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Thursday, 15 October 2015

Does the Mikvah make you clean?

Daf Yomi Nazir 54

When a young couple comes to me to get married, as an Orthodox rabbi, there are certain prerequisites.  One of those is that they agree to learn the Laws of Family Purity with Rabbanit and me, hopefully culminating in the bridal visit to the mikvah.  Thank G-d, throughout our time in the rabbinate, only once ever has a young lady refused to have an Orthodox chuppah on account of our requirement.

“I don’t believe in the mikvah,” said Sally, “I’m not dirty.  I don’t need some synagogue bath to cleanse me.”  We did our best to explain to Sally that the biblical notions of taharah and tumah are mistranslated as purity and impurity and that while the words denote cleanliness in English, the Hebrew terms have nothing to do with anything physical.  But sadly, to no avail. 

Concerning the purification process, the Torah declares that water mixed with the ashes of a sin-offering shall be sprinkled “upon him who touched the bone, or the slain, or the dead, or the grave.”
Resh Lakish taught: “Or the grave” refers to the grave of those buried before the revelation at Sinai. 
The Rosh explains: Graves of gentiles do not cause impurity (requiring full purification from the ashes of the red heifer), and prior to Sinai, the Israelites had the same status.

Gentile graves do not cause impurity, but Jewish graves do?!  Prior to the giving of the Torah, our bodies did not cause impurity, but now that we have the Torah, we are more impure?  What is the meaning of this law?

Tumah, which is very loosely translated as ‘impurity,’ is always caused by the vacuum created when a powerful dose of spiritual energy disappears.  For example, each month a woman has the ability to produce life, just like the Almighty Who creates life.  But then, she suddenly loses this immense power.  Her life-producing ability disappears and she is left with a vacuum inside.  Once that void begins to refill itself, she goes to the mikvah to purify herself of whatever negative spiritual forces occupied the vacuum during the period of her absence of Divine capability.  The ritual of mikvah has nothing to do with cleanliness, it’s a celebration of her restored elevated spiritual state. 

Likewise, when we stood at Sinai, we were endowed with a neshama – a special soul, a slice of Heaven, which made us Divine creatures.  When that neshama departs the body, it creates an enormous void, which is called tumah.  We didn’t have that prior to Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah) and it’s what sets us apart post-Sinai.  In other words, gentile graves and Jewish graves may be the same after death; what’s different is the metamorphosis that took place between life and death.

You are a Divine being!  You have incredible power!  Your neshama enables you to transform this world from physicality to spirituality.  It’s a powerful gift from Above!  May you merit utilizing your Divine powers to make this world a Heavenly place!  

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