The Mizinka Dance (Shabbos 77)

The mizinka is a peculiar custom that takes place at many weddings.  When parents marry off their last single child, they are crowned with laurel wreaths and everyone dances before them with brooms, as if to say, “You have now swept them all out of the house.”  The revellers dance to a Klezmer classic, “Di Mizinka Oysgegebn”:

Klezmer, hit the drums
Who will cherish me now?
Oy, oy, oy, God is great!
He has, of course, blessed my house
I’m giving my youngest daughter away
I’m marrying off my youngest daughter.

Stronger! Joyous!
You the queen and I the king.
Oy, oy, oy, I alone
Have with my own eyes seen
How God has made me prosperous
I’m marrying off my youngest daughter.

While some people believe the practice originates in the Ukraine, and others are convinced it is a Polish or Hungarian custom, the mizinka concept has its roots in ancient Jewish thought.  What is the meaning of this fascinating ritual?

רַבִּי זֵירָא אַשְׁכַּח לְרַב יְהוּדָה דַּהֲוָה קָאֵי אַפִּיתְחָא דְּבֵי חֲמוּהּ, וְחַזְיֵיהּ דַּהֲוָה בְּדִיחָא דַּעְתֵּיהּ, וְאִי בָּעֵי מִינֵּיהּ כׇּל חֲלָלֵי עָלְמָא הֲוָה אָמַר לֵיהּ. אֲמַר לֵיהּ: מַאי טַעְמָא… ״בּוֹר זִינְקָא״ — בּוֹר זֶה נָקִי.
בור זינקא – בור שיבשו מימיו קורין כן

Rabbi Zeira found Rav Yehuda, who was standing at the entrance of his father-in-law’s house, and observed that he was in a cheerful mood. He sensed that if he were to ask Rav Yehuda about anything in the entire world, he would tell him. He asked: Why is a dry pit called a bor-zinka? He answered: It is an abbreviation for “bor ze naki” (this pit is clean).
Rashi: A pit whose water has dried up is called a bor-zinka

In Hebrew, there are two similar-sounding words to describe a pit in the ground from which water is drawn, bor and be’er.  These terms are often used interchangeably or in parallel with one another, such as in the verse, “Drink water from your bor and flowing waters from your be’er” (Prov. 5:15).

The difference is ever so slight.  The precise translation of be’er is ‘well’, while the correct translation of bor in this context, is ‘cistern’.  A well produces water that has risen from beneath the surface of the earth.  A cistern contains water that has been deposited from above and has been manufactured to hold the water. Technically, a well should never dry up.  If there is no water present, all you need to do is dig deeper.  A cistern, however, has only as much water as you have placed into it.  When that water is all used up, the cistern dries up.

It would appear that the idea of the mizinka originates in Rav Yehuda’s explanation of the term bor-zinka.  As happens with all languages, over time, the word evolved from borzinka to mezinka.  In fact, in Yiddish, the ‘youngest daughter’ eventually became known as the ‘mezinka’!

Presumably, when a cistern dries up, it’s not cause for celebration.  There’s no water left.  And unlike a well, it will not refresh itself from below.   In parental modern day parlance, that feeling is called ‘empty nest’ syndrome.  It can be challenging for parents to come to terms with this shift in their lives.  With no kids at home, suddenly the place seems so quiet.  Almost lonely.

Rav Yehuda reframes the feeling.  Don’t think about this new stage as dry, but clean.  Cisterns are holding tanks.  The water isn’t meant to be there forever.  Your role as a parent is to maintain the water until such time that it’s ready to emerge into the big wide world.

That’s the meaning of the broom at the mizinka.  Having married off all your children to spouses who share the same sacred values of our heritage, your ‘bor’ is clean.   The word ‘bor’ is related to the word ‘bar’, meaning grain or sustenance.  We sustain our children until they are ready to build their own cistern and become a source of sustenance for others.

Perhaps that’s why some people crown the parents with garlands.  As the Mizinka song goes, you have now become the queen and king of the family, the matriarch and patriarch of future generations.

Parenting is one of the greatest challenges of this world.  In the twenty-first century, the parents who make it to mizinka truly deserve a standing ovation.  May we all merit to dance at many mizinkas of family and friends!

About the Author
Rabbi of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, London, UK.
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