Shabbat and Holidays

An oldie but goodie – reshared from March 2017

by Wendy Handler, Mikveh Guide 

A friend recently sent me an email that said, “Keep calm and carry on… spring is coming!” with a beautiful picture of budding flowers in my favorite colors. The message did little to soothe my nerves.

Spring is coming… translation: Passover is coming, too… heavy sigh… already I anticipate the back-breaking cleaning. The signs are everywhere. Have you been to your local supermarket lately? Have you tried to find your regular purchases in their rightful places? They’re not there. The store is completely out of order. The aisles have been reorganized to accommodate the slew of Passover offerings.

Another sign…the to-do list has increased exponentially:

  • Item #5 – Arrange time for Sylvia to give kitchen a super-cleaning.
  • Item #25 – Find nut-free charoset recipe for Jessie.
  • Item #125 – Get shank bones at The Butcherie.

You should know that I take the Jewish holidays very seriously. I try to focus on the apparent meaning behind the holidays and reflect on my own behavior. With two of my three children out of the house and more time on my hands, I’ve been learning more and questioning the lessons I think the holidays are trying to impart. I like to go beyond the obvious and get deep and personal. I ask myself what God is trying to teach ME with these commandments and rituals?

During the holiday of Passover, I challenge myself in two distinct ways. Just as I purge my house of all leavening products, so, too, do I work at rooting out the superficial elements that cause me to be too prideful and boastful. I try to practice humility and diminish my sense of “personal puffiness.” On Passover, we tell the story of our exodus from Egypt. Mitzrayim is the Hebrew word for Egypt, but it is also translated to mean “narrow places.” My Passover rituals include soul-searching that moves me beyond my limitations and challenges me to become a better person.

I’m fortunate to live in Newton, Massachusetts, home to Mayyim Hayyim. The ambiance at the mikveh was intentionally designed to delight and soothe the senses. I feel those emotions as soon as I walk through the mikveh gates. I like to play a game where I try to use just the “right” words to capture the essence of the mikveh. Some good ones that come to mind are serenity, warmth, and authenticity. When I go to the mikveh, I feel that the labels that define me slip away. I am no longer “wife,” “mother,” or “friend.” I move to a broader category… I am simply human.

Before my Passover immersion, I stand naked. I am vulnerable. But at this moment I also feel that I am my truest and most authentic self. This is the self that I need to take out of the mikveh, the self that I need to be back into the world.

I immerse three times. I recite the blessing from the beautiful Passover Immersion Ceremony and then the Shehechiyanu. I am grateful for having made it to this moment, and also for this moment. I am now prepared to live the meaning of Passover and to do the physical and emotional work necessary to experience it fully.

Put down the dreaded to-do list, and prepare yourself for this holiday of renewal with an immersion at Mayyim Hayyim. Schedule your visit today.

Wendy Handler is a Jewish communal professional. She volunteers at Mayyim Hayyim as a cohort 10 Mikveh Guide and is the Continuing Education Coordinator. She lives in Newton with her husband and has three children.