The mikvah is a necessary part of a religious married woman’s life. I must admit to loving the whole idea of ritual purification, of being spiritually cleansed so that I can “be” with my spouse on many different levels – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
I appreciate the time I have to look within myself, to “fix” that which I believe needs “fixing”. To have some time for introspection. When Elul comes around, with Rosh Hashannah close by, we all are more or less shocked into similar introspection. Suddenly we have a year’s worth of self examination to fit into a month or less. I like to do this at least monthly (weekly or even daily introspection is great, but with a busy home life it is difficult to do), and my mikvah preparation time is set aside for physical and spiritual cleansing.
Since returning 18 months ago to the state of holy matrimony, I once again have the privilege of using the mikvah. I now bring a different mindset to the whole thing. Marriage takes on a different meaning once you have experienced the pain of divorce. Some people never recover enough to be able to trust again; I was so worried that I would be one of them. But once my new husband entered my life, he enabled me to trust again, he inspired me to be both a better person and a better Jewess. He renewed my faith not just in men, but in myself.
When I prepared for the mikvah before my wedding it was a true celebration – not only was I cleansing my body and soul in preparation for my marriage, but I also was renewing my sacred bond with the One Above, washing away the anguish, the sadness and the raw pain of the years that intervened between my last immersion and this one. I was always taught that the waters of the mikvah aren’t there to wash away dirt – for we are physically clean before we enter it – but that they are there to wash away spiritual impurity.
That night, the water awaited me, its surface still, like a sheet of ice, belying the warmth in the room. I had spent the last hour in mental and physical preparation for this moment. I was ready, in my body and spirit, to be renewed. My face and body were scrubbed clean, my long hair combed and knot free. I was without makeup, and had shed my tailored clothing – my personal truth revealed in my near-nakedness. My soul was ready – it was eager to be refreshed.
I knew that the next day I would bring myself to the chuppah, to pledge my undying love and devotion to the man of my dreams. This step was one of many to be completed before the wedding, but it was the most important one to me.
The attendant handed me a prayer that brides have said since time immemorial. As I recited it, I felt their bond, their sisterhood; I felt their arms around me, their wishes for a life of happiness and joy, love, and laughter.
It was time for me to immerse. The attendant turned away so that I could modestly remove my robe and descend the steps into the sacred waters. I allowed my mind to slip into a contemplative mode, and I felt the cool water lap against my shins as I slowly descended into the depths. Once I was in the water up to my neck the attendant turned to me, keeping her eyes on my face, wanting to spare me any feelings of embarrassment.
She nodded to me, silently communicating that it was time to start the immersion. All that I had learned weeks before in my kallah classes came flooding back to me. I briefly panicked that I wouldn’t perform the mitzvah correctly, even though I had performed it so many times before. Calm suddenly descended, and I felt my body suffused with confidence and otherworldly light. My soul, my very old soul that was at Mount Sinai, steered me in the right direction, as it has always done before.
I moved my body forward, diving gracefully into the water. The water rose up to close over my head as I quickly caught my breath. I remembered not to tense my body but to allow every part of me to be caressed by the blessed waters, to allow this water to cleanse and purify my spirit, to ready me for the journey of a thousand lifetimes.
I surfaced and recited the blessing – I heard my sisters around the world answer “Amen.” I immersed two more times, each time feeling layers and layers of doubt and uncertainty lift from me. As I entered into the elevated state of purity, I felt cleansed from my past transgressions and energized to fill the future with everything that is good and just in the world.
I floated out of the ritual bath on the wings of angels who the next day accompanied me to the chuppah, to the start of my new beginning.
This post is part of Jewels of Elul, which celebrates the Jewish tradition to dedicate the 29 days of the month of Elul to growth and discovery in preparation for the coming high holy days. This year the program is benefiting Beit T’shuvah, a residential addiction treatment center in Los Angeles. You can subscribe on Jewels of Elul to receive inspirational reflections from public figures each day of the month. You don’t have to be on the blog tour to write a blog post on “The Art of Beginning… Again”. We invite everyone to post this month (August 11th – September 8th) with Jewels of Elul to grow and learn.