Friday, November 20, 2009
The Letter Mem
The letter mem is a majestic letter--literally. Mem is the first letter of the Hebrew words malchut/royalty and memshalah/dominion. A melech (king) is a leader who rules by the will of the people, whereas a moshel is more of an authoritarian ruler.
The letter mem, when used as a prefix, is the preposition “from.” Perhaps this is related to the letter's connection to forms of government, from where rules are issued. This, of course, can be understood spiritually to relate to the words that emanated from God, the ultimate Melech, to create the world.
The mem is closely tied to the word mayim (water), which is written as two mems connected by a yud. Water is a critical ingredient for life. Indeed, every creature is predominantly made of water. Mayim is often used as an analogy for the Torah, which is referred to as mayim chaim, living water, because it is critical for spiritual life.
The numeric value of the letter mem is forty. In Judaism, the number 40 is connected to several important events such as the number of days it rained during the flood, the number of days that Moses was on Mount Sinai and the number of years the Jews wandered in the wilderness.
Mem is one of the five letters of the aleph-bet that has a sofit, a different form used when the letter appears at the end of the word. The sages interpreted this to represent the difference between that which is revealed (the regular mem is open) and that which is hidden (the mem sofit is completely closed) (Talmud Shabbat 104a).
Bibliographical acknowledgment: The Wisdom In The Hebrew Alphabet: The Sacred Letters as a Guide to Jewish Deed and Thought. By Rabbi Michael L. Munk. Published by Mesorah Publications, 1983.