This is one of God's many names, mentioned in the Zohar and in the writings of Rabbi Moshe Cordoviro and Rabbi Abraham Abulafia next to the 72 fold name of God. In the Zohar, the 72 fold name of God and the 42 letters name of God are often discussed together, and described as a complementary.
An interesting reference is in the Zohar on the last chapters of Exodos, where the breastpiece, the Hoshen, is discussed along with the Urim and Thummim. The breastpiece is said to be engraved with the 42 letters name of god and embossed with the names of the 12 tribes, with the 42 letters name of God causing light or darkness to appear in the letters spelling the tribe names.
This brings out an interesting astrological connection - the 42 letters name of God is usually divided into 7 names connected to the 7 planets, while the 72 fold name is usually divided into 12 groups of six names, with the 12 groups connected to the 12 tribes and 12 zodiacal sign.
As to the origin of the 42 letters name of God, the sources are divided. Some say it's the acronym of a prayer called 'Ana beCoah' (so called after the first two words of the prayer), attributed to Rabbi Nehunya Ben Hakana. Others say the name is the result of permutations on the first 42 letters of Genesis, and that the prayer was written so that it's acronym would be the 42 letters name of God, a common enough practice in Judaism. Having seen the various permutations used, I'm a supporter of the the first version.
The Hebrew text of the prayer is as following -
|Letter names in English||Pronounciation||Hebrew spelling|
|Aleph Bet Gimmel Yod Tav Tzaddi||Avgidatz|
|Qoph Resh Ayin Shin Teth Nun||Kra Stan|
|Nun Gimmel Daleth Yod Kaph Shin||Nagdichash|
|Beith Teth Resh Tzaddi Tav Gimmel||Vtartztag|
|Cheth Qoph Beith Teth Nun Ayin||ChakVatna'|
|Yod Gimmel Lamed Peh Zayin Qoph||Yglfzak|
|Shin Koph Vav Tzaddi Yod Tav||Shkutzit|
Due to reasons having to do with the nature of the Hebrew language, the consonants for the names are fixed in stone, but there is a variance as to the vowels. For those who would like to pronounce the names, I bring Rabbi Moses Cordoviro's version.
Following is a translation of the prayer by Rabbin Nosson Scherman in a Siddur published by Mesorah Publication -
|A||We beg you! with the strength of your right hand's greatness, untie the bundled sins.|
|B||Accept the prayer of your nation; strengthen us, purify us, O awesome one.|
|C||Please, O strong one - those who foster your oneness, guard them like the pupil of an eye.|
|D||Bless them, purify them, show them pity, may your righteousness always recompense them.|
|E||Powerful Holy One, with your abundant goodness guide your congregation.|
|F||One and only Exalted One, turn to Your nation, which proclaims Your holiness.|
|G||Accept our entreaty and hear our cry, O knower of mysteries.|
|[whisper the following line:] Blessed is the Name of His Glorious Kingdom for all eternity.|
[Thanks to ArtScroll/Mesorah Publication for the permission to use the above quote.]
The last line is not a part of the prayer proper, but rather a blessing added due to the use of one of God's names.
Anyway, there are 42 letters, which are traditionally split into 7 names of 6 letters each, as in the image on the right, and those are attributed in various texts to various septenaries, such as planets, a commonly used set of is brought in the following table -
|Openings||Right eye||Left eye||Right ear||Left ear||Right nostril||Left nostril||Mouth|
|Permutation||Life vs Death||Peace vs War||Wisdom vs Folly||Beuty vs Ugliness||Richness vs Poverty||Seed vs Desolation||Government vs Slavery|
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