I am new to Judaism (having studied a little bit of many world religions), and am very curious about the esoteric teachings, and the origin/structure/creation of the world from different perspectives.

In every religion pretty much, from my shallow readings/understandings, especially in browsing Wikipedia, much of the substance of the creation (such as in the Sefir Yetzirah) jump right into the thick of talking about this and that as if it were how things really were, but there is no explanation of how they arrived at those conclusions. So I'm curious in the case of the Sefir Yetzirah, how they arrived at some of their "conclusions" or statements/facts/"proofs" in the text.

I have had experiences with meditating on the letters of the English alphabet, how their shape may be a reflection of things in primitive outdoor experience, how their numbers can be associated with various meanings, and it is interesting to think about the possibilities. But as far I know, that is just me thinking of things and finding patterns in symbols and things in the world, not necessarily that that's how things are.

But in the Sefir Yetzirah, for example, at least in the opening paragraphs/chapters which I have browsed so far, they talk about how G-d:

created the Universe in thirty-two mysterious paths of wisdom. They consist of a decade out of nothing and of twenty-two fundamental letters. He divided the twenty-two consonants into three divisions : 1) three אִמּוֹת mothers, fundamental letters or first elements ; 2) seven double ; and 3) twelve simple consonants.
...Comprehend this great wisdom, understand this knowledge, inquire into it and ponder on it, render it evident and lead the Creator back to His throne again.
...He selected three consonants from the simple ones which are in the hidden secret of three mothers or first elements: א"מ"ש air, water and ether or fire.
...The foundations are the twenty-two letters, three 'mothers', seven 'double', and twelve 'single letters'. Three 'mothers', namely Aleph, Mem, Shin, represent Air, Water, and Fire: Aleph mute as Water, Shin hissing as Fire, and Mem as air of a spiritual type, is as balance, standing erect between them and pointing out the equilibrium which exists, speaking.
...He hath formed, weighed, transmuted, composed, and created with these twenty-two letters every living being, and every soul yet uncreated.

Etc.. The author (whether Abraham or someone else), makes statements of fact like that last sentence, but doesn't explain how they arrived at this. So all I can think of is that they had a spiritual experience, a bunch of ideas streamed into their consciousness, they found patterns in the symbols and things, and they wrote down their associations. How else can I perceive/understand such information?

The Wiki page on Sefir Yetzirah suggests this text is one of the most influential books on Jewish thought besides the standard main texts. This means that potentially they assume what is being said is the truth or at least has an aspect of truth behind all the metaphors, and the ideas are built upon. But going to further Wiki pages on related topics, you read of things like the Sefirot (10) as if it was common knowledge how it was structured, but this too must have been "discovered" or figured out progressively over time or through some spiritual experience.

So I'm wondering, given the Sefir Yetzirah talks about the universe created from the alphabet and numbers (I haven't gotten that far in my reading yet), how did they arrive at these conclusions? How did they arrive at the ideas that the universe was created from the letters basically? What I'm trying to say is, I would like to find how these ideas were derived, but instead I am finding just the final end result, the information laid out as if it were just fact, without any hint at how they were derived or where they come from. Is this sort of derivation/analysis info buried in some other Jewish commentaries somewhere, or how should I be taking these texts?

I understand they are esoteric/mystical/deeply metaphoric texts and so shouldn't be taken at face value, and all that. That they take a lot of thinking to glean out the key insights. But at the same time, I'm wondering what is the foundation basically for these ideas, where did they come from, why are they taken as meaningful. Because if I told someone the universe was created out of the English alphabet because of this and that pattern I found in the symbol shapes and the association of their numbers with things in the universe like the 7 planets or the 12 musical notes or whatever, people would probably think I am just making things up (making up random associations that are meaningless). How can I better understand how to take texts such as these in the Jewish mysticism realm?

1 Answer 1


Hi welcome to Mi Yodeya (again) and thanks for bringing this great question. For this one, the answer is fairly simple, and it is gleaned from insight into how we view the Torah.

As we stated in the other answer today, the Torah is a revelation, not a science. What we believe about God is that He created the world wilfully and purposefully, and designed every single detail personally. We believe in a God who communicated with us since the start, and has had a lot to say! He created Adam and spoke to him and taught him. He told Adam things that Adam couldn't have worked out by himself, such as some of the secrets to how He created the world.

This information is part of the Torah. Specifically, part of the Kabbalah (the word Kabbalah means something that was received, not derived!). Avraham received the knowledge of these things that cannot be derived in a direct chain from Adam (we have all the names in the chain), as well as through his communication with God through prophecy, and of course when you already have a huge amount of wisdom on this topic, you are able to innovate and work out more things, and Avraham certainly is known for having derived much about Hashem through His saintly wisdom.

It's important to stress that Hashem didn't need to create the universe in any particular way. Having chosen to create it through speech (language, letter and number) was His decision (and what it really means is an advanced philosophical idea that is further from the literal than we might imagine, as you admit to) and the reasons for that are discussed, but that's what we've received and hopefully this has answered your question.

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