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mizpah grand-canyon-watch-towerWatchtower Overlooking the Grand Canyon, AZ

Word Smith: Mizpah

My grandmother, Millie Anderson Hooper, whom we affectionately called “Gran,” had a story to tell us during our engagement. One winter afternoon, while sitting in her library surrounded by her beloved books she was compelled to let Tracy and me in on a private blessing. We were to be married the coming May, but Gran wanted to meet with us immediately.  When we arrived at her house, after welcoming niceties, she lowered her voice and said, “I have a Jewish word engraved in my wedding ring from Granddad.”

Since Gran did not know a Hebrew tradition even if she were hit by a flying yarmulke, we were surprised at her revelation.  What she meant was that she had the Anglicized version of a Hebrew word on her ring.  The lettering was small and nearly worn away, but we could just make it out. The word was Mizpah.

We asked Gran what it meant. She said that the word means: “May God be with you when we are apart, one from another…” She explained that whenever Granddad was on a trip, she was comforted by his vow that God would be there to protect her.  It felt like such a beautiful gesture of protection for a husband to place a shield over his wife.  Granddad had been dead for about ten years, but his passing did not affect her feeling of matrimonial protection.

mizpah 3“Mizpah” written in Hebrew

I looked for the word Mizpah in the Bible, but did not find it. I even consulted with some of my Jewish friends, David Nierenberg and Jon Aaron, but they did not know the word either. Granddad had engraved Gran’s ring way back in 1919, so I gave greater credence to her version of the word’s meaning and went with it.

Tracy and I decided right then and there that we would continue the family tradition. When we went to Smyth’s Jewelers to pick out our wedding rings, we instructed them to engrave the word “Mizpah” in Tracy’s ring.  We spelled it out for him.  He also engraved our wedding date and the words, “Love, Henry” inside the ring.

Over the last 30 years we have heard the word, Mizpah, several times from different sources. Yet, we had no clear recollection of where nor in what context we had heard it.

This past week (January, 2014), while reading a passage from the Book of Samuel, I came across the word Mizpah and it seemed to have a different meaning altogether from the notion of matrimonial protection. This Word Press is an effort to reconcile the different meanings for the word engraved on Gran’s and Tracy’s wedding rings.

mizpah Yad_HaShmonah_watchtower2,tbq020203Watchtower outside Jerusalem

Mizpah

In Samuel, Mizpah is a place in the city of Benjamin, which is about six miles from Jerusalem. Samuel is gathering the people of the town at the Mizpah to recognize that Saul had been chosen by Yahweh to be the ruler of Israel. In this way the word seems to be a specifically designated place in the city, like a town hall. In other sections of the Bible, the word Mizpah connotes a “watchtower” which makes sense. A watchtower is a safe high place of a walled city, from which invaders can be spotted and the town citizens warned of danger and attack. It is a place of protection to safeguard the citizens.

Two other references to Mizpah showed up in my search of the internet. The first was the image of a coin-medallion with the word Mizpah on two halves of a pendant. It has a lightening bolt dividing the two halves. One half has MIZ across it’s top and the other half has PAH. The two halves, when placed together, say: “The Lord watch between me and thee while we are absent one from another.” This is a quotation from Genesis 30:149 and is very close to the wording that Gran Hooper had for the meaning.

mizpah 2Mizpah Coin

I found a second humorous reference to an item of personal protection. The reference came in the form of a Philadelphia newspaper ad, circa 1922. The words Mizpah #44 appear with a graphic, which seems a precursor to the modern day Jock Strap, (athletic supporter). Not much has changed in that department over the past 90 years. Since my high school football jersey number was 44 and I indeed wore an athletic supporter at the time, there may be an eerie coincidence in the ether.

Mizpah_1922_Jockstrap_AdvertisementMizpah No. 44

Joking aside, the word Mizpah has some great lessons for us all.

mizpah Palace_Watchtower_DKWatchtower on a Walled City

It is not always all about bold individualism. Life may be more about finding someone you love, whom, with God’s help, you can protect and be watchful over. I am ever so grateful to have found a spouse who loves me and for whom I would surrender my life. Now that we have children, the word is even more prescient, as I want to extend the shield of protection over them and the ones they love. I want a Watchtower in their towns, wherever they live, and in their hearts, which will undoubtedly be broken.

There is also the notion that there can be Mizpah protection for a loved one after the protector has died.  Gran and Granddad were married for over 50 years. Even in death there are connections, an after life, that extend from one person to another.

Thank you, Granddad, for finding a word, rich in tradition and meaning, that reached beyond your narrow Episcopalian traditions. Thank you for the example of living Mizpah for and with our family. It is a gift of protection for all of us! Thank you, Gran, for extending the metaphor to us and sharing your strong faith in God. Your example was always to seek His help first when watching over our loved ones.

7 thoughts on “Word Smith: Mizpah

  1. I too have a wedding ring with Mizpah engraved inside. It belonged to my grandmother and included my grandparents initials and wedding date 11-22-1914. They were Missouri Methodists.

  2. Henry… it is a pleasure to read this blog today. My wife and i were married on this date, October 9, 11 years ago. We now have three beautiful children. Today we celebrate our anniversary with great thankfulness and rejoicing! God is so good! It is only because of His great grace that we are still together. Two years ago we were separated and I was in a drug rehab. I returned home after a 60 day separation and began the hard but very necessary process of reconciling with my wife. It has been a long difficult journey with many ups and downs, twists and turns, and it’s all been worth it. My wife is so very worth it. My kids are worth it. God’s glory is worth it. And today… she asked me to put my wedding ring on for the first time since December 2013. Engraved on the inside of the band is “MIZPAH”. She had this done for me! Tara and I both understand the meaning of this word and how significant it is to us. God has called me to not just remember to covenant and promise I made, but also to be a “watchtower… a watchmen on the wall” a spiritual warrior for my family, to look after and protect them from the enemy and any evil that may come against them and our family. And ultimately it brings us great peace to know that the Lord is watching over us. He is the keeper of our marriage. The only way we can stay true to the promise of our love and commitment to one another is by the power of His Spirit in us! Thanks for sharing… from one Hooper to another! Blessings and Love!

    MICHAEL JOHN WESLEY HOOPER
    Son of Marty Bob Hooper
    Grandson of Marvin Robert Hooper
    Family Origins: Lawton, OK and Bakersfield, CA

    • Michael, thank you for the reply. You are brave to hang in there with your wife and the protection of Mizpah. We all need help with our marriages and our demons. I will pray for a Hooper watchtower to guard over you and your family.
      — Henry

  3. I am the daughter of a fallen soldier. When my father went to France on D-Day, during WWII, my mother & father used to sign their letters “MIZPAH.” After his death (I was just 2) the Canadian Government contacted my mom to ask what she would like on his tombstone…
    It took 40 years to confirm the actual grave marking, but in 1984, my mother, my daughter & I traveled to France and visited the Canadian War Memorial Cemetery at Bene Sur Mer. Indeed, MIZPAH was engraved on his memorial stone. It was such an emotional moment for my mother and me.
    I also have a pin that says MIZPAH on it. I proudly wear the pin each Remembrance Day.
    I just happened to be ‘surfing the web’ and came across this interesting article …..I’m so glad I made this connection…..

  4. When I was a young Mom back in the ’60’s, I had a lovely lady who lived quite near me. We always chatted together. She was quite old then and she had a disc she always wore with Mizpah on it. Once I asked her about the disc and she told me what Mizpah meant. Very sadly my daughter and I are estranged, and we do not see/communicate with each other. These are sad circumstances, but I want to get her one of these Mispah discs with this inscription. I feel recollecting this lovely lady offers me a lifeline to resolve my communication with my daughter. I get completely distraught not being able to solve this situation. So now I will have to find out where I can get a set of these discs. Any ideas? Please?

    • Dear Margaret,
      Check out the internet. I am sure that you can find a copy of a Mispah disc for you to share with your daughter. I spotted them on EBAY and Lancaster Jewelers on line.
      Happy Reconciliation,
      — Henry Hooper

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