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Between Sefer Yezirah and Wisdom Literature:


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Between Sefer Yezirah and Wisdom Literature:

Three Binitarian Approaches in Sefer Yezirah

This paper presents three basic ideas which are interrelated with one another: 1) The assertion that a single subject unites all the discussions in Sefer Yezirah, from beginning to end: namely, the nature of Wisdom, upon which the world stands (or is suspended); 2) A stylistic-linguistic analysis leading to the divi- sion of Sefer Yezirah into three “accounts,”

around which are crystallized the style and contents of the book as a whole. The Account of the “Sealing of the Ends” is the latest of these accounts, and was written by the editor of the book, who joined his account with the other

two to form a single book; 3) The assertion that the worldview reflected in Sefer Yezirah acknowl- edges the existence of a secondary power alongside God, that assists Him in the Creation and ongo- ing existence of the universe (as against doctrines claiming the existence of an additional force in conflict with God). The term I use in this context is binitarianism. In the earliest of the three accounts, that of the Covenant, this power assumes the form of an angel, while in the other two it is more abstract. This paper lays the foundations for this claim but, due to the limitations of this paper, I do not enter into discussion of its far-reaching implications. I hope to continue this dis- cussion elsewhere, on another occasion.

Sefer Yezirah is one of the most important, basic books in the area of Kabbalah, and in the Middle Ages was also one of the basic books of Jewish philosophy.1This short book has been the subject of endless learned commentaries, and within the context of scholarship there have been serious disputes regarding the manner in which it is to be understood.

The debate surrounding the date of the book may be seen as mirroring the intensity of this dispute: there are those who date it during the first century CE; others who see it as having been written between the fourth to sixth century; and yet others who place it around the ninth century CE.2 In any event, these different explanations created an opportunity for different scholars to identify a wide variety of intellectual or ideologi- cal parallels to the book, leading to a rich and fruitful discussion.

I hope that there is nevertheless room left for me to say something new, for which reason I wish to suggest a different viewpoint from that which has been emphasized thus far.3 This is neither the place nor the framework to go beyond the scope of a brief

Meroz, The

Department of Hebrew Culture Studies, Tel- Aviv

Universtiy, Israel. She edited and

published the book New

Developments in Zohar Studies (2007).

E-mail: [email protected]

Key words:

Sefer Yezirah, Binitarian, Ditheism, Kabbalah, Angelology, Jewish Magic, Science, Wisdom, Wisdom literature, Sefirot, Hebrew Alphabet



paper and to enter into a full-scale monograph; therefore, I cannot relate here to all the numerous and important contributions of my predecessors, nor to explain every word, sentence or idea in the book.4

1. The Lexicon as Evidence of the Connection Between Sefer Yezirah and Wisdom Literature

Sefer Yezirah is well-known for its unique language—rich, rhythmic, poetic and address- ing the heart. Among the variety of linguistic characteristics of this book, I wish to draw attention to the presence therein of many words or expressions that are characteristic of Wisdom Literature.

It is impossible, within the framework of a limited paper, to discuss the nature of Wisdom literature and its numerous offshoots and branches. Briefly put we can say though: biblical Wisdom literature, whose roots are found in the literature of the ancient world and particularly in ancient Egypt, deals with what is at times perceived as one of the qualities of God, and at other times as a separate entity, known as Wisdom.

Wisdom as a distinct entity was created before the world (Prov. 8:22) and includes a wide variety of different kinds of knowledge—ethics and everyday norms alongside what would today be called the laws of nature. This literature continued to assume different forms over the course of subsequent centuries, and the boundaries between it and other doctrines dealing with the forces and entities that mediate between the world and God in the tasks of creation, revelation, providence, redemption and so forth, become obscured. One may thus see variations of Wisdom in teachings different from one another—in Philo and in Christianity (as Logos), among the Gnostics (as Sofia or the Demiurge), and among others as angels (Metatron and other angels).5

In order to demonstrate the connection of Sefer Yezirah to Wisdom literature, I shall present a number of terms from Biblical and post-Biblical Wisdom Literature that reap- pear in Sefer Yezirah.

One should note, first and foremost, that the terms most characteristic of Wisdom literature — המכח/םכח, hakham/hokhmah (wise/wisdom), הניב/ןבה, haven/binah (under- stand/understanding) —appear several times in Sefer Yezirah. One should make partic- ular mention of its opening: “By means of thirty-two… paths (תוביתנ) of Wis dom… ”6 (§1; 1.1).7 Regarding the termתוביתנ,netivot (“paths”), that appears in this opening sen- tence, see especially the phrase in Job 24:13: “There are those who rebel against the light, who are not acquainted with its ways, and do not stay in its paths.” That is to say, in the Book of Job, which belongs to Wisdom Literature, God has “paths”; as against those who rebel against the light, those who follow in the paths of God are meant to know Them. Even more important for our subject, according to the Book of Proverbs the place where Wisdom stands is calledתוביתנ תיב, “the house of its paths” (Prov 8:2).

The opening sentence of Sefer Yezirah describes the “paths” (or perhaps Wisdom itself) asתואלפ, pela’ot. In the Book of Job one finds the root of this term in the sense of

“wonders” or “wondrous.” Note, for example, how God addresses Job (Job 37:14-16):

“Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God. Do you know…the won- drous works of him who is perfect in knowledge.” Thus, in the Bible this root relates to

“every thing or event that is distinctive and unusual.”8 But in post-Biblical literature this root assumes the meaning of that which is hidden, concealed, secret. The best



known example appears in b. Tractate Hagigah(13a): “There is another firmament above the heads of the creatures, as is written, ‘Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of a firmament, shining like awesome crystal, spread out above their heads’

(Ezek 1:22). To this point you are permitted to speak, from here on you are not allowed to speak, as is written in the Book of Ben-Sira, ‘In that which is hidden from you, do not expound; and that which is concealed from you, do not search out. Contemplate that which you have been permitted, and have no traffic in hidden things.’’’ The latter quo- tation is indeed taken from Ben-Sira (3:21-22), which belongs to the post-Biblical Wisdom literature, the sense of the quotation being to place limits upon the searching out, exam- ination, contemplation and speaking about certain sublime subjects. The fact that Sefer Yezirah specifically incorporates the term pela’ot, “concealed,” in its opening sentence, a sentence that serves as a kind of a heading for the rest of the text, suggests the opposite possibility. It is as if the author turns to his readers and says: “Here in this book you will learn about the paths of wisdom that are hidden from the human eye; here we will tell you about things of which one generally speaking is not allowed to speak at all.”

Sefer Yezirah is known for introducing the term sefirot, whose various meanings will be discussed below. However, this term always appears in this book as part of the expressionהמילב תוריפס, sefirot belimah. The term belimahoriginates in the Book of Job (26:7), in which God is described as He who “stretches out the north over the void, and hangs the earth upon (toleh ‘al) belimah.” While most commentators see this verse as indicating that the earth is stretched over nothingness,9I would assert that Sefer Yezirah, by the very coining of the idiom sefirot belimahand the rich discussion thereof, attrib- utes to it a positive meaning. In this Sefer Yezirahmay rely upon creating a parallel between the first verse and another one: “Thou didst set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be shaken” (Ps 104:5). According to the former verse, the earth hangs upon belimah; according to the latter, the earth stands upon a positive entity which is its foundation. Since there is in fact a parallelism in the Hebrew language between the two idioms (‘omed ‘al/taluy ‘al; “stand upon”/”hang upon”) one might also add here certain Rabbinic speculations that continue Wisdom literature regarding the subject of Creation: “Upon what does the earth stand? Upon the pillars… [There are those] who say: It stands upon twelve pillars… There are those who say: upon seven pil- lars… Rabbi Eleazar ben Shamua says: Upon one foundation, and Tzaddik [the Righteous]

is its name.”10 It would therefore appear that the idiom which appears in Sefer Yezirah, sefirot belimah, is to be seen as a clarifying parallel; the sefirot are themselves the belimah.

Or, to formulate matters differently, belimah, as the real foundation and ground of the world, is referred to by Sefer Yezirah by the title sefirot.

Two other terms in Sefer Yezirah may be viewed as synonyms to the term sefirot belimah: תוצק, qezavot (“extremities”, “ends,” or “edges”), andםיקמוע, ‘omaqim(“depths”

or “dimensions”).11 Several verses in Wisdom literature evidently served as the basis for this usage: e.g., “the Creator of the ends of the earth” (Isa 40:28); “For He looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens” (Job 28:24); “He uncov- ered the deeps out of darkness, and brings deep darkness to light” (Job 12:22); “As the Heavens for height and the earth for depth” (Prov 25:3);12“All this I have tested by wis- dom; I said, ‘I will be wise’; but it was far from me. That which is, is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?” (Eccl 7:23-24).

Sefer Yezirah defines a number of activities that God performs in the world. Among other things, He hews and weighs. To this we may add the idea of measure, also men-



tioned in relationship to the sefirot belimah. Thus, for example: “their measure is ten”

(§7; 1.5). One of the basic verses of Wisdom literature is formulated thus: “Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars” (Prov 9:1). The subject of fixing weights and measures is a striking feature of Wisdom literature. Thus, in the Book of Job (28:20- 25): “Whence then comes wisdom? And where is the place of understanding?... God understands the way to it…when he gave to the wind its weight, and meted out the waters by measure.”13

In Sefer Yezirah, man is also asked to perform certain activities. It is incumbent upon him, for example, to be wise, to understand, to test and to investigate (§4; 1.4). There is no need to elaborate as to the wide dissemination of the first two verbs in Wisdom Literature. However, we must again emphasize that one is dealing here with the oppo- site of the usual reservations about this matter, such as found inMasekhet Hagiga or the Book of Ben-Sira. The rootרקח, hq”r (“to search out / to investigate / to study”) gener- ally appears in the Bible to exemplify the imbalance between man’s abilities and those of God. It is stated regarding God that, from the human purview, “His understanding is unsearchable” (Isa 40:28; cf. Jer 31:36). By contrast, God’s hands plumb “the depths of the earth” (mehqerei aretz, Ps 95:4; cf. Job 5:9). Man is totally unable to investigate God.

“Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?”

(Job 11:7), whereas He “does great things beyond understanding (רקח ןיא), and mar- velous things without number”(Job 5:9; 9:10). There was nevertheless one figure who succeeded, more than the rest of mankind, in searching out these matters: “Besides being wise, Kohelet… weighed and studied (רקח) and arranged proverbs with great care”

(Eccles 12:9). It would appear that Sefer Yezirah expects its students to follow in this path, specifically.14

2. On Books and on Accounts

In the opening sentence of Sefer Yezirah, a simple and universally known term, sefarim (“books”) is used. However, the context turns it into something enigmatic and strange:

[§1; 1.1] By means of thirty-two concealed paths of wisdom Yah, the Lord of Hosts, carved out His Name [or: By means of thirty-two …paths … Yah, the Lord of Hosts is His Name, carved out]; by means of three separim: by means of spr, spr wspr[fol- lowing Source P].15

There are several problems in this sentence. What is the actual meaning of the terms “books” (sefarim, sefer) and what is their syntactic status? What is the object of the verb “carved out”? In order to ease the reader’s puzzlement, early manuscripts already added an additional verb and object to the sentence. Thus, for example, according to Source K, which also represents the short version, we read:

[§1; 1.1] By means of thirty-two concealed paths of wisdom Yah, the Lord of hosts… The Living God… carved out His Name [or: By means of thirty-two … paths

… Yah, the Lord of hosts… The Living God… is His Name, carved out]; He created his universe by means of three sefarim: by means ofspr sprwspr.

There are several opinions concerning the meaning of the term sefarim. There are those who assert that it refers to writing (that is, a book), to number, or to a story or spo- ken account (i.e., sefer, mispar, sippur). Others claim that it refers to one of the other three-fold divisions appearing in the book, upon which we will elaborate further below, such as the division of the letters into three groups, or the division of the universe into three categories: “world,” “year”(i.e., – time) and “soul” (i.e., person); or perhaps to a hook, sphere, and heart.16



At this point I wish to draw attention to a fact that this root—i.e., רפס, sp”r—also belongs to the lexicon of words frequently used in Wisdom Literature, a point that fur- ther strengthens the claim that Sefer Yezirah belongs to this literature. In the Book of Job, for example, we are told that God is omniscient with regard to wisdom, and in par- ticular that “then he saw it and declared it (הרפסיו; vayesaprah); he established it and searched it out” (Job 28:27). Perusal of the comments of some of the exegetes and schol- ars on this verse reveals that the word vayesaprahis understood in one of the following ways: “He counted its letters” (Rashi, who here relates explicitly to Sefer Yezirah), or to number in general (Ibn Ezra); telling or writing in a book (Ibn Ezra); the establishing of laws, or their being so-to-speak recorded in a book (Ralbag); relating or enumerating its characteristics (Hartum).

The root also appears in the verse, “Who can number (mi yesaper) the heavens by wisdom?” (Job 38:37), on which verse Ibn Ezra comments, “mi yesaper: in the sense of:

who made them like sapphire [even sapir,a precious stone], like a solid speculum, and there are those who say it is from the word ‘book,’ and others say from ‘number,’ and others say, who can relate the wisdom of the heavens.”

The meanings of the verb discussed here confirm the understanding mentioned ear- lier: namely, that the intention is to writing (i.e., of a book), to number,17and to telling or relating in the sense of speech; to which we may now add—in the sense of enumer- ating qualities. 18

As we shall see presently, the present paper claims that, among other things, Sefer Yezirah presents the reader with three descriptions of Wisdom, all three of which belong to Wisdom Literature. In wake of the use made of the root רפס, sp”r, in Wisdom Literature as well as in Sefer Yezirah, I saw fit to allude to these connotations. Thus in my following comments. I shall refer to the three descriptions presented in Sefer Yezirahas

“accounts” (sippurim).

3. The Subject of Sefer Yezirah

The fact that Sefer Yezirah uses a not-insignificant lexicon of terms characteristic of Wisdom Literature indicates to us that the book belongs to this literature, as is indeed confirmed by examination of the opening sentence of the book. This sentence states, quite simply and clearly, the one subject to be discussed throughout the rest of the book:

namely, how God formed his world by means of an entity divided into several “paths,”

known as “Wisdom.” The book does not discuss the question as to how and when Wisdom itself was created, but starts with the assumption that it exists.19And, let us again emphasize—the opening sentence is not simply the first sentence, but the key sen- tence, the heading of the book, the definition of its exclusive subject.

The concept of Wisdom as it appears within the framework of Wisdom literature unites various areas which in later times were considered separate and unconnected with one another: the manner of conduct of this world and ethics (see, e.g., the Book of Proverbs); the creation of the world, the ordering of the world20and the laws of nature, that is, what became known in later times as “science” (see, e.g., the Book of Job); and the Holy Spirit (see, e.g., the book of Wisdom of Solomon).21 The concept of Wisdom thus explains in a natural way the appearance within Sefer Yezirah of all these areas, or of dif- ferent, seemingly contradictory points-of-view. It also explains why there were so many disagreements among scholars of the book: the opposing characteristics they



observed do indeed exist in Sefer Yezirah, so that there is nothing left but for us to unify them under one heading: the House of Wisdom.

From the opening sentence we learn that Wisdom has an internal structure by which it is divided into thirty-two paths. This complex is described as pela’ot, concealed;

this being so, we learn that Sefer Yezirah as a whole is based upon the promise to include the readers in a special secret that not every person is privileged to know—the secret wisdom by whose means God hewed out the world (the covert assumption being that Wisdom is not only the source of the world, but that it is that which allows its contin- ued existence since then). In the very next sentence, one of the secrets is revealed:

namely, that the thirty-two paths are divided into two categories: ten sefirotand twen- ty-two letters (§2; 1.2).

It is my view that Sefer Yezirah presents several different answers to the question of the meaning of these claims: alternative solutions whose conceptual worlds are close to one another, yet nevertheless differ in several significant aspects. The opening of the book may therefore be read as presenting a shared, common claim or, alternatively, as posing the question presented for discussion. By the nature of things, such a presenta- tion is done by one who knows and is familiar with the possible solutions—namely, the editor of the text.

The nature of the problem presented at the beginning of the book may be formulat- ed in a number of different ways, or through means of several different conceptual sys- tems. Thus: upon what does the world stand? The “discussants” agree that the world stands upon Wisdom and that it has such-and-such components, but what is the exact significance of this statement? What is the nature of these components (apart from the number thirty-two upon which they agree)? Moreover, it would appear that all of the

“discussants” agree that the relationship between Wisdom and the world is not a one- time connection related to a primordial event, but that Wisdom also continues to sus- tain the world and to act within it. It follows that the problem may also be formulated in the following manner: What are the bases of the world? Or, what are the foundations of the world? Is Wisdom the foundation of the world from an ontological viewpoint, or is there perhaps an abstract system of laws that determines the nature of its activity?

Or does one perhaps need to clarify the meaning of the connection between Wisdom and the world within the framework of theological concepts?

From this point on, one says one thing and the other another: each one presents his own “book” or “account” as an answer to the question of the nature of Wisdom. I have made use of rather simple literary analyses and analyses of content in order to define the various answers of the “discussants,” as well as to determine the position of the edi- tor who connected them all. This paper’s point of departure is thus that all the formu- lae that are before us today, and whose chain of transmission is examined so carefully in the editions of Ithamar Gruenwald and Peter Hayman, are posterior to the writing of the original answers. This claim applies equally well to the shorter version, which is considered one of the relatively early texts. Within the framework of this paper I shall therefore appeal only sporadically to this chain of transmission.22

The order of presentation is based upon convenience of discussion, and not on the order found in one or another edition or textual version. Hence, this order of presenta- tion is not to be understood as implying the actual historical sequence.



4. The First Account—The Sealing of the Ends The Sefirot

All the scholars engaged in research divide their answers into two distinct parts: they begin with the sefirot and continue with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. We shall do so as well. And indeed, this is one of the more complex answers to the basic question of the book. We shall begin with the manner of relating to the sefirot:23

[§10; 1.9] Ten sefirot [belimah24]. One– the Spirit (ruah) of the Living God. Twice blessed is the name of the Life of the Worlds. Voice, and air (ruah) and word– this is the Holy Spirit (ruah).

[§12; 1.10] Two– air/wind (ruah) from Spirit (ruah). [He] carved and hewed in it the twenty-two basic letters – three “mother” [letters], and seven doubles, and twelve simple [letters].25 ….

[§13; 1.11] Three – water from air/wind (ruah). [He] carved and hewed in it tohu and bohu, mud and mire.…

[§14; 1.12] Four – fire from water. [He] carved them and hewed in it the throne of glory, and the Ofanimand the Serafim, and the holy living creatures, and the minis- tering angels. And from the three of them he founded his abode…

[§15; 1.13] Five – [He] sealed above. [He] chose three simple [letters] and fixed them in his great name. And [He] sealed with them the six edges (of the universe), and [He] turned upwards and sealed it.

Six – He sealed below, and He turned downwards and sealed it.

Seven – He sealed the east, and He turned downwards [rd. in front] and sealed it.

Eight – He sealed the west, and He turned behind and sealed it.

Nine – He sealed the south, and He turned to his right and sealed it.

Ten – He sealed the north, and He turned to his left and sealed it.

[§16; 1.14] These are the ten sefirot belimah: the Spirit (ruah) of the Living God; and air/wind (ruah), water, fire; above, below, east, west, north and south.

This account attributes to Wisdom—and, for the present, we shall discuss only one component thereof, that called sefirot belimah—a wide variety of functions in the exis- tence of the universe. Here wisdom plays a role, first and foremost, in the very creation of the ontological reality of the world. The source of the basic elements of nature—

air/wind, water and fire—are found therein. True, according to this account, this

“Mendelian Table” of wisdom includes not only these three elements, but would appear to include seven elements.26 Thus, the element of fire (as the fourth sefirah) has two aspects: fire, evidently meaning the source of the earthly fire that is familiar to us; but also of that fire from which the angels of Heaven, and even the Throne of Glory, are made. The element of water (as the third sefirah) is the source of water in this world, but also undergoes a transformation such that it becomes the element of the earth’s soil (mud and mire). This secondary division into two distinct entities stands out in partic- ular with respect to ruah (which, despite the shared name, may be either wind/air or spirit), in which case the two different functions are each attributed to a different sefi- rah. Ruah as the second sefirah is evidently the source of one of the natural elements, called “air” (wind), while ruah as the first sefirah, i.e., spirit, belongs to an entirely dif- ferent realm—that of the Holy Spirit, which in this account is connected to prophecy and revelation (discussed again in that part of Sefer Yezirahthat I have referred to as the

“General Introduction to the Discussion of the Letters”).27



The twenty-two letters were hewn and shaped from the sefirah representing air (wind) as one of the elements of nature (i.e., the second sefirah). As we shall see below, according to the following chapters of Sefer Yezirah, the letters serve for the creation of innumerable numbers of additional entities. This account supports the claim that Wisdom is composed of ten basic elements, ten sefirot, each one of which creates many secondary elements: the twenty-two letters with all their “products,” the earth, the angels, the Throne of Glory, etc. etc. From this point on, it would appear that the incor- poration of various elements, both primary and secondary, is responsible for the func- tioning of this world.

The next six sefirot, referred to also as “ends” or “edges” (Hebrew:תווצק, qezawot),28 serve as the Cartesian axis of the world: they determine the boundaries of its expanse in a way independent of the matter found therein. These six axes are identical to what are referred to today as the “three dimensions of space,” except that each dimension is considered in Sefer Yezirah as divided into two axes or vectors, pointing in opposite directions from the central point of the world.

God Himself is doubtless found at the central point, shared by Wisdom and the world, as in the final passages of this account God addresses each of the winds of Heaven in order to “seal in” the sefirot. From the fact that this central point is not considered one of the elements of Wisdom, we may infer that both God and Wisdom are considered as transcendent, or at least beyond the limitations of space.29

The textual version cited above notes that God seals the six dimensions by means of

“three simple letters”—that is, by means of three letters that belong to the category of the “simple letters”—which serve, not only to seal the creation, but are also “fixed with- in His great Name.” All the other sources (as mentioned in Hayman’s edition) state that this refers to the lettersוהי, YHW—an interpretation accepted by all of the commenta- tors and researchers. These sources also tend, generally speaking, to note that six seals were created from these three letters, each seal being a different one of the six possible combinations of these three letters—YHW, YWH, and so on.

The idea that one needs to seal the edges of the earth clearly belongs to a magical world of concepts, a point that has already been noted in studies ofSefer Yezirah.30The world-view implied here asserts a struggle between the forces or order and disorder.

This is a world of chaos that repeatedly attempts to spread and to burst forth, to destroy that which exists, to sweep away its boundaries; against it stands God, who polices the primeval world, fixes its boundaries (in both the simple meaning of this word and in its borrowed meaning), and says—“Enough!” According to this account, in order to do so God uses the power of His Name—a name made from three of the letters of the Ineffable Name. One must emphasize that this magical power is combined with the system pre- sented in this account as a new element, attributed, not to Wisdom, but seen as God’s direct tool of activity in the world, in addition to Wisdom. Between the lines, an explic- itly dynamic element is also introduced: in our world, intense movement occurs from the center (that is, the point of meeting of the six edges) outwards, while God brakes and halts this movement, determines finite limits to the world, and does not allow it to spread out indefinitely. It is also quite possible that this idea of extension and halting originated in wake of reflections upon the term belimah, mentioned in the Book of Job, which may be also understood as meaning “stopping” or ”halting.”31

The characteristics of the sefirot belimah upon which the world is suspended there- fore belong, according to this first “account,” to a world of theological, physical and



magical concepts:

The first element is the Holy Spirit, ruah hakodesh, or prophecy and revelation. While the text does not go into detail concerning the significance of this subject, these con- cepts are almost certainly related to the unique connection between the people of Israel and its God, including the revelation of the Torah.32 This connection is the first in a hierarchy of elements organizing the activity of the world. One might therefore formu- late the assertion that the first sefirahcorresponds to the Holy Spirit as meaning that the world is based first and foremost upon God, Torah, and prophecy.

The second group of elements upon which the world is based, in order of impor- tance, is connected with the constituents of the world. This refers to the elements—

air/wind/spirit, water and fire—and the manner of their double revelation, both in the supernatural world (as, for example, angels) and in this world. These are the building blocks of both these worlds, and Wisdom, as the foundation of the world, provides the components of the cosmic ontology which is lower than its own level.

The third group of elements in importance would be classified, from a modern view- point, in the single category of the dimensions of space.

In addition to the above, God himself acts directly in the world by means of the (magical) power inherent within His Name.

In conclusion, we should direct our attention to an outstanding stylistic feature of this “account”: that, in practice, it presents its answer twice—once in detail, and a sec- ond time, when it summarizes its approach in brief (§16; 1.14). That is, the author of the account has a tendency towards order, towards an aesthetic of structure, towards the importance of clarity of understanding—in addition to having an ear sensitive to the rhythm and tone of his words. Is he also the general editor of the book?

Already at this point we find clear and strong evidence for this claim, which further on in our discussion will become ever clearer. At the beginning of the book God’s activ- ity is depicted as an act of hewing, as in stone. We shall immediately see that, among the three accounts dealing with the sefirot, the Sealing Account is the only one to make use of this verb. While this verb appears numerous times in the discussions of the let- ters, this is always by the author of the Sealing Account. Moreover, the author of this account makes use of the term “the living God” as the Name of God ( §10; 1.9). Apart from this, this name only appears in editorial passages—in the opening passage, in the above-mentioned passage that summarizes and concludes the subject of the sefirot (§16;

1.14), and in the concluding passage on the subject of the letters (§56; 5.4).33 We shall return further to this claim regarding the explicit connection between the author of the Sealing Account and the editor.34

The Letters

The beginning of Sefer Yezirah defined Wisdom as a combination of ten sefirot and twen- ty-two letters. Several times during the course of the book there is presented the divi- sion of the twenty-two letters into three “mothers” or “matrices,” seven double letters, and twelve simple letters (see, e.g., §2; 1.2). The three “mothers” are defined as the let- tersש, מ, א,(alef, mem, shin); gallons of ink have been spilled over the question of the cri- teria for the choice of these specific letters.35The seven double letters areת"רפכ ד"גב, that is, the lettersbeit, gimmel, dalet, kaf, peh, resh, and tav,36while the “twelve simple let- ters” refers to all the other letters. We shall now need to identify those passages from this account that deal with the letters, as well as to connect them with the beginning of



the Sealing Account, that deals with the sefirot.

In attempting to create a correspondence between the discussion of the letters and that of the sefirot, such that they will indeed be shown to belong to the same account, we shall use several simple means: on the one hand, the attempt to identify common or shared ideas, choice of words, or style; and, on the other hand, elimination of certain possibilities due to clear internal contradictions.

We shall begin with the descriptions of the seven double letters. The book presents us with three alternative descriptions.

According to one of them, these seven letters allude to the seven dimensions of space, referred to here asqezavot, “ends” or “edges” (§38; 4.3). Six of them represent what are referred to today as the three dimensions of space; but the central point, the locale of the Holy Sanctuary, is also considered as an “end” or “edge” to be counted, a seventh one. However, as we have seen above, the Sealing Account states that there are no more than six edges; hence, it would seem that this passage does not belong to the

“account of the sealing.”

The second description (§37; 4.1) does not reveal, at this stage of our journey, explic- it signs of either similarity or contradiction.

But the final description that remains for us to examine (§§39-43; 4.3-4.12) displays clear points of similarity to the Sealing Account: both make use of the combination of verbs hqq and hzv, “to hew” and “to mine”;37the verb ףרצ, zrf(“combine) appears sever- al times in this description of the letters, and one can in addition find an entire passage (§40; 4.12) that exemplifies the principle of combination in practice. True, the descrip- tion of the sefirot in the Sealing Account does not use the verb zrf; nevertheless, it exem- plifies in practice various different combinations (i.e., of the letters YHW; see §15; 1.13).

The description of the sefirot in this account betrays an explicit tendency towards magic based upon magical names. Even the crowns of the letters, mentioned repeatedly in the present discussion of the letters, is connected with this world. More generally, the entire connection between certain stars and what occurs in this world, a connection so strongly emphasized in this description, belongs to the world of magic, albeit not nec- essarily on that form of magic based on magical names. It would therefore seem that this description of the letters belongs to the second part of the “account of the sealing.”

Having stated this, it will be easier for us to identify those descriptions of the three

“mothers” and twelve simple letters that belong to the Account of the Sealing, because the description that we have already identified is relatively lengthy and well-developed, providing us with further points of reference, in the form of repeated stylistic formulae.

Thus, if in the sections describing the seven double letters we have found the group of verbs, “He carved and hewed them, he combined them, and formed with them” (§39;

4.4), it is possible to discern that such a group also appears in some of the descriptions of the three “mothers” and the twelve simple letters (§31; 3.5, and also in §46; 5.2). This phenomenon helps us determine which of them belong to the Account of Sealing. One may immediately discern how the stylistic formulae that characterize the descriptions of the seven double-letters belonging to our account are repeated as well in the other two descriptions (i.e., of the three “mothers” and the twelve simple letters).

Upon further examination, it becomes clear that these stylistic models, as well as the combinations of verbs mentioned above, also appear in another general description of the twenty-two letters, which ought by right to be added to the Sealing Account.

We will present here the description of the letters that, in our opinion, belong to the Sealing Account; albeit, due to its length we shall need to skip over several passages.



The presentation of the passages that have been chosen on the basis of the above-men- tioned criteria creates a text of impressive stylistic unity:

[General Introduction to Discussion of the Letters]

[§17; 2.3] Twenty-two letters. They are hewn out in the air, carved out by the voice, fixed in the mouth in five positions: Aleph, Het; He, Ayin; Bet, Waw; Mem, Pe;

Gimel, Zayin; Kaph, Qof; Dalet, Tet; Lamed, Num, Taw; Zayin, Samek; Shin, Resh, Sade.38 [§18; 2.4] The twenty-two letters are their foundation. They are fixed39on a wheel with two hundred and thirty-one gates. The wheel rotates backwards and for- wards. And this is the sign: There is no good better than pleasure (oneg); there is no evil worse than affliction (nega).40

[§19; 2.2] Twenty-two letters: He carved them out, He hewed them, He weighed them, He exchanged them, He combined them and formed with them the life of all creation (or: all creatures) and the life of all that would be formed.

[§19; 2.5] How did he weigh and exchange them? Aleph with them all, and them all with Aleph; Bet with them all, and them all with Bet. And they all rotate in turn.41… The result is that all creation (or: all creatures) and all speech go out by one name…42

[Three Mother-Letters]

[§24; 3.2] Three mothers: Alef, Mem, Shin– a great secret, hidden and ineffable, and sealed with six rings [taba’ot].43 And from it go out fire, and water and air (ruah), and they are divided into male and female.

[§31; 3.5] Three mothers: Alef, Mem, Shin. He carved them, hewed them, combined them and formed with them the three mothers in the universe, and the three mothers in the year, and the three mothers in the soul (nefesh, person), male and female.

[§32; 3.6] He made Aleph a king over air (ruah), and bound to it a crown, and com- bined them [the letters] with each other, and sealed44with them air (awir) in the universe, humidity in the year, and the chest in the soul (nefesh)45...

[§33; 3.7] He made Mem a king over water, and bound to it a crown, and sealed with it earth in the universe, cold in the year, and belly46in the soul (soul)...

[§34; 3.8] He made Shin a king over fire, and bound to it a crown, and combined them [the letters] with one another, and sealed with it heaven in the universe, heat in the year, and the head in the soul (nefesh)….

[Seven Double Letters]

[§39; 4.4] Seven double [letters]: Bet, Gimel, Dalet; Kaph, Pe, Resh, Taw. He carved and hewed them, he combined them, and formed with them the planets in the uni- verse, the days in the year, and the apertures in the soul (nefesh), by sevens.

[§40; 4.12] How did he combine them? Two stones build two houses; three build six… seven build five thousand and forty.47 From here on go out and ponder what the mouth cannot speak, and what the ear cannot hear.

[§41; 4.5-11] (1) He made Bet a king, and bound to it a crown, and combined them [the letters] one with another, and formed with it Saturn in the universe, the Sabbath in the year, and the mouth in the soul [nefesh].

(2) He made Gimel a king, and bound to it a crown, and combined them [the letters]



one with another, and formed with it Jupiter in the universe, the first day of the week in the year, and the right eye in mankind the soul [nefesh]….

(7) He made Taw a king, and bound to it a crown, and combined them [the letters]

one with another, and formed with it the Moon in the universe, the sixth day of the week in the year, and the left ear in the soul [nefesh].48

[§42; 4.4] And with them were carved out seven firmaments, seven earths, seven hours and seven times. Therefore he loved the seventh under heaven [after Eccles 3:1]49

[Twelve Simple Letters]

[§49; 5.2] Twelve [simple] letters: He, Waw, Zayin, Het, Tet, Yod, Lamed, Nun, Samek, Ayin, Sade, Qof. He carved them and hewed them out, he weighed them and exchanged them, and formed with them the twelve constellations in the universe, the twelve months in the year, the twelve principal organs [manhigim; “leaders”] in the soul [nefesh].

[§49; 5.2] These are the twelve constellations in the universe: Aries, Taurus… And these are the twelve months: Nisan, Iyar… And these are the twelve principal organs in mankind: the right hand, the left hand….

[§52; 5.2] He made [the letter] Hea king and bound it to a crown, and combined them [the letters] one with another, and formed with it Aries in the universe and Nisan in the year, and the liver in the soul [nefesh]…50

The Sealing Account is thus a lengthy, richly-developed account that in practice takes up most of Sefer Yezirah, for which reason it also had great influence upon the sub- sequent development of the Kabbalah.

This account speaks extensively about the power of the letters. If in the first part, which dealt with sefirot, the letters had (magical) power to rule over the world and to give it boundaries, in the section focused upon the letters they have additional power.

In practice, the text sees the letters as literal building blocks, the world therefore being tantamount to a house. It is for good reason that he refers to them in §40 (4.1) as

“stones” that build the “houses,” to which there were also added “gates” (§18; 2.4). The essence of this account lies in the enumeration of which letters—which, as mentioned, constitute Wisdom—participate in the formation of which part of the physical world, in the sense of a house—heaven and earth and all that is within them. By association, we arrive at the dictum that “Bezalel combines the letters with which heaven and earth were built.”51But, as is known, Bezalel knew this wisdom in the context of his task as builder of the Tabernacle. We therefore see that this associative connection leads us to the understanding that this account speaks of a world constructed upon the model of the Tabernacle (that is, the Tabernacle built by Bezalel was a kind of model and mirror of the structure of the cosmos as a whole). Or, from another viewpoint, the very struc- ture of the world which this account relates indicates its holiness! In the same way, this house alludes to the house of Wisdom, evidently the world as a house built thereby. For, according to Wisdom literature, “wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars” (Prov 9:1)—and she herself raises her voice and calls upon human beings (by means of Sefer Yezirah?) when “On the heights beside the way, in the paths she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud” (Prov 8:2-3). In the dialogue that takes place among the three accounts in Sefer Yezirah, the Covenant Account claims, as we shall see below, that the “Holy Tabernacle”



serves as the axis mundi. The Sealing Account responds to this by saying that the entire world, and not just its center, is the Holy Tabernacle.

The text also speaks extensively about the constellations, suggesting that we are also dealing here with an astrological world-view. The “products” of the letters are pre- sented in the text under a further division—universe, year, and soul. The category of universe includes the aspects of the heavens and its division into firmaments, the plan- ets and the constellations, the earth (or the seven lands), and the air between heaven and earth. The category of year relates to the hours of the day, the seven days of the week, and the seasons of the year, while the category of soul relates to the various dif- ferent organs of the human body.

The text that I have designated by the title, “General Introduction to the Discussion of the Letters,” also deals with the human aspect, elaborating upon the manner of pro- nunciation of the letters by man, and of the creation of the combinations per se. On the face of it, this text seems to deal only with the manner in which God “formed with them the life of all creatures ion (or: all creatures) and the life of all that would be formed.”

However, if it were relating to the deeds of God, why does it need to explain where in man’s mouth the letters are shaped and even to elaborate how the “wheel” is made52to assist in the creation of these combinations? Clearly, the implication is that it is fitting that man himself ought to engage in these combinations, similar to God. What might be the likely goals of engaging in such combinations? One goal is evidently alluded to at the beginning of the section dealing with the sefirot, that is, the Holy Spirit (§10; 1.9) It is difficult to escape the impression that a second purpose is concrete involvement in magic, in all its possible varieties, from amulets to the creation of living beings, such as a three-year old calf or a golem.53

In conclusion, the Sealing Account presents a broad picture of a structure of the world based upon sefirotand letters, making use of a world of concepts taken from the- ology, physics, verbal magic and astrological magic. The tendency of the author of this unit to return repeatedly to certain stylistic formulae, and the idea of combinations of letters, help us to locate the various parts of this account, which are scattered among the different chapters of the book.

5. The Second Account: The Depths The Sefirot

In the second ”account,” a different answer is given to the basic question of our book—

namely, what is meant by the belimah upon which the world is suspended—as follows:

[§7; 1.5] Ten sefirot belimah. Their measure is ten, for they have no limit: depth [‘omeq; [or: “dimension”] of beginning and depth of end, depth of good and depth of evil, depth of above and depth of below, depth of east and depth of west, depth of north and depth of south. And the unique Lord, a trustworthy divine king, rules over them all from his holy abode for ever and ever.

This account, more than the preceding one, emphasizes the inability of human beings to fully comprehend the idea of belimah. While, it is true, it shares with us cer- tain extraordinary secrets, despite this—or perhaps because of this—we must remember that, in the final analysis, the sefirot are without end; that is, that man as such is unable to fully comprehend them.54 For this reason the sefirot are designated by the name



םיקמוע, ‘omaqim (“depths”), thereby alluding to the words of Kohelet, “that which is is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?” (Eccl 7:24). The author of the Depths Account thus pays attention, already at the beginning of his discussion, to the subjective nature of human knowledge, and particularly to its limitations.55

The aspects of the sefirot belimahas seen by the author of the Depths Account are dif- ferent from those of the Sealing Account, more strongly emphasizing the physical and ethical aspects thereof:

The dimension of time, which from his viewpoint is considered as two sefirot—the depth of the beginning and the depth of the end.

The ethical dimension, which is also seen by him as double or binary—the depth of goodness and the depth of evil. He almost certainly considers the ethical dimension to be one that incorporates the entire Torah, with all of its commandments and with the imperative to hearken to God’s words per se. In this way, a theological element also penetrates into his account.

The realm of space, with its six directions.

The author of the Depths Account claims that not only God, but also His habitation (me’on qodsho), transcend both Wisdom and the world.56 Likewise, God continues to rule over His world, not only by means of wisdom, but also in a direct manner, although the account does not explain exactly how.

The Letters

We may now continue to seek the second half of the Depths Account, the part which deals with letters.

We will begin with the three “mothers.” It is fairly easy, by means of elimination, to find those passages that belong to the Depths Account. §§24, 31-34 (3.2, 5-8) have already been attributed, on the basis of explicit signs, to the Sealing Account. We shall establish, with the same degree of certainty, that §§23, 25-26, and 28-30 (3.1, 3-4; 6.1) belong to the Covenant Account. This leaves us only with a few remaining passages, clearly demarked, that deal with the three “mothers,” and are thus part of the Depth Account.57

These passages draw a connection between the three “mothers” and the concepts of universe, year and soul, which we have already encountered in the Sealing Account.

The discussion turns from there to identifying the “king” who rules in each one of these three above-mentioned realms. The king in the realm of space is the Teli, that is, the

“Heavenly Dragon”;58 the king ruling over time is the “Wheel,” that is to say, the circle of the zodiac; while the king in the realm of the soul, i.e., within man, is the heart.

Immediately following this passage the text again presents the binary approach to the world, concluding with the optimistic and definitive statement: “Good is stored up for the good and evil is kept for the evil” (§60; 6.2).

On the other hand, the connection drawn by this account between the “mothers”

and the above-mentioned concepts is indirect, if not serpentine. Note the following pas- sage:59

[§27; 3.2] Three mothers: Alef, Mem, Shin. And from them were born three fathers from whom everything was created.

This entire passage, as has been noted by several scholars, seems artificial and apologetic.60 It is characteristic of someone who is interested in preserving an author-



itative intellectual tradition, while simultaneously giving it a new meaning. My conjec- ture is thus that the author of the Depths Account had an extant tradition regarding the three “mothers” related to the three elements of fire, water and air, by whose means the universe, the year, and the soul were created. He needs §27, which we cited above, in order to deviate from his own tradition and present his discussion as follows:

[§58; 6.1] Three fathers and their offspring… And a proof for the matter– trust- worthy witnesses: the universe, the year and soul.

Let us now turn to a discussion of the seven double letters. Sefer Yezirahcontains three descriptions of these letters. We have already seen that the description relating to the planets (§§39-43; 4.3-12) belongs to the Sealing Account. Another description, referring to the seven “edges” (§38; 4.3), is not appropriate to our account for the same reason that it is not appropriate to the Sealing Account—namely, that it asserts the exis- tence of seven dimensions in space, and not six.

We are therefore left with the third description (§37; 4.1). This passage presents a binary picture of reality, consistent with the binary approach to ethics which we have found in the section of this account dealing with the sefirot, one which in practice even expands it. There, we find “depth of good and depth of evil” (§7; 1.5), while here we find

“opposites” and polarities—life and death, peace and evil, and so on. The claim made in

§7 (1.5), that God is “the unique Lord,” now emerges as a deliberate presentation of opposites: the entire world is composed of opposites, and God alone is the unique Lord.61

It should be emphasized that there is no special connection presented here between any particular letter and pair of opposites—this, in contrast to the Sealing Account, in which each of the seven double-letters is connected to a particular entity, even if this connection is artificial. It also differs from the description of the three “mothers,” in which an attempt may be seen to create a connection between the indicator letter and the name of the element indicated (i.e., alefcorresponding to avir, air; memcorrespon- ding to mayim, water; and shintoesh, fire). The author of the Depths Account directs his attention to only two aspects of the “building blocks of the universe”: the number of letters (i.e., seven double ones), and a phonetic characteristic.62 By contrast, in the Sealing Account, one sees a more explicit connection to writing, particularly to hewing and shaping. These “building blocks” are hewn and shaped, and only thereafter is an attempt to enunciate the combination.63

We shall conclude our discussion of this account with the twelve simple letters.

Unlike the other sections of the book, here we find that the unraveling of the labyrinth of ideas encounters more difficulties. It seems to me that one may reasonably conjec- ture that the extant discussion of the twelve simple letters is the result, both of loss of material and of the mixing of two distinct accounts: the Depths Account and the Covenant Account (to be discussed below). This mixing may have derived from the fact that the one account initially borrowed one or another passage from the other.

§45 (5.1) draws a connection between the twelve letters and twelve activities of human beings (“soul,” in the language ofSefer Yezirah)—seeing, hearing, sleeping and the like. In terms of deciding with which account to identify this passage, one may bring two arguments. On the one hand, a certain stylistic pattern that appears in this pas- sage—“twelve simple [letters]… their basis…”—appears both in the Covenant Account, to be discussed below,64and in the Depths Account (§37; 4.1), and may therefore belong to either one of the two. On the other hand, as we shall see, the Covenant Account tends



to be more poetic, making the technical style of this passage unsuitable to it.

§46 includes a stylistic form that is characteristic of the Covenant Account rather than of the Depths Account—“twelve and not eleven.” It is absent in the short version, for which reason Peter Hayman tends to think that it is a later addition.65 I neverthe- less wonder whether this may not be an old remnant of this account that anticipates the following passage, which likewise belongs to the Covenant Account, whose very exis- tence testifies to its source. An alternative thesis to that of Hayman might thus be that the author of the Depths Account was the one who deleted it (in other words, the Covenant Account preceded it), but that it survived in other hands.

§47 (5.1) draws a connection between the twelve letters and twelve “diagonal lines.”

There are three considerations in support of the view that this passage belongs to Depths Account. First, that it appears in the short version immediately after §45 (this argument is valid only in the event that this last passage does in fact belong to the Depths Account), such that §§45-47 would seem to be one unit. Second, it contains a lin- guistic expression found in the Depths Account that does not appear in either of the other accounts—namely, ןתדימ, midatan (“their measure”; §7; 1.5). Finally, one passage that is included in the Depths Account and which discusses the three “mothers” men- tions the twelve diagonal lines (§58; 6.1). Against this, there are three other considera- tions in favor of its belonging to the Covenant Account: one, that the language of this passage is poetic and archaic; second, that it includes a linguistic expression found, not only in the Depths Account, but also in the Covenant Account—namely, דע ידע, ‘adei ‘ad (“forever and ever”; in §7, as well as in §38; 4.3, to be discussed below); and third, the

“testimony” of §46, as mentioned above, that may serve as its introduction and which bears linguistic characteristics of the Covenant Account.

It is therefore difficult to determine where §47 belongs. It is also possible that it belongs to both accounts, for which reason, regarding the twelve simple letters, we do not have three full and separate accounts.

Of all these passages, §48a is most similar in character to what we have found thus far regarding the Depths Account. It presents a binary approach, based upon the Book of Ecclesiastes, which is also mentioned in this account’s discussion of the three “moth- ers.”

[§48a; 5.2] He made them a sort of lawsuit, he arranged them in battle array, one opposite the other God made them(Eccles 7:14).

On the other hand, the exact context of these things is not entirely clear. According to the short version, this passage appears immediately after the discussion of the

“twelve principal organs in the soul” (§49b; 5.2), which in terms of contents belongs to the Sealing Account.

This point may also relate to the following passages, which have a binary nature and which use a linguistic phrase already found in the section dealing with the sefirot—“the divine, trustworthy king rules over them all.” [§7; 1.5]

[§48b; 6.3] … Twelve stand in battle array: three love but three hate; three give life but three kill. And the divine, trustworthy king rules over them all. …

Simultaneously, elsewhere in §48b there appears a phrase characteristic of the Covenant Account: “one is the law which holds the balance between them.”

Finally, even if our understanding of the section dealing with the twelve simple let- ters has not been fully articulated, we can still clearly distinguish that the worldview of the author of the Depths Account is binary, a characteristic relating not only to moral behavior, but to all aspects of life. To live well and in peace, to have offspring, to be



wealthy, wise, handsome and powerful—this is good—and is an explicit sign of a proper ethical life, for “good is stored up for the good.” Poverty, ugliness, slavery and other opposites of the previous list are taken as signs of the person’s negative ethical charac- ter, for “evil is stored up for the evil.” This approach, it is true, acknowledges the absolute place of God, and hence of the service of God (remember the sentence, “the unique Lord, a trustworthy divine king, rules over them all from his holy abode for ever and ever”), but together with that is very earthly and practical, without any hint of asceticism. The Holy Spirit, the highest and most important element in the Sealing Account, is not mentioned here at all. The spiritual elevation and sectarian self-closure which we will find below in the Covenant Account do not appear here at all. The account reflects a fundamentally conservative, establishment-oriented, self-satisfied social attitude. While astrological magic is alluded to here by the very mention of the zodiac, letter magic, which is more likely to carry an underground or revolutionary character (as in the making of a golem, for example), is not mentioned here at all.

Moreover, all of the discussions of letters by the author of the Depths Account are only concerned with external aspects (i.e., their number; classification by type), and not with other characteristics that might be found therein, which were found in them by the author of the Sealing Account .

Notwithstanding that the general subject ofSefer Yezirahis the nature of Wisdom, identified with the belimah upon which the entire world is suspended, the emphasis in the Depths Account (at least from the quantitative viewpoint) is specifically the conduct of this world. One might present its position as follows: let us briefly consider the nature of Wisdom—the world is based upon the dimensions of time, space and ethics—

but there is no reason to elaborate upon this matter overly much. These are the

“depths” which “have no end” and it “is deep, very deep, who can find it?.” We can never succeed in fully understanding them. While it is perhaps desirable that we know one or two things about the subjects mentioned, from there on we ought to be con- cerned with our own matters (and one cannot escape the awareness that proper care about the mitzvot is among these). The essential message is thus that the binary, estab- lished, earthly ethics that characterizes this world has its basis in the foundations of the world itself. This ethics is absolute, not relative; there is absolutely no doubt in the mat- ter—the rulers, the wealthy, etc., are ethically good; there is no other possibility. The Depths Account testifies to their righteousness and strengthens the existing social order! If the problem presented for discussion at the beginning of the book related to the characteristics and paths of wisdom, the author of the Depths Account comes along and says that the ways of Wisdom are sufficiently known in this world and man needs to walk therein. Indeed, as in the words of Job cited at the beginning of this paper (24:13), if we do not wish to be counted among those who rebel against the light, we must “consider” the ways of God and wisdom, follow the righteous path, the path of life, of goodness, listen to all the words of God—and we shall thereby see blessing in our labors. Everything we need to know about these paths is already known to us, and there is no need for us to delve into that which in any event is beyond our ken.

We shall now present those passages dealing with the letters within the framework of the Depths Account, noting that the selection of passages describing the twelve sim- ple letters was filled with difficulties and puzzles. In any event, it is interesting to note that, alongside the binary approach, we find that most of the ideas here appear in descriptions of either two or four words, generally speaking in a more rhythmic Hebrew than that of the Sealing Account:



[Three Mother-Letters]

[§27; 3.2] Three mothers: Alef, Mem, Shin. And from them were born three fathers from whom everything was created.

[§58; 6.1] Three fathers and their offspring, and seven dominant ones66and their hosts, and the twelve diagonal lines. And a proof for the matter – trust-worthy wit- nesses: the universe, the year and the soul [nefesh].

[§59; 6.1-2] There is a law of ten, three, seven and twelve…. The Teli in the uni- verse is like a king on his throne; the zodiac in the year is like a king in a province;

the heart in the soul [nefesh] is like a king67at war.

[§60; 6.2] So God has created every object,68one opposite the other (cf. Qoh 7:14): good opposite evil – good from good and evil from evil. Good brings evil to light and evil brings good to light. Good is stored up for the good and evil is kept for the evil.

[Seven Double Letters]

[§37; 4.1] Seven double [letters]: Bet, Gimel, Dalet; Kaph, Pe, Resh, Taw. They are pro- nounced with the tongue in two different positions. Their basis is life and peace, wisdom, wealth, prosperity, beauty and mastery.... They are double [letters]

because they are opposites. The opposite of life is death; the opposite of peace is evil; the opposite of wisdom is folly; the opposite of wealth is poverty; the opposite of prosperity is desolation; the opposite of beauty is ugliness; and the opposite of mastery is slavery.

[Twelve Simple Letters]

The following passages were mixed up, evidently as a result of the sharing of mate- rial between the Depths Account and the Covenant Account. Those passages which were almost certainly adopted by one from the other are marked with an asterisk.

* [§45; 5.1] Twelve simple [letters]: He, Waw, Zayin, Het, Tet, Yod, Lamed, Nun, Samek, Ayin, Sade, Qof. Their basis is sight, hearing, smelling, talking, eating, sexual inter- course, action, walking, anger, laughter, thought, sleep.

[§46] Twelve simple [letters]: He, Waw, Zayin, Het, Tet, Yod, Lamed, Nun, Samek, Ayin, Sade, Qof. Twelve and not eleven. [Twelve and not thirteen].69

* [§47; 5.1] Their measure is twelve diagonal lines: the north eastern line, the south-eastern line,… And they expand continually70 for ever and ever and they are the arms of the universe(based on Deut 33:27).

* [§48a; 5.2] He made them a sort of lawsuit, he arranged them in battle array, one opposite the other God made them(Qoh 7:14).

[§48b; 6.2] Three – each one stands by itself; seven are at loggerheads – three against three, and one is the law which holds the balance between them.

* Twelve stand in battle array: three love but three hate; three give life but three kill. And the divine, trustworthy king rules over them all

One on top of three, and three on top of seven, and seven on top of twelve. And they all adhere to each other.

6. The Third Account: The Covenant The Sefirot

This account is written in particularly poetic language, which over the generations cap- tivated the hearts of many people. Its writing is characterized by an abundance of par-



allelisms, by attention to euphony (rhythm and sound of the words), as well as to rich visual imagery. Particularly well-known is the formula of an explicit stylistic nature—

“ten and not nine, ten and not eleven.”

[§3; 1.2] Ten sefirot belimah. Like the number of the ten fingers—five opposite five, and the covenant of the Unique One is exactly in the middle, in the covenant of the tongue and the circumcision of the flesh.

[§4; 1.4] Ten sefirot belimah. Ten and not nine, ten and not eleven. Understand Wisdom, and become wise in regard to Understanding. Test them and investigate then, and set up the thing on its proper place and return the Creator (Yozer) to His throne.

[§5; 1.8] Ten sefirot belimah. Restrain your mouth from speaking, restrain your heart from thinking. And if your heart races return to the place [which you have left], for thus it is written: (like) running and returning (Ezek. 1:14). And concerning this matter the covenant was made.

[§6; 1.7] Ten sefirot belimah. Their end (sofan) is fixed in their beginning [and their beginning in their end] as the flame is bound to the burning coal. For the Lord is unique, and he has none second to him; and before one, what can you count?

[§8; 1.6] Ten sefirot belimah. Gazing upon them is quick as lightning [or: their aspect is like the sight of lightning]... And His word is in them as though running and returning (Ezek. 1:14), and they pursue His command like the storm wind, and before His throne they bow down.

There is no doubt that this account focuses particularly on the human viewpoint: on the difficulty in principle in perceiving the sefirot, but also on the wonderful attainment of one who, despite all, succeeds in doing so, if even for a fraction of a second. A person requires great wisdom, extraordinary understanding; it is fitting that a man devote his life to searching out a matter which it is impossible to fully investigate, to plumb that which is without end. Then, if he merits to see, to perceive the sefirot in a vision, he must hold back from continuing his thought and contemplation, but remove himself from the experience—all the more so that he must refrain from speaking of it.71 The duality of this sectarian ethics stands out particularly here—in a text which reveals and simultaneously warns against revealing, in which both the sectarianism and the Jewishness of this sect are alluded to in the concept of the Covenant, and particularly in the covenant of the tongue.72 The Covenant Account presents as its point of departure the enormous tension, the lack of resolution between the revealed and the hidden, between revelation and concealment, a tension that runs like a thread throughout the history of Jewish mysticism, and is particularly well-known in connection with the mishnah Ein Dorshin (in the second chapter of Hagiga).73

But the experience is fragile and fragmented, not only due to the limits of human comprehension, but also because of the very nature of the sefirot belimah themselves.

They are themselves in constant motion: “they pursue his command like the storm wind,” and in a brief moment they halt themselves and prostrate themselves before God. And more generally: just as the heart which contemplates them runs back and forth to its place, so too are they in a constant state of “running and returning.”74

But what are these entities of whom one can say that “they pursue his command like the storm wind,” and who even halt and bow down? It seems highly doubtful whether one can describe the elements of nature or the dimensions of time, space and ethics, mentioned in the previous accounts, in this fashion. The answer seems to be that




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