Guest post by Rabbi Noam Sendor
Parashat Matot-Mas’ei 5777
What is the meaning of life? It is, of course, forty-two. So states Deep Thought, the computer system in Douglas Adams’ novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” after seven and a half million years of calculation. Adams, when asked why he chose such a number, stated, “I wanted a nice, ordinary number, one that you wouldn’t mind taking home and introducing to your parents.” However, in truth, this number is deeper than it seems, and may just yet reveal the meaning of life.
The book of Bamidbar ends with a recounting of the many travels of the Jewish people in the desert. Fascinatingly enough, there are precisely 42 journeys in the wilderness. The Holy Ba’al Shem Tov teaches that these 42 journeys are also experienced by each individual on their own unique path through life. Rabbi Simon Jacobson explains:
All the 42 journeys are about freeing ourselves and transcending the constraints and limitations (Mitzrayim) of our material existence which conceals the Divine, subduing and sublimating the harsh “wilderness” of selfish existence, and discovering the “Promised Land” – a life of harmony between body and soul.
This idea alone is enough to show us that the number 42 contains profound secrets. We could stop there and say that 42 is the meaning of life as our life’s purpose is to embark upon this journey of transcending the “self” and moving towards expanded consciousness. However, it goes deeper.
Although there is only one God, we have different names for Him which reflect the different ways which He interacts with us. Some of these names we know but some are hidden because of their power. Fascinatingly, one such name is the 42-letter name of God. We allude to this name when we say the prayer “Ana BeKoach” which contains 42 words, however we do not know what it actually is. The Gemara (Kiddushin 71a) states:
“Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: The forty-two lettered Name is entrusted only to one who is pious, meek, middle-aged, free from bad temper, sober, and not insistent on his rights. And one 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.”
Our life’s purpose is to refine ourselves throughout our many journeys and grow spiritually to such an extent that the 42-letter name of God is revealed to us. The meaning of life is to know God through knowing ourselves- 42.
This coming Monday is Rosh Chodesh Av, which ushers in the Nine Days of mourning over the destruction of the Batei Mikdash and the many other calamities which have befallen the Jewish People. One of the many consequences of living in a world without a Holy Temple is that our sensitivity towards spirituality has been deadened. Many of us have become comfortably numb, often with no impetus pushing us to actualise our true selves. These nine days, though they are mournful and sobering by nature, are an opportunity to restructure our priorities. We remove some of our distractions and face the brokenness of the world. This is, however, just a part of the process—an essential encampment along the journey of the year. We do not stay in the brokenness too long—we internalize its call and hopefully pick ourselves up and move towards the next camp, that of rebuilding.
Please God, may we find meaning, inspiration and energy during these next few weeks. May we be courageous enough to strip away distraction so we can see clearly what needs to be fixed. And may we be ever more courageous to blaze our own path forward in healing and harmony, doing our part in the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash, something the world needs so very badly, may it happen this year!