42nd Street Station

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Masei
42nd Street Station

When one begins reading Parshas Masei, the reader is introduced to the names of the forty-two stations that the Jewish people encamped in during their forty year journey in the desert (Nu. 33:1-49; Rashi Nu. 33:1). The verses which list these places can become monotonous, naming place after place after place. It can be difficult for one to understand the relevance of it all. Where are those places today? Are they still called those names? What difference does all of this make anyway? The Torah is meant to be a book of instruction, teaching us how to live our lives better. How are these locations significant to modern man? How does this recounting speak to us today? It seems like a waste of ink and space. Why did Hashem choose to include this data in the holy Torah?

The Sefas Emes (Bamidbar, Biha'aloscha, Pinchas) addresses these issues by saying that the forty-two stations of the Jews in the wilderness served as a means of preparing the way for the Jewish people in the future. Throughout the four exiles that the Jewish nation would have to endure, they would journey to forty-two primary places. Each place presented a different challenge to them, testing their allegiance to God.

Therefore, the Jews in the desert had to stop in forty-two different places which correspond to the forty-two places of the future. In each of those places in the desert, the Jews were faced with different challenges. By overcoming those challenges, the Jews of the desert broke the ice and paved the way for future generations to withstand the various tests that they would be confronted with. The Jews of the desert made it easier for future generations to pass their tests. If the Jews of the desert would not have passed their tests in those places, it would have been almost impossible for us to pass the tests we've had to face throughout the places in our long and dark exiles.

This is why God chose to record all of these places in the Torah. It is to teach us that the forty-two stations of the desert assisted the Jewish people throughout history in overcoming their unique challenges. This is extremely relevant until today.

The Megaleh Amukos (Mattos-Masei) finds a hint in the opening verse of the parsha which supports this notion that the forty-two places in the desert parallel the forty-two places that the Jews would have to be banished to throughout their exiles.

The verse begins, "Eileh Masei Bnei Yisrael" (These are the journeys of the children of Israel; Nu. 33:1). The acronym of these four words is the letters aleph, mem, beis, and yud. These four letters also stand for four different words. They are: Edom, Madai, Bavel, and Yavan (the Roman exile, the Median exile, the Babylonian exile, and the Greek exile).

This hint teaches us that "The journeys of the Jewish people in the desert" were meant to prepare the way for the Jews of the future "during their four exiles."

There is another reason why Hashem chose to include these forty-two stations in the Torah. The Degel Machaneh Ephraim cites his grandfather the Ba'al Shem Tov who says that this listing does not only come to teach us about the impact it had on the Jews as a nation, but it also comes to teach us about the impact it has on every single Jew on the individual level.

Every single Jew, without exception, must travel through forty-two major situations or stages in his life. In each stage of life, the person is faced with different challenges. The Jews in the desert had to deal with specific difficulties in their forty-two places in order to break the ice and pave the way for every single individual to accomplish what he or she is supposed to achieve at each of the forty-two stages of life.

The Jews in the desert extracted holy sparks and did the will of God in each of the forty-two places they came to. That set the pace for every one of us until this very day. We can also extract the holy sparks and do the will of God in every one of the forty-two stations of our personal lives.

The Arizal (Sha'ar Hakavanos, Derushei Halaylah) says that the way to succeed in extracting the sparks, and the way to succeed in doing God's will in every station of life, is to tap into the forty-two letter Name of God (See Zohar, Bereishis, pg. 30a). The forty-two letter Name of God corresponds to the forty-two stations of the Jews, past and present.

The Jews of the desert used the forty-two letter Name of God to pass their tests, and we can also utilize that Name to overcome the challenges in our lives.

Perhaps we could suggest a source in the Torah which hints that we should utilize the forty-two letter Name of God in order to accomplish the missions that we are supposed to achieve during the forty-two major situations of life. The verse says, "Vidibarta Bam Bishivticha Biveisecha Uvilechtecha Baderech Uvishachbecha Uvikumecha" (And you must speak of them while you sit in your home and while you walk on your way and when you retire and when you arise, Dt. 6:7). When it says, "Vidibarta Bam" (And you must speak in them), the simple understanding is that we are supposed to speak in the words of Torah at all times. However, maybe the Torah is insinuating that we should use the 42 letter Name of God to help us accomplish our missions at all times. This hint can be found in the word "Bam" (in them). This word is spelled beis mem. When reversed, it spells, "mem beis", which is numerically 42, implying that we should use the 42 letter Name of God in our homes, on the road, when we get up, and when we go to sleep.

By now you must be wondering what that forty-two letter Name of God is. You may also want to know how we can practically harness it in order to accomplish our goals. So, let's address this right now.

In Tikkunei Zohar (Tikkun Dalet, pg.19a), Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai says that the forty-two letter Name of God is:

Aleph beis gimmel, yud taf tzaddi, kuf reish ayin, shin tes nun, nun gimmel dalet, yud chaf shin, beis tes reish, tzaddi taf gimmel, ches kuf beis, tes nun aleph, yud gimmel lamed, pey zayin kuf, shin kuf vov, tzaddi yud saf.

The Arizal (Likutei Torah) says that one does not have to be a kabbalist in order to harness this Name of God. This is because we have a prayer called "Ana Bikoach" "We beg You with the strength" which was written by Rebbi Nechunia ben Hakaneh (This prayer can be found in the Complete ArtScroll Siddur on pg. 40 in the Hebrew and on pg. 41 in the English). This prayer has forty-two words in it. The acronym of the forty-two words is the forty-two letter Name of God. Although we must never attempt to pronounce the forty-two letters of God's name, we may say this prayer which has the forty-two letter Name of God coded into it.

This prayer evokes the forty-two letter Name of God, helping us extract the sparks of holiness in every place we come to by helping us do the will of God in each set of circumstances that we are faced with. The nature of this Name of God is that it has the power to elevate everything to its purpose and lift every person with the strength to achieve his or her goal in life.

When Moshe Rabbenu asked God at the Burning Bush what His Name is, God responded with the words, "Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh" (I Will Be As I Will Be; Ex. 3:14). Perhaps we could suggest a deeper understanding of that name. The word "Eheyeh", spelled aleph, hey, yud, hey is numerically 21. However, since the name is mentioned twice in the verse (Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh) that means that there is an additional 21. The sum total equals 42! God basically said, Eheyeh - I will be with the Jewish people to help them with their struggles during their 42 stations of life. All they need to do is take advantage of the 42 letter Name of God.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that there are 21 names of God found on the parchment inside the Tefillin worn on the arm. There are another 21 names of God found on the pieces of parchment found inside the Tefillin worn on the head. The sum total of God's Names in a pair of Tefillin is 42. Those 42 names of God correspond to the forty-two letter Name of God. We wear Tefillin during prayer so that the 42 letter Name of God can lift our prayers to Heaven.

There are a few more details about the 42 letter Name of God that may be useful to us.

The Arizal (Likutei Torah) says that the 42 letter Name of God can be divided into seven different Names of God. They are:

1) Aleph beis gimmel yud saf tzaddi

2) Kuf reish ayin shin tes nun

3) Nun gimmel dalet yud chaf shin

4) Beis tes reish tzaddi saf gimmel

5) Ches kuf beis tes nun ayin

6) Yud gimmel lamed pey zayin kuf

7) Shin kuf vov tzaddi yud saf

On each day of creation, God used one of those Names in order to create whatever He created on that day. For example, on the first day of creation, God used the first Name, Aleph beis gimmel yud saf tzaddi, to create whatever He created on day one (Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun Yud, pg. 26a).

Those seven Names are still active today. On each day of the week, one of these seven Names helps raise our Torah, prayers, and mitzvos up to Heaven. For example, on the first day of the week, the first Name, Aleph beis gimmel yud saf tzaddi, lifts that days Torah, prayers, and mitzvos to Heaven.

This is why each of those seven Names is made up of six letters. This is because angels have six wings (Isa. 6:2). With two wings the angel covers his face so as not to gaze at the Divine presence. With two wings the angel covers his legs so that his legs will be covered modestly before God, and with the remaining two wings the angel flies to accomplish his mission (Rashi ibid).

We also know that every time we do a mitzvah, we create an angel (Avos, chap. 4, "Ben Zomah", Mishnah 13, Rebbi Eliezer ben Ya'akov). The angel that was created by any given mitzvah, brings that very mitzvah up to Heaven. However, in order for the angel to carry our mitzvos up to Heaven, it needs wings to fly with. Although the body of the angel is created from the mitzvah we did, the six wings of the angel are created by the six letters of the Name which has authority on that day.

Therefore, one should say the entire "Ana Bikoach" prayer every single day. But, one should concentrate more on the sentence that pertains to that day (the first sentence is connected to the first day of the week; the second sentence is connected to the second day of the week, and so on). By doing this, we help create the wings of the angels whose bodies we will create with the mitzvos we do on that day.

Based on this, Reb Chaim Vital (Sha'ar Hakavanos, Inyan Aleinu Lishabeach, Vinusach Hatefillah, pg. 51a) says that when saying the "Ana Bikoach" prayer, one should say two words and then pause for a moment, and then say two more words and pause for a moment, etc.... The reason for this is that every two words carry two letters of the 42 letter Name of God which creates two angelic wings. Therefore, we should say two words at a time in order to create each set of wings properly.

We have come to this point all because of the fact that our portion Masei, contains the 42 stations of the Jewish people in the desert, which correspond to the 42 letter Name of God that can help us overcome the hurdles throughout the 42 stages of our personal lives.

It is interesting to note that parshas Masei is always read during The Three Weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av. There is always a reason why Torah portions fall at specific times on the Jewish calendar.

The Shvilei Pinchas suggests that the connection between Masei and The Three weeks is that at this time of year we increase our level of mourning over the destruction of our Temples and subsequent exiles. As we direct our attention to exile, we may become overwhelmed with the onslaught of challenges that we are constantly faced with.

Therefore, God came to strengthen us with parshas Masei which reminds us that our ancestors went through 42 different challenging situations and withstood them, for the most part. They did that for us in order to make it easier for us to pass our tests today. They utilized the 42 letter Name of God to help them, and we can also call upon that very same Name of God as it is coded in the "Ana Bikoach" prayer.

The Maggid of Kozhnitz (Avodas Yisrael) adds that parshas Masei is extremely connected to The Three Weeks because in three weeks there are 21 days. But, there are also 21 nights. The sum total is 42 chunks of time. Reading about the 42 stations of Israel in the desert strengthens us with the power to overcome the challenges that we are more aware of at this time. We can actually lift The Three Weeks, transforming them into something positive.

Parenthetically, during the reading from the Torah Scroll, there are those that have the custom of not interrupting the 42 stations by breaking them up between different aliyos, rather, they are read in one go. The reason for this is that since the 42 stations correlate the 42 letter Name of God, we do not want to make an interruption in the middle of God's Name (Magen Avraham, Orach Chaim, 428:8, citing Tzror Hamor).

By extension of that, perhaps we could suggest that one should try not to make an interruption when saying the "Ana Bikoach" prayer so as not to make an interruption in the middle of God's Name.

There is a sugulah (charm) that one can say each day in order to be saved from tragedies, plague, and illness. Each day one should read off the names of the 42 stations mentioned in this week's parsha. When saying each place, concentrate on the letter of God's 42 letter Name which corresponds to that place. For example, the first place was Ramses. Ramses corresponds to the first letter, aleph, and so on.

After saying the names of all 42 places, say the Ana Bikoach prayer. When saying each word, concentrate on the letter of the 42 letter Name of God that it corresponds to. For example, when saying the first word "Ana", concentrate on the first letter, aleph, and so on.

The prayer "Ana Bikoach" is our request that Hashem give us the strength to succeed in doing God's will in each of the 42 major places that we find ourselves. This can help protect us from tragedies, plague, and sickness (Reb Shimshon Meiastropoli, cited in Orach Lachaim; Malbim, Masei 33:5).

So, may we all be blessed with the courage to face each of the 42 stages of life with dignity and confidence to overcome the hurdles and lift the sparks, because our ancestors were here and succeeded before us. May we also be blessed to lift all seven days of each week on the six wings of the angels, transforming these 42 chunks of time known as The Three Weeks into days of celebration and joy.