Kabbalah's Secret Circles

72 Mystical Names: Shem Ha Meforesh

Kabbalah's Secret Circles by Robert E. ZuckerThese pages are excerpts from the book, Kabbalah's Secret Circles, by Robert Zucker. Read more sample chapters and download a free PDF sample compliments of the author.

Exodus 14.19-21

19: And the angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud removed from before them, and stood behind them;

20: and it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud, and darkness here, yet gave it light by the night there; and the one came not near the other all the night.

21: And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all the night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.

These three passages in Exodus (14.19-21) describe Moses’ miracle to depart the Red Sea. In Jewish mysticism, these passages also hold a very mystical, and secret, meaning.

A special arrangement of those 216 consecutive letters in the three passages reveals the hidden 72-triplet Names of God called the Shem Ha Meforesh – the Explicit or Hidden Name of God. Moses was said to have used this formula in order to spread the waters. The pronunciation of the Name is done through a meditative technique.

The correct pronunciation of Name was used in early Jewish history only by rabbis during the High Holy Days. The ‘72 Names’ Formula The knowledge of the Shem Ha Meforesh (“72 Fold Name”) was a Key to the SEFER RAZIEL.

Instructions to form the Names are mentioned in the BAHIR, the ZOHAR, and among several prominent rabbis especially during the Middle Ages. One of the most important Kabbalists during the 13th century, Rabbi Abraham Abulafia (b. 1240AD) was among the first to discuss the purpose and provide the exact formula to construct the sacred Names (see following diagram).

According to the BAHIR, each of the 72 Names are comprised from each one of those three verses in Exodus. To start the process, Abulafia instructions the student to write down the three verses:

  • Write the letters of the first verse (19) in forward order
  • Reverse the order of the second verse (20)
  • Write the third row (21) in its original, forward order

To construct the first Name:

  • Take the first letter of the 19th verse, which is a Vav.
  • Take the last letter of the 20th verse, which is a Heh,
  • Add the first letter of the 21st verse, which is a Vav.

Combine these three letters to produce the first Triplet, V-H-V. Follow these same steps to create the second name:

  • Yod– 2nd letter of row 19
  • Lamed– 2nd from the end of row 20
  • Yod– 2nd letter of row 21

Combine these letters to produce the 2nd Triplet Y-L-Y. According to Abulafia, the first three-letter Name is V-H-V (pronounced as Va-He-Va). The second is Y-L-Y (pronounced as YoLaYo).

Continue the same pattern to create the third name using 3rd letter of each verse.

The results provide the three-letter consonants to form each of the 72 Holy Names. This method is called letter permutation. In Hebrew, the process is called tzeruf.

The activity of forming the letter combinations, and contemplating on the meaning of each permutation will produce “new knowledge that you never learned from human traditions nor derived from intellectual analysis.

The chart, from Abulafia’s book, depicts the 72 Triplets of Names already broken into 3 letters each (Triplet) from the original passage in Exodus. The 24 Triplets contain the 72 letters.

This chart displays the 72 Names of God from Abraham Abulafia, CHAYE HA OLAM HABA (LIFE IN THE FUTURE WORLD).

Abulafia instructs: “After you have depicted all this, prepare your mind and heart so that your thoughts should understand the many things that come to your thoughts through the letters that your heart imagines.”

Once the 72 Names are written out, one must meditate on the meaning of each Triplet (3 letter set). Pronounce the “Name [of Seventy-Two] using the natural vowel sound of each letter.”

There are five Hebrew vowels (O, A, E, I, U). Each letter is paired with a specific vowel sound. Breath in when speaking the letters and exhale with the vowels. Each Triplet involves twelve breaths.

Using the above examples of the first two Triplets:

  • The 1st Triplet is V-H-V (and pronounced Va-He-Va.
  • 2nd Triplet is Y-L-Y and is pronounced as Yo-La-Yo.
  • 3rd Triplet is S-Y-T and is pronounced as Sa-Yo-Te.

Each Name has a relation to a specific passage in the Old Testament. For example, VaHeVa would be invoked through Psalms 3.3. YoLaYo is connected to Psalms 22.19.

Each pronunciation has a specific head movement as well. All needs to be done in unison– correct pronunciation, visualization, and head movement– to achieve the full spiritual effect.

“Clear your mind completely. Then, with complete concentration, and a proper, pleasant, sweet melody, pronounce the Name of the 72,” Abulafia explained.

As one pronounces each Triplet, one soon experiences an uplifting feeling and is prepared to receive the ‘divine influx,’ the shefa. “We have a tradition that the divine influx will come to a perfected individual after he completes (pronounces) the 24 Triplets,” Abulafia wrote.

The divine influx will carry the meditator to a point where “your soul is separating itself from your body” as you obtain this overwhelming spiritual feeling. When you achieve that level, stop and take a break.

Abulafia says when the power of the influx begins to manifest itself and reveal itself to the one gazing in the “mirror,” the letters and the Sefiroth begin to appear like lightning flashes, as the visions of the Chayot (living creatures). As it is said, “The Chayot ran and returned, like a vision of lightning.”

In the SEFER YEZIRAH, the phrase “Their vision (tzafiyah), is like a flash of lightning,” refers to prophecy and the mystical vision, such as “one who gazes (tzefiyat) at the Merkavah.” The prophet Ezekiel had such a vision when he described the “living creatures that ran and returned like lightning flashes.”

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