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Category: The Sword of Moses

More on Creation Through the Powers of the Alphabet.

“The Sefer Yezira (The Book of Creation) describes the process of creation mainly by the power of the letters of the alphabet. It dates to the 10th Century AD, though it was regarded as an ancient work. It was clearly developed and edited for several generations before it emerged into view. The exact date of its origin is unknown. Some assert that it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, while others claim that it was written in the 9th century, with Islamic influences. The consensus seems to be that it dates to the third or fourth century, but there is no definitive evidence.

The concluding sentences state that Abraham knew the secrets of this work, so it is traditionally ascribed to Abraham the Patriarch.

The Book of Creation describes a system of cosmogony and cosmology different from Genesis, yet cites no authority and rarely refers to Bible verses.

“The universe was hewed, according to the first paragraph, by thirty-two “wondrous paths of wisdom,” and engraved in “three books.” The “paths” are described as ten sefirot and the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. These sefirot are not divine powers….” They are “described as the directions or dimensions of the cosmos, (north, south, east, west, up, down, beginning, end, good, and evil), as well as the holy beasts of Ezekiel’s chariot, the stages of the emergence of the three elements (divine spirit, air or wind, and water and fire), and other characteristics that are unclear.”

“Early commentators interpreted the sefirot as the ten basic numbers from one to ten.”

“The central concept … is harmonia mundi, (harmony of the universe). There are three layers of existence, the cosmic, that of time, and that of man. Each letter, or group of letters, is in charge of one aspect of each layer.”

“Thus … the Hebrew letters that can be pronounced in two different ways–whose number, according to this work, is seven–in the cosmos, are in charge of the seven planets; in “time,” are in charge of the seven days of the week; and, in man, are in charge of the seven orifices in the head (eyes, ears, nostrils and mouth).

“The twelve letters that the author describes as “simple” are in charge of the twelve zodiac signs, the twelve months, and the twelve principal limbs, and so on. This model was used by subsequent thinkers to develop the concept of human beings as microcosmos, reflecting the characteristics of the cosmos as a whole (especially by Shabbatai Donolo, who used it to interpret the the verse in Genesis 1:27, indicating that man was created in the image of God).”

“The concept that the universe was created by the power of divine speech is an ancient one in Judaism, and the Sefer Yezira developed this idea systematically. The guiding principle seems to have been that if creation is accomplished by language, then the laws of creation are the laws of language. Grammar thus was conceived as the basic law of nature. The author developed a Hebrew grammar based on 231 “roots”–the number of possible combinations of 22 letters. He explained the existence of good and evil in the universe as a grammatical process: if the letter ayin is added to the “root” ng as a prefix, it gives ong, great pleasure, but if it is added as a suffix, it means infliction, malady. The author also insisted that everything in the universe, following grammatical principles, has two aspects, parallel to the gender duality of masculine and feminine.”

“The kabbalists … positioned this work in the heart of Jewish sacred tradition, a source of divine wisdom parallel to that of the Hebrew Bible.”

–Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, 2006, pp. 16-18.

On Jewish Esoterica.

Joseph Dan states that “A small library of about two dozen treatises reached us from the writings of Jewish esoterics in late antiquity dealing with these two subjects, the secret of creation and the secret of the divine realm, the merkavah. It is known as the “Hekhalot (celestial palaces or temples) and Merkavah” literature, because several of the treatises have these terms in their titles.”

“The most detailed work in this group is Seder Rabba de-Bereshit (The Extended Description of Genesis). The second main subject in this small library is magic.”

Dan refers to the “most elaborate ancient Jewish directory for magical formulas,” the Harba de-Moshe (The Sword of Moses), which includes “several hundred magical incantations and procedures …” from “magical remedies to love potions to walking on water.”

Magic is prominently addressed in the Sefer ha-Razim (The Book of Secrets). The third main subject is the description of the chariot in Ezekiel and other biblical sections describing the abode of God. The texts include detailed lists of angels, naming them and their functions, as well as discussions of the secret names of God and the archangels.

The fourth subject “describes an active procedure by which a person can ascend to the divine realms and reach the highest level, and even “face God in his glory.” The process of ascension is termed “descent to the chariot,” and the sages who accomplish it are called yordey ha-merkavah (the descenders to the chariot). These are first-person accounts attributed to Rabbi Akibah and Rabbi Ishmael. These sages overcame many dangers to “join with the angels in the celestial rituals of praise to God.”

The Shiur Komah (The Measurement of the Height) relates a list of God’s limbs, beard, forehead, eyes and irises, designated by obscure, strange, unpronounceable names, measured in terms of miles, feet and fingers. The basic measurement used is the length of the whole universe (derived from Isaiah 40:12), yet each divine limb is trillions of times longer. It is the source of the sefirot, the kabbalistic system of divine attributes. 

–Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, 2006, pp. 13-15.

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