In 2006, the Israeli artist Ovadia Hamama took Israel by storm with his version of the prayer Ana B’Koach (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQq4mBhCBy0). Until today in Israel this is a song that cuts right through the fabric of religiosity, age and location. One can pray Friday night prayers in a student congregation in Be’er Sheva, a Carlebach gathering in Tzfat or a community in Jerusalem and find that people respond in the same way to this movingly powerful tune. What inspired this non-religious middle-aged man to compose such a tune? What is it about this prayer that seems to touch each person who hears it?
Ana B’Koach was written by Rabbi Nechunia ben Hakanah, a teacher of Jewish oral law who lived in the period of the Tannaim, roughly two-thousand years ago. Rabbi Nechunia was the possibly the greatest esoteric master of his time.
Ana B’Koach contains forty-two words and if one takes the first letter of each word the mystical forty-two letter name of G-d is formed. This name is discussed at length in Kabbalah and its forty-two letters are regarded as corresponding to forty-two levels of spirituality. In fact, each column in a Torah scroll contains forty-two lines. Chance? Absolutely not. The forty-two letter name is also used widely in Kabbalistic meditations.
The prayer is made up of seven stanzas, each of which contains six words. If one takes the first letter of each word in a stanza one also reveals Divine names. The seven names plus the forty-two letters in the entire prayer equal forty-nine. Forty-nine is well-known as having many mystical associations in Kabbalah. Some examples: forty-nine corresponds to the seven lower derivations of the Tree of Life, as well as to the letters in the two holiest lines in Jewish prayer; “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad/Baruch Shem K’vod Malchuto Leolam Vaed”.
A possible translation of Ana B’Koach is as follows:
Please answer us with the might of the greatness of your loving kindness, untie our sorrow.
Accept your people’s songful prayer, lift us up, purify us, in your Awesomeness.
Please Great One! guard the ones who seek your oneness like the pupil of an eye.
Bless them purify them, show mercy on them, your righteousness always bestowing.
Powerful, holy One, in your abundant goodness guide your congregation.
One and only Exalted One, enlighten your people who yearn for your holiness.
Accept our plea, and hear our cry, One who knows all mysteries!
(Blessed is the name of G-d’s glorious majesty forever and ever in oneness!)
There are stunning pieces of Kabbalah Jewellery on the market, including rings and pendants engraved with the moving words of Ana B’Koach. Such a purchase is beyond simply being attractive; it is also intensely meaningful and can be understood on so many levels.