Deeper Dimensions of Mikvah

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Dedication of Mikvah Moishe Zvi ‫ תש"פ‬,‫י"ט מרחשון‬


1|Mikvah Mo ishe Zvi

B”H Dear Friends, Thank you for joining us for the momentous occasion of dedicating Mikvah Moshe Zvi, in memory of our father and father-in-law Reb Moishe Zvi ben Reb Dov, Professor Harry Reicher ‫ע"ה‬. Following is an article delving into some aspects of Mikvah and its use. On the Hebrew side is a compilation of laws and customs relating to the use of a Mikvah. It is our hope that through this Mikvah as well as the information in this booklet, our observance of Mikvah will be strengthened and our appreciation for the Mitzvah will be deepened. May the merit of all the above benefit and bring elevation to the soul of Reb Moishe Zvi ‫ע"ה‬. Please visit the Mikvah website for more information at: www.MikvahWestPhilly.com Sincerely, Rabbi Levi & Nechama Haskelevich


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Looking deeper into the Mikvah Waters "‫”אַ ְך מַ ְעיָן ּובֹור ִמ ְקוֵה מַ יִם י ְִהיֶה טָ הֹור‬ By Rabbi Levi Haskelevich

What is a Mikvah? When and who uses it? The construction of a Mikvah is of utmost importance in Jewish life. It is prioritized to such a great extent that it would even mandate the sale of a synagogue or the Torah scroll if there was no other way to secure the needed fundingi. The Torah states (Leviticus 11:36): “...a spring or a cistern, a gathering of water remains clean…” G-d instructs us that a certain gathering of water, a Mikvah, should be used to bring ritual “cleanliness” to certain ritual “uncleanliness”. The Torah is not talking about physical dirt or hygiene, rather a spiritual category of cleanliness. A Mikvah is used in a) the process of conversion to Judaism for both men and women, b) in order to enable a person’s transition to ritual purity, and c) as part of the process of rendering metal and glass dishes fit for use if they were manufactured or owned by a non-Jew. The sages of the Talmud informed us of the many details required to deem this water gathering a Kosher Mikvah, mandated by the Oral Law, the Torah Shebaal Peh. In reality, what might look like an ordinary pool contains a complex system that makes it a Kosher Mikvah. In our Mikvah, there are two pools or levels, one atop the other. When the rainwater accumulates and trickles down naturally, or one might say by the hand of Heaven, with specific rules limiting human intervention or the water passing through a man-made vessel, it is then stored in a special pool, and in many cases beneath the floor. The upper pool is filled with tap water which is filtered, heated and chlorinated. The


3|Mikvah Mo ishe Zvi two pools of water mingle through a small opening in the floor (-or wall, if side by side-) conferring Mikvah status upon the upper pool water. The Hebrew term for where the two pools of water connect is called hashaka, which literally translates as kissing of the waters.

Transcending our ego Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Mikvah 11:12) describes the ritual laws of purity as “biblical decrees” beyond what “the human mind can determine”, and they are classified as divine statutes (Chok in Hebrew). This is a category of the commandments that transcend reasonii. Maimonides says: “…immersion as a means of ridding oneself from defilement is included among the divine statutes. Defilement is not mud or filth to be removed with water, but is a matter of biblical decree…” There are some Mitzvot where the rationale behind them is explained to us, and there are those that are not. Those Mitzvot where a reason is explained allow us a greater level of intellectual and emotional internalization of G-dliness. On the other hand, those Mitzvot that transcend our intellect, afford us the opportunity to serve and surrender to G-d by transcending ourselves. When immersing in a Mikvah, one must remove their clothing and any and other intervening substances that might interrupt between the water and their bodies. Not only do we remove the physical interruptions, but the Mikvah affords us the ability to shed our ego in the process of immersion. The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explained (Siddur im Dach 159d) that the Hebrew word for immersion, Tevilah, has the same letters as the word nullification, Bitul. This, explained the Alter Rebbe, is because immersion is the total surrender and assimilation of the ego, into Gdliness. This might be part of the reason that the laws of Mikvah are in the class of Chukim, the unexplained Mitzvot. The function of ritual purity is to open one up to be receptive to G-dliness by transcending our ego. As long as one is driven by the ego and is


|4 focused on one’s personal agenda, one is unable to open up to G-dliness and the G-dly agenda. Regarding an arrogant person the sages have taught (Talmud, Sotah 5a) that “the Holy One, Blessed be He, said: He and I cannot dwell together in the world”. This is because there is only one truth to all of existence - the existence of G-d, and nothing besides Him exists at all (Deut. 4:35). As long as we feel or present an alternative ego or existence, separate from G-d, we are blocking and concealing the presence of the Divine. Beyond recognizing this Mitzvah as a supra-rational Chukah, we must also realize that in reality there is not a hard divide between rational and supra-rational Mitzvot. Chassidus teaches us that indeed all the Mitzvot are actually supra-rational at their core, and that, at the same time, (as Maimonides teaches us) we should make an effort to understand and explain even those that are “predominantly” supra-rational. iii

The Quality of Water We find something unusual regarding Mikvah. Regarding rules of Kosher and unkosher substances, a very large quantity has the ability to nullify a small quantity. For instance, when milk accidently falls into a pot of meat and gets cooked, if the pot contained 60 times the amount of milk that fell into it, the meat is still kosher. With regards to the laws of ritual purity, even a small quantity has the ability to render a much larger quantity impure, even thousands of times its size. The nature of a Mikvah on the other hand defies all of these rules. No matter how many impure objects or people are immersed into the Mikvah, it will always remain pure, provided it was originally formed in a kosher manner. This is because G-d wanted to plant points of purity in the universe that are unaffected by impurity. One such source of purity is fire, as the Talmud (Sanhedrin 39a) tells us that the main place of immersion is in fire, and only that which can’t be immersed in fire


5|Mikvah Mo ishe Zvi may be immersed in water. Since humans cannot immerse in fire, they are to immerse in water. To question why water is used as a form of purity would seem odd because we know water to be the main cleansing agent in the physical sense. Indeed, the physical cleansing properties that water possess mirror their spiritual origin in the “upper waters”. But there are deeper reasons for why water is the means that G-d has chosen for Mikvah. One such reason is the message of renewal. The Sefer Hachinuch writes (173:2) that Mikvah is meant to give a person a chance for renewal. Just like the whole world was water before man was put upon it - as it is written (genesis 1, 2) "and the spirit of G-d hovered on the water”, so too a person should imagine to himself during the immersion that if he is being created at that time. Through this comparison, he should place upon his heart, that he should renew his actions for the good, fix his actions and be exacting in the way of G-d, blessed be He, just as he is renewed in his body. For this reason, the sages said that the purification is not acceptable with water that is in a vessel, but only with living or collected water, which is on the ground. This is in order to place in his heart the imagination that the world is entirely water, and [that] he is renewed with his emerging from it. If the water was in a vessel, or had even passed through a vessel, this aforementioned matter would not be set in the thought of the person who is immersing. As there is a limit to all that is in a vessel, the creation of the hands of man, when he immerses in a vessel, he will not imagine it as if the whole world is water like at the beginning [of Creation], and that he is renewed at that time…” Another reason is that water reflects the immersion in the Divine source. What follows are a few of the simpler points in Chassidic and Kabbalistic texts: 1. Water has the transcendent nature because it is clear and carries no color. The reason it can reflect an image is


|6 because it does not have any color of its own. In fact a Mikvah which colored water would be invalid. (lightly based on Hemshech Ayin Beis Vol. 2, ‫)ע' תתקסד‬. 2. Water descends from the highest point to the lowest unchanged, which reflects the Divine flow and connection with the original source. This is why the Torah is compared to water (Talmud, Ta’anit 7a, and Tanya, Chap. 5). 3. Water is compared to Divine wisdom and awareness as we see the prophet’s verse “like water covers the ocean bed” (Isaiah 11:9) used to describe of the messianic days (Rambam, End of Laws of Kings and Moshiach). 4. Water and creatures of water resemble the alma di’iskasya, the hidden worlds. These are creatures whose egos are concealed and only their Divine origins are felt. They are submerged in their spiritual or Divine source and do not exhibit nor feel separateness. When humans, from the realm of alma di’isgaliya, the revealed worlds, the realm of the ego where one does not naturally feel his total dependence on G-d, enters into the Mikvah, (a body of water that is not man made) he is entering a higher spiritual space and leaving his ego behind. Of course, the greater the intention and meditation, the greater the impact would be felt upon leaving the Mikvah. 5. Water is Chochama and the space of the Mikvah is Binah. Chochma and Bina are often translated as wisdom and understanding, but they are anthropomorphic metaphors to understand the nature of revealing Divine manifestations which can be compared to our process of cognition of conception and comprehension. We immerse in comprehension because that is where the highest Divine “delight” (atik yomin) reveals itself and allows for us to connect with that highest transcendent source. When connecting with this Divine “delight” we are able to rearrange the letters of creation to transform harsh judgment into mercy. Since this transformation is in the


7|Mikvah Mo ishe Zvi hands of heaven one must reach above human reach. This is also reflected in the laws of why a Mikvah must be water gathered without human intervention of drawing the water. (Siddur im Dach, 313-318) 6. The minimum amount of water required for immersion is 40 Seah (which equals around 337 liters) which symbolizes the 4 letters of Yud [each equal 10] that derive from the Miluy (“filling”) of the letters of Divine name [the four letters knows as ‫]שם ע"ב‬. When one immerses in the Mikvah they are “literally cleaving to the name of G-d, their body in the water and their soul in the spirituality of the Divine name dwelling in the Mikvah. (Reshit Chochma, Rabbi Eliyahu DiVidas, Gate of Love 11:22)

Frequent use of Mikvah The importance of an available Mikvah in a Jewish community is self-understood. The critical need for its use by women in a Jewish marriage, although not well known enough, is still more widely known and understood than its other traditional uses by men. Often, frequent Mikvah use by Men is described as a Chassidic practice of sorts since this custom is currently more prevalently found in those circles. But the truth of the matter is, that although Chassidism encouraged an even more frequent use of the Mikvah, the practice was encouraged and was standard practice by early and late Halachic authorities, well before the emergence of the Chassidic movement. Before entering into the details of the discussion, about the opinions of other early Halachic authorities, the real question that needs to be asked on the subject is not “am I required” but rather, “when and how I can benefit from immersion in the Mikvah?” In relation to Men’s use of Mikvah, I would break them into three categories:


|8 1. Emerging from ritual impurity. 2. Ascending to a higher level of purity or holiness. 3. Other reasons and benefits.

Emerging from Impurity The Talmud tells us (Berachot 22a) that Ezra the scribe and his Rabbinical court instituted a requirement for immersion for men who are in the ritually impurity category of a baal keriiv, in order for them to be permitted to engage in Torah study. The Talmud continues to tell us that Zeiri reported that the requirement of the immersion was subsequently nullified. Halachic authorities tell us that (Shulchan Aruch Harav, OC 88:a) "... this enactment did not spread throughout the majority of the Jewish people. The sages later nullified it entirely due to the concern it was inhibiting Torah study and procreation, and [therefore] established the matter on the [base of the original] law" which says that the words of Torah are like fire and cannot contract impurity. Therefore, one is permitted to study Torah without immersion. One might think to themselves, that since there is no longer a requirement, there is no longer any value to the ritual, but nothing is further from the truth. If one looks back at the sources and understands that the requirement was only annulled because of the detrimental impact on both Torah Study and the observance of the Mitzvah of procreation, it will be readily evident that the practice is still of great benefit. Although not in the category of requirementv, as not to have that detrimental impact, it is nevertheless beneficial. Following are examples of statements that demonstrate the importance and the prevalence of the practice:


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“The general custom in Spain and Shinar (Iraq) is that one who has had a seminal emission does not recite prayers until he has washed all his body in water…” (Rambam, Hilchos Tefilah 4:6) “Rabbi Hai Gaon zt”l wrote that the requirement of immersion was only nullified with regards to Shema, but not with regards to prayer. Therefore, a baal keri may not pray until he has immersed in a Mikvah. My teacher, Ra’sh Min Hahar, does not agree with this, and instead holds that one who doesn’t have water may pray nonetheless. Although everyone agrees that a person’s prayer is more accepted on high if they first immerse, one should not neglect to pray if they cannot immerse earlier. The Rambam who was questioned by the Roshei Yeshiva of Babylonia after writing a similar opinion responded the he personally never missed a day of immersion. Nevertheless, he could not mandate it for everyone as halacha." (Rabeinu Yonah on Rif, Brachot 13b) “It is written in Sefer Chassidim that one of the things that prevent prayers from being heard [on High] is, when one is ritually impure… and when one is impure, certainly his concentration [kavvanah] would be disturbed. Therefore, one must be careful with this matter” (Rabbi Eliyahu DiVidas -16th century – Reshit Chochma, Gate of Love, 11:23 “Do not pray without clean hands and purity, because your prayers will not be hearkened to”. (Orchos Chaim, Rabbenu Asher, 4) "A great rule has been said that words of Torah do not receive impurity. Still, this immersion is of great holiness, and one who is strict with it [may] a blessing come upon him... not only that, but in several instances a person is saved from sin because of it." (Beit Habchira - Rabbenu Menachem Hameiri (1249-1315), Brachot 22a) "The Talmud explains “and you shall serve the L-rd your Gd,” this is referring to Prayer. Can someone impure bring a sacrifice? If you will say that this applies [only] to other impurities - one cannot compare impurity that is


| 10 unavoidable to one which is intentional; one cannot compare impurity from external sources to one which emerges from his own body. When Ezra instituted this practice it was with Divine inspiration [Ruach Hakodesh]….. This matter [refraining from immersion] lengthens the exile, because if the prayers of the Jewish people would be offered appropriately their prayers would have been received many days ago…" (Rabbi Yakkov Helevi, Shu”t min Hashomayim, Siman 5) Ascending in holiness The second category of immersion is not in regard to emerging from impurity, but climbing higher in holiness. This concept can be demonstrated from the practice of the Kohen Gadol, the Hight Priest. In the Temple on Yom Kippur, the High Priest protected himself from impurity starting at least a week before Yom Kippur. If he became impure he would become disqualified from presiding over the service, and an assistant priest would take over. From this one must conclude that the multiple immersions in the Mikvah during the duration of Yom Kippur were only to increase in holiness as he ascended from level to level, within the realms of holiness itself. (Likutei Sichos Vol. 30 p. 19) This is the kind of Mikvah immersion that Kabbalah and Chassidism have encouraged on a frequent basis even when no impurity exists. In fact, it is recorded (Keter Shem Tov, 219) that the Baal Shem Tov merited all the “illuminations and levels which he acquired” only because he frequently immersed in the Mikvah. He related, that while fasting is also a way to accomplish this, it also weakens the body. It would be preferable to utilize that energy to study Torah, and therefore the Mikvah immersion is preferable to fasting. It is clear that the Baal Shem Tov’s frequent immersions were not to emerge from impurity. Even though growing in holiness is an equally important opportunity at all times, there is a special relationship between immersion and


11 | M i k v a h M o i s h e Z v i prayers (as well as Shabbat and Holidays). When a person rises in the morning he is like a Kohen readying himself for services in the Temple, and his recitation of prayers are a substitute for the services in the Temple. It would therefore be logical that immersion would be required just as it was in the Temple. While this was not instituted as a requirement, because requiring it might impose too great of a burden on the community, it is still valuable whenever possible. (Igros Kodesh, Lubavitcher Rebbe, Vol. 11, letter #3792) “Fringe” Benefits I will take the liberty of naming this last category “fringe benefits. While not an exhaustive survey, I think it is sufficient to demonstrate how the practice of Mikvah is connected to the other benefits even in non-ritual matters. The Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Scheneeron (his Igros Kodesh vol. 7 pg. 280) related that he recorded stories in his memoirs that were communicated to him regarding Mikvah usage for extra purity of the soul, and not to emerge from impurity. One such story is about a genius student of Rabbi Shachna of Lublin (1495-1558) whose mind became quite suddenly confused and he lost his memory. When he consulted with his famed teacher, Rabbi Shachna, he advised him to keep the Tevilas Taharah [which is a practice of immersion beyond emerging from impurity]. A similar story relates how in the community in Padua, Italy, there was a G-d fearing and very philanthropic community leader who mocked the Tevilas Taharah that the Kabbalists practiced, and for this reason was unwilling to allow the use community funds to support the men’s use of the Mikvah. When he was suddenly struck with severe memory loss, he was advised by the famed Rabbi Meir Kazenelbogen, known as the Maharam of Padua (1473-1565), to travel to Krakow to be healed by Rabbi Eliyahu Loans, known as Reb Eliyahu Baal Shem. He was healed by the Baal Shem after taking upon himself the practice of Tevilas Tahara.


| 12 Another story relates that there was an exceedingly simple Jew in Prague who became well known for his successful loans. If one would borrow money from him on the market days, the investments made with those funds would inevitably be successful. The Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Yehuda Loew (c 1520-1609) wondered what it was about him that could explain that fact. When he was informed that this Jew practiced Tevilas Tahara, he wondered no more. May our Mikvah use bring us purity and help us transcend our egos and connect to G-d and His perspective, and bring the ultimate redemption to the Jewish people and all of the universe speedily in our days! 

i

See Sichos Kodesh 5733, 19 Kislev seif 33 This can be understood as a Divine will that has no reason, or whose reason is so lofty that it transcends the capacity of the human mind, or both simultaneously. But this is beyond the scope of the present article. iii In the words of Maimonides (Mishna Torah, Temura 4:13): “Even though all the laws of the Torah are [supra-rational] decrees, as we explained at the end of the Laws of Desecration, it is worthwhile to meditate on them and assign reasons to whatever part of it you can assign a reason to…” Maimonides is telling us that all Mitzvot have their transcendent supra-rational origin which should eventually trickle down into our understanding. The classifications between the categories are, that there are things that G-d brought down into the realm of human intellect to a greater extent and those that remain abstract and require our effort to make some sense of them, but still remain predominately above our intellect. Maimonides does just that with the ritual of Mikvah itself. He says (ibid 11:12) that although it is supra-rational, “nevertheless, there is some ethical allusion to this: just as one who sets his mind on becoming clean becomes clean as soon as he has immersed himself, even though nothing new is produced in his physical being, so one who sets his mind on purifying himself from all the spiritual defilements, namely wrongful thoughts and evil traits, becomes clean as soon as he made up his mind to abstain from those notions, and brought his soul into the waters of reason.” iv One who had a seminal emission. v Although the question of whether the requirement was entirely annulled is also in dispute among early halachic codifies. ii

*Special thanks to Rabbi Aharon Kupfer for his editorial assistance.













‫ב"ה‬ ‫בשבח והודאה לה' מחנכים אנו המקוה משה צבי ע"ש ר' משה צבי ב"ר דוב‬ ‫רייכער ע"ה‪.‬‬ ‫בקונטרס שלפניכם הדפסנו ליקוט הלכות והוראות הנוגעים לטבילת אנשים‬ ‫במקוה מקונטרס "וטהרתם" שנכתב ונערך על ידי הרה"ח ר' שניאור זלמן‬ ‫פרקש שי'‪ ,‬ונדפס כאן מחדש ברשות המחבר‪.‬‬ ‫בתקוה שבנית והשמשות בהמקוה וכן הלימוד בקונטרס זו יגרום לעלית נשמתו‬ ‫עדי יקויים היעוד והקיצו ורננו שוכני עפר‪.‬‬ ‫המו"ל‬


‫חנוכת מקוה‬ ‫משה צבי‬ ‫י"ט מרחשון‪ ,‬תש"פ‬


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