Friday, October 2, 2009

Hebrew "King": Mama moving waters, Like rain showering, Cupped hands receiving

from Rachel Barenblat, the Velveteen Rabbi, and her post Yom Kippur 5770:

5. King

The word מלך, "king," is a prevalent metaphor in the High Holiday liturgy. We can see this through a new lens if we unpack the individual letters of the word:
  • מ / mem: this letter can be found in the mmm of mama and ima, the m-sound at the beginning of the word mayyim (waters, both cosmic and otherwise). Mem is a letter of motherhood and water.
  • ל / lamed: this letter begins up high, then takes a crooked path to reach the ground below. Like the flow of divine abundance which begins on high and divagates as it reaches us; like our lives, which start out straight but always wind up complicated. Lamed is a channel from high to low.
  • כ / chaf: this letter is cupped, like hands brought together to receive.
These three letters flow together sequentially in the alef-bet. Here in our liturgy they speak to us of divine kingship or sovereignty -- and they also speak to us of the root metaphor of motherhood and divine flow, coming down through its crooked channels into our hands.
Before reciting the ha-Melech prayer on Yom Kippur morning, Simcha Zevit gives over this teaching in the name of Reb Marcia Prager, and then invites us to rise and embody it: hands waving above our heads like the rish-rush of the waters, then twisting and flowing down toward the ground, then cupped to receive abundance and then to offer it to someone else in the room. Suddenly melech doesn't seem to be so much about power-over anymore.

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