Shavuot Reflections

by Rabbi David Lerner

I was pretty nervous – I had never been “in” a mikveh – not to mention, it was the night before my wedding!

As my father and I drove up to the mikveh that Saturday night, I prepared by thinking about my life – what I was happy about, what I wanted to change and how blessed I was to have found my soul-mate.

Since the bride and groom experience the wedding day as a mini-Yom Kippur, a day when we become a tabula rasa (a clean slate), I knew that these waters were transforming me.

When I came out of the water, I felt renewed, refreshed, and excited to begin my life anew with my wonderful bride.

This week we will celebrate a holiday which parallels a wedding:  Shavuot.  According to the tradition, Shavuot is the marriage between God and the Jewish people.  Here, the ketubah (the wedding contract) is the Torah which lists the obligations that the people have to God and vice versa.

Before the actual moment of revelation, the Torah adds an interesting detail: “Moshe went down from the mountain to the people and warned the people to stay pure, and they washed their clothes.”  (Exodus 19:14)

To what might this be parallel?  To me it feels a bit like immersing in the mikveh before one gets married.  While washing our clothes and immersing our bodies are quite different (How much water was there in the wilderness?), both reflect a way to use water to prepare for a transformative moment.

Preparing for significant moments, for holy moments, by washing or immersion has continued throughout the tradition.

For thousands of years, the Levites (members of the Hebrew tribe of Levi) have washed  the hands and feet of the Kohanim (Priests) before they recite Birkat Kohanim (the Priestly Benediction).  Immersing in a mikveh before a wedding, Shabbat, the High Holy Days, or holidays follows this pattern.

The waters of the mikveh help transform us whether we are renewing our intimate relationship with our partners, recovering from illness, mourning a miscarriage, preparing for a holiday or joining the Jewish people.

When I was installed as the rabbi of Temple Emunah eight years ago, I sought a meaningful way to prepare for this momentous occasion.  As part of my own preparations, I made an appointment to visit Mayyim Hayyim and immerse in the mikveh.

As I walked down the seven steps, I thought about the obligations I was taking on – the great challenges and blessings that were going to wash over me.  Each time the waters closed above my head, a feeling of completeness and readiness filled my soul.

When I emerged, I was ready to assume my responsibilities.

However we prepare for Sinai or for the healing work we all need throughout our lives, may the mayyim hayyim, the living waters of the mikveh, renew our spirits and may we prepare ourselves to once again stand at Sinai and hear God’s call.

Rabbi David Lerner has served as the spiritual leader of  Temple Emunah in historic Lexington, Massachusetts since 2004.  A graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Rabbinical School, where he was awarded a Wexner Graduate Fellowship, Rabbi Lerner is the president of the New England Rabbinical Assembly, the co-chair of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Commission on Keruv, Conversion and Jewish Peoplehood and is a vice-president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis.  His articles have appeared in Judaism, Conservative Judaism, the Jewish Week (NY), the Boston Jewish Advocate, the Chicago Jewish News, and the Jewish United Fund News.   

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Mayyim Hayyim is a 21st century creation, a mikveh rooted in ancient tradition, reinvented to serve the Jewish community of today
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