Mikveh Thoughts

Becoming a Mikveh Guide is a thoughtful and intentional process.  Seth Stadfeld is a member of Cohort 8, our newest and first-ever men’s only training, and offers his thoughtful and intentional reflections about immersing in the mikveh
by Seth Stadfeld, Mikveh Guide TraineeOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have been wrestling with how to understand all I am learning about the role of mikveh and ritual immersion in a Jewish person’s life. On the one hand (call it the right), I have been presented with traditional sources (e.g., Torah, Talmud and scholarly commentary) of halacha (Jewish law) on the subject. On the other hand (call it the left), I have been presented with the (albeit warm and welcoming) almost boundless all-inclusiveness attitude Mayyim Hayyim has toward those who may wish to immerse in terms of their reasons for doing so. By way of example, almost any reason that feels right to the potential mikveh user (seemingly) would probably be ok with Mayyim Hayyim. And yet, certainly there must be an outer boundary here.

Also, I feel and think that to be a genuinely knowledgeable and better guide, I should know what it is like to immerse by having actually experienced it. I’ve never done it.  Yet, I’ve been told by Mayyim Hayyim staff that it is not absolutely essential to adequately perform the role. Still, I think I should do it. And, I am told I should have a serious reason for doing it.

I am not a rigorously observant Jew.  I have, however, injected the Sabbath into my life. It has been there most every week for about the last 20+ years. It is magnificent. I do many things to get ready for Shabbos supper. I buy food and challah, figure out the menu, set the table, find out who is coming, and buy flowers. Joyously, Shabbos supper is frequently celebrated with my wife and all/some of our children (imagine the sweetness!). But the only thing I do that comes close to immersion comes late Friday afternoon.  After or in the midst of this, I go upstairs, change my clothes and freshen up. I wash my face and hands well. I am personally getting ready for Shabbos.  Could it be that that feeling and ritual is something like immersing in the mikveh?

In our Mayyim Hayyim classes we’ve spoken (and read) much about purity and cleanliness. Looking for help in understanding mivkeh “lore” (because, frankly, while the Mayyim Hayyim training materials are excellent they are much to digest), I came across two helpful sources this weekend. One came from the ‘Ask the Rebbetzin’ column in this week’s (3/1/13) issue of The Jewish Advocate.  The question addressed was about why we ritually wash our hands before we eat (presuming they are washed/clean already). Simply put, the answer included the following: “Washing hands ritually… is for the purpose of sanctity, purity and holiness before eating bread and has nothing to do with dirt or cleanliness.” This is helpful.

Also, at Shabbat services yesterday (Shabbat Parah) the haftorah by Ezekiel provided in pertinent part as follows:  

“And I will sprinkle clean water upon you and ye shall be clean. From all your uncleannesses and from all your idols, I will cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes …” Ezekiel Chapter 36, verses 25 – 27

As I’ve tried to wend my way through mikveh training lore (both materials and classes), these two sources have helped me simplify my understanding of what it is all about. Am I close or near?   In sum, the immersion experience serves to reignite renewal (sort of a rebirth which by definition must be pure and unadulterated) of a purer holier sweeter kinder wiser more genuine heart and spirit. Am I oversimplifying? I am interested in your thoughts. 

Seth Stadfeld recently trained as a volunteer Mikveh Guide in Mayyim Hayyim’s 8th Cohort, for men. Seth lives in Needham with his family, and is a member of Temple Aliyah. Seth is a semi-retired lawyer, and is involved in community theater.

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