For the last number of years, preparing for the High Holidays has been full on. As most other Jewish professionals and clergy will tell you, preparing for the High Holidays is a whirlwind that includes creating service outlines, tutoring volunteer Torah readers, sermon writing, rehearsing with lay song leaders and so on. Before I know it, my mind is full liturgical melodies and logistical details.
At this time of year, in the midst of all of the preparation, I try to find a way to hold on to the golden end-of-summer light while still acknowledging the inevitable change of season. I remind myself that there is another kind of personal preparation I must do. I find myself eager to carve out sacred time in my busy schedule to mark the coming of the New Year in an embodied and spiritual way.
This year, my annual trip to Martha’s Vineyard coincided with my time of preparation for the High Holidays. My annual dip in Ice House Pond took on a new meaning as a pre-Rosh Hashanah immersion to prepare my mind, body and soul.
Ice House Pond is a short fifteen minute walk through the woods. Pine needles cover the ground on either side of the one lane road, filling the air with the smell of late summer. I follow the trail that leads to the pond, and when the view of the water suddenly appears before me, I catch my breath. It’s beautiful and secluded. I notice that my body and soul are thirsty. I’m eager to be refreshed.
The water is cool at first, and I step gingerly into the pond. I dunk and say the blessing for immersion.
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam asher kid-shanu bi-tevilah b’mayyim hayyim. Blessed are You, God, Majestic Spirit of the Universe, Who makes us holy by embracing us in living waters.
I decide right then and there that immersing in Ice House Pond is a spiritual practice that I can’t do without.
I let the waters embrace me. In this mikveh, I’m ready and able to let go of the stress and challenges of the last year. I feel the water wash away the cobwebs in my mind and all the distractions in my life. I feel a deep sense of clarity and possibility, a sense of renewed purpose. In the water, I become aware that I am connected to everything around me. My heart feels more open. I whisper my intentions for the new year, my prayers for the days and weeks to come.
I emerge from the water, dry off, and head back through the woods to our house. On my walk home, I contemplate my ritual. I’m filled with gratitude for this simple and profound pleasure. I am now ready for whatever the new year will bring.
Rabbi Sarah Tasman is a longtime Mayyim Hayyim mikveh guide and educator. She recently moved to Washington, DC where she currently teaches Jewish mindfulness, yoga, and mikveh workshops at Adas Israel Congregation. This Rosh Hashanah, Sarah is guest rabbi at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue leading Jewish meditation, yoga, and text study. Visit her website at: rabbisarahtasman.com