Book of Formation - Sefer Yetzirah

Chapter I

Mishnah 1, part 3

By the grace of G-d 
Copyright © 2012-13, 2018 Nathaniel Segal 

Mishnah * I.1.3.  (The Almighty . . . created His world . . . with) [the set of] ten vowels of the cavity of the mouth [without being substantial,]

[each of which is not fixed but hovers around a locus point] ◦


Mishnah I.1.3  [I.2]  set of ten - one set for all purposes of speaking.

vowels - Voiced speech sounds which are pushed freely through the open mouth.  Airflow from the lungs passes through the vibrating vocal cords – voice box – and then through the throat into the cavity of the mouth.  If you close your mouth, the voiced sound escapes through your nose.  You are humming.

If you round your lips tightly, you are whistling.

vowel - The word in Hebrew is s'fira, suh FEE rah.  The /s/ sound signifies a willful push of air out of the mouth.  'Willful' refers to the fact that vowels can be started and stopped at will.  The /s/ sound by itself is a hiss.  The /f/ sound signifies air which is forced out through and beyond the lips.  The /r/ sound is a push, a kick, which forces air out of the mouth.  Think in terms of a "bark."

A cognate in Hebrew is the word ts'fira, tsuh FEE rah.  This word refers to the whistling and chirping of birds.

Translating the word s'fira as 'sphere' is a poor choice.  The only connection that a vowel has to a sphere is that the cavity of the mouth is somewhat spherical in shape.

[locus] - a word from mathematics; not the name of a flower.

This part of the mishnah, as it's usually written, consists of only three Hebrew words.  I've unpacked these words by adding the phrases that appear in brackets and that are printed in a lighter weight.  These additions convey the idea that the three Hebrew words are a complete lesson, a complete thought.  These additions also serve as anchors for comments in the Companion.

Actually, when listening to this mishnah, this phrase also sounds like four Hebrew words.  The single Hebrew word b'lima also sounds like the two words, b'li ma – 'without substance'.  I have fused this dichotomy into one fluid explanation.  The dichotomy of the words indicate both rounded hollowness and without form.

of the cavity of the mouth - I could teach this as: "hissed through the mouth."  However, one of the lessons of this mishnah comes from the Hebrew word b'lima (just below).  This word symbolizes roundness – a mouth without precise form other than the fact that it is a cavity within the head.

the cavity of the mouth - from within the sphere of the mouth.

Within the set of vowels sounds, each sound is anchored differently from the others.  The Book of Formation recognizes ten generally distinct vowel sounds.  In the realm of location, we speak about a center of gravity.  We know that our bodies have a center of gravity, but we also know that we adjust this center of gravity according to our will.  If we thought about ten different body postures, each has a distinct center of gravity compared to the structure of our bodies.  In this context, though, "distinct" does not preclude adjustments to the center of gravity within each posture.  Similarly, vowel sounds from our mouths are "colored" – centered – around ten anchors, no more, no less.  I call vowel sounds that are related to any one anchor a color family of vowels.

without being substantial - which are not precisely fixed but adjusted around ten distinct configurations, as above.

without being substantial - b'lima, buh LIH mah.  If this Hebrew word is split, and it's read as two words, it means "without something."  As one word it means something like "spherically enclosed."  All ten vowels are distinct within the cavity of the mouth, although the ten centers are also "without" precise limits.  Again, "distinct" does not preclude vowel coloration – not fixed – as explained above.

[ see end of Mishnah 1 – bli mah: as explained in Tanya, "Igeret HaKodesh," Chapter 5, 129b, English note [12] – Chapter I, Mishnahs 2-9, 14. ]

[each of which is not fixed but hovers around a locus point] - from the location of one speech community to another and from dialect to dialect, for instance.  Within any one language, dialects differ primarily in their vowel sounds but not especially often in their consonant sounds.

Consider that within some dialects of American English, 'pen' and 'pin' are almost indistinguishable for those of us who do not speak this dialect.  The consonants, though, remain the same – this dialect is English as much as the dialect which distinguishes between 'pen' and 'pin'.  Far be it from me to say that one set of pronunciations is correct and that the other is wrong.  However, by general consensus, one set is Standard Spoken American English.  The other set of pronunciations is called a "regional dialect."

Similarly, Standard Spoken Canadian English varies little from standard American English except for the noticeable pronunciation of 'out', etc., as something like /oot/.  Again, this is still the English language since the consonant sound remains the same.  Only the vowel sound varies between the Canadian and American situations, and the variation is within a color family.

Some dialects vary in their tonality and syllable emphasis.  Within the pages of my Web Site, I have indicated alternate pronunciations of Hebrew words.  These variations generally differ in both syllable emphasis and vowel sounds.  Several dialects of spoken Hebrew are in use today.  Standard Spoken Israeli Hebrew is based on the Hebrew pronunciation of Jews who were exiled from Spain in 1492.  European Jews have a richer set of vowel and consonant sounds.  Yemenite Hebrew is even richer in speech sounds than the European Hebrew dialect.

Similarly, in G-d's revelations to humanity – His speech – He "colors" his vowels according to the situations of time and place.  Consonants, though, are standard in all copies of Scripture.  "As below, so above."

Although language dialects differ primarily in their vowel sounds but not especially frequently in their consonant sounds, we know that some dialects of English (and other languages) do differ in the pronunciation of consonants.  Mishnah 1 in Chapter II (part 4) addresses these consonant shifts within five families of Hebrew consonants.

[hovers around a locus point] - Each vowel is loosely anchored to a different point within the cavity of the mouth.

* Definitions and Pronunciation

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