This week’s Torah portion is pretty gross. It talks a great deal about skin lesions and fluids that come out of the body. These lesions and fluids, the Torah suggests, were a sign that a person was spiritually out of sorts. Various spiritual remedies were used to heal the spirit – or soul – of one suffering from lesions or bodily discharge. These remedies ultimately led to the spiritual renewal of a person – a rebirth of sorts. One of these remedies is still practiced to this day: mikveh.
Mikveh is a pool of “living water” – that is water that is flowing. While one can go to a mikveh in a synagogue or other building, the ocean is a perfect mikveh. We liberal Jews often misunderstand the meaning and purpose of mikveh. Essentially, it is used as a spiritual cleanse, a way to rejuvenate the soul. Immersion in the mikveh is extremely simple. One goes under the water three times and recites appropriate blessings. If this sounds like baptism, you are right – they took it from us!
No longer do we see lesions and bodily discharge as a sign that one is spiritually off. Rather, we have come to understand that our spiritual energy waxes and wanes just like our physical and mental energy. One goes to the mikveh for various reasons. Women go after their periods. Brides and grooms go before their weddings. Converts go on the day of their conversion (it is what makes them Jewish!). People often go before Shabbat. Anyone can go when in need of a spiritual boost.
Many members of our community have immersed themselves in a mikveh and they can tell you how incredible the experience is. It is unfortunate that we liberal Jews have dropped mikveh from our lives. We simply don’t understand the power of immersion in the mikveh. For many of us, it just seems silly. That’s because we haven’t tried it! Immersion in the mikveh is like a good massage for the soul. And you won’t know it until you try it!
It is time for liberal Jews to reclaim this incredible ritual because we too need spiritual renewal.
One of the most powerful times to visit the mikveh is around the High Holidays, when we yearn for spiritual growth and a fresh start. So, this September, in between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, I will be leading a Mikveh Workshop at the beach. We will talk about the history and meaning of mikveh and, anyone who choses, will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in G-d’s mikveh – the living waters of the Atlantic Ocean. You will have the opportunity to experience the power of this ancient ritual firsthand! Of course, if you want a head start and want to visit the mikveh now, before Shabbat, let me know :)!