Illuminated Hebrew Letter Series - Mem
Illuminated Mem - by Adam Rhine
Watercolor on Paper

For more information about this painting, email the artist at adam@hebrewart.com

“Your kingdom is a kingdom spanning all eternities. Your dominion is everlasting from generation to generation.” Tehillim/Psalm 145:13

Here, the mem begins the word for “kingdom” – malchus. We live in G-d’s world, this physical domain, into which divine emanation flows, and then rises like a fountain to flow back again. This is why malchus is associated with women, because it is the receptacle of divine plenty and goodness. It is the place of planting seeds, of “working the field”, of birthing, and of creative manifestation. The shape of the letter mem is likened to the womb or a reservoir, and is connected to the power of reproduction. The mem has two forms – open, and closed when it is placed at the end of a word. These two forms symbolize the revealed and hidden dimensions of the Torah. It is not surprising that mem begins the Hebrew word for “water”, mayim, which is a metaphor for spiritual knowledge. All life depends on water.The Hebrew word for compassion, rachamim, ends with the three letters mem-yud-mem, the same letters that spell water. The word for “womb” in Hebrew – rechem – is connected to both rachamim and mayim. Hence our understanding of the feminine presence in the Kingdom of G-d.

The number 40 has great significance in the Torah. Moses ascended Mount Sinai for 40 days; the Jewish people wandered for 40 years in the wilderness; 40 generations from Moses to the completion of the Talmud; the minimum quantity of water required for a mikveh (spiritual bath) is 40 seah; the height of the entrance to the sanctuary of the Temple was 40 cubits; there are 40 weeks of pregnancy. In the Jewish tradition it is believed that 40 days before the birth of a baby, their soul-mate is announced in heaven.

Mem also begins the word mitzvot, the 613 divine precepts, or ways of creating a deeply personal, living relationship with Hashem, that are taught to us by Moses in the Torah.

May we always be open and receptive to the flowing Source of all life. As new seeds of awareness are planted and grow, may we always be open to change.

Text by Louise Temple from the book "Hebrew Illuminations"