[b-hebrew] Is 9:6 Mem clausum?

Schmuel schmuel at escape.com
Fri Mar 18 10:21:38 EST 2005


>> Could someone perhaps offer some ideas as to why the 'mem' in the
>> word for: 'increase' is written this way? 

Hi Chris,

Here is discussion of traditional Jewish views on this final mem phenomenon.  

While other views are of course worthy of consideration, the ancient understandings
should of course be researched and considered. So I have extracted pretty much the full complement of scholarship available on the Internet, to which can be added this current thread :-)

You will see that the final mem is discussed in Midrash Ruth in the Talmud and Yalkut Isaiah (early), and in Jewish mysticism in the Zohar and Bahir 84, and in rabbinics by Radaq. (David Kimchi).  The mem as representing the womb is referenced in Sefer Yetzira 3:4, Bahir 85, Etz Chaim, Shaar HaYereach,  kabbalistic writings. It would be nice research project to pull out each of these sections with quotes :-) 

Apparently it is true that the Isaiah 9:6 closed mem was considered a special phenomenon for interpretation by Rabbinical writers, enough so that an interpretation was even offered in Midrash Ruth.

The End of History­Messiah Conspiracy - Philip Moore

The closed mem .. is always used in the Bible at the end of a word. The only exception, where it is placed in the middle of a word, is in a prophecy in Isaiah which indicates the increase of the Messiah’s government. That word hB;r"!oy´l; (lemarbe) meaning “to increase” should read hB;r"moy´l; with the double underlined second letter (reading from right to left) of the word open, not closed, as you see in the first example which appears in the Hebrew Bible. 

(Risto) Santala consults one of the ancient rabbinical commentaries, he points out that: “The zohar (11) on the other hand decides that the closed ‘m’ refers to the fact that the Messiah will be born from a ‘closed womb’. 
Risto Santala, The Messiah in the Old Testament in the Light of Rabbinical Writings, p. 194. 

Jewish Thought and Spirituality, Christian Influences in the Zohar - Yehudah Liebes
(11) Israeli professor Yehudah Liebes mentions this closed mem in connection with the ancient rabbinical literature and Christological combined speculation. Delving a good bit deeper than Santala, he writes: “...the idea of the Messiah who splits open the closed womb of the Shekhina signified by the closed letter Mem developed in later Kabbalistic thinking­an idea which had its beginnings in the Zohar, in which Midrashic, Kabbalistic and Christological speculations were combined....This connection could easily have been made by interpreting the word bara in Genesis 1:1 according to its Aramaic rendering­son­especially if they utilized the statement of the rabbis discussed previously: ‘In the beginning’ (i.e., the word bereshith) is also a statement (by which God created the world).’ This interpretation would have carried even more weight had Christians added to it the Talmudic passage which designated the closed final mem as a ‘closed statement’ along with their own understanding of this letter as representing the womb of the virgin, as mentioned above....parallel to the Sifra di-Tseniutha’s ‘half a statement’­born of a closed womb, albeit the Christological connection between the closed mem as the womb and closed statement....After a lengthy discourse on these ideas, Neckam substantiates them by interpreting the various combinations of the Hebrew letters found in the word bereshith (in the beginning): Ab (father), bar (son), esh (fire = Holy Spirit) and yesh (existence). He even interprets the final letter Tav as signifying the cross, among other things.” Yehudah Liebes, “Jewish Thought and Spirituality, Christian Influences in the Zohar,” Immanuel, Winter 1983/84, © 1983, pp. 55-57, used by permission (note from Risto Santala's book)


A discussion of whether this reflects " Christian Influences in the Zohar" may be too far afield for this forum --- but it does sound like Yehudah Liebes book would make a very interesting read.


Earlier is the Midrash Ruth reference, upon which the Zohar builds. 

 - Risto Santala

In the same discussion we catch a glimpse of the esoteric "closed mem" question: of Isaiah 9:7 (9:6 in Heb. OT): 
    "Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end" -- le-Marbeh ha-Misrah . . .
Here the first 'm' is written in a way, which is actually the form known as 'closed' or 'final' mem, and which should appear in that form only at the end of a word. The verse is thus said to apply to Hezekiah to whom the prophesied child and Prince of Peace refer. The conversation concludes, however, that it speaks of " the Messiah-king, upon whom will rest the Spirit of the Lord" (Is.11:2). God wished to make Hezekiah the "Messiah", but the matter was delayed, "therefore the mem was closed". The Zohar tradition sees in this a hint that the Messiah foretold by Isaiah will be born from "a closed womb". (Midrash Ruth, 5th parashah. )

Notice that this parallels the discussion of "that seed which comes from another place". 

A longer discussion is given at 

Some observe that l'marbeh (be increased) is written with a closed mem.(109) p. 81
(109) According to Sanhedrin 94a God intended Hezekiah to be the Messiah, but the closed mem teaches that he was shut out from that honour because he had not sung God's praises.
In Midrash Ruth section VII,2 he is linked with "a closed mem".p. 145
Midrash Ruth then turns again to the secret of the Messiah. It takes up the enigmatic words in Isaiah IX,6    -  
"of the increase of his government there will be no end". And Midrash Ruth remarks that "some observe that l'marbeh (of the increase) is written with a closed mem". p. 161

VII,2 The secret of the "closed Mem", p.162
in the name of Rabbi Bar Qaparah:"The Holy One wished to make Hezekiah the Messiah and
Sennacherib Gog and Magog. But the attribute of judgment pleaded against it, and said, David the king of Israel repeated so many songs and praises, and thou hast not made him the Messiah; and yet thou art thinking of making Hezekiah the Messiah, for the sake so many miracles have been performed, and who, nevertheless, has not repeated one song of praise! So that councel was closed, and hence the closed mem." ( Sanhedrin 94,a and e.g. Yalkut Isaiah in the corresponding context of Isaiah IX.)

..... In the Zohar there are at least six discussions about the closed mem. They all are related to the story in Sanhedrin 94a about the Holy One, who "wished to appoint Hezekiah as the Messiah". Four of them are bound to the Song of Solomon IV,12, "A Garden locked is my sister, my bride; a garden locked, a fountain sealed".

Would it point to the birth of the Messiah? The discussion about the closed mem and the Messiah is
as we have seen essentially linked with the "locked garden and sealed fountain" in the Song of Solomon. p. 164

The incontrovertible conclusion of the Sages is, that the word  "the increase" ( l'marbeh)  is written with a closed mem and not a normal open one because the (closed mem) here refers to the secret of the Messiah. The tradition is recorded in the name of Rabbi Bar Qapparah, a citizen of Sepphoris in Midrash Ruth, the pupil of Judah ha-nasi in the end of Tannaic period. p. 257 (also p. 278 continues)


We may consider these rabbinic interpretations as incorrect, or one may disagree with the Christian interpretations of the rabbinics, but in any case they should be mentioned as the most ancient theories to properly answer your question.


Here is one more modern Jewish discussion of the final mem in Isaiah.

Ta'amei HaMitzvot and Shaar HaMitzvot by Rabbi Moshe Wisnefsky 

Now, Leah is manifest in the dalet of the knot of the [head-]tefillin, and Rachel is also manifest as a dalet. When they join together, they form the closed mem of the word "to increase [lemarbeh] the reign." (Isaiah 9:6)
The final mem can be envisioned as two dalet's, one written normally and the other upside down and backwards, forming the angular mirror-image of the first one.
The final mem occurs in the middle of a word only once in the Bible, in the verse, "To increase the reign and for peace without end over the throne of David and his kingdom...." The word for "to increase" [le-marbeh] is spelled lamed-[final] mem-reish-beit-hei.
[The final mem] is formed of two hinges and two doors. The two hinges are the two yud's, i.e., the thorns in the backs of the dalet's, this being what distinguishes the letter dalet from the letter reish.

Another easier-to-read summary is given by Daniel Botkin.


Rabbis associated the letter mem with the womb (Sefer Yetzira 3:4, Bahir 85, Etz Chaim, Shaar HaYereach 3, p. 176). A closed mem is a closed womb; an open mem is the womb opening to give birth (Bahir 84). .... the rabbis do not see any hints of Miriam in Isaiah’s prophecy, but they are aware of this mysterious closed mem and of its Messianic implications. The rabbis teach that when it is time for the Redemption, the closed mem of Isaiah’s l’marbeh will open for the coming of the Messiah (Radak, Isa. 9:6).  

Daniel's conclusion - the Holy Spirit inspired Isaiah to break the rules of Hebrew grammar and spelling :-) 

Your mileage may vary. 

Steven Avery
Queens, NY

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