Here are a few of my personal favorite things about the mikvah:
1. Immersing into the Earth’s waters
Mikvah water must meet certain requirements of being naturally existing, as from a natural body of water or harvest from the rain. Any large enough body of naturally occurring water can be a mikvah (editors’ note: please be certain to consult an Orthodox Rabbi to determine if a particular body of water may be used as a mikvah if necessary). The ocean is the largest mikvah in the world. When a woman immerses in the mikvah, she is entering the womb of the feminine Earth, called Adamah in Hebrew. She strikes a fetal position pose, and then is spiritually reborn upon exiting the waters.
“When we refer to G d’s presence within our world, giving life to all things, then She is the Shechinah,” writes Tzvi Freeman about why we don’t call G-d Mother.
“When we refer to G d’s transcendence beyond this world, we call Him The Holy One, blessed be He. G d does not change or have parts, G d forbid. Both are the same one and singular G d, just looking at that G d from different angles,” he writes.
G-d is female, G-d is male, and G-d is everything and can be interacted with and described from each of these aspects.
The feminine aspect of G-d, the Shechina is present and dwelling among us when Jews perform mitzvot (commandments), such as davening (praying) together, or learning Torah together. Freeman continues, The Holy One, Blessed Be He unites with the Shechinah when we accomplish mitzvot correctly, hence elevating spiritual harmony in the world. When a woman immerses in the holy waters of the mikvah, she is physically uniting with that feminine Shechinah and in fulfilling the mitzvah uniting the Shechinah with The Holy One, Blessed Be He.
The Shechina dwells in the wilderness where Creation is ever abundant. The Shechina also dwelled in the Holy Temple which explains all the miracles that happened there. Through her immersion in the mikvah, the woman embodies this powerful, fertile life force that travels with her. Observance of the marital laws, that include the mikvah, brings the Creator into the relationship with the husband and wife, elevating their union.
2. Personal Hygiene, Spiritual Intimacy
Before a woman immerses in the mikvah, she must meticulously clean her body according to certain procedures, to ensure that nothing will obstruct any part of her body from being touched by the holy waters. She has been preparing for seven days since the end of her menstruation. The moments preceding and during immersion are guarded by a female attendant, a witness to help ensure that the woman is totally clean and totally immersed.
Mikvah is a basic element of living a Jewish life. According to Jewish law, building a mikveh takes precedence over building a house of worship.
There are so many reasons to love the mikvah.
I personally love knowing and practicing the hygienic customs of my ancestors! It’s not only about how we keep ourselves clean, it’s also about how we prepare ourselves for intimacy with our beloved. Generally speaking this monthly ritual for the married woman provides a rhythm of intimacy for husband and wife. Our own Jewish tradition has within it a structure for balance and renewal of healthy, sexual intimacy.
3. Centrality of the woman’s rhythms
Not only does a woman learn to track her menstrual cycle according to the Hebrew lunar calendar and the traditional timing systems through the practice of mikvah, but the rhythm of her menses greatly impacts her relationship with her husband and family. It makes so much sense to have the Jewish calendar, which follows the cycles of the moon, be intrinsically connected and divinely balanced with the woman’s core rhythm. I feel so proud that this woman-centered consciousness is embedded in the heritage of my Jewish ancestry.
The woman learns to track her menstrual cycles according to ancient halachic (Jewish Law) methods. She tracks her cycle dates in relationship to the lunar month, the Jewish calendar, and her internal rhythms. The ancient practice of tracking our cycle in this way is incredibly rooted and grounding, as is the traditional women’s celebration of Rosh Chodesh, each new month, ever since Sinai.
4. Spiritual Strength
I discovered traditional Yiddishkeit (Judaism) during my childbearing years, and then had the opportunity and great blessing to have relations and conceive children while involved with the holy practice of mikvah. This action bestowed spiritual blessing on my children and my family, acting as a Teshuvah (repentance) retroactively for all the years that I did not practice mikvah. I know these things because they were passed to me through an unbroken oral tradition, a living practice that I accessed because I sought out people who maintain and guard these traditions.
As it is a carefully implemented mitzvah, I have had the privilege of using the mikvah in this way because I am a married Jewish woman married to a Jewish man. So many variables in my life could have been different. I feel totally blessed to have mikvah in my life.
5. Timeless Wisdom
A translation of the root of the Hebrew word mikvah is “place of hope.” Today, when humanity seems to be on the brink of both enlightenment and self-inflicted destruction, I am grateful to have this spiritual practice to arouse my sense of hope.
The Jewish understanding of gender, spirituality, and the earth offers a foundation for ecofeminist views on patriarchal wars and environmental degradation now and in the past. Women at the mikvah pray for fertility, peace, for everything.
Understanding the mikvah and all that revolves around it provides me with a context for interacting with people of other faiths and traditions – people with whom we share the future of humanity. I understand how according to Jewish heritage women are revered. I know about how we eat, how we bathe, and how we value life.
We find in Judaism the acknowledgement of the Earth as female, and connectivity between the women and the Shechina through the mikvah. According to the ancient teachings, the age of peace and the time of the redemption will arrive in the merit of the women.
Many people dunk in the mikvah without an obligatory bracha (blessing) during the High Holidays, to purify and cleanse the soul in preparation for the coming New Year. Whether or not you take that plunge, May Hashem bless us all to grow in our spiritual maturity, unity, and love for one another in joy, success, and good health! Shana tova u’metukah!