April 6, 2016 at 12:00 am #17160
Someone on my Facebook page recently asked the following question, “My Kabbalah teacher suggested I mikveh yet the Jews who run the orthodox mikveh (the only place to go in Chicago until summer) said there is no reason to. Can you post or blog or reply about this topic? It’s so important to me to understand but I need your help.”
Here are a few thoughts on the matter:
I understand that you were advised to use the mikvah based on the Kabbalistic notion of adding sanctity and spirituality. This is always a good thing and there are many ways to go about bringing more sanctity to our lives. And from what you write, I imagine that you use the ocean for this purpose during the warmer months. And truthfully, the ocean is one of the best mikvaot in the world.
However, the mikva that Orthodox communities build are done so exclusively for the purpose of intimacy in a Jewish marriage.
Judaism is not simply a grouping of isolated practices. It is an all-encompassing way of life, addressing life on a spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical dimension. The laws (halachot) that govern daily life cover – amongst many others things – such arenas as:
• Charity, finance and commerce
• Permitted and forbidden foods (Kashrut) as well as laws governing farming
• Shabbat and other holidays
• Marital intimacy (Mikva)
With regard to the last body of law, they exist to preserve the spiritual integrity of the marriage in a particular context – that of Jewish daily life. Without that context, the use of the local Orthodox mikva is irrelevant.
I am confident that the local Orthodox synagogue in Chicago is driven by this principle. The particular context and intention for which their mikva was designed is limited to the sanctity of marriage within an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle.
That said, in addition to your own symbolic immersion in waters of your choice, I would like to suggest a broader way to attain healing and purity.
One of the foremost Jewish commentators is an early medieval sage by the name of Maimonides, also known as the Rambam. In his magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah, he covers the vast body of Torah law. One of the Orders of that work is called Seder Tahara (The Order of Purity.) It deals with all the myriad laws of purity and impurity (of which mikva – being the purification process – is only a part.) At end of the Laws of Mikva, Chapter 11 (Seder Taharah, Hilchot Mikvaot, Perek 11) the Rambam tells us a few important ideas:
• Mikva is supra-rational. The human mind cannot understand it
• Halachic purification (that which is required by law in the context of Jewish daily life) requires that one actually physically immerse in a mikva
• Immersion requires intention
• And extrapolating from the aspect of intention, it is valuable to know that one can purify the mind and soul by immersing oneself in the knowledge of G-d. In this context, the deeper meaning of Mikva is to “immerse in the waters of knowledge.”
In his words (I have only slightly edited syntax for ease of reading. Round parentheses are my additions. Italics mine.)
“It is clear that impurity and purity are a written decree. Human rationale would not necessitate them. As such they are in the category of commandments called chukim (those that transcend rational understanding.)
Similarly immersing to rid oneself of impurity is also supra-rational for impurity is neither clay nor feces that will dissolve in water. Rather (the means by which to rid oneself of impurity is) a written decree.
The process is dependent on the heart’s intention. Therefore our sages said, ‘Someone who immerses without strong intention is similar to someone who didn’t immerse.’
There is a hint here: One who intends to be purified is purified as long as immersion takes place even though nothing in the physiology of that person is different. Similarly someone may have an intention to purify his soul from the spiritual impurity that arises from unholy thoughts. Being that he intended to separate himself from these thought patterns and brought his soul into the Waters of Knowledge, so too is he pure.
As the verse says, ‘I have sprinkled purifying waters on you and you will be purified from all your impurities and idolatrous thoughts.’ G-d in His great mercy will purify us from all transgression and guilt. Amen.”
These then are the words of the Rambam. They are connected to many mystical concepts which we can possibly go into at a later time. (These include the etymological correlation between tevilla (immersion) and bittul (nullification of the ego), the inner meaning of the 40 sa’ah (liquid measure) of the mikva being cognate with understanding and the like.) But I think that the Rambam’s words encapsulate much of what you are seeking to attain and are worthwhile meditating upon.
I will conclude with one last quotation. The last mishnah in Talmud Yuma reads, “G-d is the Mikva of Israel.” The true source of all our healing comes from surrendering to G-d. May you be guided to letting go and surrendering to G-d and discovering all the healing that comes therewith.
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