Sefer Yetzirah (Hebrew, “Book of Formation,” or “Book of Creation,) is the title of the earliest extant book on Jewish esotericism. “Yetzirah” is more literally translated as “Formation”; the word “Briah” is used for “Creation”.
A cryptic story in the Babylonian Talmud states that “On the eve of every Shabbat, Judah ha-Nasi‘s pupils, Rab Hanina and Rab Hoshaiah, who devoted themselves especially to cosmogony, used to create a three-year-old calf by means of the Sefer Yetzirah, and ate it on the Sabbath.” All the miraculous creations attributed to other rabbis of the Talmudic era are ascribed by rabbinic commentators to the use of the same book.
A mishnah (vi. 15) declares that the Biblical patriarch Abraham was the recipient of the divine revelation of mystic lore; so that the rabbis of the classical rabbinic era, and philosophers as Saadia, Donnolo, and Judah ha-Levi never doubted that Abraham was the author of the book.
The Sefer Yetzirah exists in multiple versions, including:
- 1) The Short Version,
- 2) The Long Version,
- 3) The Saadia Version, and
- 4) The Gra Version, among others.
- The Sefer Yetzirah is devoted to speculations concerning God’s creation of the world. The ascription of its authorship to the biblical patriarch Abraham shows the high esteem which it enjoyed for centuries. It may even be said that this work had a greater influence on the development of the Jewish mind than almost any other book after the completion of the Talmud.
The Sefer Yetzirah is exceedingly difficult to understand on account of its obscure style. The difficulty is rendered still greater by the lack of a critical edition, the present text being much interpolated and altered. Hence there is a wide divergence of opinion regarding the age, origin, contents, and value of the book, since it is variously regarded as the Temple era.
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