Dec 20, 2010

The Mikvah is Lost on Me

NOTE: Please feel free to leave a comment anonymously. I know this is a very personal topic for ladies!

The mikvah: a strange, sometimes spa-like, place where there are mikvah ladies, cleaning ladies, and a pool of water that you hope is clean and lacking floating hairs. The ritual bath, required of women after their niddah period (i.e., days of menstruation + 7), is a part of the lives of many Jewish women, from the secular up to the most religious. Men, too, use the mikvah, but the command to go to the mikvah and "tovel" is one for women, which really binds the greater community of Jewish women the world over. We go, we clean, we dip, dip, dip, we leave, we return to our spouses, and we resume the duties of, well, let's say physical interaction.

I've been waiting to blog about my mikvah experiences, simply because I thought if I posted too soon after marriage y'all would be able to plot my entire life, and that, well, would defeat the purposes of modesty. So here I am, many months post-marriage, and many times mikvah'd. Of course, I attended the mikvah three times prior to my wedding day. One for my Reform conversion in 2006, another for my Orthodox conversion in January 2010, and again the day before my wedding. So, even before that third dip, I was a mikvah pro.

What I wasn't a pro at, however, was the evident truth that the act of toveling would lose that charm, that feeling of floating, of weightless abandon in the presence of G-d. Like living next to the Eiffel Tower. It loses its historic charm when you see it every five seconds, right?

I've been to the mikvah quite a bit where I live. I've never had the same mikvah lady, and they all vary -- in looks, in mannerisms, in friendliness, in chatter. I'm a "say something to me" kind of mikvah-goer. Several times it's been this mechanical ritual without any sense of comfort or ease, but rather more of a factory-style approach. Rush, rush, rush. I've had the awkward experiences (including my pre-wedding dip) where the mikvah attendant neglected to embrace that whole "modesty" thing and removed the robe while giving me a once over, only to watch me walk into the pool (talk about creepy). I've also struggled to figure out exactly how long I'm supposed to be prepping. As in, from front door to back door -- how long is a woman in the mikvah building? To bathe or shower, to futz around while getting ready.

There is a rhyme and a reason to the way the mikvah dip itself goes, hence my comment about the creepy-tendencies of some of the attendants. You go into the mikvah room with a robe on. The attendant pulls the robe down and checks your back for loose hairs (which never made sense because they'll float off in the water anyway, like any loose hairs on your head), and then the attendant fully removes the robe, holding it up to shield the attendant from seeing you walk into the pool. Once you're in, you give the go-ahead, and do your first dip. Up, you say the blessing. Down again, the attendant yells "kosher!" And then, a third time, you dip and get a "kosher!" The attendant holds up the robe, again, and you walk up the stairs and pull it on, and then you're shuffled back to the changing room where you were. On your way out, (at least at my mikvah) there's a room of lotions and hairdryers and the like. And then? You're off homeward.

There are varying opinions about whether to bathe post-dip or whether to take the mikvah waters home with you. I used to do that, but then my very astute dermatologist and I had the following conversation:

Him: So ... you're Orthodox Jewish, right?  
Me: Yes ...
Him: So you go to mikvah, right?
Me: Um, yes ...
Him: You should bathe immediately afterward, because of the chemicals in the water. They're horrible for eczema.
Me: Oh ...
So bravo to my dermatologist!

But that's the practical. It's all simply practical. I feel like I've lost the spiritual, the emotional, the lightness that I felt during both of my conversion mikvah experiences. That clarity of knowing I'm close to something so much bigger than myself. Is it me, or have I awoken to the true nature of the mikvah as nothing more than a practical pursuit of the commandments?

52 comments:

Anonymous said...

Love this post. I've wondered what I'll think about all of it when I'm married and dunking on a regular basis.

Wondering if (in addition to classes, of course), there was a book that you particular enjoyed/recommend about the subject?

Anonymous said...

Chavi - my experience as a newlywed was vastly different, mainly because I became pregnant very quickly. When i used the mikvah after giving birth, it was a whole new ballgame. Renewal - rebirth - the whole ball of wax. What with nursing and BH more children, mikvah visits were few and far between so they did not become mundane.

It's been years since I had a baby and was nursing. and mikvah became a bother, just another chore on my to do list. it lost it's specialness. although sometimes I enjoyed the me-time away from the kids. Then I got divorced and actually missed the whole taharat hamishpacha observance.

Remarriage has brought a different outlook and a fresh experience for me - but I am not very enamoured of my local mikvah as its very different from the one I was used to.

I promise you you are not alone - many women will be nodding their heads agreeing with you but too afraid to agree publicly.

It is hard to be spiritual when you are naked and being scrutinized by another woman...

(BTW I was told you need to take a half hour to an hour to prepare for mikvah AND that you are forbidden from showering or bathing after mikvah until you have been intimate with your husband.)

Mel said...

Chavi - I wrote you a lovely (though perhaps too long) response and my internet crashed. Rather than rewrite it here, I shall grant an entire responsa post to help revive RR. Stay tuned for the trackback =)

Life Student said...

I was going into a changing room in Israel once, and the women who let me into the mikve barged in with me and demanded tzedakah. Now THAT was creepy!

Anonymous said...

Are you able to go to a different mikvah? The mikvah where I live is factory style, similar to the way you describe yours, but 20 minutes away there is another mikvah that is gorgeous with only two preparation rooms and one mikvah lady. It has a very different vibe, a calming, comforting vibe, kind of like the mikvahs in smaller Jewish communities.

I think my point I'm trying to drive at it that the mikvah itself can affect how "spiritual" you feel about the mitzvah. In a good way or a bad way. I know, when I've attended smaller mikvahs, where I know exactly who the mikvah lady is and what to expect from her, the experience is much more positive.

Also, just to throw it out there, my kallah teacher gave me different "exercises" to complete while preparing for the mikvah, so as to get the most spiritually out of the experience as possible. I think they really help.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 3 (bust who's counting? ;)
Although I regularly followed the mikva rules I never liked doing it. I always felt that it was inconvenient an at times - in a big city busy mikva - very time consuming. In addition there's not a lot to be said that can make the 12 days before seem spiritual and constructive and during that time my feelings were usually in the direction of resentful and resentful. All that renewal stuff means there is a recurring cycle of negative stuff that comes before and it comes often.
I am now several years past all of that and all I can say is menopause came not a moment too soon. Viva!!!

SusQHB said...

Loved this post! My first time going in Dallas I was sooo nervous since there is pretty much only one mikvah in town people go to. In NY and other larger communities you have a few to choose from so if you have a negative experience at one you can just choose to never return. I was frightened that if I had a terrible, untznius experience (like you've mentioned having in this post) or if I got an overzealous attendant who spent an hour looking at my nails I would be totally turned off from the mikvah experience and would dread going here in my new community. B"H the experience was fine, the attendant was very tznius and held up the robe and whatnot and didn't over analyze my cuticles. In fact she said, the local custom is not to scrutinize unless you ask them to. I thought that was great. Thanks for sharing this personal story!

Anonymous said...

oops, I see another anonymous slipped in before me. I guess this going to be a popular pastime in the Jblogsphere this week.
- anonymous 3 - now 4!

Rivster said...

I wonder if selecting some kavanot to read prior to immersion would help bring back the connection you once felt.

Here is a link to some modern kavanot prepared by Mayyim Hayyim: http://www.mayyimhayyim.org/Seven-Kavanot

It is amazing how much the mikvah lady can influence our experience, isn't it?

Ima2seven said...

My experience with mikvah has been the polar opposite! I am tempted to write a response in the form of my own blog post, mostly because I have wanted to write a post on mikvah for a while now.

Like "Anonymous" I got pregnant three weeks after I got married, and remained pregnant and/or nursing for most of a decade. So mikvah really didn't have a chance to become routine.

But now, I leave the chaos of seven beautiful but noisy children behind and focus on myself, inside and out, for the better part of an hour and it is divine bliss. True joy.

Perhaps we need more shiurim out there on mikvah for non-kallahs so that we can be reminded and refreshed with ideas about this mitzvah as we change and grow.

I was taught by a yoetzet halacha (from Nishmat) special focus ideas while cleansing that really have helped transform the experience for me. For example, washing one's ears and deciding to "wash away" all of the things you heard that month that you shouldn't have or didn't want to. You get the idea, I am sure. It is a very meaningful exercise.

I hope you have a mentor or guide who can talk to you about timing guidelines, because you shouldn't have to worry about that. I was told 35-45 minutes of bathing plus shower. I don't know if that is something you should go by, though.

I hope this returns to a beautiful experience for you. It makes me sad; like somehow we are failing our own when stuff like this happens.

Thank you for posting this.

Ariella said...

Ideally one is not supposed to bathe or shower after the dip. The reason behind it is not to get confused between general bathing and the tahara achieved by the mikvah. However, obviously, if the chlorine irritates your skin, shower off! In some mikvahs, the attendants make a point of saying that they will not look at you until you are in the water, though they, generally, are supposed to check your back to be sure you don't have any loose hairs adhering to you. Some attendants do a careful inspection of nails, while others ask if you want them to look over. A lot depends on location.

They way I see these things: you don't have to feel all spiritual and mystical when you do the ritual. You already have the right kavana (intent) if you make sure to prepare properly, which is no small thing!

Melissa S-G said...

Dear Ima2Seven:
The following quote from your post is the perfect statement of my life goal. I just need a bit more time, but its coming! I hope to be able to offer them in a variety of formats too so it is not only a regional benefit.
"Perhaps we need more shiurim out there on mikvah for non-kallahs so that we can be reminded and refreshed with ideas about this mitzvah as we change and grow."

Kol Tuv,
Melissa

Carie :) said...

I think that just like many other things sometimes the experience can be beautifully spiritual and sometimes annoyingly routine. The first time I ever had Havdalah I was so spiritually and emotionally moved by the beauty of the ceremony and the people I was with and the sadness of the end of Shabbat; but that doesn't mean that I am moved to tears every week. Sometimes I recapture that feeling and sometimes not. The same thing with Mikvah.

My Mikvah experiences are quite different from the rush rush you describe, but it's a much smaller mikvah in a smaller community. There is one changing room and one mikvah and appointments are given one at a time ~20 minutes apart. I do all my prep at home. Which is often nice and relaxing but also can be harried and difficult with a toddler running around and a busy husband. I get to the mikvah, take a quick shower to re-wet myself and then I immerse. Afterwards I get dressed and go home. My mikvah lady is very nice, she provides as much privacy as I need and that's that.

What i do try to do, is before I call the mikvah lady in to check me over I say my own little private prayer and reflect on why I'm there. I also do a quickie half second pause for a small reflection just before each dunk to make sure my mind is where I want it to be and to make the experience more meaningful. And sometimes I have a wonderfully spiritual feeling, and sometimes I get out and feel nothing.

Don't be discouraged. It would be wonderful to have that emotion every month. But practicality dictates that it won't be there all the time. Life unfortunately doesn't work that way. Keep your eye out though, it will catch you again. I'm sure of it.

JewintheCity said...

Chaviva-
I used to rush out of the mikvah after dunking and the whole thing felt very harried with no time for anything "spiritual."

Then someone suggested that after I make the bracha I take time - as much time as I need - to put in my big requests for the month.

So with my back faced to the attendant, and my body immersed, I silently whisper my prayers, remembering how auspicious a time tevila is for davening.

Like doctors, the beside manner of the mikvah attendants can vary. They're only human, afterall. But no one will kick you out in the middle of your prayer!

So after you make your bracha next time, give yourself permission to take as much time as you need to daven whatever's in your heart.

Chavi said...

Since this caused such a stir on Twitter, I thought I'd post it here too! I've only been to the mikvah once, for conversion 1.0 (conservative). Besides the awfulness that the chlorine was so high that my eyes burned for days after, the mikvah lady (a close friend of mine, no less!) stayed in the room for the entire preparation! She sat in the 5'x7' bathroom and mostly talked on her cellphone, but I had to do EVERYTHING in front of her! I was less than pleased about the idea of ever going to a mikvah again, but thankfully, I was told this was totally an un-kosher thing to do! I'm still a little gun-shy of the mikvah though!

shualah elisheva said...

i just wish that we [women] would speak openly about the mikveh so that we could pursue hiddur mitzvah. we [jews] craft such beautiful kiddush cups, chanukiot, and mezuzot, but almost no thought is put into your average mikveh.

i would refer y'all to the mayim chayim mikveh and the ivria mikveh in israel. not every community can raise funds like that - but it should be a relaxing, pleasant place.

kol hakavod for speaking up about it.

Anonymous said...

I have only been to the mikveh once, for conversion. It was gross. The preparation room smelled like mold, the water did not seem clean, and the close friend acting as my mikveh lady (who is Orthodox and who has been married for a decade, with few enough kids that the mikveh is a regular part of her life), later said that she had to bite her tongue not to comment on the cleanliness. That said, she really made the experience magical for me--horrified by the hygiene, she scrubbed the shower for me, waited for me to shower, checked by carefully and gently, back and nails, and respected my modesty while being deeply attentive. I am not married or Orthodox, and so I do not know whether I will ever return to the mikveh. Certainly, however, if I do marry, I will go at least the once before the wedding. And if so, I would want my friend to be there again, because I associate the sacredness with her care of me in that situation more than anything else. (Obviously, if I were to ever go regularly, I would need to find a way to find meaning in the ritual itself, but since I imagine only ever going one more time...)

Chaviva said...

I'm so pleased with the responses here! I've picked up some major points that I think will help me out immensely, and for that I am so thankful.

1) I need to take some time to think and focus and really get my mind on the task at hand. I love the image of washing my ears and thinking about washing away all the things I've heard over the past month. I need to find a routine that works for me, that makes everything make sense for me.

2) A smaller mikvah experience might make the entire thing more welcoming and more thoughtful. Don't know how I can fix this ... but I can think about maybe figuring out a way to mix it up when I can.

3) Pace myself. Take my time. Make it a real experience and not a rush-rush-rush to get in and out and home.

4) I need to find some prayers! (Will look at http://www.mayyimhayyim.org/Seven-Kavanot!).

5) Speak more on this topic, here, there, and everywhere, because it's clearly a HOT one.

Nora said...

I've only been the once, for my Conservative conversion, and it was a mixed bag. My mikvah lady, a girlfriend who I'd actually met in my conversion class, was fabulous. She'd been through the same thing a few months before and knew how nervous and excited I was. She said that hers was super rushed and non-spiritual so she made sure that everything was better paced for me. That said, little awkward to have a new-ish friend see me naked (I nearly fell down the first 2 steps so it was good that she'd dropped the towel and had a chance to catch me.)

I made sure during my preparation to set a few minutes aside to read a prayer I'd brought with me and to center myself a little. That alone made me more relaxed and made it much easier to pray rather than just recite words. I've found that any ritual can become routine - even without the time crunch. The key, for me, is to take a few minutes and think about why I'm doing what I'm doing and why it's important to me.

Melissa S-G said...

Here is the promised "reply" post:
http://redefiningrebbetzin.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/reclaiming-mikvah/

Batya said...

There's lots to say. I no longer need the mikvah, married 40 years, you can figure out my age by checking my blogs.

I'll have to blog about it, the question is which blog or both...

But I'd say that all those childish mushy gushy type books, pamphlets shiurim etc about how spiritual you'll feel have set women up for disappointment.

Sometimes it's a drag, annoyance and can give us a bad cold. And some of the women who work there should be prison wardens instead.

In Shiloh, we have wonderful women who make it as pleasant as possible, and I'm sending the main one this link.

Chavi, don't expect too much and you'll feel better.

Anonymous said...

my first thought on reading this was that the mikveh is kinda like sex .... sometimes it is amazing!!! sometimes really nice ... and sometimes your are being a good wife and generous lover. okay, i am soo posting anon now.

i was just the opposite of you. my conversion mikveh was pretty awful (and i prefer a quiet mikveh lady) . it was cold, and gross, and the heavens certainly did not open up for me. it felt so public. blech. but the being jewish part is pretty fab. my monthly immersions, on the other hand, have been really positive -- a couple times really really amazing, but sometimes i'm just meeting my obligation.

Try a less high traffic place! You have lots of good advice here, especially on the mayim hayim link. Be gentle with yourself, and watch out for grand expectations that maybe prevent you from experiencing what is actually there.

Anonymous said...

When you're next visiting Israel, then check this out: http://www.ivria.co.il/en/

Dipper said...

Somehow, I'm not sure how, after 20 years of marriage I can honestly say that I've never personally encountered a rude mikvah lady, and that's in seven different places (big cities and small appointment only communities) with a variety of mikvahs and mikvah ladies. I have heard horrible stories from friends, and I believe the ladies who posted here, but I just want everyone to see a totally positive experience. At my conversion in Israel the mikvah lady cried out of emotion and told the rabbinit who accompanied me how special the occasion always is for her. Before I got married the mikvah lady took one look at me and asked, "Kallah?" (Does anyone else ever look that nervous?) She was extremely helpful without being intrusive. Ever since I've always had good experiences too. I will admit that with all the kids at home, especially when they're little I find myself saying, "I don't have time to prepare! How am I going to sneak out?" But I don't let the pressure get to me. As others have advised, I focus on the spiritual and I encourage you to do the same.

Galya Greenberg said...

Chavi--I think your dermatologist is wrong! There aren't any substances in the water that are not in the water when you take a bath or shower at home. In any case, I agree with the suggestions about taking time and adding a kavanah. My own story: I did not grow up in a family in which any of the women went to the mikvah and when I got married, I was at a stage in my life where my attitude was: Don't reject a mitzvah until you have tried it for awhile. The first year we were married, we lived in a place where you had to travel an hour to get to a mikvah, and my husband was a medical intern, on call every third night or so, and it was much too stressful to make that trip. The next year we moved and the mikvah was right down the street, so I started going and it was a wonderful experience. T'vilah had special meaning, of course, after childbirth and after my mastectomy in 1992. Then, in middle age, when periods began to be irregular and finally cease, the whole routine slowed down and caused me to think about the stage of life I was in. Would your local mikvah allow you to bring a close friend to be your personal shomeret? B'hatzlachah on your mikvah journey. Galya

Anonymous said...

Is it just mine, or does anyone else's husband notice the smell of the chlorine from the dunk in public waters? Ever since he said something about it, I've made sure to bathe again, but not at the mikvah, because they frown upon this.

Anon 3 said...

Another exercise my kallah teacher taught me was when you're cleaning each body part think about how it served your marriage this month.

wallcough said...

I'm a mikveh guide and I know that when we schedule appointments we plan on the appointment lasting 45 minutes. Some people take longer, others are in and out.
I always ask if the woman wants me to leave her alone in the mikveh for some time for herself after the immersion. Women who are not there for niddah often say "yes" while women coming for niddah usually come right out after their immersion. I have also found that women coming for niddah who want some private time often tell me up front. They'll say something like, "It's my minhag to spend some time alone in the mikveh after I immerse."
I think that for some women the quiet reflective moments are as important, if not more so, than the mitzvah moments.

Anonymous said...

just wanted to point out, mayyim hayyim is not an orthodox organization (the mikvah there is not even kosher) - so be wary of information taken from the website.

shualah elisheva said...

anonymous at the end:

mayyim hayyim [i typed mayim chayim in my first comment here] may not be an orthodox or halachic mikveh, but that doesn't mean that their commentary on increasing kavanah + meaningfulness is any less valid. it only means that one shouldn't dip there for purposes of mitzvot.

Leigh Ann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Leigh Ann said...

I am a liberal Jew and also a monthly mikvah user (well, 'monthly' when it applies, visits have been few and far between since 2006 with my first pregnancy.)

I qualified both things as an illustration for why it's hard for me. My husband and I are not shomer harchakot. (well, we are shomer some harchakot, I'm sure you can imagine...) So I still have *some * of the motivation to go to the mikvah (use your imaginations) but not *all* of the motivation (I can still pass the baby.) My community - liberal Jews - kid of give a shrug to the whole practice - it's not strictly necessary. STill something deep within me tells me that it's necessary for me. I didn't grow up with a mother who when to mikvah, so I have neither societal or family pressure on my side. My husband just wants the green light from me, so to speak, and doesn't ask details. The pressure to go to the mikvah is solely my own, internal. It is 100%, completely up to me whether I go each month or not.

Which you can imagine would be hard in the summertime, especially, when you've been up with the new baby since 3AM, have been going alllll day, and the only thing you want to do at 8 PM, two hours *before* your mikvah time, is to collapse in a heap. Yeah.

My baby is eight months old now and I'm still exhausted enough to dread preparing for and going to the mikvah, even in these early winter hours. I always try to take a psalm or a personal prayer for kavvanah, but especially if the mikvah lady is rushed or I am freezing, that concentration just doesn't happen. Still, I will call today and schedule my visit. Why?

The mikvah was there for me when I converted and I felt that same transcendent feeling you described. It was there for me when I was recovering from an ectopic pregnancy, both physically and emotionally. It surrounded me and carried me during those times. So I feel that I owe it to the mikvah to be there, because I believe it will one day be there for me again, and I don't want to allow myself to feel too distant or cut off from it in the interim. I feel called to maintain the connection, even if the connection isn't so much *there* each time I go.

Thank you for this post, Chaviva.

Anonymous said...

I've also only visited the mikveh once, for purposes of conversion and had a very positive experience. I am glad that this topic is being raised because I believe it's important for this issue to be discussed openly and honestly.
Regarding Mayyim Hayyim, I believe their aim is to be welcoming to all segments of the Jewish community--there is an explanatory page about the Kashrus of their mikveh which definitely won't be up to everyone's halakhic standards and they have good resources. I think they're doing really good work, but if one isn't comfortable immersing there, then do what makes you most comfortable.

Carrie Bornstein, Mayyim Hayyim Assitant Director said...

Fantastic post, Chavivah. I have been following the comments and really appreciate everyone's stories. It's wonderful that our resources at Mayyim Hayyim have been suggested, including our 7 kavanot for mikveh preparation. We also have a number of immersion ceremonies (including one for niddah) that can be emailed upon request. Likewise, part of our mission is to work with mikvaot around the country to become more welcoming and inclusive.

I'm sorry, Anonymous, and Shualah Elisheva, that you have been misinformed about the kashrut status of Mayyim Hayyim. We are, in fact, a kosher mikveh - built and maintained under halakhic rabbinic supervision. I encourage anyone who has questions about the details of our kashrut to be in touch with me directly (carrieb@mayyimhayyim.org), or to visit our website at http://www.mayyimhayyim.org/About/Kashrut.

Anonymous said...

Chavi,

My Mikvah experiences were fine. The water was so nice I wanted to stay in the mikvah waters. The attendant told me I needed to get out of the water.lol. My mikvah has a stain glass that lets the sunshine in. It is beautiful.

I haven’t been since the High Holy days because I am now on the Depo Shot. I didn’t do well with the pill so my doctor put me on the shot. I am not active (I’m Shomer Negiah) but my menstrual cycle is so horrid that it lands me in the ER. I would black out because of the extreme pain, and hurt myself if I wasn’t near a bed. I have hit my head on cement because no one was around when I fell. I am a very rare case.

Is there a place where I can find out information for mikvah use and women without a cycle?

Thanks,
Tzippora

Melissa S-G said...

Tzippora -
If you email me, I'd be happy to discuss mikvah use by women without a cycle. It is something I have done some research on and had discussions about. I'd be happy to share what I'm learning and help you connect to resources.
- Melissa
melissa@redefiningrebbetzin.com

KosherAcademic said...

One of my biggest issues is the lack of preparation expected of the husband. If I need to spend so much time and energy doing this mitzvah, why isn't he *required* to do the same?

Anonymous said...

Carrie Bornstein, assistant director of Mayyim Hayyim.

I looked at your web site, you have a beautiful mikveh. But it would not be suitable for Orthodox Jews. The laws of mikveh are very complex and after waiting 12-14 days you better believe I want my dunking to be 100 percent!
If someone were to undergo an Orthodox conversion they would not be able to use your mikveh. So it is wrong to say that you are kosher, you should say you are kosher according to the Conservative Movement.

Anon 3 said...

Kosher Academic - I've complained about this to my husband, so while I'm at the mikvah he started taking a shower, trimming his nails and mustache etc. It's not the same level of preparation, but the effort is appreciated. I don't know why chosson teachers don't start suggesting something like this to their students as a part of "sensitivity training."

EYR said...

Well, being a man, I have not had this experience with the Mikvah, naturally. However, I think what you are describing is just the impact of doing things on a regular basis. I can tell you that men, and possibly women too, have a similar experience when it comes to Davening - 3 times a week-day, the same words, over and over and over and over.... You can't help but ask, where did the spirituality go?

This is the tradeoff you get with action-based religions like Judaism: The actions symbolize something, but the fact that you HAVE to do them at PREDETERMINED times means that, when these times are frequent, they can loose some of their flavor. But the fact that you ARE, in the end, commanded to do these things at these times means that the emotional impact they have is not the only or main purpose of the actions. Praying every day can be, well, boring, but it also expresses the centrality of keeping the lines of communication between us and G-d constantly open. The price we pay, according to the Rabbis, is worth the gain.

The way out of this mess, I find, is every so often to add something of your own, without changing the halachik actions themselves. For example, after praying from your Sidur, talk to G-d in your own words for a bit, making it real.

So, welcome to the "Veteran Orthodox" club, Chaviva. We all go through these things. Does that help a bit too? I hope so...

Rivki said...

Wow, with such amazing comments, I don't think that there's much to add!

I second Allison from Jew in the City's point - take some time to daven after the last dunk. It's worth it to take advantage of the special connection you have with Hashem during that eis ratzon.

Back int he day, my kallah teacher gave me a number of tefillos that can be said on the day of tevilah, to help focus on the mitzvah, and help keep it from becoming rote. If you want to see any of them, feel free to email me.

Melissa S-G said...

I just happened upon this piece by Mayim Bialik and it made me think of you. Enjoy!
http://www.jewishweddingnetwork.com/mayim-bialik-student-of-the-water#more-2770

Chaviva said...

Wow! So many more awesome comments, and I'm glad we got one from the male perspective, too, and thank you to Shayna for asking about what men can/should do while we're at the mikvah.

I actually have an update to this post in the works, but it'll be a while before it posts. I encourage you to stay tuned, as it might blow your mind.

My new take-aways?

1) Make it my own. Find a way to make the entire experience my own, within the realms of halakah.

2) I probably *don't* need to take a shower ... I should check with the mikvah about what goes into the water.

3) Mayim Bialik is awesome (thanks Melissa S-G).

4) Encourage my husband to do some prep work so it doesn't feel like it's all on me (even though it sort of is, it'd be nice to have a nice-looking husband when I return home).

PS: Did anyone get an answer about the use of the mikvah without a period? I'd love to have the info/response posted here, too!

Dipper said...

Mikvah use without a period: Read Rabbi Mordechai Eliayu's book "Darchei Tahara", available in Hebrew, English and other languages for an excellent overview of mikvah laws and customs. Always consult an authority for your personal situation.

Anonymous said...

I think that mikvah prep is just wonderful.. imagine.... G-d is actually giving me a mitzvah for taking a LONG, HOT, PLEASANT and RELAXING one hour bath! When would I ever find the time to do that if it were left up to me? judging by my hectic life probably never. So every time I enter the bath I indulge in absolutely nothing and it is blissful! I am so grateful for it, not only do I feel great but I feel privileged that I am doing it for a mitzvah!
After my scrub down I go to the Mikvah I guess I am lucky that our Mikvah attendant is a truly wonderful modest person who treats everyone with respect although the first time I went it was a little awkward to have someone watch you dunk. Logically it makes sense that someone should be watching to make sure that all your hair went under and that your submersion is complete rendering it kosher. When I am about to submerge in the mikvah I try to remember that it is a meeting place to get closer to G-d and I try and take the time to thank Hashem for everything He has bestowed me with. I also try to pray during the submersion I feel that it is a special moment to talk to G-d I just say what is in my heart even though it is nothing formal. And then when all is done I can't wait to get home!!!!
ps their is a book by Aryeh Kaplan which really explains the concept of mikvah

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2118719.Waters_of_Eden

and Reb Faige Twerski has an awesome write up about mikvah as well check it out!! http://mikvah.org/article/love%2c_marriage_and_mikvah

Anonymous said...

Your post was meaningful and insightful. I think that the fact that the mikvah is so very 'there' for us to partake in makes it a bit of a stretch to realize just how much of a commitment it was for our foremothers (and fathers). We think nothing of the fact that we can drive (or walk) to the mikvah and prepare in a setting away from home, more or less take our time and put our efforts into doing this mitzvah. If we may allow ourselves an opportunity to think how it may have been not that long ago for another woman in the same position to avail herself of the mikvah. It becomes something we cannot take for granted and thus brings more depth to the mundane.
I also wanted to share that our ouwn feelings are what matter in the mikvah process. It is between us (wife+husband) and H-shem. This is our chance to renew ourself on a monthly basis. I think that is pretty darn amazing, given the face that we are all so obsessed with new beginnings, resolutions, approaches.. well here we are actually physically able to detect the differential and if we can metabolize, utilize it in our lives towards actual positive change.
To me, the actual physical manifestation of the mikvah itself is nothing in comparison to the spiritual beauty that the mikvah represents. It is up to us to harness that power, energy, mindset and really use it in our lives.
I have been to the gamut of mikvaot.. the stunning over the top ones and the ones that would make you feel like you are somehow in the wrong place.. only you are in the right place.. that place in your mind, soul, conviction that you are able to partake of this amazing mitzvah that will truly bring brachot and inspiration into your neshama and being, if you become one with it, embrace it and grow with it.

Anonymous said...

For stuff your kallah teacher never taught you, but you wish she did, take a look at http://www.yoatzot.org/. The yoatzot from Nishmat's fantastic program are a wonderful resource. There is a yoetzet halakhah in Teaneck. She gives refreshers and other shiurim pretty frequently. I strongly recommend attending.

Anonymous said...

So I know this is an old post, but just HAD to comment. Yasher koach to that dermatologist! I've been going to the mikvah for a few months now, and every time I always feel that my skin is all dried out and parched. Now, bathing without applying lotion immediately does that to me anyway, but this is worse...doesn't always leave me feeling spiritually refreshed for sure! Now I know that I'm not just imagining this!

Anonymous said...

Discovered this blog recently and I am intrigued by your story. I *never* comment on things like this, but felt compelled to share my thoughts on this post. As an FFB who tends further to the right than most of your readers (my husband..gasp! wears a black hat, I cover all of my hair, my legs, my elbows, and my collarbone, you get the picture), I can both share some of your frustrations and offer some different suggestions for making the experience more positive. 1)Choose a better mikvah-I lived in Teaneck and went on a "mikvah sampling tour" of Bergen County until I found one I liked/got pregnant. Fairlawn was my favorite, Passaic was next on my list, but I never got to go there before I moved away.
2)Make your preferences clear to the mikvah lady from the start, before you even begin to prepare-like, I need a full hour, I would prefer that you only look at my back/nails/fill in the blank, My ears get waterlogged when I go under, so please shout 'kosher' really loudly, whatever.
3)Early in the day review all the halachos of preparation and tevilah so that you don't have any last minute panic over "oh no what if I forgot something", and can relax while you soak in the tub.
4)Plan (or ask your husband to plan) something romantic and special for mikvah night (much easier before you have kids!)
5)With all due to respect to the dermatologist, you cannot shower after being tovel until after you've been with your husband (although there is a heter to shower after just touching each other if you feel gross--check with your posek though!)
6)You can certainly put on lotions or creams after you've been tovel!
7)Most importantly, use the time while you are in a waiting room beforehand or still in the mikvah water itself after toveling to daven and connect with Hashem! As I wrote above, you can even tell the mikvah lady in advance that you would like 5 extra minutes to stay in the mikvah and daven-they are usually accommodating and kind, especially in small, 'out-of-town' non-factory style mikvaos. It's the best time for free-form, spontaneous, and heartfelt tefillah. Think about how standing completely bare in the mikvah is a metaphor for baring your soul to Hashem, and just pour it all out.
8)Remember that, as others said, some months it will be harder than others to get excited about this or to tap into that spiritual clarity, but it's a process, and just going through the act itself, even when it is very hard for you to 'feel it', is a way of connecting to Hashem and developing your neshama towards greater perfection.
Hatzlacha!

Chaviva said...

I can't believe so many comments still are coming in! Thank you oodles everyone for continuing to offer your insight and thoughts.

@Anonymous (at 1:10 a.m.) Your advice about laying things out for the mikvah lady is interesting. They always seem to be in such a hurry -- I don't want to feel demanding or like a nuisance. Ugh. But you make many excellent points and I think it's all about taking time and finding a ritual or process that WORKS for the individual. I've started taking more time in the water, walking up, walking down, counting, and taking real time. It's just so hard to not feel like I'm wasting the mikvah lady's time. Le sigh.

Reisel said...

yes time is always a major aspect. if things are done in a hurry the rukhniujus will not be on a high level... also doing thing repeatedly is a nissayon we have to cope with. every shabbos the candle lightning has to be done anew and in a fresh way. what helps me always is to focus on tefillos for my family, for others, for refuah shelmoh and the like. it helps elevating and gives the mikvah visit an extra energy.

i am living in a frum community and like the anonymous writer before me i dress an live acc to frum standarts. i observe there is always anew the challenge to overcome formalisms and to connect with hashem in every aspect possible. but it works!

kol tuv and hatzloche!

Aliza "La Jewminicana" Hausman said...

I've been to many a mikvah in my 5 years of marriage. It seems that every time we travel, I have to find a mikvah in an place I've never been and I find that those mikvahs in the middle of nowhere that get few people really are awesome places that make me feel like you are really participating in a holy process. It takes me back to my conversion dip.

I loved all the NYC mikvahs I attended from the Catskills to the city. I loved the Upper East Side mikvah, which is really spa-like, where I never failed to receive a bracha and special attention even if the mikvah lady, like I was, needed to rush back for Friday night dinner.

I miss my Friday night mikvah gang in my old 'hood. Without fail, we always ended up there on Friday night, the most awkward time!!! We used to chat about all the ways we used to get around explaining where we were when we were late to Friday night dinners, especially in our own homes!!!

I miss my mikvah lady from my hometown. Having the same one over and over again led to a kind of comfort. But I dislike finding out that she told a friend she had a baby's breast and body. I dislike that in my new hometown, I've had to deal with mikvah ladies PULLING on my curly hair "to check for loose hair strands" or running their fingers through my hair for the same reason or asking me if I've REALLY combed it. I get that my hair is big but I do know how to comb it and I can't help that as soon as I get out of the shower, it dries UPWARDS.

The mikvah has never stopped feeling wonderful to me but a lot of it has to do with the atmosphere and how you're treated by the mikvah attendant. Someone pulling your hair or asking about your Jewishness while you're covered in a see-thru robe more than once can ruin the experience for life. No mikvah lady should comment on a person's body nor should they touch you without asking. (In my experience, NO mikvah has been as intrusive about touching as my current one.)

But having a mikvah lady who remembers who you are and that you are a special case because of your health problems makes you feel very, very special and like a Queen. And on that night, every Jewess should feel like a Queen.

Post a Comment

 
Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes Powered by Blogger | DSW printable coupons