Kabbalah: "Sefer Yetzirah" 231 Gates

The 231 Gates rotate forward and back

BKabbalah's Secret Circles by Robert Zuckery Robert Zucker

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.c.The Hebrew Letters

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The Semitic alphabet[1] uses one set of symbols (Hebrew letters) to represent both numbers and letters.

There are two different sets of names according to whether the same symbols are being regarded as letters or numbers.

These are foundation letters, or Greek elemental letters, expressed by being either enumerated, spoken or written.

The letters are more than mere symbols. They are the vessels or manifestations of the powers which they conceal.

Creation of the Golem

in two stages with the letters;

According to the author of the “Sefer Yetzirah”, Gd blew the spirit of life into the man using the letters.[3]

The two stages of the golem creation were:[4]

1: combining of the regular letters of the alphabet and;

2: the combination of the letters of the Divine Name which may reflect:

1. the formation of the limbs or their animation, and:

2. the infusing of the soul in the golem.

The terms hiyyut and neshamah may refer to these two different stages.[5]

The Three Dimensions of the 22 Letters;

According to Abraham Abulafia:




The Graphic Dimension:

"It is necessary that one also  learn the

names of all the letters.

Know that in our language,

the name of each letter begins

with the letter itself 

[i.e. the first letter of each

letter-name is the letter itself].

This is the great secret regarding the letters and it instructs us to the essence of the letter. The combination of the letter with other letters form the name indicates that these letters are the same type as the letter named, and together they form the body of the letter. For instance, the matter of the letters LPh that combine with the letter A to form the letter-name 'LPh [aleph] is not accidental, but with great wisdom and prophetic agreement." [6]

Intellectual dimension:

The relationship between the three dimensions (sound, graphics, intellectual) is like the relationship between the sensation, imagination and intellect. In "Ozar 'Eden Ganuz'",:

"You must first distinguish the written form [of the letter], then its pronounced form and then its intellectual form. Indeed, these three matters cannot be said to be united unless they actually become one in the mind of the intellectual [maskil], and until then the intellectual grasp of the letter cannot be in its most sublime state. For this is like one whose feelings are fully developed, so there there is a need that his prospective emotional expression reach maturity, and that so too, his intellect reach perfection. And with the perfect combination of all these the power of the intellect that was hidden from him will reveals its effluence to him and his soul will rejoice and take pleasure and happiness in the everlasting joy, and he will benefit from the rays of the Divine Presence [Shekhinah].

As far as man is concerned, the letters have a three-fold meaning, and they are the proximate vessels which by means of the combination [of letters aid the soul to actualize its potential with much greater ease than any other means." [7]

Saddai Gaon (950AD) was the first to divide the letters into five groups, believed to be all consonants, without knowing that the original “Sefer Yetzirah” meant vowels, according to Tamin[8] 

"[the word] 'VT ['ot-letter] is related to the word BY'T [bi'at- the arrival of].

The Targum (the Aramaic translation) of the 'LM HB ['olam haba'- “the world to come”] is 'LMA D'ThY ['alma de' atei- the world that is coming] and its secret meaning is the world of the letters whence signs and wonders appear."[9]

The 22 Letters

The 10 numbers have as their base the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which represent the boundaries which lies between the mental and physical worlds.

"Two (the second principle of nature) is the atmosphere which derives from the spirit. It is the breath impressed with the 22 letters which

form but a single breath."

It is by the impressions left by the letters that the Holy Spirit reveals itself in nature.

By giving these letters form and figure, mixing and combining them, Gd makes the soul of all that is formed and all to be formed. With these same letters, He founded His name.

“Sefer Yetzirah” says Hebrew alphabet consists of 10 doubles and 12 simples. The 22 letters constitute the 32 ways of wisdom: divide the 22 into simple (PShITIT) and double (CPILIT)  letters; vowels (AMOT), and consonants (TILDIT). Together they form 32 sounds (20 sounds) of the ten doubles and the 12 or the 12 simples. The SY then shows how, from the 22 letters, all the words that ever existed or will ever exist are formed.[10]

The [Consonant] letters do not have any sound by themselves. The mouth given the power to express them, pronouncing them as found in books. Gd provided vowels for the letters, indicating the sound with which they must be expressed when translated from a book to the mouth. The vowels are what allow the letters to be sounded.[11]

The vibrations of these sounds must also be associated with space. No vibration can occur except in a definite time and place.

The element of space are the dimensions and distances. The elements of time are the cycles, through which it is measured. This includes such divisions as years, months and days.

One must therefore know how to draw out the sound of each letter as it is related to these dimensions."

The assumption is that if one combines the letters properly, the creative process used by Gd in the formation of the world can be re-enacted.

“The names in the Holy Tongue

are the very "letters of speech"

which descend degree by degree

from the 10 utterances

by means of substitutions and

transposition of the letters

through the 231 gates until they reach and become invested in that particular created thing

to give it life.[12]


“Everything is clothed in some Emotional Attribute which brings [soul] to think that thought. This attribute is the vivifying force of that thought.

From the letters of thought

produce letters of speech, speech brings to action

wisdom is beginning and source of life force.[14]


The Activating Force or Creator

must continue to be in the thing created

to give it life and existence

[force] are the "letters of speech'

only [enclothed letters in created beings]

is through numerous and powerful

descents until the letters

reach corporeal world of Asyiah.

Whereas the comp. of prophets is in Atziloth,

as it becomes clothed in Beriah.[15]


After all the contractions (of light and life form in order that it should be able to diffuse

from the "Breath of His mouth"

and invested in the combinations of

the letters of the 10 utterances

and their combinations of combinations, by substitution And transpotision of the letters themselves and their

numerical values and equivalents.

Through numerous and powerful contractions, degree by degree, descends from it a life force very greatly condensed, until it can clothe itself in a stone.

This is the soul of the inaminate being,

which gives it life and brings it into existence

ex nihilo at every instant.

Each substitution and transposition

indicates the descent of the lights and life force,

degree by degree,so it is able to give life to creatures whose quality and significance is lower than quality and significance of the creation created from the letters and worlds of the 10 Utterances themselves.

"He fills all worlds" is the life force which clothes itself within the created being.

The life-force (invested in them

and greatly contracted)

must undergo numerous contractions until they are brought into existence from its power

and light created beings, they are finate and limited.

From the source of the life-force is

 "The Breath of the Mouth."

Gd made everything by weight, number and measure.

The instruments, the matrices of the material world are said by the Kabalists to have been the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The permutations made by forming, weighing, combining and transforming the letters, were not only the origin of all languages but also of all creatures. These permutations can be reduced to a single name, the Tetragrammaton.

The letters are more than mere symbols, they are the vessels or manifestations of the concealed powers. All the wonders and sanctities of the Law and the Prophets resulted from the

diverse combinations of the 22 letters.[16]

The 3 representative parent letters—

• mutes,

• sibilants,

• aspirates,

These symbolize the 3 basic elements of all existing things, the 3 primordial substances. The 3 letters represent the 3 cardinal divisions  that the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet fall into.[17]

"Hew" (chatzivah) and "Engrave" (Chahika) are two processes of depicting the letters.

Hewing denotes separating that image from all of the others. Isolate it and rid all of the other imagery from the mind. Similar to the process of molding a shape from a lump of clay.

One way to hew an image is to replace all other images with pure white. Concentrate on a letter, such as Aleph, until it fills the mind.

Engraving: denotes fixing an image in the mind's eye so it does not waver or move. The engraved image remains no matter whatever other thoughts or images arise in the mind. This becomes an easy process once mastered.

Similar to processes of Yichudim or "unification"

“Sephiroth is a word of Grecian influence, indicating spheres, fields or areas. Hebrew meaning was numbers. In Latin “spiritus” or spirit,

was connected with the word.

The complete meaning of the word should be:

numbered spiritual spheres.” [18]

Singular is Sephorah.

The concept dates to the "Sefer Yetzirah" which discusses the 10 Sephorith Beli-mah.

The Letters & Parts of the Body

Method of R. Eleazar, 12th century

"Whoever studies "Sefer Yezirah" has to purify himself [and] don white clothes. It is forbidden to study ["Sefer Yezirah"] alone, but only [in groups of] two or three, as it is written: [1]

"and the souls they made in Haran."

And it is written[2]:

"Two are better than one [alone]"

and it is written:[3]

"It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him."

Therefore, [Scriptures} begins with a 'bet, bereshit bara", He created.

It is incumbent upon him to take virgin soil from a place in the mountain where no one has plowed.

And he shall knead (Vayigabbei he-'aafar)

the dust with living water (Mayyim hayyim)

and he shall make a body [Golem] and shall begin to permutate the alphabets of 221 gates, each limb  separatelly, each limb with the corresponding letter mentioned in the "Sefer Yezirah."

And the alphabets will be permutated at the beginning, and afterwards he shall permutate the vowel A, A, A, A, A, A.

And always, the letter of the [divine] name with them, and all the alphabet;

afterward AI, then AI, and then AI and then AI.

Afterward [the permutation of] AV, and similarly AH in its entirety.

Afterward, he shall appoint B and likewise C, and each limb with the letter designed to it. He shall do all this when he is pure. There are the 221 gates.[4]

These instructions tell the operator that the first step of creation is the permutation of the letters, combining each of the 22 Hebrew letters to form 221 combinations.

Each combination of two letters, which correspond to the limbs of the body, are combined with all the other letters to form a "gate." It seems the magical acitivity begins with the combination of the letters after the Golem is prepared.[5]

In "Sefer ha-Shem," he discusses a futher step of combining the letters which corresponds to the limbs of the body with the divine name, YHVH, and pronouncing it according to the 6 vowels mentioned in the "Commentary."[6] 

"Know that all the limbs of your body 

are combined like that of the forms of the

letters combined one with the other.

Know also that when you combine them it is you who distinguishes between the forms of the letters for in their prime-material state they are equal and they are all composed of the same substance having been written with [the same] ink, and with one sweep you can erase them all from a writing board. So too the particular Angel will do to all the moisture of your body and to all of your limbs until they return to their prime-material state."[7]

There is a correspondence between the 22 Hebrew letters and the limbs of the body.

A system between the limbs of body and letters are found in "Sefer Yezirah" chapter 4 ; and a mention in a sort tract "Pe'ulat ha-Yezirah".[8] 

"This (the) creature 

you are want to create;

with regard to each and

every particular limb [for (of) it],

look inside and see what letter you must appoint upon it, and combine it as I will instruct you.

And you must take virgin soul from underneath virgin earth and seed it here and there upon your Holy Temple in a state of [ritual] purity.

Purify yourself and form from this soil [the] an homunculus [golem] which you want to create and imbue with the spirit of life.

See what letter you must appoint upon it,

and what proceeds from it.

Do so also with the letters of the Tetragrammaton, 

by means of which the entire world was created.

Recite Notarikon[10],

and recite each of its letters with the vowels

O (cholem), A(Kamaz), (I) EEY (tzere);

(E, EI) AY OO (shuruk), (U) UH,

and that organ will immediately be animated."

R. Eleazar of Worms.[11]

R. Yehudah Hadassi, writes[12];

The first action is

      • related to the limbs of man and the letters in general. The role of the letters is to animate the organs of the artifical man.

      • then the letters of the Tetragrammaton are mentioned and are pronounced with a certain notariqon[13]

The 2-stage process ends with the .vivificationof the creature.[14]

"The kings of the points, the 5 essential notarikon of clear speech are the 5 vocalizations." and on fol. 62a:

"the kings of the vowel points, which are 5 kings; the notarikon of [your[ language."[15]

 "All languages are included within the language that underlies them all, i.e. the Holy Language, expressed through 22 letters and 5 ways of pronunciation..."

from "Sefer Get ha-Shemot”:

"If one errs, heaven forbid, in the use of the appropriate appointed letter, he would cause that limb to be detached and switched and would immediately change its nature, and the creature created thereby would be deformed."

from Abulafia's "Hayyei ha-'Olam ha-Ba'“

Abulafia accepts Midrashic idea that states at the time of circumcision, the Divine Name ShDY (Shaddai) is engraved into the body.[16]

Abulafia continues:[17]

"He has to be very cautious not to change a letter or a vowel from its place because the limb created by the means of this letter will change its natural place in your body... Know that there are 3 issues created in man...the head, created out of fire...the belly [created out of] water...and the torso [created out of] wind [ruach].

(In Hebrew ruach also means spirit.) [18]


And if the person who recites the letters errs, Gd save us, in his pronounciation of the letter that is appointed upon the limb that is in the head of the person who reads, that limb is separated [from its place] and changes its place, its nature being immediately transformed, another form being conferred to it [and] the person becoming injured [ba’al mum], this being the reason that the name "whw" is sealed by the word mum [injury].[19]

The name that begins with the letters whw is the name of the 72. Abulafia indicates there is an organic affinity between the letters and vital organs so that the proper pronunciation of the order of letters is strictly necessary.

"Head and belly and torso, that is the head, end, middle. The head is the first point that you imagine in it; the end is the final point of the head, and it is like a tail to it and the belly islikewise a tail to the head...

And the middle is the middle of the body and is the image of the torso wherein the heart is located.

And the image you ought to image at the time of pronunciation, in order to change within that image the nature of [one] part of the bodies, along or with others is...

And pronounce in this image whatever you pronounce and thus you will first say Heh,

in the middle of your head, draw it within your head as if you were contemplating and see the center of your brain, and its central point in your thought, and envision the letter Heh inscribed above it, which safeguards the existence of the points of your brain."[20]

 The pronunciation of the letters is accompanied by imaging the limbs corresponding to these letters. Along with self-contemplation while the letters are being recited to each of the limbs.

The Ms. Paris image is constituted by the combination of dust and recitation of the letters, while the image emerging seems to be independent of the mystic.

Whereas "Ha Ba" one has to imagine his inner constitution.

The first case is creative of another, the second it is self-creating.

In Abulafia's ecstatic experiences, a spiritual human form, the double of the mystic, is emerging and communicates with him, an experience which seems parallel to that of the images created out of dust.

On the Midrash creation of Adam, R. Joseph says:

The plain sense [of the legend]: When Gd mixed [gibbel] the dust [‘afar]; [tif’eret] out of the earth [min ha-’adamah] [‘at’arah] [with water] and He kneaded and arranged all his limbs in it, and He engraved them [i.e., the letters] and extracted them and combined them, and weighed them and changed their order, 248 limbs of man and 248 limbs of woman, and 365 veins of man and 365 veins of woman, made out of this matter, forward and backward...”[21]

“The texture of the limbs

of the golem in the vagina, when it was formed”

R. ‘Amitai ben Shefatiyah, “Sirei ‘Amitai,” [22]


• 7 parts of the body. Gen 9:6, In form of Gd, He made man, 1:27 " him= counting all his limbs and parts

• "vav" resembles: Ps. 104.5 "He spreads out light like a garment."

• Vav is nothing other than the six directions.

• The covenant of circumcision

12 are the gateways to the organs. There are two different lists of the 12 human functions and the 12 bodily parts.

The list of human functions (used by Friedman) starts with the sight and has as its 4th member speech. The 2nd list starts with speech and has sight for its 4th function.

The list of bodily parts (by Friedman) starts with the right hand. In the 2nd list, the right hand is the 4th member. A relationship between the 1st and 4th. A tendency to start anew in the 4th place, the central position in the law of 7.

9/20/91 Geneva

[1] Genesis 12:5

[2] Eccles 4:9

[3] Genesis 2:18

[4] Eleazar of Worms, "Commentary on Sefer Yezirah," fol. 15d, from Idel, "Golem," p. 556.

[5] Idel, "Golem," p. 57

[6] Idel, "Golem, p. 58.

[7] i.“Sefer Sitre Torah”;, Abulafia "Lang., Torah & Hermetics in Abulafia, " p.7

[8] re: this quote and its relation to Abulafia's "Sefer Hayyei ha-'Olam ha Ba,'" see Idel, Abulafia, 132

[9] re: this quote and its relation to Abulafia's "Sefer Hayyei ha-'Olam ha Ba,'" see Idel, Abulafia, 132

[10] *Notes:  One of the first to make use of the term Notarikan to indicate the 5 essential vowels is R. Yehudah Hadassi p. 140 (Idel, "Abulafia" p. 39).

[11] MS. Cambridge, Add. 647, fol. 18a; Ms. Bologna University Library, 2914, fol. 178b-180b; Ms. Oxford, 1638, fol. 59a, etc. from Idel, “Golem” p. 60, 74-5.

[12]  in "Sefer 'Eshkol ha-Kofer' (1836) fol. 61a

[13] (referring to the 6 vowels, according to R. Eleazar in his “Commentary on Sefer Yezirah” fol. 4d, cf. Idel, “The Mystical Experience,” p. 45, n. 39,

[14]   Idel, “Golem,” p, 60, 75.

[15] And also see ibid, fol. 60c. See "Sefer Hayyei ha-'Olam ha'Ba' Ms. Oxford 1582, fol. 53b and "Sefer 'Or ha-Sekhel' Ms. Vatican 233;, fol. 99b ff. and elsewhere; "Sefer Sha'are Zedek" Ms. Leiden 24;, fol 134b, and in passage cited above; referred to at note 35.

[16] from "Language, Torah, and Hermeneutics in Abraham Abulafia," Idel, p. 7; notes p 140.

[17]  “Golem!”, p. 24

[18] Abraham Abulafia, i.”Hayei ha-'Olam Ha Ba", Ms. Oxford, Heb 1582, fol 12b] see also fol 13b.; Idel, “Golem,” p. 100,

[19] Abraham Abulafia, Ms. Oxford, 1582, 14b. Idel, “Golem” p. 100

[20] [Ms. Oxford Heb 1582, fol 61a] See also Idel, "Mystical Experience, p. 36 Idel, “Golem” p. 100-101, with slight different text translation.

[21] R. Joseph Ashkenazi, “Commentary on the Genesis Rabbah” , p.135. Idel, “Golem” p. 139-140

[22] ed. Yonah David (Jerusalem, 1975), p. 16. A poet related to the ‘Ahima’az family, from Idel, “Golem,” p. 300, where the embryonic significance is apparent. It isn’t an unformed entity, but one which already possesses limbs.


[23] “Bahir” #82

[24] “Bahir” #82

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