Guest Post: What if?

Rabba Sara Hurwitz shares her thoughts on the meaning of mikveh and the Gathering the Waters International Mikveh Conference. Rabba Hurwitz is a member of the Rabbinic Staff at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and the Dean of Yeshivat Maharat.

Rabbi Menachem HaMeiri, (Provence, 1249-1306) teaches that on the day that God commanded Abraham to become circumcised, Sarah went to the mikveh.  Despite the fact that the Torah makes no mention of Sarah’s dip, the Meiri recognized that Sarah sought out a ritual that would transform her essence, changing her from Sarai to Sarah, from a woman to the mother of the Jewish people.

This is the power of the mikveh. The waters have the ability to transform, to unleash human potential.  It is for this reason that so many men and woman gravitated to Mayyim Hayyim’s conference, “Gathering the Waters” this past week.  People came together to share their stories of how the waters served as a source of healing from traumatic events, uplifted their souls in times of sadness, and caressed their skin at life altering moments.

And yet, in order for the mikveh waters to release its mystical powers, one has to be open to embrace the waters. And while mikveh is undergoing a renaissance, and many are finding opportunities to incorporate mikveh use into their lives, for many women, going to the mikveh is laced with tension.  A tedious ritual that is associated with spouses refraining from sex and intimacy.

When I was a child, I almost drowned. I remember the fear and darkness of being engulfed by water. Ever since then, I have had dissonant feelings about submerging my entire body, head and all, into water. So you can imagine my fear the first time I had to immerse in the mikveh before I got married. I say “had to” because, as a Modern Orthodox woman, I knew that it was a mitzvah that I would accept, just as I am vigilant about keeping the laws of kashruth and Shabbat.  I knew that going to the mikveh, especially the first time, was supposed to be a spiritually uplifting moment.  And yet, I was scared.

And sure enough, when I went down in a beautiful mikveh in south Florida, it was not so successful. That “kosher, kosher, kosher” that I was waiting for did not come. I was flailing my arms, and couldn’t seem to get my head all the way under the water.  After many tries, I finally emerged, and for a fleeting moment, I felt an unexplainable sensation of serenity and joy. And that’s the challenge of traditional mikveh use. How can one turn a traditional and extremely intimate practice, one that for some is a source of stress and difficulty, into a spiritually uplifting moment? Every month?

And then I remember the Meiri’s suggestion that Sarah our foremother sought out the mikveh as a meaningful transformative moment. For those of us who struggle with mikveh use, we have much to gain from Mayyim Hayyim. Mayyim Hayyim is a reminder of what mikveh is supposed to be. It serves as a challenge—to inspire traditional mikveh users to see the “mah im”, the “what if,” the possibility of the mikveh’s power to change our beings. To uplift our souls. Every month.

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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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One Response to Guest Post: What if?

  1. The mikveh changed me forever. I went from almost hopeless to hopeful thanks to the mikveh. It all began almost 20 years ago when I was struggling with infertility. I had spent almost 10 years trying to get pregnant. The ten years were almost up, according to Orthodox tradition. My husband would be allowed to divorce me once we reached the 10 year mark. It was just shy of 10 years. We had tried Clomid, Depro-provera, but we stopped short of Invitro. I just couldn’t see spending that kind of money on a long shot. Then it cost $7500 a shot. My mother offered to lend me $15,000 to get started. I cried.
    I couldn’t conceive of such a risk. My husband signed us up to adopt. We were on every list that I could find. We were signed up in California, South America FANA, Brazil, Argentina, you name it.
    I had been teaching in a traditional pluralistic day school, feeling all was lost and hopeless, when I bumped into my friend, Rachel Kupferberg, who had just successfully adopted a son from Stanley Michaelman, a lawyer from Pearl River, NY.
    She told me to call the lawyer and make an appointment. Three months later, we had our son, Sam. Sam was born in South Florida. We flew down to get him and were faced with more obstacles and trauma. We finally were able to fly home with our new adopted son.
    Adoption was not enough for me. I needed more validation, true validation, that my son was my son. I decided to call for a Conservative Beit Din that would agree to come to the mikveh on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. As the three Rabbis watched, I descended the stairs into the mikveh and was told to drop Sam, then 6 months old, in. I was horrified. Would he drown? I asked myself? I asked them as well. They smiled and told me not to worry. They pronounced Sam kosher and a REAL Jew. My mitzvah baby boy.
    I had even less to worry about when I arrived home. I had just learned that I was pregnant with my daughter to be, Shira. 9 months later I gave birth to her. My miracle daughter.
    I had every intention of giving up on G-d before that trip to the mikveh with Sam. I had truly begun to believe that G-d had given up on me and had turned his back on me. G-d had had other plans. G-d showed me that G-d was there for me, even a multitude of times. I wasn’t just blessed; I was now doubly blessed. Two children, 15 months apart.
    But the miracles did not end there. Seth was born after another 30 months, following Shira’s birth. Sarah followed 15 months after that.
    15 came to represent a very important number in my life. 15= yood,….hey, another of G-d’s names. To me, this meant a G-d of love. G-d had showed me that G-d is always there for me, maybe not front and center, but there nonetheless.
    AND G-d taught me yet another lesson. There were 15 steps that led up to the Kodesh Hakadoshim. I was a representation of G-d’s House, his Temple. I carried G-d’s spark within me.
    If I hadn’t adopted Sam, who knows if I would have ever tried to enter the mikveh?
    I don’t know for sure and do not know what convinced me to go there then. Some power, greater than me was “drawing” me there.
    But I do know, that I came out of the mikveh experience refreshed, reinspired, and ready to recommit to being me; following my life’s passion to bring more people to Judaism and foster a love of Israel.
    G-d willing, I will be making my 13th trip to Israel this coming Jewish year to celebrate achieving a milestone of collecting and distributing over 100,000 stuffed toys to the traumatized children in Israel. My next goal? For now, 150,000…then we will see about setting up a community mikveh in my neck of the woods here…

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