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Purifying Waters

Purifying Waters

Family Purity


There is nothing more holy in this world, nothing more precious to its Creator, than the union of a man and a woman. It is, after all, the fountain of life. What could be more precious than life—other than the source from which life comes?

And it is holy—because the first, pristine creation of a human being was as male and female as a single whole. That is the way we exist in G‑d’s mind. And so, none of us can achieve wholeness until we regain that original oneness in both body and soul.

Precious things are kept in sealed boxes. Roses hide behind the thorns. There are clothes you wear to work or play, but there are also treasures in your wardrobe so beautiful, of such value, that they come out only at special The union of a man and a woman is so precious that if it is treated casually, without conditions or boundaries, it becomes ugly and even destructive times, under specific conditions. The union of a man and a woman is so precious that if it is treated casually, without conditions or boundaries, it becomes ugly and even destructive.

Which all goes to explain why in the Jewish way of life there is a cycle of union and separation between husband and wife. And why the most important institution of Jewish life, next to the home, is the mikveh that stands at the vortex of that cycle. Because precious things only stay beautiful when you follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Enhancing Marriage

There is a very practical reason, as well, to keeping these rules: They keep things sparkling. After all, even swimming with tiger sharks can get pretty dull if it's the daily fare. On the other hand, a plain stone, if it's withheld for a while, becomes a coveted jewel. Modesty and the period of separation inject that flavor of the forbidden into a relationship.

Consistently, couples report their relationships rejuvenated when they start living by the rules of separation and mikveh. Perhaps that's why mikveh parking lots have become so crowded in the past few decades as more and more young couples make it a part of their lives -- some who have no other formal Jewish observance.

A Spa for the Soul

Today's mikveh looks more like a fashionable spa than a ritualarium. Luxurious bath and powder rooms, complete with commode, bathtub and vanity have become the standard. Fresh towels, disposable slippers, a comfortable robe, soap, shampoo, nail clippers and all the other essentials necessary are usually provided.

The Kabbalists say that the spiritual state of the world depends on the sanctity of our relations as men and women

Many women talk about the immersion in the mikveh as a spiritual high, a state in which nothing stands between you and your G‑d; a return to the innocence of birth; a sanctification of all that is feminine. In fact, it's not just your soul and body that become spiritually uplifted -- it's your entire family and home.

Your Child's Soul

There are three partners in the conception of every child: the mother, the father and the One Above.

The Talmud explains that the mother and father create the body, and One Above provides the breath of life. The Kabbalists take this a step further: also the spiritual self is a product of the three-way partnership. For the G‑dly soul is too lofty, too holy, to be contained within a physical body without protection. Just as an astronaut needs a spacesuit and a deep-sea diver needs an armored diving suit, so the soul needs an outfit that will allow it to survive and communicate with the body and the outside world. That survival suit is provided by the mother and father. It is fashioned according to their thoughts and conduct before and during conception, their modesty and their adherence to the rules of separation and immersion.

All the good deeds and thoughts a person accomplishes in a lifetime are through the medium of that "suit." Even the life and blessings that a person receives from Above must come through it. The soul itself may be pure and luminous, but if its suit doesn¹t match, that light will have great difficulty breaking through.

That is why the Kabbalists say that the spiritual state of the world depends on the sanctity of our relations as men and women.

Where to Begin

The best way to learn about the mikveh is to consult your local rebbetzin or mikveh attendant. Men can talk with a rabbi. Visit for more information and essays, as well as a worldwide directory and photographs and virtual tours of mikvehs around the world.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Discussion (17)
February 1, 2013
Re: re: physical bond
"According to the kabbala, every union brings souls into the world--just that those souls may not be born into physical bodies."

Dear Rabbi Freeman,
Is it one soul per union or more? What happens with these souls? Where do they go?

Katrin P.
November 10, 2010
Importance of a mikvah
Could you give the source of the statement in your book, that the most important institution in Jewish life next to the home is the mikvah?
Chana Nathanson
Los Angeles, Calif
May 11, 2010
thank you for telling me of my heritage and deep beliefs. I never thought to go online to you, and am sorry it was not sooner.
orlando, fl
May 20, 2009
re: physical bond
if they were intimate at a time of nida, then they need a proper teshuva to repair the damage to their own souls and to the souls they brought into the world at that time. According to the kabbala, every union brings souls into the world--just that those souls may not be born into physical bodies.

The teshuva is to study the laws of nida and keep them--and to inspire others to keep them as well.
Tzvi Freeman
Thornhill, Ontario
May 20, 2009
physical bond
i just want to know what is the disadvantage when a couple were intimate when they were separated. how do it affect them.shalom
cape town, south africa
December 7, 2008
In responce to anon
You do say "I love you" in the 'time off' - Just not in those words.

How many woman are dying for thier husbands to express themselves in more than three words. This time is perfect for a couple to show how much they mean to each other in all of the thousands of tiny details of everyday life - only the easy way is excluded.

As for physical intimacy, yes it expresses your deep self - if you take the time to show that it is about more than just the physical. There is no better way to demonsrate that than 12 days of just being a great spouse.
September 25, 2004
It was very interesting to read about the mikveh. But the author could have brought out a feminist issue. Compliance with the laws of family purity empowers the woman because it means that a man cannot have intimate relations anytime he wants it. This is a very big issue. This alone should bust the myth that non-Jews have that Jewish women don't count!
Sherry S. Cohen
September 23, 2004
large families
I think living this way accounts for so many Orthodox Jews having such big families.
September 23, 2004
My last comments - & a question
How can 2 people not say "I love you" for 12+ days every month? To not even hug, nor reach out to the other with a brief but gentle touch...for 12+ days; how is it possible?

Just look at your child and you will know how important touching is; how much it's connected to love.

Re. sex: I compare it to a piano keyboard. The who of you (general you) can be expressed via music, for example- but if you stay away from music for long periods of time, over and over, how can you ever play much more than the scales?- and I'm not trying to be rude.

What I'm talking about is expressing who you are, who you really are, in a sexual way. But I don't see how that can be done if that expression is encouraged half the month, and everything but encouraged the rest of it.

My question: I would like to know where G-d says that a married Jewish couple cannot touch, in any way at all, for nearly half a month - every month. My status of non-Jew may change one day, so this is important to me.
September 22, 2004
I am observant. I understand we do this mitzva because it is commanded. Just like there are levels of Torah study or ahavat Israel or differing hechshers, there are different experiences with the mikvah. Justas in tefilla, not everybody achieves the desired kavvana so easily. For some, the mitzvah yields much love when reunited. The article speaks of this. Not everybody is physically healthy however. I have known many religious Jews who have deep challenges with the mitzva but do it anyhow. For some not as blessed with health, physical suffering or pain color the whole experience. To not be soothed by gentle touch while in pain or ill for the 2 weeks is hard and lonely. Often after the separation ends, the pain inhibits one from enjoying the bliss of reunion on the projected day. Others say some men (and women) turn to other interests as a fence around erotic feelings and then have a hard time switching their brains over to permitting themselves to be sensual again.
i'm anonymous too