For quite a while I wondered why the ancient Jewish mystical text “Sefer Yetzira” is called “Sefer Yetzira” and not by another name, for instance “Sefer Briya”, i.e. the “Book of Formation” and not the “Book of Creation”.
The Nachmanides famously teaches in his commentary to Genesis that the Hebrew word briya, creation, means creating something from nothing (creatio ex nihilo). Once the Hebrew word for creation, briya, is described to mean the creation of something from nothing, the word for formation, yetzira, must mean something else.
There are only two possible alternatives for how an entity can emerge, either from nothing or from something. Since creation already means emerging from nothing, by process of elimination formation must mean emerging from something. Emerging from something, involves the processing of reshaping already existing materials into new forms. For example, car manufacturing is the process of reshaping of certain pre-existing materials into a new form; namely, a car.
Unlike the Creator, people can’t create something from nothing. The human co-creative role, as it were, begins with formation - changing existing forms into new forms. The closest we get to participate in the creation of something from nothing is in the area of vegetative reproduction. Even then, the human involvement is like a mirror, not necessarily the real thing. The plant soul already exists. So does all the raw material for the biological life, whether organic or inorganic. So the combining is not really of new materials, but of existing ones. Yet, a seed contains the power to transform silent soil into a living plant. As a plant, a clod of soil literally comes alive in a whole new kind of way. This resemblance to the creation of something from nothing, is explained at length by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi in his “Igeres HaKodesh” portion of “Tanya”.
In teaching about forming something from something, “Sefer Yetzira” discourses on the raw materials of creation, namely the 22 Hebrew letters and how to use them to form realities. Hence, the book held attraction for those interested in magick, as practiced by the western occult tradition. Usage of the letters in certain ways can realign them into channels designed to manifest desired realities.
Though the Divine anthropomorphic forces, the ten Sefirahs, are mentioned in “Sefer Yetzira”, they don’t dominate the text. They’re given due mention in the beginning and the rest of the work, the larger body, is mostly devoted to the letters. Quite possibly this is because the Sefirahs are the source of the letters. As such, they are emanations and not creations poised to become new formations. While the Sefirahs are the Divine vehicles to create something from nothing, the letters, the book’s main topic, are the means of forming something from something - which is likely why the book is called “Sefer Yetzira”, i.e. “The Book of Formation”.