THE SEPHER YETZIRAH Translated by Alfred Edersheim

image of ancient cross

The first ever translation into English of the Sepher Yetzirah, by Alfred Edersheim:

“We subjoin a translation of the book yeṣirah, only adding that much, not only as regards the meaning of the expressions but even their translation, is in controversy. Hence, not unfrequently, our rendering must be regarded rather as our interpretation of the mysterious original.” ( Alfred Edersheim)

The Book Yetsirah.
Pereq. I
Mishnah 1. In thirty-two wonderful paths of wisdom, Jah, Jehovah Tsebhaoth, the God of Israel, the Living God, and King of the World, God merciful and gracious, High and Exalted, Who dwelleth to Eternity, high and holy is His Name, hath ordered [established, created?] (the world) by three sep̱arim [books]: by sep̱er [The written Word], sep̱ar [number, numeral] and sipur [spoken word]. Others pointing the words differently, render these mysterious terms: Number, Word, Writing; others, Number, Numberer, Numbered; while still others see in it a reference to the threefold division of the letters or the Hebrew alphabet, of which more afterwards.
Mishnah 2. Ten sep̱iroṯ [emanations] belimah [without anything, i.e. before these, the sole elements out of which all else evolved], twenty-two letters of foundation (these constitute the Hebrew Alphabet, and the meaning seems that the sep̱iroṯ manifest themselves in that which is uttered): three mothers (Alep̱, the first letter of Avveyr, air; mem, the first letter of mayim, water; and shin, the last letter of Esh, fire – although this may represent only one mystical aspect of the meaning of the term ‘mothers,’ as applied to these letters), seven duplex (pronounced ‘soft’ or ‘hard,’ viz. Beth, Gimel, Daleth, Kaph, Pe, Resh, Tau, which are, or were, in Hebrew capable of modification by a Dagesh – but this also must be mystically understood) and twelve simple ones (the simple letters of the Hebrew Alphabet).
Mishnah 3. tensep̱iroṯ belimah (the analogy is now further traced in God and in man), the number of the ten fingers, five against five, and the covenant of the One Only (God) placed between them (the covenant relationship between God and man in the midst, even as it is symbolised in the person of man which is between the twice five fingers) by the word of the tongue (this, the relation Godward) and by the word of sexualness [nuditas] (the relation earthwards – the one has become dual.)
Mishnah 4. tensep̱iroṯ belimah – ten and not nine, ten and not eleven – be informed in wisdom, and be wise in information; examine in them, search out from them, and put the thing in its reality (certitude, proper state?), and place again the Creator in His place.
Mishnah 5. tensep̱iroṯ belimah – their measurement ten, which have no end (limitation): depth of beginning (past) and depth of ending (future), depth of good and depth of evil, depth of height and depth of profundity (or, above and beneath), depth of east and depth of west, depth of north and depth of south -One only Lord, God, the true (approved) King, Who reigned over all from His holy dwelling and unto all eternity.
Mishnah 6. tensep̱iroṯ belimah – their appearance like the sheen of lightning (reference here to Eze 1:14), (goal) that they have no end, His word is in them (the Logos manifest in the sep̱iroṯ), in running and in returning, and at His word like storm-wind they pursue (follow), and before His throne bend (in worship).
Mishnah 7. tensep̱iroṯ belimah – their end is joined to their beginning, like the flame that is bound up with the coal, for the Lord is One only, and there is no second to Him, and before One what countest thou?
Mishnah 8. tensep̱iroṯ belimah – shut thy mouth, that it speak not, and thy heart, that it think not, and if thy heart run away, bring it back to its place, for on this account is it said (Eze 1:14) ‘they run and return,’ and on this condition has the Covenant been made.
Mishnah 9 and 10. tensep̱iroṯ belimah – One: the Spirit of the living God, blessed and again blessed be the Name of Him Who liveth for ever – Voice and Spirit and Word, and this is the Holy Ghost.
Two: Wind (air, spirit?) from (out of) Spirit – thereby ordered and hewed He the twenty-two letters of foundation, three mothers, and 7 duplicate, and 12 simple ones, and one Spirit from (among) them. Three: Water from breath (wind), He designed and hewed in them tohu vavohu, slime and dung – designed them like a bed (a garden bed), hewed them like a wall, covered them like pavement. Four: Fire from water, He designed it and hewed in it the throne of glory, the Ophanim and Seraphim, the sacred living creatures, and the angels of service, and of these three He founded His dwelling place, as it is said, He maketh His angels breaths (winds), and His ministers a flaming fire.
Mishnah 11. Five: Three letters from out the simple ones: He sealed spirit on the three, and fastened them in His Great Name יהו (Jehovah, of which these three letters are the abbreviation; what follows shows how the permutation of these three letters marks the varied relationship of God to creation in time and space, and at the same time, so to speak, the immanence of His manifestation in it). And He sealed with them six outgoings (ends, terminations): He turned upwards, and He sealed it with יהו. Six: He sealed below, turned downwards, and sealed it with יוה. Seven: He sealed eastward, He turned in front of Him, and sealed it with היו. Eight: He sealed westward, and turned behind, and sealed it with הוי. Nine: He sealed southward and turned to His right, and sealed it with ויה. Ten: He sealed northward, and turned to His left, and sealed it with והי.
Mishnah 12. These are the sep̱iroṯ belimah – one: Spirit of the living God, and wind (air, spirit? the word ruaḥ means all these), water, and fire; and height above and below, east and west, north and south.
Pereq II.
Mishnah 1. Twenty-and-two letters of foundation: three mothers, seven duplex, and twelve simple ones – three mothers אמש, their foundation the scale of merit and the scale of guilt, and the tongue of statute trembling (deciding) between them. (This, to be mystically carried out, in its development, and application to all things: the elements, man, etc.)
Mishnah 2. Twenty-two letters of foundation: He drew them, hewed them, weighed them, and interchanged them, melted them together (showing how in the permutation of letters all words – viewed mystically as the designation of things – arose), He formed by them the nep̱esh of all that is formed (created), and the nep̱esh of everything that is to be formed (created).
Mishnah 3. Two-and-twenty letters of foundation: drawn in the voice, hewn in the wind (air, spirit?) fastened on the mouth in five places: אּחהע (the gutturals among the Hebrew letters), בומף (the labials), גיכק (the palatals), דטלנת (the linguals), זסשרץ (the dentals).
Mishnah 4. Twenty-two letters of foundation, fastened in a circle in 231 gates (marking how these letters are capable of forming, by the permutation of two of them, in all 231 permutations); and the circle turns forwards and backwards, and this is the indication of the matter: as regards what is good, there is nothing higher than ענג (oneg), ‘delight,’ and nothing lower than נגה (negah), ‘plague’ (stroke). In such manner He weighed them and combined them, א with them all, and them all with בא with them all, and them all with ב, and thus the rest, so that it is found that all that is formed and all that is spoken proceeds from one Name (the name of God being, as it were, the fundamental origin of everything).
Mishnah 5. He formed from Tohu that which the substance, and made that which is not into being, and hewed great pillars from the air, which cannot be handled, and this is the indication; beholding and speaking He made all that is formed and all words by one Name – and the indication of the matter: twenty-two numbers and one body.
Pereq III.
Mishnah 1. Three mothers – אמש: their foundation, the scale of guilt and the scale of merit, and the tongue of the statute trembling (deciding) between them.
Mishnah 2. Three mothers – אמש – a great mystery, marvellous and hidden, and seated with six signets, and from them go forth fire and water, and divide themselves into, male and female. Three mothers, אמש their foundation, and from them were born the fathers (rerum naturae semina), from which everything is created (fire is regarded as the male principle, water as the female principle, and air as combining the two: א is the first letter of the Hebrew word for air, מ for that of water, ש the last for that of fire).
Mishnah 3. Three letters, אמש – in the world: air, water, fire; the heavens were created in the beginning from fire, and the earth was created from water, and the air trembles (the same word as that in regard to the tongue between the scales of the balance, indicating the intermediate, inclining to the one or the other) between the fire and the water.
Mishnah 4. Three mothers, אמש – in the year: fire, and water, and wind. Heat is created from fire, cold from water, and the moderate from the wind (air) that is intermediate between them. Three mothers, אמש – in the nep̱esh: fire, water, and wind. The head was created from fire, and the belly from water and the body from wind that is intermediate between them.
Mishnah 5. Three mothers, אמש – He drew them, and hewed them, and melted them together, and sealed with them the three mothers in the world, the three mothers in the year, and the three mothers in the nep̱esh -male and female.
(Now follows a further mystical development and application.) The letter א He made King in the Spirit, and bound upon him the crown (this refers to further mystical signs indicated in the Kabbalistic figure drawn on p. 438 of the ‘History of the Jewish Nation’), and melted them one with the other, and sealed with them: in the world the air, in the soul life, and in the nep̱esh (living thing) body – the male with אמש, the female with אשם.
מ He made King in the waters, and bound on it the crown, and melted them one with the other, and sealed: in the world earth, and in the year cold, and in the nep̱esh the belly – male and female, male in מאש, and female in משא.
ש He made King in the fire and bound on it the crown, and melted them one with the other, and sealed with it: in the upper world the heavens, in the year heat, in the nep̱esh the head – male and female.
Pereq IV.
Mishnah 1. Seven duplex letters, בגד כפרת (it will here be noticed that we now proceed from the numeral 3 to the farther mystic numeral 7), accustomed (habituated, adapted, fitted) for two languages (correlate ideas); life, and peace, and wisdom, and riches, grace, and seed, and government (the mystic number 7 will here be noted), and accustomed (fitted) for two tongues (modes of pronunciation)
בב גג דד כך פף רר תת – the formation of soft and hard, the formation of strong and weak (the dual principle will here be observed); duplicate, because they are opposites: the opposites – life and death; the opposites – peace and evil; the opposites – wisdom and folly; the opposites – riches and poverty; the opposites – grace and ugliness; the opposites – fertility and desolation; the opposites – rule and servitude.
Mishnah 2. Seven duplex letters, בגד כפרת: corresponding to the seven out goings; from them seven outgoings: above and below, east and west, north and south and the holy Temple in the middle, and it upbears the whole.
Mishnah 3. Seven duplex, בגד כפרת: He drew them, and hewed them, and melted them, and formed from them, in the world the stars (the planets), in the year the days, in the nep̱esh the issues, and with them He drew seven firmaments, and seven earths, and seven Sabbaths, therefore He loves the seventh under all heavens.
Mishnah 4. Two letters build two houses (here the number of possible permutations are indicated). Three letters build six houses four build twenty-four houses, five build 120 houses, six build 720 houses, and from thence go onward and think what the mouth is not able to speak, and as ear not able to hear. And these are the stars in the word – seven: the Sun, Venus, Mercury, the Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars. And these are the days in the year; the seven days of creation; and the seven gates of issue in the nep̱esh: two eyes, two ears, and a mouth, and the two nostrils. And with them were drawn the seven firmaments, and the seven earths, and the seven times; therefore loved He the seventh above all that is of delight under the heavens.
Pereq V.
Mishnah 1. The properties of the twelve simple letters (or their attributes) – הוז חטי לן סע צק – their foundation: sight, hearing, smell, speech, eating, concubitus, working, walking, anger, laughter, thinking, sleep. Their measurements twelve boundaries in the hypothenuse (points in transverse lines); the boundary N.E., the boundary the boundary S.E., the boundary E. upwards, the boundary E. downwards, the boundary N. upwards, the boundary N. downwards, the boundary S.W., the boundary N.W., the boundary W. upwards, the boundary W. downwards, the boundary S. upwards, the boundary S. downwards, and they extend and go on into the eternal (boundless space), and they are the arms of the world.
Mishnah 2. Twelve simple letters, הוז חטי לן סע צק. He drew them, and melted them, and formed of them the twelve constellations in the world (signs of the Zodiac): Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces (these are expressed in the original in an abbreviated, contracted form). These are the twelve months of the year: Nisan, Iyar, Sivan, Tammuz, Abh, Elul, Tishri, Marcheshvan, Kislev, Tebheth, Shebhat, Adar (thus the number twelve is marked, first in the functions of man, then in the points of the compass, then in the starry skies, and then in the year). And these are the twelve leaders in nep̱esh (living beings): two hands, and two feet, and two kidneys, the spleen, the liver, the gall, the intestine, the upper stomach, the lower stomach (perhaps gullet, stomach, and intestine – at any rate, three organs connected with deglutition and digestion). He made them like a land (province), and set them in order like war, and also – this as against that, ordered God. Three mothers, which are three fathers, because from them issue fire, wind, and water. Three mothers, and seven duplicate, and twelve simple ones.
Mishnah 3. These are the twenty-two letters with which the Holy One has founded (all), blessed be He Jah, Jehovah ṣeḇaoṯ, the Living God, the God of Israel, high and lifted up, dwelling eternally, and holy is His Name, exalted and holy is He.
Pereq VI.
Mishnah 1. Three fathers and their generations, seven subduers and their hosts (planets?), seven boundaries of hypothenuse – and the proof of the matter: faithful witnesses are the world, the year, and the nep̱esh. The law (statute, settled order) of the twelve, and of the seven, and of the three, and they are appointed over the heavenly dragon, and the cycle, and the heart. Three: fire, and water. and wind (air); the fire above, the water below, and the wind (air) the statute intermediate between them. And the demonstration of the matter: the fire bears the water, מ is silent, ש hisses, and א is the statute intermediate between them (all these have further mystic meaning and application in connection with words and ideas).
Mishnah 2. The dragon is in the world like a king on his throne; the cycle is in the year like a king in his land; the heart is in the nep̱esh like a king in War. Also in all that is pursued God has made the one against the other (opposite poles and their reconciliation): the good against the evil; good from good, and evil from evil; the good trying the evil, and the evil trying the good; the good is kept for the good, and the evil is kept for the evil.
Mishnah 3. Three are one, that standeth alone; seven are divided, three as against three, and the statute intermediate between them. Twelve are in war: three loving, three hating, three giving life, three giving death. The three loving ones: the heart, the ears, and the mouth; the three hating ones: the liver, the gall, and the tongue – and God a faithful king reigning over all: one (is) over three, three over seven, seven over twelve, and they are all joined together, the one with the other.
Mishnah 4. And when Abraham our father had beheld, and considered, and seen, and drawn, and hewn, and obtained it, then the Lord of all revealed Himself to him, and called him His friend, and made a covenant with him and with his seed: and he believed in Jehovah, and it was imputed to him for righteousness. He made with him a covenant between the ten toes, and that is circumcision; between the ten fingers of his hand, and that is the tongue; and He bound two-and-twenty letters on his tongue, and showed him their foundation. He drew them with water, He kindled then. with fire, He breathed them with wind (air); He burnt them in seven; He poured them forth in the twelve constellations.

To do the matter justice, we ought to note that the “ Sepher Yetzirah”, with the concept of GEMATRIA is the ONLY piece of Kabbalistic literature that is NOT of Zoroastrian, Essene, or Pythagorean production.. In itself, it is not a work of the occult tradition, but thoroughly exhibits a very ancient Hebrew tradition that may indeed, as some of the Rabbis themselves claim, go back to father Abraham himself.. ALL of the other Kabbalistic literary productions such as the Zohar and the Bahir, are indeed Zoroastrian and Pythagorean in origin, being works of occult mysticism. Proto-Kabbalistic speculations were embraced by the Jews during their captivity at Babylon; hence their link with Zoroastrianism; whereas the Pythagorean strain was inherited from the Alexandrian tradition, particularly from Philo of Alexandria, the Platonist and mystic. It is the mystical Zohar, and not so much the Sepher Yetzirah, primarily, that has occupied the speculations of the Rabbis over the last Millennia or more…
For example: The doctrine of the En-Soph is NOT to be found in the Sepher Yetzirah, but only in the Zohar related literature and tradition. It is the basis of mysticism, both Jewish and Christian, including the speculations of pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite; the founder of modern mysticism. It is very close to the position embraced by the Nominalist Philosophical Tradition, particularly the so-called “ unknowability of God” as edumbrated by William of Ockham ( @ 1300-1349 AD) and his philosophical school in Europe, of which Martin Luther and the Reformers were disciples. The fact that the Sepher Yetzirah omits it, is a good indication that, being of a great antiquity, the teachings of the Sepher Yetzirah preceed the modern Kabbalistic speculations, and may infact belong to a genuine Abrahamic tradition in opposition to that of the Zoroastrian Kabbalistic tradition. Occultism often attempts to embrace traditions that are infact opposed to it, such as the Bible, and in my opinion, this is the case with the abuse of the Sepher Yetzirah by the later Kabbalists of the Zoroastrian tradition…… (P.C.)

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