sefer_yetzirah - AN INTRODUCTION TO THE SEFER YETZIRAH By...

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1 AN INTRODUCTION TO THE SEFER YETZIRAH By Christopher P. Benton The Sefer Yetzirah , or Book of Formation, is one of the oldest extant works on Jewish Kabbalah. Like the Tao Teh Ching , it is a brief work whose terse verses can easily mask its depth and complexity. Additionally, both the time of its composition and its author are not completely known. A somewhat dubious tradition is that it is the work of Abraham. Undoubtedly, this supposition is based on the closing passage of the Sefer Yetzirah : And when Abraham our father, may he rest in peace, looked, saw, understood, probed, engraved, and carved, he was successful in creation, as it is written, "And the souls that they made in Haran" ( Genesis 12:5 ). Immediately there was revealed to him the Master of all, may His name be blessed forever. He placed him in His bosom, and kissed him on his head, and He called him, "Abraham my beloved: ( Isaiah 41:8 ). He made a covenant with him and with his children after him forever, as it is written, "And he believed in God, and He considered and He considered it righteousness" ( Genesis 15:6 ). He made with him a covenant between the ten fingers of his hands, this the covenant of the tongue, and between the ten toes of his feet, this is the covenant of circumcision, and He bound the 22 letters of the Torah to his tongue and He revealed to him His mystery. He drew them in water, He flamed them with fire, He agitated them with breath, He burned them with the seven planets, He directed them with the twelve constellations. ( Sefer Yetzirah 6:7 ) This passage parallels Talmudic traditions that Abraham, in addition to founding a monotheistic religion, was also a possessor of great esoteric knowledge. R. Eliezer the Modiite said that Abraham possessed a power of reading the stars for which he was much sought after by the potentates of East and West. R. Simeon b. Yohai said: Abraham had a precious stone hung round his neck which brought immediate healing to any sick person who looked on it. ( B. Baba Batra 16b ) Indeed, many old manuscripts of Sefer Yetzirah are prefaced with the phrase “the Letters of Abraham our Father, which is called Sefer Yetzirah .” However, the grammatical form of the Hebrew used in the text places its origin closer to the period of the Mishna than at the very start of the Jewish people. Another tradition is that Sefer Yetzirah is the work of the great tanna of the Talmud , Rabbi Akiba. However, in Pardes Rimmon Moses Cordovero writes, “There are those who attribute it ( Sefer Yetzirah ) to Rabbi Akiba, but the latter is not the accepted opinion.” Moses Cordovero continues with an explanation that the text was originally authored by Abraham but redacted into its current form by Akiba, and a certain degree of debate over by whom and when the Sefer Yetzirah was written continues to this day.
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2 Additionally, the text has been modified and amended up to and beyond the time of the Zohar .
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