the Seven Days of Creation — by the tenth statement, "Let us make a man . . ."  'A man', here, means one 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.  "As above, so below."  Our souls are in the image of G-d, as it were.  See my Tree of Life, which is the holy image of a living person.

thirty-two separate paths of wisdom - These paths correspond to the thirty-two teeth typically found in adult human jaws.  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 imbedded 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 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 - Each of His holy names is listed.

engraved - He uttered ten expressions 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 three realms - scales of magnitude

with a book - the small scale

and a scribe - the human scale;  The first human scribe was the Patriarch Abraham of the Bible.  He sifted through all the wisdom and knowledge of his world.  He tested hypotheses, even if only in his mind.  He rejected falsehoods and dubious propositions.  Abraham organized this knowledge into a system and composed this book, the Book of Formation.  Subsequently, Rabbi Akiba established a correct reading of the text (errors had crept in).

Moses was the second scribe, greater in stature than the Patriarch Abraham.  Moses wrote what G-d revealed to him on Mount Sinai.  This revelation was confined to the first four books of the Hebrew Scriptures.  During the last year of Moses' life, he composed the fifth book – Deuteronomy – to clarify and summarize the G-d's Revelation to him at Mount Sinai and during the entirety of his life.  Since Moses wrote Deuteronomy in a spirit of prophecy, it was included with the first four books, with equal holiness, to comprise the Pentateuch – the Five Books of Moses.

Since Rabbi Akiba, errors have again crept into our copies of the Book of Formation.  I have tried to correct errors by several means.  Most importantly, I rely on the tradition of the Chabad school of Hasidic study.  An approach from the Chabad school is to make the text accessible to everyone – shaveh l'kol nefesh (as much as possible).  I am mindful,though, that many or most alternate readings are not errors.  Instead, these alternate readings correspond to different study perspectives.  However, I am choosing one perspective only and trying to be consistent in the choice of text and my resulting comments in the Companion.

and a story - the large scale;  full consciousness of the potential of the entire Universe and a resulting complete knowledge of the Laws of Nature;  knowledge of the Almighty, which comes little by little during the course of a person's life in this world;  a full ability to communicate one's knowledge.

in three realms - When speaking about Consciousness itself, we find three realms.  Awareness of myself is expressed with a first person singular pronoun.  I may be with someone and speaking to them.  To the extent that I am aware of and acknowledge them, my primary consciousness starts with myself, though.

A second person pronoun refers to a second realm – someone who is present to my face (I'm avoiding making this complicated by mentioning the telephone, and so on).  The word 'you' may not be explicit.  Body language also establishes a 'you' relationship.  The existence of this second realm does not address quality in the relationship.

If you wish, consider Martin Buber's philosophy of contrasting I/Thou relationships with I/It.  The first realm, the self, may indeed not be treating the 'you' with respect, integrity, or honesty.  Here, the Book of Formation is presenting universal structure.  The Book of Formation addresses good and not good in Chapter VI.

The third realm consists of a person(s) (for example) who is not present.  We use third person pronouns for this realm – he, she, it, them.

Boundaries are a commonality for three realms.  The Book of Formation teaches us about three s'farim – three boundaries, three sets of edges.

Boundaries of the realms can reorganize.  'You and I' may join together as a plural realm of 'we'.  A person who presents himself or herself to us or whom we meet is within the second realm.  We may or may not wish to extend the boundary of 'us' to this new person.

Regardless, the realm of the 'other' describes a person or people who are not present or whose presence is ignored.  People are able to organize the realms into a dichotomy – 'us or them'.

* Definitions and Pronunciation

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