Genetically, a woman inherits characteristics from her Mother, and she should
be proud to do so. The very first Jewish Mother was Sarah Imeinu, and
she bequeathed to us, her daughters, three specific Mitzvot, as an
inheritance and an everlasting gift. The first Mitzvah is that of
lighting the Shabbat candles. She would light her Shabbat candles, or oil and
wicks, and they would stay lit for the whole week. Friday they would go out
except for one flame, and she would re-kindle the candles from that. This means
that in our homes, too, the candles we light for Shabbat bring not only just a
finite, physical light into our homes, but also a powerful, infinite light that
illuminates all the world, eliminating the darkness that exists. We bring
light especially in Eretz Israel, and will merit to bring the light of
the ultimate redemption.
The second Mitzvah is
Challah. Sarah Imeinu made bread and the dough was blessed,
as many people would eat, and it would be abundant and tasty, sating all who
would partake of it. The deeper meaning of this mitzvah is
Kashrut, as a woman is generally in charge of the home being
The third Mitzvah is essentially in the jurisdiction of the woman.
Sarah Imeinu had a cloud hovering over her tent. It was not a
raincloud but the Shechina (spirit) of Hashem, bringing not only
protection but also blessing. She kept the Mitzvah of Taharat
Hamishpacha, Family Purity. Every Jewish woman is capable of doing
all three mitzvot, and by doing so she brings infinite blessings over
her home, as she is truly the foundation of the home, setting the tone. It is
a tremendous responsibility that Hashem gave the Jewish woman, but by the same
token, a great compliment to be entrusted with the well-being of our husband,
our children, and our grandchildren, etc. both body and soul. This is precisely
why this mitzvah is called "Taharat Hamishpacha", FAMILY
Purity, instead of "Taharat HaISHA", Purity of the WOMAN - the action
affects the entire family, not only the woman of the home.
Many times it is asked : "But where is it written in the Torah?" Actually, the
Torah's very first verses allude to how the whole world was originally immersed
in, and extricated from, "Mikvah Mayim", a gathering of living
waters. It was in effect the birth of the world, from the amniotic waters that
covered it. This, too, is precisely what occurs when a woman immerses herself
into a Mikvah, ( or a river or a sea if no mikvah is
available) it is symbolically a return into the uterus, where she was originally
enclosed in the amniotic sac within her mother, and a rebirth when she emerges
from the "living waters". Physically and spiritually, a woman becomes both
regenerated and rejuvenated each month. She is a continuation of the golden
chain of her ancestors, going back to the Matriarchs, who all kept this precious
Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year, and few Jews do not observe it.
However, the laws of Taharat Hamishpacha happen to be even more
stringent than the laws of Yom Kippur. For example, if someone is ill, the
Rabbi instructs the person how much she /he is permitted to drink or even eat if
their life is in danger, heaven forfend. But a woman is
not permitted to
resume marital relations until she has both counted the days and gone to the
mikvah. No dispensation can be made, and no laws can be changed
Also on Yom Kippur, what Torah portion is read at Mincha
time? On this holy day, we read in Parshat Acharei Mot, about
forbidden intimate relations. Horrendous things are written, one may not have
relations with parents, siblings, animals(!!!) Written clearly and distinctly
within these forbidden relations is the injunction not only to abstain from, but
also not even touch, a woman in her "Niddah status", meaning a woman
before she has gone to the Mikvah. It is a startling thought that
while Hashem forbids us to commit incest and bestiality, He also instructs us to
go a step further when it comes to a woman who is niddah, that as well
as abstaining from intimacy, touching is also not permitted!
Many mitzvot are performed automatically. A Brit Mila
is done at 8 days, not 2,3, or 6. This is because Hashem has dictated to us how
and when to do it. Eating pig or meat and milk together seems to work for
everyone in the outside world, so why do we have to abstain? Because some
mitzvot are called Chukim, meaning that there is no rationale
behind it, we just have to take Hashem's word for it, unlike murder, honoring
parents and stealing, which we can understand because it just makes sense.
Taharat Hamishpacha comes under the category of a Chok, we
just have to rely on Hashem's infinite wisdom. He knows what He is doing, and
just as we have trust and faith in a specialist or famous doctor , we have our
faith and trust in Him, as He is the original specialist, as He created us and
knows what we need and what is good for us. We rely on Him to give us our next
breath, and take for granted that He will do so.
Even without blind faith, the advantages of keeping Mikvah are so
obvious. Health is an example. It is a proven, medical fact that women who
observe this mitzvah have statistically a much lower percentage of
gynecological problems or diseases. There was actually a study done in
England, by a group of non-Jewish doctors, to see which ethnic group of women
had the lowest percentage of cancer of the uterus and cervix. To their
surprise, they discovered that observant Jewish women had the lowest percentage
not only of cancer of these organs, but also much less-frequent cases of
infections, etc. At first the doctors ascribed this phenomenon to the fact that
Jewish men are circumcised, and therefore their wives would be protected from
bacteria. However that theory fell through when they realized that Moslem men,
too, are circumcised (at the age of 13) but their wives shared the same status
of disease as the non-Jewish women.
A woman gynecologist who was not Jewish once told me that she feels that her
theory is that Jewish women are protected from many gynecological diseases
because of the monthly self-examinations she needs to do in order to observe
this mitzvah, as this would show any problem before it would have a
chance to spread. I have been personally witness to many women who have told
me how they would catch a problem before a doctor would find it, simply by
having to check themselves.
Another advantage gained by keeping this mitzvah is the fact that
when a couple keep Taharat Hamishpacha properly, their marriage is
continuously preserved and kept fresh. Abstinence makes the heart grow
When intimate relations have to be put on hold for approximately 12 days out of
the month, it is impossible to take each other for granted. Hashem is indeed a
wise psychologist, He knows that people are attracted to "forbidden fruit" - so
He kindly gives it to us, in the form of our own spouse, who is forbidden to us
in our own marriage for the 12 days or so out of the month.
argument or disagreement ensues, and physical contact is out of the question,
the couple have no choice but to resort to dialogue. So naturally the
relationship becomes one of friendship and reciprocal respect, and communication
skills are honed, as there is no other physical option. This creates
much-needed "space" for both spouses. Over the years, the couple habitually
get used to resolving their differences with mutual respect, and do not regard
one another as only "sex objects". When intimacy can again be resumed, it is
with higher appreciation and love, as well as freshness, It is an antidote for
boredom with the spouse. Indeed, many therapists advocated temporary
abstinence as a solution for problems in a couple's intimate life.
We do everything for our children - our time, finances, we lavish them with
all we have, yet what a priceless gift we give them when we keep Taharat
Hamishpacha. The good news is, this mitzvah is RETROACTIVE!
This means, that once a woman starts to observe mikvah, her
children automatically take the status of being born according to family
purity. Once, I was speaking in New Jersey, and one of the mitzvot I
spoke about was mikvah. After my speech, I was approached by an
elegant, middle aged lady. She was very angry! "Why did no one tell me about
this until now?" She fumed,"They told me about Kashrut, and I
koshered my home! They told me about Shabbat, and we are keeping it. But
nobody told me about mikvah, and I have already had my children! I
would have kept it if they would have told me! Is it too late?!" I reassured
her that no, it is never too late. Keeping mikvah is retroactive, if
someone did not know about it, and she started to observe it, it is counted to
her as if she always went. Even a post-menopausal woman, or a woman who has
undergone a hysterectomy, can and should count 12 days and then go to a
Mikvah, it is to her great merit and advantage to do so.
It is a fallacy that the Mikvah waters can be anything but clean.
The truth is, it is far more clean than a swimming pool! A mikvah is
just not valid if it is not spotlessly clean. The water is changed every
night. Women who keep this mitzvah are chaste, and not allowed to go
if they have any infections. The water is slightly chlorinated, to be
bacteria-free. Before a woman can immerse, she has to bathe and scrub herself
to be immaculately clean. I advise women who are particular, to make sure to
be at the mikvah first so she will be the first to go into the water.
The Baal Shem Tov, a Mystical Kabbalist, promised that no woman will ever get
sick from keeping this mitzvah, it is the opposite, it will protect her
in every way.
The requisite amount of water in a mikvah has to be (minimum) 40
seah - a seah is a biblical measure of water, about 15
gallons. It is a very symbolic number by the Jewish people. It took 40 days
for Moshe Rabbeinu to get the 10 Commandments from Hashem; The Jews
were in the Desert for 40 years; A fetus is formed in 40 days, and pregnancy is
40 weeks. The Flood took 40 days and 40 nights of rainwater, to purify the
whole world, which had become impure and needed the Mikvah waters.
The importance of Mikvah is validated when one sees that on top of
Masada, there are actual mikvaot that were built. Even though water
was obviously so scarce, the Jewish people realized even then how vital a
mikvah is for our existence.
Many people mistakenly believe that nowadays we are exempt from keeping
Mikvah because we have indoor plumbing. They are under the assumption
that they can use their own bathtubs to perform this mitzvah, thinking
that in the olden days women went to the mikvah in order to be
physically clean, as there was no running water. The actual name of this
mitzvah - TAHARAT Hamishpacha - proves that it is not so.
"Tahara" does not mean cleanliness of the BODY, it means purity of the
SOUL. It is a fact that before a woman immerses into a Mikvah, she
has to totally and scrupulously cleanse her whole body 100%, otherwise the
immersion is not valid. We have both a body and a Soul. Although we cannot see
or touch our soul, we are instructed to purify it in the living waters of a
Mikvah, at the appropriate times. The Mikvah water is not
merely tap water, it is also rain water - Mayim Chayim, live water.
Therefore the purification is for the G-dly soul, or Neshama. The
mitzvah is not obsolete nowadays, just the opposite, we all need our
souls strengthened, as a healthy soul makes for a healthy body.
The Prophet Amos predicted: " The days are coming when there will be a hunger
and a thirst, not for bread or water, but for G-dliness." It is very apparent
that this prophecy is being fulfilled ALL OVER THE WORLD, specifically for this
most significant of mitzvot. Our holy Jewish souls, which contain a part of
Hashem's essence, are thirsty, even parched, and can be quenched by the living,
vibrant waters of the Mikvah.