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The Mystique of the Mikvah

B”H

Genetically, a woman inherits characteristics from her Mother, and she should be proud to do so. The very first Jewish Mother was Sarah, and she bequeathed to us, her daughters, three specific Mitzvahs, as an inheritance and an everlasting gift. The first Mitzvah is that of lighting the Shabbat candles. She would light her Shabbat candles, or oil and wicks, and they would stay lit for the whole week. Friday they would go out except for one flame, and she would re-kindle the candles from that. This means that in our homes, too, the candles we light for Shabbat bring not only just a finite, physical light into our homes, but also a powerful, infinite light that illuminates all the world, eliminating the darkness that exists. We bring light especially in the land of Israel, and will merit to bring the light of the ultimate redemption.

The second Mitzvah is Challah. Our Matriarch Sarah made bread and the dough was blessed, as many people would eat, and it would be abundant and tasty, sating all who would partake of it. The deeper meaning of this Mitzvah is Kashrut, as a woman is generally in charge of the home being kosher.

The third Mitzvah is essentially in the jurisdiction of the woman. Sarah had a cloud hovering over her tent. It was not a raincloud but the Shechina (Divine Presense) of G-d, bringing not only protection but also blessing. She kept the Mitzvah of Taharat Hamishpacha, Family Purity. Every Jewish woman is capable of doing all three Mitzvahs, and by doing so she brings infinite blessings over her home, as she is truly the foundation of the home, setting the tone. It is a tremendous responsibility that G-d gave the Jewish woman, but by the same token, a great compliment to be entrusted with the well-being of our husband, our children, and our grandchildren, etc. both body and soul. This is precisely why this Mitzvah is called “Taharat Hamishpacha“, FAMILY Purity, instead of “Taharat HaISHA“, Purity of the WOMAN – the action affects the entire family, not only the woman of the home.

This is precisely why this Mitzvahs is called Taharat Hamishpacha, FAMILY purity, instead of Taharat HaISHA , Purity of the WOMAN the action affects the whole family, not only the woman.

Many times it is asked : “But where is it written in the Torah?” Actually, the Torah’s very first verses allude to how the whole world was originally immersed in, and extricated from, “Mikvah Mayim“, a gathering of living waters. It was in effect the birth of the world, from the amniotic waters that covered it. This, too, is precisely what occurs when a woman immerses herself into a Mikvah, ( or a river or a sea if no mikvah is available) it is symbolically a return into the uterus, where she was originally enclosed in the amniotic sac within her mother, and a rebirth when she emerges from the “living waters”. Physically and spiritually, a woman becomes both regenerated and rejuvenated each month. She is a continuation of the golden chain of her ancestors, going back to the Matriarchs, who all kept this precious Mitzvahs.

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year, and few Jews do not observe it. However, the laws of Taharat Hamishpacha happen to be even more stringent than the laws of Yom Kippur. For example, if someone is ill, the Rabbi instructs the person how much she /he is permitted to drink or even eat if their life is in danger, heaven forfend. But a woman is
not permitted to resume marital relations until she has both counted the days and gone to the mikvah. No dispensation can be made, and no laws can be changed here.
Also on Yom Kippur, what Torah portion is read at Mincha time (afternoon)? On this holy day, we read in Parshat Acharei Mot, about forbidden intimate relations. Horrendous things are written, one may not have relations with parents, siblings, animals(!!!) Written clearly and distinctly within these forbidden relations is the injunction not only to abstain from, but also not even touch, a woman in her “Niddah status”, meaning a woman before she has gone to the Mikvah. It is a startling thought that while G-d forbids us to commit incest and bestiality, He also instructs us to go a step further when it comes to a woman who is niddah, that as well as abstaining from intimacy, touching is also not permitted!
Many Mitzvahs are performed automatically. Brit Milah (circumcision) is done at 8 days, not 2,3, or 6. This is because G-d has dictated to us how and when to do it. Eating pig or meat and milk together seems to work for everyone in the outside world, so why do we have to abstain? Because some Mitzvahs are called Chukim (statutes), meaning that there is no rationale behind it, we just have to take G-d’s word for it, unlike murder, honoring parents and stealing, which we can understand because it just makes sense. Taharat Hamishpacha comes under the category of a Chok (statute), we just have to rely on G-d’s infinite wisdom. He knows what He is doing, and just as we have trust and faith in a specialist or famous doctor , we have our faith and trust in Him, as He is the original specialist, as He created us and knows what we need and what is good for us. We rely on Him to give us our next breath, and take for granted that He will do so.

Even without blind faith, the advantages of keeping Mikvah are so obvious. Health is an example. It is a proven, medical fact that women who observe this Mitzvahs have statistically a much lower percentage of gynecological problems or diseases. There was actually a study done in England, by a group of non-Jewish doctors, to see which ethnic group of women had the lowest percentage of cancer of the uterus and cervix. To their surprise, they discovered that observant Jewish women had the lowest percentage not only of cancer of these organs, but also much less-frequent cases of infections, etc. At first the doctors ascribed this phenomenon to the fact that Jewish men are circumcised, and therefore their wives would be protected from bacteria. However that theory fell through when they realized that Moslem men, too, are circumcised (at the age of 13) but their wives shared the same status of disease as the non-Jewish women.

A woman gynecologist who was not Jewish once told me that she feels that her theory is that Jewish women are protected from many gynecological diseases because of the monthly self-examinations she needs to do in order to observe this Mitzvah, as this would show any problem before it would have a chance to spread. I have been personally witness to many women who have told me how they would catch a problem before a doctor would find it, simply by having to check themselves.

Another advantage gained by keeping this Mitzvah is the fact that when a couple keep Taharat Hamishpacha properly, their marriage is continuously preserved and kept fresh. Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.

Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.

When intimate relations have to be put on hold for approximately 12 days out of the month, it is impossible to take each other for granted. G-d is indeed a wise psychologist, He knows that people are attracted to “forbidden fruit” – so He kindly gives it to us, in the form of our own spouse, who is forbidden to us in our own marriage for the 12 days or so out of the month.

When an argument or disagreement ensues, and physical contact is out of the question, the couple have no choice but to resort to dialogue. So naturally the relationship becomes one of friendship and reciprocal respect, and communication skills are honed, as there is no other physical option. This creates much-needed “space” for both spouses. Over the years, the couple habitually get used to resolving their differences with mutual respect, and do not regard one another as only “sex objects”. When intimacy can again be resumed, it is with higher appreciation and love, as well as freshness, It is an antidote for boredom with the spouse. Indeed, many therapists advocated temporary abstinence as a solution for problems in a couple’s intimate life.

We do everything for our children – our time, finances, we lavish them with all we have, yet what a priceless gift we give them when we keep Taharat Hamishpacha. The good news is, this mitzvah is RETROACTIVE!

This means, that once a woman starts to observe mikvah, her children automatically take the status of being born according to family purity. Once, I was speaking in New Jersey, and one of the Mitzvahs I spoke about was mikvah. After my speech, I was approached by an elegant, middle aged lady. She was very angry! “Why did no one tell me about this until now?” She fumed,”They told me about Kashrut, and I koshered my home! They told me about Shabbat, and we are keeping it. But nobody told me about mikvah, and I have already had my children! I would have kept it if they would have told me! Is it too late?!” I reassured her that no, it is never too late. Keeping mikvah is retroactive, if someone did not know about it, and she started to observe it, it is counted to her as if she always went. Even a post-menopausal woman, or a woman who has undergone a hysterectomy, can and should count 12 days and then go to a Mikvah, it is to her great merit and advantage to do so.

It is a fallacy that the Mikvah waters can be anything but clean. The truth is, it is far more clean than a swimming pool! A mikvah is just not valid if it is not spotlessly clean. The water is changed every night. Women who keep this Mitzvah are chaste, and not allowed to go if they have any infections. The water is slightly chlorinated, to be bacteria-free. Before a woman can immerse, she has to bathe and scrub herself to be immaculately clean. I advise women who are particular, to make sure to be at the mikvah first so she will be the first to go into the water. The Baal Shem Tov, a Mystical Kabbalist, promised that no woman will ever get sick from keeping this mitzvah, it is the opposite, it will protect her in every way.

The requisite amount of water in a mikvah has to be (minimum) 40 seah – a seah is a biblical measure of water, about 15 gallons. It is a very symbolic number by the Jewish people. It took 40 days for Moshe Rabbeinu to get the 10 Commandments from G-d; The Jews were in the Desert for 40 years; A fetus is formed in 40 days, and pregnancy is 40 weeks. The Flood took 40 days and 40 nights of rainwater, to purify the whole world, which had become impure and needed the Mikvah waters.

The importance of Mikvah is validated when one sees that on top of Masada, there are actual mikvahs that were built. Even though water was obviously so scarce, the Jewish people realized even then how vital a mikvah is for our existence.

Many people mistakenly believe that nowadays we are exempt from keeping Mikvah because we have indoor plumbing. They are under the assumption that they can use their own bathtubs to perform this Mitzvah, thinking that in the olden days women went to the mikvah in order to be physically clean, as there was no running water. The actual name of this Mitzvah – TAHARAT Hamishpacha – proves that it is not so. “Tahara” does not mean cleanliness of the BODY, it means purity of the SOUL. It is a fact that before a woman immerses into a Mikvah, she has to totally and scrupulously cleanse her whole body 100%, otherwise the immersion is not valid. We have both a body and a Soul. Although we cannot see or touch our soul, we are instructed to purify it in the living waters of a Mikvah, at the appropriate times. The Mikvah water is not merely tap water, it is also rain water – Mayim Chayim, live water. Therefore the purification is for the G-dly soul, or Neshama. The Mitzvah is not obsolete nowadays, just the opposite, we all need our souls strengthened, as a healthy soul makes for a healthy body.

we all need our souls strengthened, as a healthy soul makes for a healthy body

The Prophet Amos predicted: ” The days are coming when there will be a hunger and a thirst, not for bread or water, but for G-dliness.” It is very apparent that this prophecy is being fulfilled ALL OVER THE WORLD, specifically for this most significant of Mitzvahs. Our holy Jewish souls, which contain a part of G-d’s essence, are thirsty, even parched, and can be quenched by the living, vibrant waters of the Mikvah.

As was published on Mikvah.org

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