This week’s D’var Torah from Rabbi Zahavit

NEMS Rabbi Zahavit

I went to a spa! And it was glorious. I took my daughter, Rosa, as a treat for us both and to mark the end of her A levels.

The architecture of the spa reminded me of a mikveh. There was a plunge pool (with jacuzzi jets). Surrounding the pool were changing rooms, and also a sauna and a steam room. So you could prepare and then immerse.

My daughter and I had been highly stressed for months. Lolling around the water was very therapeutic. So was sweating it out in the sauna. And then we had having the stress whomped out of us with a massage. It was a fast track to restoration. Afterwards we felt so different, so calm!

Interestingly, today I’ve overseen two mikveh immersions. The mikveh is less salubrious than the spa. And how I wish it could feel more of a luxurious place. It really ought to be because it’s supposed to bring about the same kind of transformation as the spa. It’s supposed to help you feel reborn and reinvigorated and different.

I oversaw one mikveh for a girl who has a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. She will shortly be bat mitzvah and this is her chance to affirm that she wants to continue to embrace her Jewishness to the exclusion of any other faith.

I also oversaw a mikveh for a bride. She is committing to a new phase of her life in which she and her husband are affirming that they will enter into an exclusive relationship with each other and commit to becoming a Jewish family.

The mikveh is a very female ritual for sociological reasons, because immersion (other than for conversion) is traditionally a women’s mitzvah (although I always encourage men to do it.) But mikveh is also very female because it’s all about (re)birth, including the recognition than we emerged out of water. Individually – each one of us from the amniotic waters that cradled us in our mother’s belly. And collectively – because a long long way back we were simple organisms which struggled out of the sea and evolved, over millions of years, into humans.

It’s almost exactly three years since I became a rabbi, a life stage I prepared for by (among other things) immersing in the mikveh.

Jewish life is often very intellectual and wordy. But there is also a more embodied tradition we can connect with through the waters of the mikveh.

Warmest wishes,