Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Are We There Yet?

42 Again and Again: As we NewMexiJews know, it took Moses and the Children of Israel 40 years of camping out at less-than-4-star hotels to cross the Sinai Desert and arrive at Jericho, their (which is to say, our) gateway to the Land of Milk and Honey.

Tabernacle in Wilderness

As we read this Shabbat in the dual parsha Matot-Masei, we Jews made 42 stops at 42 'stations' during those 40 years. And it's not like they (we) couldn't wait to get on the road again. In fact, the Etz Hayyim Humash tells us -

Rashi, citing Moses haDarshan, calculates that, if we omit the first and the last years, when the Israelites were constantly on the move, there were only 20 stations during 38 years. 

It is wrong to think of Israel as constantly on the march. 

The list of place names reminds us that during most of the 40 years in the wilderness, the Israelites were living normally at one oasis or another for years at a time.

We know exactly where those 42 extended stay sojourns were - Moshe Rabbenu and the KBH have thoughtfully listed them in the parsha! Yes, each and every one of the

By now, Abq Jew is sure, you, his loyal readers, have surely recognized that the number 42 corresponds directly with The Ultimate Answer to The Ultimate Question - you know, Life, The Universe, and Everything.

Hitchhikers Guide

Our traveling companion Wikipedia informs us

The number 42 (forty-two) is derived from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxya science fiction comedy series created by Douglas Adams. 

The title is the name of a fictional, eccentric, electronic travel guide, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, prominently featured in the series.

Baseball fans will note that Jackie Robinson wore number 42, and that the number 42 has now been retired from all Major League Baseball teams.  

New York Yankees fans (of which Abq Jew is certainly one) will note that the last player to were number 42 was relief pitcher Mariano Rivera - now retired.

Wavy Line Blue

Returning to our desert theme - Alexander I Poltorak, in his July 2019 blog for The Times of Israel, reminds us that we, the Children of Israel, participated in Forty Two Journeys to the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. And, he adds -

When G-d brought the Jews out from Egypt, He brought them out with the mystery of the 42-letter name, just as He created heaven and earth… (Zohar Chadash)

Ana BeKoach

And Chana Tanenbaum, in her July 2020 blog for The Times of Israel, explains Why 42 is the ultimate answer to life and everything. And, she adds -

The kabbalists see no coincidence in the fact that there are 42 stops. After all, one of the many names of God consists of 42 letters. (Hence, it is customary when reading these verses not to have any break-to reflect God’s unity).
Let us review 

There are

42 stops on the way to the Promised Land.
42 letters in one of God's names.


“The ultimate answer to life, the universe,
and everything is … 42!” 

"Coincidence," Abq Jew hears you say?


Which brings us to

Ana BeKoach

The Piyyut אנא בכח (Ana b’Koacḥ)

Reb Zalman (Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi) tells us:

The piyyut אנא בכח (Ana b’Koacḥ) is one of a handful of medieval ḳabbalistic poems providing a forty-two-lettered divine name acrostic, the first letters of which reference a litany of angelic names found in twin tomes Sefer haPeliah and Sefer haQanah (14th c.). Reciting these piyyutim thus serve as a “safe” circumlocution for the invocation of the power inherent in this combination of letters.

The earliest recorded printing we could find of Ana b’Khoaḥ dates from the mid-16th century, from one of the earliest Sefaradi prayerbooks printed after the Spanish expulsion. The authorship of the piyyut remains unknown and it was likely written in the 15th century.

And Reb Zalman offers this lyrical translation:

Ana BeKoach

Sefaria offers a (slightly) more literal translation of the piyyut, which appears in our Kabbalat Shabbat service just before Lecha Dodi:

:אַנָּא בְּכֹחַ גְּדֻלַּת יְמִינְךָ. תַּתִּיר צְרוּרָה
:קַבֵּל רִנַּת עַמְּךָ. שַׂגְּבֵנוּ טַהֲרֵנוּ נוֹרָא
:נָא גִּבּוֹר. דּוֹרְשֵׁי יִחוּדְךָ. כְּבַבַּת שָׁמְרֵם
:בָּרְכֶם טַהֲרֵם. רַחֲמֵי צִדְקָתְךָ. תָּמִיד גָּמְלֵם
:חָסִין קָדוֹשׁ. בְּרוֹב טוּבְךָ. נָהֵל עֲדָתֵךָ
:יָחִיד גֵּאֶה. לְעַמְּךָ פְּנֵה. זוֹכְרֵי קְדֻשֶּׁתֶּךָ
:שַׁוְעָתֵנוּ קַבֵּל. וְשָׁמַע צַעֲקָתֵנוּ. יוֹדֵעַ תַּעֲלֻמוֹת
:בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד

We beg you!
With the strength and greatness of your right arm, untie our bundled sins.
Accept your nation's song; elevate and purify us, O Awesome One.
Please, O Heroic One, those who foster your Oneness,
guard them like the pupil of an eye.
Bless them, purify them, pity them.
May Your righteousness always reward them.
Powerful Holy One, in much goodness guide Your congregation.
Unique and Exalted One, turn to Your nation which proclaims Your holiness.
Accept our entreaty and hear our screams, O Knower of Mysteries.
Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom, forever and ever.

Kabbalah Tree

While My Jewish Learning refers to Ana B'Koach as a Portal to Creation, and tells us that this enigmatic poem recited almost precisely as Shabbat begins contains a hidden mystical meaning.

Each week during the Friday evening service, as we prepare
to ascend from the weekday world of mundane obligations
to the Shabbat realm of blessed rest, we encounter
an ancient benediction: Ana b’Koach,
an enigmatic prayer said to conceal a mystical formula
for spiritual renewal within its plea for divine aid.

Ana BeKoach

There are, of course, many traditional and many new niggunim for Ana B'Koach. And Reb Zalman, as to be expected, had his own niggun.

And then there's Jacob's Ladder (formerly Kol Kahol), Abq Jew's semi-favorite young Jewgrass group, who have their own version of Ana Bekoach on their new album, Beit El (coming out August 1). 

The melody is borrowed from Bury Me Beneath The Willow, one of the first recordings ever made by the widely renowned and esteemed Carter Family. 


No comments: