Books by Fred Reiss
~Jewish Calendar~
~Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism~
~Jewish Religious Fiction~
~History of Education in Camden, NJ~
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Sepher Yetzirah

 



Learn What Modern Kabbalah has Long Forgotten

Author Fred Reiss, observing that Sepher Yetzirah, the oldest known book in the long history of Jewish mysticism, says each of the four known Hebrew variations contain between twelve hundred and twenty-five hundred words, but the numerous explanations of and commentaries on Sepher Yetzirah combine into hundreds of thousands, if not millions of words.  Yet, its full meaning is still elusive. Like the preverbal elephant, some see the trunk, others the tail or leg, but none has captured the entire creature. These explanations and commentaries generally fall into one of three classifications: philosophical, in the sense used by the Greeks: the study of mathematics and the natural sciences; theological; and magical. Sepher Yetzirah is in fact all three at once.

In this, the revised and renamed edition, Reiss captures the earliest meanings and contexts of the philosophy, theology, and magic presented by Sepher Yetzirah, basing the translations, interpretations, and explanations on texts and ideas existing during or before the tenth century C.E., when the first commentary on Sepher Yetzirah appeared. This is an important component of what distinguishes Sepher Yetzirah: The Book That Started Kabbalah from other translations and commentaries, which draw on doctrines and beliefs unknown to the author of Sepher Yetzirah.

Another distinctive feature is the author's search for the answer to the question "why?" Those familiar with Kabbalah know, for example, the Hebrew letters aleph, mem, and shin as the mother letters, but why these three letters and not another set of three letters? Why were the twelve simple letters assigned their specific roles and not different roles? Why also are there ten sephirot and not, say, nine or eleven?

Reiss explains how the author of Sepher Yetzira combined Greek philosophy with the theological and magical elements of Judaism to fully explain the creation story found in Genesis 1, and simultaneously laying the foundation for what today is called Kabbalah.


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AN EXCERPT OF AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR

Q: What does your book reveal about the three mother letters, aleph, mem, and sheen?

Dr. Reiss: To understand why God chose the aleph, mem, and sheen to be the mother letters of creation, we have to know three things.  The first is that the author of Sepher Yetzira understood that the scroll of the Five Books of Moses, called in Hebrew, the Torah, was the blueprint for the world because it contains the story of creation. The second is that Pythagoras found that the harmony of music lays in the ratio of the whole numbers less than four. Among the ratios, 3/2 is the ratio of the perfect fifth, the most concordant sound in music.         

The third is the very strange statement of the Jewish sages who said that the Torah is written with black fire on white fire. This statement is interpreted to mean that the Torah contains both open and secret knowledge. The actual scroll of the Torah is written in straight lines of black ink letters separated by white spaces, the parchment, itself. The black letters are clearly visible, so the black is the open knowledge, while the while spaces show nothing and represent the hidden wisdom. Let's look at the Hebrew letters, in alphabetic order [slide 1], written the way one would see them in the Torah - in a straight line.  A straight line is also the shape of Pythagoras' strings, when he investigated sound. We see that there are 22 letters and 21 spaces. The first letter is the aleph, the 13th letter is the mem, and the 21st letter is the shin. This is the black fire. The white fire refers to the intervals between the letters [Look at slide 2.]

We start at the aleph. It is the first mother letter.  Next, we count the intervals from the aleph to the mem.  There are 12 intervals. Now we start over again, beginning with the mem. There are 8 intervals between the mem and the shin. The ratio of the intervals is 12/8 = 3/2, which Pythagoras discovered is the perfect fifth.

The three mother letters, used to build the matter, which makes our world, are in perfect consonance. Sepher Yetzira reveals that God created a world of consonance, a world of interlocking parts that are in perfect harmony. Destroy one of those parts, and you destroy the world.

Q: Why do you suppose that this information has been withheld from mainstream Judaism?

Dr. Reiss: Sepher Yetzira is based on Hellenic information, meaning on pagan religions and pagan philosophies. For the most part, these ideas are, with regard to the teachings of the Jewish sages, heretical. The Jewish leadership could never allow this.  In addition, if a person claims to have a mystical experience, to be in communion with God, whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, or whatever, how can anyone, especially a religious leader refute the claims of someone who received information directly from God? Mainstream religions do not like mysticism in any form because it is uncontrollable.

Q: What is this mysterious Ayn Sof?

Dr. Reiss: The Ayn Sof is what the Greek philosophers called "the One above the One." The Ayn Sof created the God of creation. Even though Sepher Yetzira speaks very little of the Ayn Sof because mystics are forbidden to think about anything above the second sephira, I show the inter-relationships between the sephirot and the Ayn Sof. For example, the Ayn Sof and the sephirot are related, among other things, by circular numbers.

Q: You book describes the three laws that God established at the time of creation, how do these laws relate to the Hebrew alphabet?

Dr. Reiss: The three laws have a numeric basis, as predicted by the Pythagoreans. The first law is the law of three, which is responsible for the material word. The second is the law of seven, which resulted by adding the three and four together. I explain in the book how this law controls the wheel-of-life, which brings good times followed by bad in a never-ending cycle. The third law is the law of twelve, which exists because 3 + 4 + 5 equals 12. In Ancient Secrets of Creation, I explain how this law brings conflict into the world. But, it is important to observe that 3 + 7 + 12 equals 22, the exact number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The Hebrew alphabet is the alphabet of creation.

Q: According to your translation of Sepher Yetzira, creation occurred through numbers, which are called sephirot, and the Hebrew letters. The Book of Genesis says that creation occurred when God spoke, but there are no references to God speaking numbers. How can you explain this?

Dr. Reiss:  This is part of the secrets of Jewish mysticism. Suppose you want to make vegetable soup (or any soup for that matter).  You get peas, carrots, celery, or whatever vegetables you want. You clean them. You cut them. You do whatever needs to be done to prepare the vegetables.  But you still don't have soup. You need to boil water. How do you do that?  You get a pot. Not just any pot, but a pot big enough to hold a sufficient amount of water and the vegetables. So creating soup requires a container to hold the soup. Likewise with creation, the work of each day required a container to hold what God is to create. The containers of creation are the sephirot.

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