As a nervous bride-to-be with my mother by my side, as is often the custom the very first time, I felt like I'd gained entry into a secret society the first time I attended the mikvah.
It was a small mikvah, hidden among dark streets and tall trees that cast moody shadows on the sidewalks. Nerves rushing up to my throat and excited tingles extending to my fingertips, we were warmly met by the mikvah attendant.
Mikvah is a mitzvah shrouded in secrecy. I’d been curious about it since my teenage years, babysitting for sleeping children and taking quick, fervent glimpses into the books found on their parent’s shelves. Into the dark, quiet hours of the night, while the children slept, I read little tidbits about this sacred ritual, trying to uncover the mystery of the mikvah.
I longed for the day I, too, could be a part of this secret society.
There was so much mystique surrounding it. Much like those twisted metal mind puzzles that need to be lined up exactly right in order to be solved, the ritual act of immersing in a mikvah intrigued me. I wanted to know more.
I’ll never forget the feeling of being suspended in those holy waters for the very first time.
The water was holding me, and I knew it; I felt it. Time stood still for those few precious seconds, and I experienced a sensation of pure and utter weightlessness. And I knew: Even though I was anxious about getting married, our wedding would be beautiful and our life together would be, too, if we continued to work hard at it.
It’s now almost 10 years later. With complete honesty, I can admit that my experience of going to the mikvah has waxed and waned over the years, much like the seasons or the phases of the moon.
There are times when I genuinely enjoy the process and relish the time to myself. But there are also times (many times, in fact) that I struggle to find the joy in it. The preparations can seem bothersome and tedious. Removing all makeup, nail polish and anything else that can create a physical barrier between you and the water can feel tiring and burdensome. It’s often hard to pause, reflect and connect with the mitzvah when life is so hurried.
Mikvah is a mitzvah that commands attention. It requires you to be present and demands focus. It’s a mitzvah uniquely given to women, who are the backbone of the family home.
Mikvah is an auspicious time to connect through prayer. But it’s also a time for women to connect with themselves—to focus their attention inward and remember their own individual worth. Stripping down to the bare essentials, there are no physical barriers between you and the water. The gateway to prayer is open, and blessings are abundant.
However, in the same way that covering your hair as a married Jewish woman can add stress to day-to-day life, the mitzvah of mikvah requires effort and dedication. Even during the quieter times of the month, there are many guidelines to family purity. While there is a lot of meaning behind the rituals, it can be a genuine challenge to abstain from physical contact with your husband during the weeks leading up to it. And it’s easy to get caught up in the repetition of it, month after month, without pausing to appreciate its beauty.
In order to remind myself of its spiritual powers, I try to make the experience as special as possible by turning the entire process into a ritual of my own. I try to find joy in the little things.
Alone in the car on the way there, I play my favorite Jewish artist softly through my car speakers. The music is thoughtful and pensive; it’s exactly what I need to get into the right mindset. The way back, however, is different. I play the same artist, but I choose the joyful and uplifting tracks. Going to the mikvah is an act worth celebrating because it brings you closer to spirituality; it brings you closer to yourself.
To this day, the mikvah waters create a holding space for me, allowing emotions to rise to the surface and be heard. The events from previous weeks seem to gain clarity through the act of immersion. And just like the first time, I allow the water to caress me with their gentleness as I surrender once again to its embrace.
When I next need to return to this space, I’ll try to pause and savor the process. I’ll close my eyes under the water and pray, and even if I don’t have the words within me, I know the message will be received because I can feel the inner transformation, blessing me with its purity.
I’ll know that even in the times where it’s difficult to follow through with the practices of family purity, G-d will still be there for me, listening and holding space and help me to do it. And no matter what I have to face, on that day or beyond, all will be OK.
This, if nothing else, is the message conveyed to me in those holy waters. It’s the message so many women before me understood, and it’s one that I will, G-d willing, pass on to future generations.
The mikvah waters will hold you. They will carry you. They will uplift you. All you need is to surrender to the process, trust you’re doing your best at keeping these important rituals, and the sacred waters will penetrate deep.