Mem is for Mayyim

by Pam McArthur


memIt seems simple, this Hebrew word for water, mayyim.  The humming, mother-sound, the letter mem at beginning and end. The ear might hear and think a palindrome, a word the same from right to left and left to right. You might think you could go from beginning to end, then turn and go back the same, but you can’t. No. It is not that simple, mayyim.

In the beauty of the aleph-bet the mem at the end is shaped differently than the mem at the beginning. Same sound, same letter, but not the same; and so it is when you pass through water. You enter in one shape and you emerge still you, still you but changed, and you cannot turn around, you cannot go back to who you were before. It is not that simple, mayyim, element of change.

ireland water

And what stands between the beginning mem and the ending mem, in that space where change takes place? A yud. The smallest of letters. A fingernail curve, a liquid drop, a whisper. A yud. An almost nothing. But write two yuds together and you have written the name of God. This is the message of the yud in mayyim: God is in the heart of the water, brought there through halacha, Jewish law, through b’rachot, blessing, through the yearning of your own heart, and this is why you enter and emerge and are never the same again. It is and it is not simple.




pamPam McArthur is member of Congregation Beth El of the Sudbury River Valley and a preschool teacher at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley. She first went to Mayyim Hayyim with her bride-to-be before her wedding in June 2004. Ever since, she’s been a regular there on Friday afternoons. 


About mayyimhayyim

Mayyim Hayyim is a 21st century creation, a mikveh rooted in ancient tradition, reinvented to serve the Jewish community of today
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4 Responses to Mem is for Mayyim

  1. Gail Elson says:

    Beautiful, Pam. The word says it all.

  2. Jim Billings says:

    Beautiful Pam, a treasure!

    • Rene katersky says:

      Beautiful post, Pam. I don’t think I will ever see the Hebrew word for water in quite the same way again!
      Rene k

  3. Every time I read this — and there have been many, many times — I learn something and I feel blessed.

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