Living Waters Experiencing Mikvah

Living Waters Experiencing Mikvah

"And G‑d made the expanse, and it separated between the water that was below the expanse and the water that was above the expanse…" (Genesis 1:7)

"And G‑d called the dry land earth, and the gathering (mikvah) of the waters He called seas, and God saw that it was good." (Genesis 1:10)

I approached the ocean. I walked through the wild grasses and brambles of roses growing out of the sand. The rose plants were a beautiful mess of greenery, thorny branches, violet flowers, and bright orange-red rosehips. Some rosehips had opened, revealing their seeds—the potential for new life.

I removed my shoes and walked in the hot dry sand, the mounds compressing, exfoliating, and cleansing my feet. I approached the edge of the water and sat down, digging my heels into the wet sand. I looked out at the ocean, spreading to the edges of the Earth, touching shores I could not fathom, and meeting the sky. The surface of the water shimmered with the cool blue reflection of the sky and the hot white of the sun on the shifting waves. The upper and lower waters joined.

I watched the waves rush up. The water is not really transparent, I noticed. It is a translucent warm green with moving bits of bright green organic matter, like the fossilized insects caught in ancient amber. Moving, living waters. I wondered about that. I usually associate healthy water with clarity, yet this water was not clear at all. Or, perhaps, it had clarity of a different sort.

The waves came to greet the land, swelling upward and lowering, curling like a fetus. The edges splashed with foam, vibrant bubbles rimmed with white. The water rolled up against the sand, barely touching my feet, and then rushed back to join the ocean. I waited and watched. Soon the water approached closer, submerged my feet, and flowed beneath me. It retreated with a halo of shimmer following close behind.

The vibrant sounds of ocean and children surrounded me from the front and two sides. I listened to the rushing of the waves building up and deepening and then softening, over and over. Soon the calls of the children mixed with those of water, and the ocean was behind me as well. The wind rushed through my ears and filled my nose with salty scents. I stepped into the water.

"And a mist ascended from the earth and watered the entire surface of the ground." (Genesis 2:6)

It was raining and I was on my covered front porch. I was dry. The rain was light and fell straight from the sky, cleaning the air and where it landed. The air was fresh and smelled of the country—the mustiness of the woods and all its mystery.

I looked into my wet front yard. It is just large enough to allow four cherry trees to grow well, and borders of tall perennials enclose it. The sunlight was diffused through the clouds and mist, blurring the details of my view. Yet the near black of the wet trees contrasted sharply with the bright green around them. The cool lights of the wet leaves glistened against the dark branches. On a dry day, there is not much distinction between the branches and the leaves—they can be so close in value. I wondered: Was the water that blurred also distinguishing the different elements of my garden? The rain was focusing my gaze inward, clouding the outside world I did not need to see—not then, anyhow. 

The leaves nodded gently as raindrops fell on them. They danced unpredictably.

I closed my eyes and listened to the music of the rain—an up and down rhythm with occasional pauses. I heard a waterfall or a fast river. I listened more and noticed that the waterfall sounds were really birds talking in the trees. Or were they? All was blurred, but in a good way: Life was in the water.

The energy of the shower created a gentle breeze. I felt it and stepped off the porch and under the trees. Water fell on me gently and wet my clothing. I watched the drops slowly roll off the leaves and branches. Some were hanging from the tips. They were shaped like swelling wombs. Within the droplets were distorted reflections of my yard—that lacework of the green life.

As I turned to go inside, I noticed the rain splashing on the pavement. The water below was dancing excitedly, as if wanting to go up and join the upper waters.

"And a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it separated and became four heads." (Genesis 2:10)

Adam and Eve lived simply in Eden, where they were in harmony with nature. Good and evil were distinct, and it was easy to choose good. Their union was pure and holy.

After Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, nothing was simple for them anymore. Their values were blurred. They became vulnerable human beings and felt exposed. Adam and Eve clothed themselves in fig leaves to protect their bodies and sexuality, but were they also subconsciously blocking out the natural world? Perhaps they were, for part of their punishment was that they could no longer live in harmony with nature. They were thrown out of Eden. 

For Eve, childbirth became painful and even deadly. Joy was mixed with pain and life was mixed with death.

There was still a river that flowed out of Eden. It fed into the Pishon (Nile), Gichon, Chidekel, and Perat (Euphrates) rivers. Some time passed. Despairing over his profound losses, Adam approached this river. He sat in it unclothed. He was immersing in the waters of Eden.

It is said that the waters of Eden feed into all the natural waters of the world.

Approximately once a month, a Jewish woman immerses herself in a mikvah.

Mikvah: A mikvah is a gathering of natural waters—either in natural formations like oceans and rivers, or collected rainwater in an in-ground pool. A mikvah is typically nine feet wide by six feet long. It must hold at least forty se'ah of water, which is approximately two hundred gallons. 

Forty: Forty is the number of punishments of Adam, Eve, the Serpent and Earth. Forty are the days of the flood that purified the world. Forty are the elements of creation, and forty are the weeks of pregnancy. Interestingly, mayim, water in Hebrew, begins and ends with the letter mem—which has the numerical equivalent of forty.

A Jewish woman immerses herself in a mikvah following her menstruation as well as after childbirth, both of which require a period of physical separation from her husband. These are representative of the repercussions of Adam and Eve's mistake. They both symbolize a loss of life from the body. When a woman has her period, the egg, the seed for potential life, leaves her body. She goes to the mikvah to revitalize and reconnect with Eden.

I step into the mikvah. The water is a comfortable heat and is as high as my chest. At the top of the stairs, the mikvah attendant is standing with her head turned away, eyes downcast. She is there to make sure I submerge completely, but for now she is respecting my privacy. I plunge in headfirst and stop breathing. My eyes and lips are loosely closed and my fingers are spread apart. Waves form above my body. The water rushes around me and fills my open pores. There is nothing that comes between the water and me—not even stray hairs or loose scabs. I am immersed. I curl into a fetal position, floating for a moment with folded limbs. I get up. My hair mats to my face and back. My ears are full of water and I faintly hear the mikvah attendant say the word "kosher." 

Kosher: Kosher can mean fit, proper, genuine, or authentic. It is also pronounced kasher, which sounds like another Hebrew word that means "connect."

I was once a mikvah attendant, making sure the other woman was completely immersed in the swelling water. I watched the clear ripples distort her body, like the distorted images in the raindrops. She was in another place. She was the life in the water. I saw her as a vessel that had contained the lives of the children she had born. I felt that I was looking at holiness.

Again and again, I go into the water, coming up briefly for air and the word "kosher." I had come to the mikvah with many thoughts and worries, but with every plunge they slowly drip away. My thinking stops and I just sense the water flowing around me and through me. Again and again I lose awareness of myself and then regain it; a cycle of life, death, and birth is repeating over and over. The mikvah attendant is waiting at the top, but I don't see her. I barely hear her. I am never more alone. It is just the water and I. Or is it? If I am losing myself in the water, is there just water? There is clarity in the simplicity of the oneness. There is only good.

I climb out, and the water rushes off me in rivulets. At the top of the stairs, the remaining drops roll off me. My robe will absorb the rest. The water is evaporating from my damp skin, but I have been reborn. I am ready.

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