32 Paths / Thirty-Two Paths

Sepher Yetsira Index

32 Paths: Thirty Two Paths of Wisdom:
The True Location and Meaning of the 32 Paths in the Cube of Space and Tree of Life

By thirty-two intermediaries YHWH projects Shem
Phayliot Nativot WeShtaim BeShlashim   1 Mishna

Conventional wisdom everywhere has it that the thirty-two Wondrous Paths consist of adding the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the ten numbers of the Sephirot. Suares calls this an "amateur" mistake and shows the true nature of the thirty-two paths in the First Four Sephirot.

          Moreover, a large part of the book [Bahir] consists of mystical variations on motifs from the Book Yezirah. In fact, the term sefiroth was taken by the Bahir from that work, though it is no longer understood in the sense of ideal numbers that contain within them all the powers of creation, as was the case with the author of the Yezirah.

          The decisive step beyond the other gnostic systems consists in the fixing of the number of these powers or aeons at ten, according to the ten sefiroth of the Book of Creation and the ten words of creation through which, according to the ancient Aggadah, God called the world into existence.

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, Princeton, p.84

          These 32 paths, defined as "ten Sefirot beli mah" and the "22 elemental letters" of the Hebrew alphabet, are represented as the foundations of all creation. Chapter 1 deals with the Sefirot and the other five chapters with the function of the letters. Apparently, the term Sefirot is used simply to mean "numbers," though in employing a new term (sefirot instead of misparim), the author seems to be alluding to metaphysical principles or to stages in the creation of the world.

Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah, Keter, 1994, p.23

          In the form in which the book has come down to us, the principles of creation are thirty-two paths of wondrous or secret wisdom denominated by the twenty-two Hebrew letters and ten entities designated by the neologism sefirot belimah. It is generally assumed by scholars that this term refers in this context to primordial numbers that serve, in Scholem's locution, as metaphysical principles or stages of the creation of the world.

Elliot Wolfson, Though a Speculum That Shines, Princeton, 1994, p.70

          As the next stanza will explain, these 32 paths are manifest as the 10 digits and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The 10 digits are also manifest in the Ten Sefirot, which are the most basic concepts of existence.

Aryeh Kaplan, The Sefer Yetzirah, Aronson, 1995, p.6

          The first Mishnah of Sefer Yetzirah tell of the thirty-two paths. The rest of the book is dedicated to supplying the details of these paths, that is to say, the details of the ten Sefirot and twenty-two letters.

Leonard R. Glotzer, The Fundamentals of Jewish Mysticism, Aronson, 1992

          These thirty-two "paths" are the ten sefirot -- a term that the author himself invented and that relates, initially, to the first ten numbers, one to ten -- and to the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Joseph Dan, Jewish Mysticism, Vol 1, Late Antiquity, p.137

          In short, the first four words of the first verse, Beschlaschim Weschtiam Nativot Phayliot invite us to study thirty-two elements binding the energy of intemporal life to the visible universe, as conceived and thought in human knowledge: that is to say, they are turned into the contrary of the real value of their energy and life.

We see how misleading, superficial and indeed senseless are the generally accepted translations of Nativot (paths, pathways, roads) and Phayliot (wonderful, mysterious, incomprehensible). The obviousness of 32 being the sum of 22 Autiot and 10 Sephirot appears as a screen or a snare to bewilder the amateur cabalists. Not only is the summing-up of Sephirot and Autiot, as roads, inadequate, but adding them together is rather like adding a number of electric transformers to the voltage which lights them. In number 32 there is a secret key which it was very important not to hand over to the non-initiated, because it opens the door to a conception of the first 4 Sephirot, respecting creative energy, that is hardly canonical. We will examine it in discussing verses 1,3 to 1,8.

Suares, The Sepher Yetsira Sepher Yetsira, Shambhala, 1976 pages 61-63, em added
Nativot-Phayliot | Permutations in the First Four Sephirot