For many outside the world of Jewish mystical practices, the idea of immersion in a ritual bath, known as a mikvah, is limited to the Torah laws associated with niddah, requiring a Jewish woman to dip at the right time before engaging in marital relations. What is less known is that for men as well, immersion in the mikvah is a powerful spiritual tool—perhaps one of the most fundamental keys in divine service, according to the Kabbalah. Once an integral part of Jewish society in ancient times, when ritual purity determined many facets of daily life, today many individuals and communities are tapping into the spiritually cleansing effect that the mikvah offers.
Frequent immersion in the mikvah, even daily, is essential for attaining spiritual insights . . .
In some traditional Jewish communities of European descent, it is customary for men to dip in a mikvah before Yom Kippur; in others, before all holidays; in others, particularly chassidic and many Sephardic communities, men immerse themselves every Friday, before Shabbat. Those involved in the study of Jewish mysticism and its practices go to the mikvah even more. In the words of the 19th-century Kabbalist R. Yitzchak Isaac Safrin (the Komarno Rebbe), frequent immersion in the mikvah, even daily, is essential for attaining spiritual insights, granting clarity of thought and sweetening the spiritual forces of judgment. In fact, it is told that the great mystic, the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism, said of himself that the great mystical achievements that he accomplished were all in the merit of constant immersion in the mikvah. Many tales are told of holy tzaddikim going to great lengths and through many hardships to dunk in such purifying waters. (In fact, the strict Kabbalistic tradition is clear: after marital relations or any seminal emission, prayer, study and meditation should not be attempted until after immersion.)
In order to access the spiritually cleansing power of the mikvah, a few requirements are necessary. While here is not the place for a comprehensive discussion of this extensive topic, some fundamentals are important to understand. One is that the body of water must contain enough water, specifically 40 se’ah, or somewhat less than 1000 liters according to modern measurements. In addition, the water must be from, or connected to (without intermediate filters, valves, etc.), a direct source, such as collected snow or rainwater; with this in mind, a lake or the ocean is acceptable (and even preferable). Also, the person immersing should be free of all jewelry, dirt and bandages (and clothes!).
There should be at least a moment when the person is completely surrounded by water on all sides, suspended. Some dunk a specific number of times; there are a number of traditions, but a person is free to do as many immersions as they wish. For example: one dunk for purity from impure sexual thoughts, one for clarity in Torah study, one to merit meeting one’s soulmate, etc. Many people remain under the water for a while, engaged in specific meditations. (Specific meditations for the mikvah will be discussed in a future article, “Meditations for the Mikvah.”
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