These are the journeys of the children of Israel… (Numbers 33:1)
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)
The forty-two “stations” from Egypt to the Promised Land are replayed in the life of every individual Jew, as his soul journeys from its descent to earth at birth to its return to its Source. (Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov)
Torah portion Massei (Num. 33-35) recalls forty-two journeys of the Children of Israel in the Sinai desert after the Exodus from Egypt. This is not the first time the concept of forty-two journeys appears in the Torah. Commenting on the Biblical verse, “And God said, ‘Behold, I Will Cause to Rain Bread from Heaven for You,’” (Ex. 25:5) the Midrash says:
R. Yehudah b. Shalom HaLevi said in the name of R. Yonah; and also R. Levi in the name of R. Hama b. R. Hanina said: “The manna descended after [it had journeyed through] forty-two stages. (Midrash Rabbah, Ex. 25:5)
The Baal Shem Tov further related these forty-two journeys to the stages of one’s life:
The forty-two “stations” from Egypt to the Promised Land are replayed in the life of every individual Jew, as his soul journeys from its descent to earth at birth to its return to its Source.
The number 42 is highly significant as it corresponds to the Forty-Two-Letter ineffable Name of God (“Shem Mem Bet”). This Name is discussed in the Talmud:
The Forty-Two Lettered Name is entrusted only to him who is pious, humble, middle-aged, free from bad temper, sober, and not insistent on his rights. And he who knows it, is heedful thereof, and observes it in purity, is beloved above and popular below, feared by man, and inherits two worlds, this world and the future world.” (Tr. Kidduschin 71a)
The forty-two journeys are related to the ineffable Forty-Two-Letter Name of God:
When God 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 Hadash)
According to the mystical tradition of Kabbalah, the world was created by the forty-two letter name:
God created the world with this forty-two lettered name. (Zohar II, 234b)
‘And the Earth Was Void and Without Form.’ This describes the original state, as it were…, until the world was graven with forty-two letters, all of which are the ornamentation of the Holy Name. (Zohar I, 30a)
According to Abulafia and other kabbalists, this forty-two lettered name is a permutation of the first 42 letters of Genesis starting with the letter bet (the first letter of the Torah) and ending with the letter mem (mem-bet in Heb. is 42). Others see it as related to another Name of God – AHYH (“Ehyeh”). The numerical value of AHYH is 21 (Alef=1, Heh=5, Yud=10, and Heh=5 – total 21). Here is the dialog between Moses and God as it appears in Exodus:
And Moses said to God, “Behold I come to the children of Israel, and I say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh (I will be what I will be),” and He said, “So shall you say to the children of Israel, ‘Ehyeh (I will be) has sent me to you.'” (Ex. 3:13-14)
We see here the name Ehyeh appearing twice – “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh (I will be what I will be).” Two times twenty-one is forty-two – hence the connection to the Forty-Two-Letter Name. Thus, Meshech Chochma notes:
The numerical value of Ehyeh is twenty-one. ”I will be what I will be is twice that, or forty-two. This refers to the long version of the Holy Name, which has forty-two letters. And whoever knows this name is feared by the creations” (Kedushin 71).
There are forty-two lines in each column of a Torah scroll (Sefer Torah) (Soferim 2:6). Tefilin contain the name of God 21 times. The hand phylactery (Tefilin shel Yad), and the head phylactery (Tefilin shel Rosh), together contain the name of God 42 times.
According to a Geonic tradition, the Ineffable Name of God pronounced in the Temple by the High Priest, Kohen Gadol, on the Day of Atonement was the Forty-Two-Letter Name.
42 is the number of days of Sefirat HaOmer after seven days of Passover. 42 is the total number of midot expressed in the Partzuf of Zeer Anpin (the Z”A) – 6×7=42.
The Forty-Two-Letter Name is prominently featured in Jewish liturgy. The prayer Ana Bekoach, composed by the great tana (sage of the Mishnah) and kabbalist, Rabbi Huniah ben Hakanah, is recited several times a day – before Shacharit, before Minchah and before going to sleep. This prayer has forty-two words. The acrostic of this prayer is the Forty-Two-Letter Name:
The prayer is divided into seven lines each line containing six words. The acronyms (roshei tevot) of these words are usually printed on the left. Together, these acronyms comprise the Forty-Two-Letter Name. Due to the great holiness of this Name, it is not to be pronounced out loud. The letters on the left are used during prayer to look at or to meditate on in one’s mind while pronouncing the words of the prayer.
If the Forty-Two-Letter Name is viewed in Kabbalah as the source of creation of the universe, the number 42 should have special significance in mathematics and physics. In the Number Theory, 42 is a pronic (a.k.a. oblong, rectangular or heteromecic) number that is a number which is the product of two consecutive integers, that is, n × (n + 1). In fact, 42 is a product of 6 and 7: 6×7=42. As we saw above, this fact is reflected in the arrangement of the prayer, Ana Bekoach, which has six words in each of its seven lines. Moreover, 42 is the seventh pronic number: 0, 2, 6, 12, 20, 30, 42. Any n-th pronic number (not counting 0) can be expressed as n2+n. Indeed, 42 can be expressed as 62+6 = 36+6 = 42. According to the Biblical cosmogony of Geneses, the world was created in six days. One may speculate that 36 is the gematriah of Leah; 6 is the number of midot from Chesed to Yisod that comprise partzuf Zeer Anpin (Z”A); 42, therefore, is hinting to the union of Z”A and the partzuf Leah. 42 has prime factorization of 2×3×7 (2, 3, and 7 are prime numbers). This is very significant because the number 2 represents two opposites as in
The depth of the beginning and the depth of the ending,
The depth of good and the depth of evil
The depth of height and the depth of the abyss
The depth of east and the depth of west
The depth of north and the depth of south…
(Sefer Yetzirah 1:4)
The number 3 represents the complete logical cycle of theses, antithesis, and synthesis as it expresses itself in the three sefirotic triads: Chochmah-Binah-Daat, Chesed-Gevurah-Tiferet, and Netzach-Hod-Yesod. The number 7 is, of course, the number of midot – Divine attributes – the lower seven Sefirot: Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, Netzach, Hod, Yesod and Malchut. It is remarkable that this structure 2×3×7 is reflected in the acronyms of the prayer Ana Bekoach: each line contains two three-letter acronyms arranged in seven lines:
This ancient prayer composed in the 1st-century CE is arranged according to the prime factorization of the number 42! 42 is the number of partitions of 10, i.e., the number of ways of expressing 10 as a sum of positive integers. Since 10 is the number of Sefirot, this is significant. In a binary code, the number 42 is 101010. Marcus du Sautoy, professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, and the author of The Music of the Primes (HarperCollins), writes:
There is an important sequence of numbers called “the moments of the Riemann zeta function.” Although we know abstractly how to define it, mathematicians have had great difficulty explicitly calculating the numbers in the sequence. We have known since the 1920s that the first two numbers are 1 and 2, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that mathematicians conjectured that the third number in the sequence may be 42 – a figure greatly significant to those well-versed in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It would also prove to be significant in confirming the connection between primes and quantum physics. Using the connection, Keating and Snaith not only explained why the answer to life, the universe and the third moment of the Riemann zeta function should be 42, but also provided a formula to predict all the numbers in the sequence. (See http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/prime_numbers_get_hitched/)
In Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a group of hyper-intelligent beings wants to learn the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything from the supercomputer, Deep Thought, specially built for this purpose. It takes Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute the answer, which turns out to be 42.