Shem haMephorash: The Ineffable Name for God in Kabbalistic Traditions

Last month after I finished Lon Milo DuQuette’s My Life With Spirits, I started another of his books, Angels, Demons and Gods of the New Millennium. It’s a pretty good collection of magickal essays, but the one that caught my attention was based on Gematria.

If you’re not familiar with Gematria, according to tradition, God created everything through the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, each of which also have a numerical value. God then gave the Hebrew alphabet to the angels, who in turn gave it to Adam. Kabbalists use this system to find hidden meaning in Torah passages. They take the Hebrew word or bible verse and calculate its numerical value. Then they find other words and passages with the same numerical value and look for connections.

One of the most significant words in Kabbalah is the ineffable name for god, (Yod, He, Vav, He) YHVH, known as the Tetragrammaton (can be written YHVH or JHVH). By tradition, the actual pronunciation of this name – called the Shem haMephorash, or the name by which God identified himself to Moses at the burning bush – was lost when the 2nd Temple was destroyed in 70 CE. According to tradition, only the High Priest could utter this sacred name in the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple and only on Yom Kippur. If anyone else spoke the name, they would die, as he would if he mispronounced it.

In modern times, Jews don’t pronounce this name, but substitute HaShem or Adonai in its place. Other pronunciations include Yahweh and Jehovah (using the vowels of Adonai with JHVH).

So, Kabbalists of the 13th century and beyond used Gematria in attempt to re-discover this true name of God. One of the most famous methods they used was to create a triangle/pyramid shape with the letters and calculate the numerical value, which just so happened to be 72.

YHVHHaving this number, 72, Kabbalists turned to the Torah, scanning the 5 books for anything that might add up to 72. They found 3 verses, which happened to be consecutive – Exodus 14 verses 19, 20, and 21. They then put the 3 verses on top of one another (in Hebrew) and each of the 72 columns of 3 letters became one of the 72 names of God. They added an angellic suffix to each – either IH meaning an angel of mercy or AL meaning an angel of judgment – and thus ended up with the 72 angels.

Of course, the associations go on and on, so DuQuette provided readers this nifty chart that incorporates everything together.

As you can see, the chart also includes the 72 Goetic spirits – which weren’t initially associated with the 72 names of God or the angels. They came to be associated because each is associated with a zodiac sign, as is each of the angels… put the two together and you have the nifty chart listed above.

On a side note, I’d also recommend Darren Aronofsky’s excellent movie Pi to anyone interested in the subject!