A mikveh is a pool of water. In fact the work mikveh literally means pool or collection. The very frst time it is used is in the opening passage of the Torah, Genesis 1: 9-10, where God commands the waters be gathered together (mikveh) to reveal land.
The primary stipulation that separates a mikveh from say the pool at the JCC is that a mikveh must be composed of “living waters.” The “living waters” have to flow from some naturally occurring source of water: It cannot be static.
Water purifies. It is the source of our being. After all, our body mostly made of the stuff? We instinctively recognize that the intrinsic qualities of water as where we all came from. For all those months of gestation we were rocked in fluid, protected in a soft cocoon of water inside our mother. Just hearing the sound of water calms infants and loosens up the mental calluses from adults. That is why so many of us head for the beach during vacation. We are soothed and buffeted by the return to the primordial waters.
Judaism, at the same time, recognizes the need for a return to the place of our beginning as well as renewing our ground of being. One beautiful midrash tells of Adam’s deep pangs of loss after the exile from Eden. He wept. What did Adam do to ease his angst? He went to one of the rivers that shot from the center of the Garden and immersed himself in the waters as an act of teshuvah, repentance. And later, in Temple times, the kohanim, priests, used to dip themselves into he waters of the mikveh before their religious rites. The waters helped transform the mundane into the holy.
Travel through Israel and Europe and visitors will be astonished to find mikvehs appended to or close by all the ancient synagogues. It was the practice of our ancestors to immerse in its cleansing waters before approaching the Holy One in prayer. Each morning they would arise, place themselves into the cool waters and pray for a clean and whole heart.
Eating is a holy endeavor. So many folks bring their new pots and pans to the mikveh to immerse them in the unique “living” waters to make them suitable for blessing and consuming the foods prepared on them.
Those who convert to Judaism are required to immerse themselves into a mikveh. The act of submersion in the waters becomes a moment of transformation; of leaving the old self behind and taking on a new identity.
Blood is a powerful force in our faith too. After their period, many women attend the mikveh as a demarcation line between death (blood, represented by the body’s flushing of a potential birth) and life. In this sense, the mikveh represents the difference between the grave and the womb. The laws governing this immersion are called “Family Purity” or Taharat haMishpacha. In a similar way, people who have experienced bodily trauma also visit the mikveh as an act of renewal.
None of this is sensible in ways that can be logically explained or that are scientifically meaningful. The mikveh is not about cleanliness or staving off infection or germs. The mikveh is about comforting the soul. It is about having personal time with God. It is about acknowledging that we have a part of us that yearns to be set free from the mind-set that holds us to our real or imagined past. We are soulful beings that want to be whole.
This community is blessed to have a mikveh. Appended to Beth Shalom Synagogue, the Hanna Schwalbe Mikveh is community based. That is to say, it belongs to the Jewish community; it belongs to us all. Come learn more about it. Do you want visit? Call for a visit or a brochure at 782-2500. Become a supporter. We need it as much as it needs us.