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What do the rabbis of old say about the number 42, or the meanings thereof, when it appears in the various passages of the TaNaCH?

My question is inspired from the forty two Locations in our Parashat HaShavua last week.

I have checked the Chabad Website, to see if Rashi or others commented and have found no comment or answer to my above question. I have taken the liberty to put into BOLD the number forty two in the following passages.

Numbers 36:6 Among the cities you shall give to the Levites, shall be six cities of refuge, which you shall provide [as places] to which a murderer can flee. In addition to them, you shall provide forty two cities.

II Kings 2:24 And he turned around and saw them, and he cursed them in the name of God. And two she-bears came out of the forest and tore apart forty-two boys of them.

II Kings 10:14 And he said, "Seize them alive!" And they seized them alive, and slaughtered into the pit of the meeting-place, forty- two men. He did not leave over even one of them.

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  • @Harel13 Saw this, too. What this link does is point to other mentions of "42" but it does not answer my question. – ninamag Jul 13 at 5:25
  • The Zohar ad loc refers to the 42 letter name of G-d. – Micha Berger Jul 13 at 16:20
  • @MichaBerger connect this concept when the number 42 appears in the various passages of the TaNaCH. – ninamag Jul 13 at 17:00
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    Life, the Universe and Everything? – chortkov2 Jul 15 at 5:46
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Here is the text of the Malbim on the Passuk about the 42 wanderings;

ואמרתי פירושו שאחר שהיו המסעות מכוונים נגד שם מ"ב היתה כל מסע מצוינת באות א' מן אותות של שם של מ"ב, וכשתסדר מ"ב אותיות של שם של מ"ב נגד המסעות, תמצא שנמצא ג"פ אות ב', וכאשר נאמר להם שיסעו מסע מכוונת נגד אות ב' מצאו שסכות וקהלתה ומוסרת מצוינים באות ב' ולא ידעו לאיזה מקום יסעו, וכן אתם חצרות תרח עציון גבר מצוינים באות ג', פי החירות רמון פרץ עברונה הר העברים מצוינים באות יו"ד, מרה תחת ערבות מואב מצוינים באות ת', וכן תבין כל המאמר, ועז"א בפ' בהעלותך עפ"י ה' יסעו ועפ"י ה' יחנו עפ"י ה' ביד משה,

In essence what he is saying is that the wanderings in the desert corresponded to the 42 letter name of G-D, and each place represents another letter in the Name. (in fact it is interesting that at the end of that piece the Malbim explains that the current exile will also represent the same 42 wanderings)

The Radak in King II 2:24;

ואמרו בשביל ארבעים ושתים קרבנות שהקריב בלק מלך מואב הובקעו מישראל ארבעים ושנים ילדים:

Which means that the 42 children were killed in lieu of the 42 sacrifices brought by Balak.

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  • and what's the significance of "42" sacrifices? – yih613 Jul 16 at 2:02
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    Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, Section 2, Page 224a - R. Simeon said: ‘Observe that the forty-two offerings brought by Balaam and Balak were offerings diverted from the “other side” towards the Holy One, blessed be He, and so the “other side”.... had to be repaid these offerings from Israel. This is the inner implication of the verse, “And he looked behind him and saw them”. That is to say, “behind him”, meaning the “other side”, which stands behind the Shechinah......inducing the Divine Name, as it were, to discharge the debt owing to the “other side”..... (full text was too long) – Chatzkel Jul 16 at 2:22
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regarding the מסעות in במדבר see מלבי"ם that connects it to the 42 letters of the שם מ"ב,

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  • please summarize your answer rather than telling people to go here. – ninamag Jul 14 at 19:28
  • "connects it to the 42 letters of the שם מ"ב" I think that is enough of a summary.. – yih613 Jul 16 at 2:01
  • in one of the answers here, you gave an excellent comment, "and what's the significance of "42" sacrifices?" To which Chatzkel gave an excellent reply. Now, the same to you, "and what's the significance of 42 letters of the שם מ"ב?" (All for the purpose making your answer stronger.) – ninamag Jul 16 at 5:46
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+50

It would seem that the number 42 has a deeper Divine underpinning which makes it foundational to the Jewish people.

Similar to what has already been pointed out about the 42 stops of the Bnei Yisrael, it is worth noting the Magen Avraham 428:8 who writes:

כתוב בצרור המור מ"ב מסעות שבפרשת ואלה מסעי אין להפסיק בהם שהוא נגד שם מ"ב

The Tzror Hamor writes that the 42 journeys that are enumerated in Massei, we don't make a break (in their recitation) as they correspond to the 42 letter name of G-d.

The Tzror Hamor explanation on Massei here is deeply Kabbalistic and I don't understand it all. He starts by saying:

ולהורות שיש באלו המסעות דבר גדול. אמרו רבותינו ז"ל שנכתבו כאן שנים וארבעים מסעות. רמז לשם המפורש של שנים וארבעים

To teach that in these journeys there is a great thing. Our Rabbis of blessed memory write here that there were 42 journeys. This is a hint to the (42-letter) name of G-d which correlate with the 42 (journeys).

He then goes on to point out how this 42 can be seen to have its link with the creation of the world, how there are 7 words each with 6 letters which equate (7 x 6) to 42.

And thus:

וכמו שהתורה התחילה בימי בראשית שבם רמוז שם ה' ב"ם. כן סיימה בפרשת אלה מסעי בספור שנים וארבעים מסעות שהם כנגד שם של שנים וארבעים שהזכרנו. לרמוז שהתורה כולה כלולה וקשורה וחתומה בחותם אחד. בסוד ה' אחד ובסוד ה' בם. ואין בה פירוד וחילוק אלא שהיא קשורה תחלתה בסופה וסופה בתחלתה. ולכן כתב באלו המסעות ויכתוב משה את מוצאיהם למסעיהם ע"פ השם

And like the Torah begins with the days of creation that alludes to the 42-letter (ב"ם) name of Hashem, so too it concludes in Parshas Massei with counting 42 journeys corresponding to the 42-letter name like we mentioned. To hint that the whole Torah is included and bound and signed in one seal. In the secret of the one G-d, and in the secret of Hashem (ב"ם) in it / 42. And there is no separation and division in it but it is connected with its beginning at the end and its end with its beginning. Therefore it writes about these journeys, "And Moshe recorded the starting points of their journeys" through Hashem i.e. through His 42-letter name.

So the number 42 has its roots in the Divine and that is why halachically we don't make any breaks when reading about the 42 journeys and could possibly be why the number 42 pops up in various places throughout Tanach as it involves some form of Divine intervention.


EDIT

When viewing this in light of the other instances where 42 is mentioned in Tanach it is clear to see similarly, some form of Divine input.

We know as has already been mentioned in some other answers, that Balak offered up 42 sacrifices (14 offerings x 3 different locations = 42). Whilst famously, the Gemara in Sanhedrin 105b notes that as a result he merited that Rus / Ruth descended from him. There is also a noteworthy Gemara in Sotah 47a which writes as follows:

אמר רבי חנינא בשביל ארבעים ושנים קרבנות שהקריב בלק מלך מואב הובקעו מישראל ארבעים ושנים ילדים

Rabbi Chanina said: due to the 42 offerings that Balak, king of Moav brought, 42 children were broken off from Israel.

So the 42 offerings that Balak brought, impacted on another 42, this time the 42 boys that were killed by the bears (that you also reference in your question).

So the question is, what was this connection, and how does the number 42 have any bearings (excuse the pun!).

Interestingly when doing some searching on Sefaria, I stumbled on the Zohar which also links these two incidents but sheds some more light. In the Zohar 2:224a it writes that Rabbi Shimon comments that these 42 sacrifices directed a "סִטְרָא אַחֲרָא לְגַבֵּי קוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא" - lit. "an other side towards Hashem" (the סִטְרָא אַחֲרָא is normally understood Kabbalistically as the side of impurity or in layman term the 'realm of evil' etc.) and this "other side" was called "curse". I believe what the Zohar goes on to say, is that the actions of Balak, whilst weren't of righteous nature created some sort of Divine 'debt' that had to be repaid which came in the form of these 42 children that were killed.

Indeed the Ben Yehoyada on the Gemara in Sotah concludes that this 'curse' is hinted to in the incident of the bears. He writes that the verse in II Kings 2:24 the word for "bears" - "דֻּבִּים֙" is missing the "ו" which hints to "יד ב"ם" - "the hand of Bam" (i.e. the 42 letter name).

So once again we see in another two instances that the number 42 connects in some way to the revered 42-letter name of Hashem and has a far-reaching Divine impact.

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  • +1 for the research. Question: "the number 42 have any bearings (excuse the pun!)" - what is the pun? (I am a foreign speaker of English.) – ninamag Jul 22 at 4:56
  • The Gemara says that the 42 sacrifices of Balak impacted on the 42 children who were attacked by the bears – Dov Jul 22 at 5:32
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"the world was graven with forty-two letters, all of which are the ornamentation of the Holy Name." (Zohar I, 30a)

Maybe since it is part of creation, it is used significantly. And thats why the Baal Shem Tov compares the 42 journeys of the Bnei Yisroel to the 42 letter name, and also says that these are 42 stages which each and everyone of us encounter in our lives, as it is really rooted into our formation.

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