The Hebrew Letter MEM – Tishrei

BHBW – THE ALEPH-BET                            TISHREI 5784  / 2023

  MEM

Shout for joy to Adonai all the earth; burst into song, sing with joy, make music to Adonai.

Psalms 98:4

THE SHAPE AND MEANING OF THE MEM

The letter Mem has two forms. The regular Mem is like a square with a small opening at the bottom left corner. The final Mem, or Mem sofit, is a complete square. 

The Mem is associated with water – mayim The word is written with a Yod between the two Mems –  מים. In Rabbinic writings this powerful letter is called  a ‘Fountain (or Spring) of Wisdom’ – Ma’ayan HaChochma – מעין החכמה. Ma’ayan is a popular girl’s name in Israel. 

The waters of a perennial spring, or fountain, ascend from an underground, hidden source before flowing out above ground. Similarly, the Torah, or Word of G-d, which also is referred to as “living water” for the soul, flows from the hidden, spiritual realm and brings life to the physical realm. Just as our physical bodies need water in order to survive and thrive, so do our spirits need the spiritual water of His love and wisdom that flow through HIs Word. 

The calming and soothing sound of a bubbling spring or a melodious fountain, or even the crashing of waves on the shore, remind us of a significant Mem word  musikah— מוסיקה. – Music. It is considered that music, perhaps more than any other medium, has the unique ability to give expression to the full range of our human emotions. Its appeal, and influence, is universal – every nation or people have their unique style of music, and is also deeply personal. Music enables one’s soul to soar to heavenly heights and it also can express one’s deepest pain and sadness. Scientific research has shown that music can have a healing effect on the mind and on the body. In addition, music reaches a person’s inner soul which, ultimately, is connected to G-d Himself. Hence, music is a natural, beautiful, and powerful means of expressing praise and worship of G-d, the Creator of all.  

It is no wonder that King David, a great leader and warrior, also is described in Scripture as “the sweet singer of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:1). His Divinely inspired Psalms primarily were written as songs for the Levitical choirs to perform. Once the Temple was built, the Psalms would become a major element of the service and worship in the Beit HaMikdash  — ביתהמיקדש – the Holy House of G-d. They have continued to echo through the centuries in both Jewish and Christian worship. 

In Jewish thinking all the earth and its creatures constantly are  “singing praise” to the Creator. Psalm 19:2 describes, “The heavens speak of G-d’s glory, and the skies tell of HIs handiwork.” In fact, all of nature is described as a a symphony made up of different instruments, all blending in harmony as in an orchestra. Even the lowliest creature has its part to play in the transcendent melody. 

THE MEM OF KINGSHIP

Linked to the preceding two letters, Caf and La’med, Mem completes the three letter word for King. Melech – מלך. The two forms of Mem reflect two aspects of G-d’s reigning – malchut. The open Mem points to the obvious, openly revealed glory of His actions, as seen in Nature, and the final, closed Mem alludes to that part of His Kingdom rule that is hidden from man. It is through one’s spirit responding to G-d’s Spirit that one becomes instinctively aware of the deeper reality of His Presence and can adhere to Him in pure and innocent faith / emunah.  

MO’ACH – Mem also begins the word mo’ach – מוח – brain.  The brain and the mind are the seat of one’s thoughts – machshevot – ,מחשבות We can either allow negative, judgmental, and ‘worldly’ thoughts or good, kind, and positive thoughts to dominate our mind. As a child of the King, when our mind and thoughts are in harmony with His, we can serve in HIs Kingdom more effectively. 

MiITZVOT – Our thoughts will be reflected in our deeds, which will will either be bad and negative or positive and good deeds – mitzvot – מצוות. The sum of our deeds will be inscribed in our own personal Megillah – scroll. 

And , finally, MASHIACH – With the coming of Messiah at the Final Redemption, the fullness of wisdom (illustrated by the final Mem) will be revealed and “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea “ (Isaiah 11:9). 

Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh points out the interesting fact that, in the whole Tanach, the final Mem only appears once in the main body of a word. It is in reference to Messiah in Isaiah 9:6 – [Mashiach will come] “… to instill [לםרבה] great leadership, peace without end, on the throne of David, and over his kingdom…now and forever.” [The Koren Tanach – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks].

THE NUMBER OF MEM

Positionally, Mem is the thirteenth letter of the Aleph Bet. There is a lovely comparison of the open Mem as representing Love – ahavah, which has the numerical value of 13, due to the open space that is always giving. The closed Mem, with its solid, contained shape, is compared with the word One – echad, which also has the value of 13. Thus the two, one reflecting the flow and outpouring of love and the other the complete unity of one-ness, beautifully depict how, when bonded in love, we become one. In addition, 13 + 13 = 26 – the number of G-d’s Name, YHVH, indicating that it is in His infinite love and one-ness that we become truly and lovingly united. 

The numerical value of Mem is forty.  The number is very prominent throughout the Bible.  The number first appears in Genesis 7:4 in relation to G-d telling Noah that the rains causing the Flood would last for forty days and nights. In the wilderness, the Israelites waited forty days for Moshe to descend from Mount Sinai with the second tablets of the Torah. The Ten Spies scouted out the Land for forty days and, as a punishment for their lack of faith and believing their negative report, the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years. 

The Sages say, “At forty years one attains insight” (Pirkei Avot 5:21).

There are forty days from conception to the initial ‘formation’ of the fetus; and ‘forty weeks, less one’ of pregnancy before delivery. 

The height of the entrance to the Sanctuary of the Holy Temple was forty cubits.

 A Mikvah, which serves as a vessel of purification, transition, and renewal, must contain at least forty se’ah of ‘living water’ – that is, rainwater or water from a flowing spring or river. 

More beautiful Mem words:

Makom –  מקום – Place. Ha’Makom – The Place is also a name given to G-d to signify HIs omnipresence. The initial, open Mem shows that He can be seen in the workings of HIs Creation and in the spirit by revelation. The closed, final Mem indicates that His full glory remains invisible, unknowable, and hidden.

Moshe -משה – Moses…prophet, teacher, leader, warrior, and, mainly, a humble Shepherd of G-d’s people.

Mabul –  מבול – Flood. The Flood cleansed and renewed the earth. 

Mezuzah–  מזוזה – The object containing words of Torah placed at the doors of one’s home to remind us, as we kiss it going out and coming in, why we live and for Whom we live.

Menorah – מנורה –  The beautiful golden Menorah in the Holy Place. Representing the Light and Presence of G-d, the Menorah needs a whole book of its own!  

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