Dear Rebbe: I Have a Story To Tell You

Dear Rebbe: I Have a Story To Tell You

My husband and I have been married for ten years, and six years ago we were blessed with a son. Within a year of our son's birth, cancer was discovered in my husband's kidneys and they had to be removed. Since the onset of his illness, I have watched my husband slowlydeteriorate. His joints and tendons have become calcified to the point where he hobbles like an old man. Neuropathy has taken away his fine motor skills, so the man who won my heart with humorous magic tricks can no longer manipulate cards and dice. We have been waiting for a kidney for almost six years now, and I have been forced to face the possibility of becoming a widow with a young child. 

 
I have often felt the need to be spiritual. When I was growing up, my family observed Passover and Chanukah and my mother lit the Shabbat candles. For Rosh Hashanah, we dipped apples in honey; for Yom Kippur, my father would sometimes fast. I had a Bat Mitzvah as a girl, but soon afterwards my parents stopped going to the synagogue and lighting Shabbat candles. This gave me the idea that Jewish prayer and rituals were not a necessary part of life. 

Over time, I've lived in Hawaii and Japan - neither of which is exactly brimming with Judaism. I tried several times to attend Jewish services on military bases, but they were hard to reach. Now, the circumstances of my husband's illness have increased my need for spirituality. 

Recently, I came upon the website askmoses.com, which had me "chatting" with a Mrs. Bronya Shaffer in real-time. During one of our many online discussions, she recommended I go to the mikvah. My husband had his doubts and I was skeptical of the idea, wondering what good it could do to immerse myself in a pool of water. I've been to the town pool many times and i didn't think there could be much of a difference. But Mrs. Shaffer made the mikvah sound like such an act of holiness that I decided to try it.

I was very nervous about going, but she promised to meet me there. During my morning shower, I must have washed myself at least five times and when I got there, I showered again and called for the attendant. She brought me to the pool of rainwater, which is the mikvah, where I immersed myself in the waters and was left alone to pray. 

I decided to ask G-d to help my family. And I had a sudden compulsion to cover my eyes during my prayer. I still don't understand why I felt this need so strongly; I've sometimes closed my eyes to pray, but never covered them. I finished my prayer, and got out to dry off. 

Then it dawned on me. Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Esther - all these women throughout our history had done what I had just done. I had made a connection to all the women before me, over thousands of years, who prayed in the mikvah. I suddenly realized that they prayed in the same way. At that time I did not yet know that covering your eyes to pray was something that Jewish people often do.  As I left the mikvah, I felt such a deep connection with Jews all over the world - I felt that I have so many people to help me through this. 

The next day, I returned home from a visit to the dentist to find my husband outside playing with my son, pulling him in the wagon. It was only for a minute or two, but given the state of my husband's health, it was like a miracle to me. I don't know whether this was a result of my prayers at the mikvah or the increased spirituality of our home. But whatever it is, it has given me hope that my husband will get the kidney he needs and that we'll be okay. 

My husband accepts my use of the mikvah, and has agreed to observe the Jewish laws of family purity. This shows how the holiness of this mitzvah has really touched him. He's still pretty much against me getting "too religious," but with Mrs. Shaffer's help, I have been able to raise the spirituality of my home without it upsetting him. 

Since then, he and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary, and he felt well enough to go out to a fancy restaurant for a romantic dinner. There are days when he can't even make it out to the car, so it was nice that he had the strength not only to go to a fine restaurant, but to get dressed up and do it in style. 

It's difficult to know that other families can go to the mall, the movies and amusement parks without blinking an eye, yet an excursion to a restaurant is sometimes hard for my husband. But I keep my hopes up, and, to my own amazement, have found that doing more "Jewish woman" things helps. You wouldn't think that using the mikvah, making a special dinner once a week for Shabbat or lighting candles could make you feel better, but somehow, it really does. 

I'm not totally observant, but I look forward every month to going to the mikvah for a profoundly moving experience. It restores my spirituality, reconnecting me to Jews everywhere and throughout time. I believe the mikvah is one of the greatest gifts G-d has given the Jewish people.


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