““Here the Holy Name engraves itself in the shape of seventy-two letters, that crowns itself with the Fathers, [who are] the Holy Higher Chariot.” —Beshalach 14:168, Zohar
In Kabbalah there is a series of meditations known as Shem HaMephorash, or the 72 Names of God. These are not literally the names of God. Rather, they are powerful mantras, a set of mystical Hebrew names each consisting of three letters. These names are be-lieved to possess certain spiritual powers as combinations of divine energies that can help with healing, protection, and other spiritual endeavors as they help us focus and use the gifts of the Spirit. These three-letter combinations are often used as amulets or talismans for various purposes. Kabbalists wear them or place them in their homes for protection, prosperity, or to invite specific blessings into their lives. It is believed that chanting or meditating on these names can align one’s energies with divine forces and bring about positive changes.
Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a spiritual and numerical value, and by combining these values, practitioners can derive deeper meanings and insights. These names add to this practice as they are associated with the study of Gematria, a form of numerology, the mystical interpretation of the Hebrew alphabet (the Aleph-bet). While we cannot go over all of these in great detail here, we can at least get started on the path.
Where Did the Names Come From?
In the Torah, there are three consecutive verses from Exodus, found in chapter 14, verses 19-21. Each verse contains 72 letters. Kabbalah masters saw this as a rare, mystical phenomenon. Because of its unique nature, the letters of these three verses can be arranged as 72 triplets of letters. The ancient Kabbalists taught that if we re-verse the order of the letters in the middle set, the 72 triplets become the 72 “Names” of God.
Let us first read this passage in English.
“And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, re-moved and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: and it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night. And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.” —Exodus 14:19-21
It should be noted that these verses talk about the people being led by the Lord, and Moses drawing on the power of God to cause a miracle. There has been much debate within various Kabbalah groups over who created the miracle, God or Moses. This is an irrelevant question to Mormon Kabbalists. Without the power of God, there would be no miracle. If Moses hadn’t listened to the Lord, there would be no miracle. A human needed to be there, to do the Lord’s will or there would be no miracle. Thus, both are correct. It could have been any human, God chose Moses. The important truth we should focus on is secret of how Moses performed the miracle, and it is hidden within these verses.
According to the Zohar (Beshalach 14:168, Zohar), the first verse is to be written in its proper order, since it represents the loving-kindness of God. The second verse is to be written in reverse order, from the last letter to the first, since it represents the severity of God. The third verse is to be written in the proper order, like the first verse, as it is a direct revelation of the goodness of God. The three letters then fit into the three columns of the Tree of Life; the Pillar of Severity on the left, the Pillar of Balance in the middle, and the Pillar of Mercy on the right.
Keeping in mind that Hebrew is read from right to left, let’s look at the Hebrew to see how these names are hidden. The names are taken from the beginning, middle, and ending of these verses like so:
וַיִּסַּ֞ע מַלְאַ֣ךְ הָאֱלֹהִ֗ים הַהֹלֵךְ֙ לִפְנֵי֙ מַחֲנֵ֣ה יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ מֵאַחֲרֵיהֶ֑ם וַיִּסַּ֞ע עַמּ֤וּד הֶֽעָנָן֙ מִפְּנֵיהֶ֔ם וַיַּֽעֲמֹ֖ד מֵאַחֲרֵיהֶֽם׃
וַיָּבֹ֞א בֵּ֣ין ׀ מַחֲנֵ֣ה מִצְרַ֗יִם וּבֵין֙ מַחֲנֵ֣ה יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיְהִ֤י הֶֽעָנָן֙ וְהַחֹ֔שֶׁךְ וַיָּ֖אֶר אֶת־ הַלָּ֑יְלָה וְלֹא־ קָרַ֥ב זֶ֛ה אֶל־ זֶ֖ה כָּל־ הַלָּֽיְלָה׃
וַיֵּ֨ט מֹשֶׁ֣ה אֶת־ יָדוֹ֮ עַל־ הַיָּם֒ וַיּ֣וֹלֶךְ יְהוָ֣ה ׀ אֶת־ הַ֠יָּם בְּר֨וּחַ קָדִ֤ים עַזָּה֙ כָּל־ הַלַּ֔יְלָה וַיָּ֥שֶׂם אֶת־ הַיָּ֖ם לֶחָרָבָ֑ה וַיִּבָּקְע֖וּ הַמָּֽיִם׃
The first name of God, in red, is Vav-Hei-Vav. Each name continues from there:
How to Use the Names of God
Now that we see how these names are created, what are they and what do we do with them? The letters are symbols with power and meaning. Looking at the first name, Vav-Hei-Vav, we see that 6+5+6=17, 1+7=8. So Vav-Hei-Vav can be 17 or 8 for those into Gematria. Vav is the hook, it connects God’s perfection to the created world. Hei is the feminine Goddess, the revelation. From this we see 2 hooks or staffs protecting Eden, the creation, and the Divine Mother. One understanding then could be the restoration of hope, return to Eden as the hooks on both sides bring us back to Eden.
This is not the only way to understand this name of God. Kabbalah is the revelation of God. You should take the time as a Kabbalist to study and pray on this and all of the names to find your own understanding. And, this overview merely goes over the modern Hebrew understanding of the letters. Using Chapter 15, readers may also look at the Paleo-Hebrew understanding of the letters as well for more light and knowledge. Not only can you or your group feel things out and gain your own understanding, in Mormon Kabbalah we teach that each has four uses to help us in our divine path. These are known as:
- Exorcism (removal of egoism)
- Restoration (return to God)
- Revelation (knowing the will of God)
- Miracle Working (doing the works of God)
Readers are encouraged to take the time to look at these seventy-two names in all four directions as well. This is a simple yet deep topic that can be studied and used for group conversations for quite some time. If a person or group of people just spent one week on each letter it would take nearly a year and a half to get through them all.
These should and will be learned one at a time. Eventually, one will learn to recognize which Name they need at which moment, and how to use them.
Previously, we spoke of using seer stones or divining rods as Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery did to receive revelations from the Lord. These 72 Names are similar. Think of them as seer stones or divining rods (and they can be used in conjunction with either, and with other tools). Through meditation, they act like tuning forks, helping to heal and focus. Once in tune action is required. One does not merely tune a piano then let it sit. They tune the instrument, then bring it to life with song.
Likewise, we use the Names of God to get in tune. Once in tune, we will do God’s works. We will “play the songs” God has written in our hearts. His light will pour from our kli and we will help bring peace to the world. As we meditate, we say these names, one at a time, as mantras (more on this below); repeating the names of the Hebrew letters in the name repeatedly to aid concentration in the sacred meditation.
“Blessed be the name of God, that he hath given me to know, yea, hath given unto me the exceedingly great joy of knowing that they are established again in the way of his righteousness.” -Alma 5:6 RAV, 7:4 OPV