Does the Ana Bekoach prayer reveal the secret 42-letter name of God?

Does the Ana Bekoach prayer reveal the secret 42-letter name of God?

Ana Bekoach Spinning Ring sold at the Judaica Web StoreThe secret 42-letter name of God is hidden in plain sight. Clues are everywhere. Pay attention. Even to Google ads. Especially the insistent ones. Like the ad for the Ana Bekoach Spinning Ring.

Ana Bekoach is a Hebrew prayer for protection.

Economical in language. Please. Bless. Purify. Empathize. Redeem with righteousness. Always.

Deliberate in structure. Forty-two words, arranged in six lines of seven words each.

Mysterious in origin. First described by medieval Kabbalistic authors, who claimed it was the thousand-year-old work of Rabbi Nehuniah ben Hakanah.

Beloved or spurned by liturgists. Recite it every day. Never say it. Chant it the instant Shabbat begins.

Esoteric in meaning. Taken together, the first letters of each word spell the secret 42-letter name of God.

You didn’t know about that name? Talmud explains why.

Rav Yehuda said in Rav’s name: The Divine Name derived from forty-two letters is transmitted only to one who is pious, meek, middle-aged, free from bad temper, sober, and not insistent on their rights. (Kiddushin 71a)

Whoa. Explain the explanation, please!

What are these letters? How is the name derived from them? And how is it transmitted?

What special letters appear in Ana Bekoach?

Literally, otiyot means “letters.” Rav has in mind the first 42 letters of the Torah.

בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ והארץ היתה תהו וב

By way of beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and voi…

These 42 Hebrew letters form words, which build sentences and tell a story. The world takes form, and chaos is interrupted. God’s power manifests in the created world. Creation holds everything we know of God. It is God’s signature; in a sense, it is God’s name.

How is the name derived from Ana Bekoach’s 42 letters?

Everyone lives in the world. But not everyone sees traces of God. Special spiritual insight is needed. Similarly, not everyone who reads the Torah recognizes this Divine name. To recognize it, you must translate it with special code.

אבג יתץ קרע שטן נגד יכש בטר צתג חקב טנע יגל פזק שקו צית

This looks like a string of fourteen words. But only two make clear sense: קרע שטן, kera satan, destroy the accuser. Or, psychologically: remove spiritual obstacles. The other twelve “words” are evocative sounds.

Ana Bekoach adds meaning to the sounds, expanding each letter into a expressive word. As in the first line:

אנא בכח גדלת ימינך תתיר צרורה

Ana bekoach gedulat yimeencha tateer tzerura.

Please! With your strong right hand, untie our knots

Chanting this form of the name becomes a plea for relationship with the Divine.

How is the name transmitted?

Or rather: how do we find the name? Theories abound. All involve the number 42.

We could recite Ana Bekoach’s 42 words at the right times, letting its evocative sounds shape our soul.

Or we could regularly recite another 42-word prayer. Perhaps the v’Ahavta, which explains how to love God constantly (Deut. 6:5-9; part of the Shema). Or the Avot (first paragraph of the Amidah) reminding us we are students in a spiritual lineage.

Maybe we just live thoughtfully. Travel at least 42 stops on the journey we call life. Like the ancient Israelites who camped at 42 sites during their wilderness wanderings.

Or we try to recover childlike wonder. The Hebrew word Ima, mother, has a gematriya (numeric value) of 42. Before birth, we live in mystical participation with Mother. She encircles and sustains us. She is the ground of Being from whom we gradually separate. And the larger Self whose protection we later seek.

Maybe we work towards justice. At the burning bush, God tells Moses to free the slaves in God’s name. “When people ask who sent me,” Moses asks, “What name should I give them?” “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh,” God says. “I will be as I will be.” Ehyeh, ehyeh. Gematriya of 42.

So many theories, choices, paths to spiritual awareness.

Just as shown in the Ana Bekoach Spinning Ring! It’s actually a stack of seven rings. Each ring is inscribed with 6 of the prayer’s 42 words. Spin the rings, see how the words line up. Each spin teaches a new prayer, a new direction, a new discovery, a new mission.

The secrets of 42 are hidden everywhere we turn.

Image: judaicawebstore.com. Sources consulted: Rabbeinu Bachya on Vayikra; Shney Luchot Haberit on Ki Tavo; Ramak, Pardes Rimmonim 21:12-13;  Iyyun Center (Rabbi Dov Ber Pinson).

24 Comments
  1. Thank you! In a davenology class in 1992 Reb Zalman told us to memorize it. Nice thing to keep around in one’s brain!

  2. Dear Laura

    All in the timing?
    Just picked this up on Seth’s facebook page. Gatherings for Rosh Hashana start tonight!.
    Blown away!
    I will print out to study for the year!

    Gloria (galorYa) krasno

  3. ‘This Earth species is coming along rather nicely. As you can see, they’ve developed a planet-wide electronic information network, and are clearly quite intelligent. This site here, for instance, provides information on… oh. Oh dear.’

  4. Shalom, I’m an Orthodox Jew , I’ve been having bad dreams when I sleep at night. What prayer and name should I call on if you can help me. Thank you

    1. With the qualification that I don’t know your personal situation, here are a few general suggestions. If you feel the dreams point towards a flaw in you, I recite (and reflect on) the bedtime vidui before you go to sleep. If you wake up in the night frightened or confused, recite Yishtabach from the morning Shacharit service to create a circle of protection. When you wake up in the morning, recite “Ribbono shel Olam, I am Yours and my dreams are Yours that is paired with Birkat Cohanim in some siddurim, to pray for guidance during the day.

  5. Laura, what a beautiful all encompassing explanation of this wondrous mystical kavanah. Certainly one of my favorites. I did not consciously connect to so many 42’s of significance.
    Todah rabbah
    also love your youtube done with Charles of Eizeh hu chacham! I played it in my Pirkei Avot class!

    1. Thanks so much, Suri, for reading and also watching the video! Yes, 42 is quite an exciting number in Judaism. Rabbi David Zaslow and Rabbi Judy Abrams z”l helped me appreciate it! Stay safe and well.

  6. This is a brautiful & inspiring take on Ana b’koach. Yishar kochech!!

  7. BH
    I am composing a Discussion on the word OHR, light. Please, if you have any insights, or, esoteric references, I would be happy to receive them at my email.
    thank you for the expansion of my understanding.
    MR

    1. I have one recent post on Light (Hanukah’s Hidden Light). Have you seen the recent book by Jill Hammer on Sefer Yetzirah?

  8. Hi I am new to this. Not Jewish but drawn to the mystic ways. If I am in need of a prayer to bring someone I love back into my life is there such one?

    1. Hi Pete. I haven’t been taught specifically how to use prayer to influence others but only how to make myself ready to receive. I would use a combination of the forgiveness meditation, where we forgive others (it’s on pages 73-74 of my book *The Infinity Inside*), then visualize the person with love and ask them to return.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Catherine.

  9. Thank you for this beautiful post that continues to leave on through the years as you can see the dates of the comments !
    It’s not clear to me if the name of 42 (itself, not as he is hidden in the Ana Bekoha song/poem) should be listed as one of the name of God that is forbidden to pronounce ? What would you say ?

    1. Thank you, Didier, for your kind comment! I would say that our tradition has many layers of protection around the unpronounceable name. For example, YHWH in its Hebrew variation is written without vowels, so we don’t know how it was pronounced. As far as we know, the name the High Priest pronounced in the Temple was transmitted person to person, and there is no living lineage. I think it is fine to chant prayers and poems built around such a name.

    1. Thanks, Bella! If you’ve got any other good references to share, I’d love to see them!

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