From behind and in front You shaped me, and You set your palm upon me… For You created my innermost parts…. My frame was not hidden from You… גָּלְמִי (galmi), My unformed shape, Your eyes did see, and in Your book all was written down…. As for me, how weighty are Your thoughts, O God, how numerous their sum. Should I count them, they would be more than the sand. I awake, and am still with You (Psalms 139:5; 13–18).
“Rabbi Yoḥanan son of Ḥanina said: The day consisted of twelve hours. In the first hour, his dust was gathered; in the second, it was made into גּוֹלֶם (golem), a lifeless clump. In the third, his limbs were extended; in the fourth, a נְשָׁמָה (neshamah), soul, was cast into him; in the fifth, he rose and stood on his feet; in the sixth, he gave [the animals] their names; in the seventh, Eve became his mate; in the eighth, they ascended to bed as two and descended as four [i.e., Cain and his twin sister were born]; in the ninth, he was commanded not to eat of the tree, in the tenth, he transgressed; in the eleventh, he was tried, and in the twelfth he was expelled and departed, as is written, Man will not rest in splendor (Psalms 49:13)” (BT Sanhedrin 38b).
“Rabbi El’azar said in the name of Rabbi Yose son of Zimra, ‘If all the nations assembled to create a single mosquito, they could not cast a soul into it!” (Bereshit Rabbah 39:14).
“Rava said: If the righteous desired it, they could create a world, as is written, But your crimes have separated [between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear] (Isaiah 59:2). Rava created a man and sent him to Rav Zera [cf. Zohar 1:7b; 2:179b]. He spoke to him, but he would not answer. He said to him: ‘You of the חַבְרַיָּא (ḥavrayya), Companions [or: magicians], return to your dust!’
Rav Ḥanina and Rav Oshaya would sit every Sabbath eve and engage in the סֵפֶר יְצִירָה (sefer yetsirah), Book of Formation, and make for themselves a third-grown calf and eat it [i.e., a calf that has reached one third of its full growth; or: in its third year; third born, fat]” (BT Sanhedrin 65b).
“What [magic] is entirely permitted? Like Rav Ḥanina and Rav Oshaya, who would sit every Sabbath eve and engage in the הֲלָכוֹת יְצִירָה (halakhot yetsirah), laws of formation, and make for themselves a third-grown calf and eat it” (BT Sanhedrin 67b, cf. Rabbi Avraham Abulafia, Ner Elohim, 10, 172b).
“’Rava said: If the righteous desired it, they could create a world, as is written, But your crimes have separated (Isaiah 59:2)’ (BT Sanhedrin 65b). If not for your crimes, there would not be any separation between you and Him. We thus see that Rava created a גֶּבֶר (gever), man, and sent it to Rav Zera. He spoke to him but he did not answer. But if not for his crimes, he would have answered. And from what would he have answered? His soul. But does a human being have a soul to place in him? Yes, as is written, [YHWH Elohim fashioned the human, humus from the soil,] and He blew into his nostrils the נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים (nishmat ḥayyim), breath of life (Genesis 2:7)—thus a human being has the נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים (nishmat ḥayyim), soul of life [with which he might confer language], were it not for crimes, through which the soul ceases to be pure. This is the difference between you and Him, as is written, And You made him little less than Elohim (Psalms 8:6). Why a little less? Since he offends, while the blessed Holy One does not. Blessed be He and blessed be His Name forever and ever; He has no crimes” (Bahir §196).
“And You made him little less than Elohim (Psalms 8:6)—this is Jacob, as is said, [And Jacob took himself moist rods of poplar and almond and plane-tree, and peeled white strips in them, laying bare the white on the rods. And he stood the rods he had peeled in the troughs, in the water channels from which the flocks came to drink—opposite the flocks… when they came to drink.] And the flocks went into heat at the rods (Genesis 30:39). Rabbi Hoshaya: He would carve a form, and just as he carved, the water became seed within them and thus they gave birth. This teaches that he lacked only [the power] to give them נֶפֶשׁוֹת (nefeshot), life-breath” (Bereshit Rabbati, Va-Yetse 129, cf. BT Avodah Zarah 24a; Zohar 1:161a–b).
“Who can utter YHWH’s mighty acts, can make heard all His praise? (Psalms 106:2)—none can utter His mighty acts or make heard all His praise. Even the ministering angels cannot recount מִקְצָת (miqtsat), some of [or: the best of], His mighty acts or expound on what צִפָּה (tsipah), He envisioned, created and actualized. For at the beginning when the blessed Holy One created the world, He was alone [cf. Bereshit Rabbah 1:4 on Isaiah 44:24]. It arose in thought to create the world and He traced its foundations on the earth [cf. Isaiah 44:13; Proverbs 8:27], but they did not endure until He created with Torah Sefer Yetsirah—He gazed into it and understood in wisdom. Thus He fashioned the world: His eyes gazing into Sefer Yetsirah, and His hands roaming and building the world [cf. 2 Chronicles 16:9].
To divide [between the holy and the profane]: Like a man who builds buildings and possesses a book and he looks upon it, thus the blessed Holy One did. As soon as He fashioned His world and finished it, He placed it in Torah—treasured away at the start of the first things [of the earth] (Proverbs 8:23)—974 generations before the creation of the world [cf. BT Ḥagigah 13b]. Now, when Abraham our father was born the ministering angels said before the blessed Holy One: Master of the World: There is a friend to You in this world yet from him something is hidden? Immediately the blessed Holy One said: I hid [something] from Abraham! נִמְלַךְ בַּתּוֹרָה (Nimlak ba-torah), He sought the permission of Torah, and said: Come וּנַשִּׂיאךְ (u-nassik), and we shall marry you off, to Abraham My friend (Isaiah 41:8). She said before Him: Not until a humble man [Moses] will come and יִשָּׂא (yissa), lift up, [this] humble one. Immediately the blessed Holy One sought the permission of Sefer Yetsirah, and she said: Yes. He handed her on to Abraham.
Now, he sat alone and studied Sefer Yetsirah but he was unable to understand a thing until a heavenly echo issued saying to him: You seek to make yourself equal to Me? I am the One and I created Sefer Yetsirah. I delved into it and I performed all that is written in it and you will not be able to understand a single [thing]. Draw a companion near to yourself and you will look upon it and understand [cf. M Ḥagigah 2:1]. Immediately Abraham went to Shem, his master, and sat with him three years and they looked upon it and they knew how to fashion the world. And to this day, there is none who can understand it alone—only two sages [can], even they will not understand it in less than three years. Yet when they [do] understand it, they are able to perform any wish of their hearts. And when Abraham understood it, he added more wisdom to it and learned the entire Torah.
Rava, too, wanted to understand it alone. Rabbi Zera said: But it is written: A sword against הַבַּדִּים (ha-baddim), the soothsayers, exposed as fools (Jeremiah 50:36)—a sword against Israel’s enemies who sit בַּד בְּבַד (bad be-vad), apart, occupied with Torah [see BT Berakhot 63b ad loc.: ‘The Torah is only acquired in company’; cf. Ta’anit 7a; Makkot 10a]. If so, let us go and occupy ourselves with Sefer Yetsirah. And so they sat together and occupied themselves with it for three years and understood it. Once a calf was created for them and they slaughtered it and enjoyed it for the completion of the book [see BT Sanhedrin 65b]. But when they slaughtered it, they forgot it. They sat another three years and produced it again.
Son of Sira, too, wanted to understand it alone. A heavenly echo issued saying: Two are better than one, [for they get good reward for their toil] (Ecclesiastes 4:9). He went [and sat] next to Jeremiah and they occupied themselves with it for three years and understood it and an individual was created before them [בֶּן סִירַא (Ben Sira), Son of Sira, is numerically equivalent to יִרְמְיָהוּ (Yirmeyahu), Jeremiah, and אַבּוּ אַהֲרוֹן (Abu Aharon), i.e., Aharon ben Shemu’el ha-Nasi]. Written on his forehead was: יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֱמֵת (Adonai Elohim Emet), YHWH Elohim [is] Truth. Now, in his hand was a knife and he was erasing א (alef) from אֱמֵת (emet), Truth [leaving, מֵת (met), “dead”]. [Jeremiah rent his clothes (JTS MS 1887, fol. 129b)] he said: Why are you doing that? For it can’t possibly be true! He said to them: I will fashion a parable for you: What is this like? A man who is a builder and a sage. And when the sons of man saw him they made him rule over them. Days later, others came and they learned the craft. They abandoned the first [ruler] and followed the others. Likewise, the blessed Holy One, exulted is His name, was gazing into Sefer Yetsirah and fashioned the world and ruled over all His creations. And when you have come and done like Him, what will be the end of the matter? All will leave Him and follow you. What will become of Him who fashioned you? They said to Him: If so what shall be done? He said to them: Turn him back. And that man returned to dust and ashes” (MS Vatican 299).
“[Son of Zoma said:] What labors the first man had to carry out before he obtained bread to eat! He ploughed, he sowed, he reaped, he bound [the sheaves], he threshed and winnowed and selected the ears, he ground [them], and sifted [the flour], he kneaded and baked, and then at last he ate; whereas I get up, and find all these things done for me. And how many labors the first man had to carry out before he obtained a garment to wear! He had to shear, wash [the wool], comb it, spin it and weave it, and then at last he obtained a garment to wear; whereas I get up and find all these things done for me. All kinds of people come early to the door of my house, and I rise in the morning and find all these before me” (BT Berakhot 58a).