The Infinitesimal Sliver

………..אנא בכח גדולת ימינך, Ana B’Koach Gedulat Yemincha…., is a poem we recite daily in the morning liturgy and also, very prominently, in Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday nights and during the counting of the Omer between Pesach and Shavuot.  Written by Rabbi Nehunia Ben HaKana, a 1st century tanna (sage of the Mishna) and Kabbalist (author of the Bahir), it’s a prayer and a praise. Not really singled out for additional prominence by traditional Jews, it’s relatively recently been popularized by the Kabbalah Center as well as some movements generally within the “liberal” wing of Judaism; for some it almost achieves a “magic” status since it generates, from the first letter of each word, the forty-two-letter name of God, widely used as a focus in meditation.

The point I want to emphasize is that beyond the surface meaning of the words, which is nice but not that special, the main significance we understand and emphasize is generated by only 42 of its 216 letters, less than 1/5th of the total!  The inner meaning of the remaining 174 letters is something we yet know nothing about.  Nonetheless, it’s not only fine for us to recite this prayer, most of whose significance is unknown to us, it’s highly recommended, possibly mandated (by being included in the traditional liturgy) that we do!

We have just recently entered into the Book of Vayikra in our yearly Torah cycle.  These parshiot describe in great detail (although completely insufficient detail for us to actually know exactly how to perform them–for that we require the Talmud, the Oral Torah) the animal sacrifices of the Mishkan and, later, the Beit HaMikdash (Temple).  Continuously, for two thousand years after there actually have been any sacrifices, we not only read these parshiot yearly but we recite parts of them daily.  They obviously have power, although probably not so much on the level of surface/literal meaning since we’re not using them as actual instructions.

L’Havdil, structurally it’s a little like “junk DNA”, a phrase that always jars me because it implies that whatever currently can’t be subsumed by a certain stage of scientific progress is “junk”.  Just like researchers have yet to figure out what the parts of the puzzle they don’t understand, we either lost or never yet have had revealed the deeper meanings of the remainder of Ana B’Koach or the descriptions of the sacrifices.

I’m inspired that such an infinitesimal slice of the full meaning of Torah, which itself reveals only an infinitesimal slice of God, already generates more knowledge than we can ever fully comprehend. We don’t know everything and we’ll never know everything and that, itself, is part of the mechanism that allows us to attach ourselves to God.

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