The Hebrew Letters: Mem

Fountain of Wisdom

The mem, the letter of “water” (mayim) symbolizes the fountain of the Divine Wisdom of Torah. Just as the waters of a physical fountain (spring) ascend from their unknown subterranean source (the secret of the abyss in the account of Creation) to reveal themselves on earth, so does the fountain of wisdom express the power of flow from the superconscious source. In the terminology of Kabbalah, this flow is from keter (“crown”) to chochmah (“wisdom”). The stream is symbolized in Proverbs as “the flowing stream, the source of wisdom.”

In particular, we are taught that there are thirteen channels of flow from the superconscious source to the beginning of consciousness. These channels correspond to the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy revealed to Moses at Sinai, as well as to the thirteen principles of Torah exegesis, the (superrational) “logic” of Torah.

The mem is the thirteenth letter of the alef-beit. In Kabbalah we are taught that “thirteen mems,” as it were, appear in the “primordial air,” the (outer) “space” into which the letter lamed soars. Each attribute of mercy is in fact a contraction of relatively Infinite wisdom, at the level of the superconscious (“waters that have no end”), in order to channel and reveal a flash of wisdom on to the “screen” of consciousness. Conscious wisdom draws its points of insight primarily from that attribute of mercy referred to in Torah as “He retains kindness for thousands of generations,” whose initial letters spell the Hebrew word for “stream, “the first word in the previously quoted phrase, “the flowing stream, the source of wisdom.”

Iat’bashmem transforms to yud, the point of wisdom or revealed insight, the drop of water emerging from the fountain of the mem.

The words for “one” (echad) and “love” (ahavah) both equal thirteen, the secret of the letter mem. The closed, final mem, the source of the fountain of wisdom connected and included within its subterranean, superconscious source, corresponds to the secret of echad, “one.” The open mem, from which emerges the point (yud) of conscious insight, is the first manifestation of love (i.e., will to cling to another) in the soul. The connection between the two fountains of the mem, the “closed” fountain and the “open” fountain, is by the power of the Thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy. This is the secret of G-d’s Essential Name Havayah – the “Name of Mercy.” The Name Havayah equals 26 = 2 times 13, the union of “one” and “love,” the power to draw into consciousness the wisdom of Torah.


FORM

The open mem – a square with a small opening at its lower left corner.
The final mem – complete square.

Worlds:

 

  • The open mem – a flowing stream.
  • The closed final mem – an underground stream.
  • The womb.

Souls:

 

  • The soul – the flowing stream, the source of wisdom.
  • The open mem – self-consciousness.
  • The closed mem – unconscious states of being; the power of reproduction.

Divinity:

 

  • The closed mem – the arrival of the Mashiach.
  • The waters of teshuvah.

 


NAME

Water; blemish.

Worlds:

 

  • Water’s ability to glue substances.
  • Water’s descending nature.
  • The evil waters of false, external passions.
  • The plenitude of water and life’s dependence on it.
  • Blemish – the concealment of G-d’s Light in the lower worlds – Nature.

Souls:

 

  • The root of the soul is without blemish.
  • The love of G-d flowing forth like water.

Divinity:

 

  • Water – a parable for Torah.
  • The closed mem – the first saying of Creation.
  • The open mem – the subsequent nine sayings of Creation.
  • The open mem – the exoteric dimension of Torah.
  • The closed mem – the esoteric dimension of Torah.

 


NUMBER

Forty

Worlds:

 

  • Forty days of the flood.
  • Forty seah, the minimum quantity of water required for a kosher mikveh.
  • Forty years of wandering in the Desert.

Souls:

 

  • Forty days from conception to the initial “formation” of the fetus.
  • “Forty less one”:
  • The punishment of stripes;
  • The categories of work forbidden on the Sabbath;
  • The weeks of pregnancy.
  • Forty days of Israel waiting for Moses to descend with the Torah.
  • The (three) forty-year periods in the lives of Moses, Hillel, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai, and Rabbi Akiva.
  • Forty generations from Moses to the completion of the Talmud.

Divinity:

 

  • Forty days of “lower teshuvah” for the sin of the Golden Calf.
  • Forty days of “higher teshuvah” in which Moses received the second tablets.
  • Forty cubits – the height of the entrance to the Sanctuary of the Temple.

 

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