A rabbi extols the wonders of mikveh

Having had a fascination with mikveh since adolescence, I was filled with anticipation on the eve of my wedding. As a rabbi, I have had occasion to guide many converts and brides through their initiations into the practice, but I had never before stepped down into the mikveh waters myself.

Although certain natural bodies of water are halachically acceptable, I specifically sought out a conventional mikveh, both for the sense of luxury as well as the continuity with tradition it provided. A dear friend, Rabbi Devora Bartnoff, accompanied me and guided me through an experience that was so powerful that I resolved to reconnect with that moment on a monthly basis.

As I lay soaking in the tub, my friend invited me to use that time to let go of past hurt in my relationship with my future spouse so that we could enter into the marriage with a clean slate. It is good to have this opportunity for reflection and tshuvah (repentance, returning) built into the mikveh ritual.

With the past behind me, after completing all the physical preparations, I approached the mikveh itself. Although personal practices vary, my friend suggested three immersions, each with a different kavanah (prayerful intention). Before I dunked the first time, she asked me to get in touch with my love for David. How wonderful it is each month to appreciate his uniqueness.

For the second immersion, I was told to focus on the future children we prayed would bless our household. As the mother of two girls, I use this time now to reinforce this sense of blessing that Jessie and Sarah represent.

On the third immersion, I was to open myself up to all the aspects of my being — as a woman, as a friend, as a rabbi, as a lover. As my life becomes more crowded with responsibilities and commitments, it becomes more and more important to be aware of and grateful for these aspects of my being. I then recited the traditional brachah, or blessing, al hatevilah.

A final immersion focused on joy and celebration for all that is good in life. I have returned to the mikveh each month since then, attempting to recapture the relief and wonder I felt that night. I also have broken the taboo against speaking about these matters publicly, in an effort to educate women to the ongoing value of this ritual.

I have come to appreciate the physical level of mikveh more and more, as my life is increasingly overwhelmed with work and family. It is a rare moment when I can bathe, shower, wash my hair and do my nails all in one night. My husband and I both enjoy the natural rhythm of our sexual relationship which our observance of niddah (the period of ritual separation) provides, and miss it during times of pregnancy and nursing when I do not go to the mikveh regularly.

I hope that all women, regardless of age, marital status or sexual orientation, will savor the mikveh's possibilities.