Three days before my wedding last month, my friend and fellow Sisterhood contributor Debra Nussbaum Cohen accompanied me on my inaugural visit to the mikveh. While I’m not particularly observant, I have long been inspired by the Jewish ritual bath as a metaphor for renewal — an opportunity for a fresh start, in whatever area of one’s life that a fresh start is needed.
Over the years, I have read and written stories about the mikveh’s traditional and alternative uses, so arriving at the Mikvah of Brooklyn Heights, I knew the basic drill: My contacts would need to come out, my jewelry would need to come off, my makeup and nail polish would need to be removed before what I thought would be a brief pre-immersion bath. So I was surprised when the “mikveh lady,” or shomeret, told me that I would need to soak in the bathtub for upwards of 20 minutes before entering the mikveh. After close to a year of planning a wedding — nailing down the details of which added hours to my already-packed weeks — any diktat involving a long, hot bath wasn’t going to elicit pushback from me.
With my BlackBerry, and, indeed, all trappings of worldly responsibility, comfortably out of reach, I relished those uninterrupted moments to give thanks and pray. And when the 20 minutes were up, all of my anxiety about wedding reception minutiae — linens and flowers and cake-toppers, oh my! — seemed to go down the drain with the bath water.
The actual immersion, in comparison, was rather quick and businesslike (dunk, blessing, dunk, dunk).
But when I emerged, I did so with the appreciation of the mikveh ritual not as an abstract metaphor or for its supposed spiritual-purification qualities, but for having provided me with some quiet moments of reflection in advance of my marriage. I can only imagine what it’s like for women who observe the Laws of Family Purity and who live in communities where large families are the norm. How they must cherish their monthly Torah-mandated mikveh visits, which have the added benefit of mandating a modicum of alone time, so often in short supply.
Michelle Cove, the editor of 614 — the thoughtful Jewish women’s magazine, published online by the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute — touts another possible benefit of the mikveh, and the observance of the Laws of Family Purity as a whole: a spicier sex life. Read her essay, “Mikvah as Foreplay” here.