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The Power of Once

The Power of Once

Post-Menopausal Mikvah

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Thirty-five years ago, I married the nicest Jewish man in the world. We met with the rabbi on the day of our wedding – under the chupah, the wedding canopy. Obviously, it was not the time to mention the word mikvah, which he didn't and, in fact, he never mentioned it. At the time, I didn't know about women going to the mikvah – ritual immersion - before their wedding day.

We celebrated our Judaism in a one-dimensional wayMy three children grew up in a warm, loving, elegant home in an upscale neighborhood in Montreal. We celebrated our Judaism on all the holidays in a one-dimensional way – through eating and reciting the appropriate prayers on a very literal level, not knowing that there is a deeper, richer meaning to everything that we were doing. Synagogue figured in our lives on these occasions and at weddings, Bar Mitzvah's and circumcisions.

When I was thirty-nine, my youngest son had his Bar Mitzvah. That same year, through a number of intertwining circumstances, I discovered that Judaism belonged to me in a way that I never dreamed of. It was part of my past, my present and would figure - although I did not know it at the time - front and center in my future and my family's.

I have kept a diary for the past fifteen years. A long time to record what happens in a person's life. One day, I will get it organized and compile it into a book. For now though, I would like to share a few moments in my life.

July 1997: When I first entered this Chabad house, I sat in the last chair near the door to make a quick exit. Believe me, I did not have a clue what was flying here. I was a secular Jew whose main connection with a rabbi was on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with about 1500 other Jews. Not inspiring, I promise you. It has taken me nearly three years to be able to articulate what I have been feeling for a very long time.

The first Shabbat I came here, I was literally moved to tears. Not from the service, because I was totally clued out. But by the Chassidic melodies, which I had never in my life heard. I still cannot believe that up until three years ago I knew none of these beautiful, haunting, soulful songs. I tried for a long time to put into words how I felt about these niggunim (wordless melodies) but I read something recently that summed it up perfectly. If I explain it to you, no matter how brilliantly, you won't fully comprehend the experience of eating a piece of chocolate. But, if I give you a piece to taste, you will immediately know it. It doesn't require any other illustration. In the same way, Chassidic niggunim go straight to the heart bypassing the intellect…

It felt as though I had been robbed of that part of my Jewish womanhoodOne day that same year, the rabbi came over to me and suggested, very gently, that perhaps I should consider going to the mikvah. My situation was that I had had a hysterectomy when I was in my thirties. I did not have a monthly cycle, would never experience what I had been hearing about – the excitement, anticipation and spiritual renewal that other women had the opportunity to have. What, I asked myself, was the point? I was not opposed to the idea, but I could not see the benefit of going once in my life. I held my true feelings in check until I got home.

I was angry at G‑d at that point in my life. Not only did it seem that He had held back the treasures of Judaism until I was forty, but that I also would never get a chance to experience, together with my husband, the beautiful and intimate ritual of mikvah. To me, it felt as though I had been robbed of that part of my Jewish womanhood. And so, when I got home that night, I cried bitterly.

A few weeks passed and the rabbi broached the subject again. Because of our previous discussion, I had become acutely aware of mikvah and listened more carefully when my friends, who, like me, were discovering Judaism, spoke about it. They said they were scared; they voiced their fears as to how their husbands would react; they said they did not understand the concept of being "ritually impure." Perhaps because it was not going to be a part of my regular routine, I did not view mikvah the way they did. I saw it as a privilege, a chance to spend time with G‑d alone, an opportunity to embrace who I was as a Jewish woman.

And so, I agreed to go. The weeks between the suggestion and my agreement had allowed my anger with G‑d to dissipate and gave me time to reflect and learn in depth about the mitzvah, the commandment, of mikvah.

I spoke with my husband and he agreed with me. It was something that we had to do as a couple - for ourselves, for our children and for our grandchildren.

I did the preparation as any woman would, even though I did not, as stated above, go through my cycle. My anticipation was at a heightened level, and finally, it was time to go. I had read an exquisite book about, amongst other stories, the sacrifices that women had made in the not-so-distant past to go to the mikvah. I felt honored, fortunate, scared, and unsure. I also felt that I was part of a chain, a link in the history of Jewish women.

The gates of Heaven are open for those few precious momentsEvery woman who goes to the mikvah has a different emotional experience. Some feel very little, some feel very spiritual, some in-between. While immersed in the mikvah, as well as when one lights Shabbat candles, one can pray to G‑d - for anything. The gates of Heaven are open for those few precious moments.

When I finally went, I forgot to pray, instead concentrating very hard on immersing myself completely, from my toes to every strand of hair on my head. The water seemed to wash away the anger I had once felt. My tears mixed with the water in the mikvah in thankfulness to G‑d for bestowing upon me the honor of being born to Jewish parents, for bringing me to this moment.

I recently read an article which describes, beautifully, why one should go, even once to the mivkah.

For the postmenopausal woman, one final immersion in the mikvah offers purity for the rest of her life. Even a woman who has never used the mikvah before should make a special effort to immerse after menopause (it is never too late for a woman to do this even if many years have elapsed since her menopause), thus allowing for all subsequent intimacies to be divinely blessed.

The single greatest gift granted by G‑d to humankind is teshuvah - the possibility of return - to start anew and wash away the past. Teshuvah allows man to rise above the limitations imposed by time and makes it possible to affect our life retroactively. A single immersion in the mikvah late in life may appear insignificant to some, a quick and puny act. Yet coupled with dedication and awe, it is a monumental feat; it brings purity and its regenerative power not only to the present and future but even to one's past… (Rivky Slonim, The Mikvah)

It seems easy for me. I went once and it’s over. If one is younger, still having their cycle, mikvah plays a central role in their lives.

In 2002, I wrote: Faith is a word that always existed in my lexicon. Ten years ago, faith meant, for example, that I knew that the sun would rise in the morning and set in the evening. But the concept of faith on a personal level was distant from me. Truthfully, I didn't even know to need faith. Things transpired in my life and I coped or didn't. What was there to have faith in?

Mikvah is a personal bequest from G‑d to Jewish womenFaith, as I have learned, means devotion. Not in the sense that I blindly follow, like a robot. Not, as many say, "oh, you found the 'faith.'" Faith as a noun is static. But as a verb it is constantly growing. Faith comes from my essence. It's who I am and it was always there.

There is no "one minute, I have to go and think about that." No "I don't like this part I only like the other parts." No "it wasn't supposed to be this way, so I'll rethink the whole thing." It means absolute, unwavering commitment. It means that G‑d has given me a gift and He would be so, so happy if I opened it.

Today I have begun to understand about G‑d on my simple level, in a way that He has enabled me to. I have learned that not only does He need me, He put me here with His, metaphorically speaking, heart and soul. The reason He created the world and put me into it, as a Jew, is to intensify and speed up a time when the world will not only believe that there is a G‑d, but they will actually feel His presence.

Mikvah is a personal bequest from G‑d to Jewish women. When receiving a gift, one has a choice - open it or leave it closed for a while, until… until one is ready to see what's inside. But sometimes, perhaps once in a lifetime, one should open the gift simply because of who it came from. No matter what's inside.

Mikvah is a gift to yourself, to your husband, to your children, their children and so on, until the time when the world will be what G‑d wanted it – free of illness, of suffering, a world of peace and harmony. Knowing that observing the mitzvah of mikvah will bring the world closer to this day is extraordinary. Knowing that I can be a part of it is incredible. And finally, the benefits in this world are the icing on the cake.

Mikvah is like a soft, wordless Chassidic melody, going straight to the heart, bypassing the intellect. What a wondrous, remarkable place our world would be if every Jewish woman sang one song, with one voice. May we merit this moment without delay.

Joannie Tansky is the author of Girl Meets God; The Gift of Being a Jewish Woman. She is an international speaker and coach and is currently working on her second book, In The Eyes of Other Women. You can reach her via her webpage.
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Rivkah Shreveport March 4, 2014

Thank you Joannie! Reply

Joannie March 4, 2014

Rivkah - how beautiful. It was like forever as it touched your soul - past, present and future. Reply

Rivka Shreveport March 3, 2014

A few seconds? It didn't feel like a few seconds. It felt like forever. It felt wonderful. It felt like being reborn in holiness. Reply

Joannie February 28, 2014

A very wise woman once told me that you never regret a good thing. Going to the mikvah is at the same time intensely personal and yet connects you to thousands of years of Jewish women. For a very few seconds in your life, you sincerely connect with G-d. Don't be afraid. Embrace those precious few seconds. Reply

Anonymous via chabadmidsuffolk.com February 28, 2014

Tears rolled down my cheeks as I read this. This new return to Judiasm is wonderful, however, I feel that this is the one thing "mikvah" that would connect me to gd from the heart.
I am scared. Scared of the unknown, but theres a part of me that knows I have to do this.
Thank you for your words. You've connected with so many of us that feel the same way. Reply

Ruth Canada August 26, 2013

Mikveh after menopause It is so interesting to see my posting again from 2008. I think writing it made it possible for me to take action. I did go to the mikveh shortly after. It gave me an important feeling of connection to HaShem and to myself as a Jewish woman. I appreciate reading the posting about going before Yom Kippur especially because that time is coming soon. Reply

Anonymous Princeton, New Jersey August 23, 2013

I sit here ready to greet the Shabbath Bride and your story was a treasure of the week. This was a remarkable story. I know the feeling of how precious and sacred our rituals are as Jewish Women. At 41, I have to say I went to the Mikvah 12 times for a year. It was my re-dedication to Hashem for all His Mighty gifts in my life. It is my dream that when I get married I too share this moment with my husband.

Thank you for sharing your amazing life experiences and for making spirituality be a base for the true gift of LIFE.

Blessing to each woman that receives from your articles. Reply

Joannie (Henya) Tansky Montreal May 20, 2011

Response to Mikvah - May 19, 2011 Dear Mrs. Austin,

What a beautiful response. Spiritual, inspirational and so truthful. Also, it comes in the week that we celebrated Pesach Sheni - the Second Passover when G-d gave us all a second chance. Your immersion in the mikveh at the age of 70 years old is surely making G-d smile and...hug you with the waters of the mikvah. Reply

Mrs. Eunice/Evnehkah Austin via chabadbrisbane.com May 19, 2011

Mikvah Aged 70 I went through the living waters of a mountain stream of Mikvah. Incredible.As I was about to put cotton in my ears and worry about all sorts of protection as the Doctors had advised it was like I heard a voice from the Heavens itself that I was safe, safe in HIs arms as I fulfilled His commandment. So with great joy with eyes upon Him I went through the waters without any worry. Afterwards I felt so extra ordinarily purified, and I understood "at the ending of the first ten years of your life I asked you to mikvah in My Name and you did. Now again before the last 10 years of your life, you bless Me as I bless you." As I study the Torah it becomes more and more precious to me.
Somewhere in the lines, both my parents are Jewish. Somewhere. And I surely thank G-d. Reply

Ruth Canada March 31, 2008

mikvah after menopause When my husband and I were preparing for our wedding 32 years ago, we met with the rabbi and I did ask him if I should go to the mikvah. He told me it was not necessary. I still have not fulfilled the mitzvah of mikvah. I am interested in going to the mikvah now (at the age of 57). I think it could be meaningful to me at a point in my life and my marriage when I am concious of renewing my sense of faith and our love for one another. Reply

Sue January 23, 2008

late bloomers I too am a "late bloomer", I am 51, but did not honestly begin my "return" until my sons were in college!! It would be really interesting if there were a place online that we can meet and share our stories. Discovering our heritage at this point is an awesome but sometimes bittersweet experience! Reply

Marie N.C. January 23, 2008

power of once I too am post menopause. In the process of separation with my husband and drawing closer to Judaism. When I move I will be looking for an orthodox synagogue to attend. I am so humbled to know that I may partake of this beautiful ritual despite my circumstances. I look forward to it being a blessed life changing event as I find my way through my new life. thank you for this wonderful article.It touches my soul deeply Reply

Me'ira Hartman Ariel, Israel January 23, 2008

Mikveh As a Ger preparing for conversion I can say that I feel like "a salmon swimming upstream" -- the drive, the longing, to reach that moment, that point of conversion, the immersion in the mikveh is incredibly strong. This beautiful article only increases that longing and anticipation! Yes, I believe that G-d places us each on this earth and in our personal paths of life as He sees fit, and I thank Him with all of my being for this point of purification in all the ways that He sees fit! Thank you for sharing. Reply

Henrietta Wolfstein January 22, 2008

unwed mikveh At the time that I discovered the mitzvah of mikveh, I was no longer married. But Mikveh is about more than sex. It is about purifty. Not about dirtiness, but about enhancing purity. I had to fight to be allowed to use the mikveh, which is supposed to be for married women only. But I did use it, under the rubric of Yom Kippur. Men go to the mikveh to prepare for Yom Kippur, and so did I. Every year, for over ten years, I did this. At first I had to concentrate, I had to make my long hair very wet, to be sure that all of me was touched by the sacralizing waters. And to remember not to touch the narrow sides of the mikveh. But soon I became comfortable enough to pray in the mikveh, and to feel my prayers rise up to Gd. WOW! Whenever I used the mikveh, another woman went with me to let me in and to watch that I fully immersed, and that woman is no longer available. I have not used the mikveh for two years now. And I miss it. And I am still unmarried. Reply

Alex Welka London, UK January 22, 2008

The mikvah What an incredible article. The timing could not have been better. I have just been discussing with a friend of mine the importance of the mikvah. I am in the same situation as you having just a a hysterectomy only three months ago. My husband is not too well and my "frum" friend thought it would be a good idea for me to go to the mikvah. I really didnt want to go but after her gentle persuasiion and reading your article, I know it is the right thing to do - Thank you very much Reply

Rachel Garber Phila, PA USA January 22, 2008

Post-menopausal mikveh This is so exciting for me to read. I too never went to a mikveh. The difference is that my husband is deceased. But I spoke to one of the ladies from Chabad who told me I can still do this. I spoke to my rebbitzin, and she agreed to go to the mikveh with me. I found that a very powerful posting, and appreciate the opportunity to read it. I am also a convert. I had a Reform conversion, but for the past several years have been moving closer to Orthodoxy.I have been attending services at an Orthodox synagogue for close to 20 years. Although I am a widow, I have been covering my head for the past several years, and have had a kosher home for close to 25 years. I have a formal Jewish education (Gratz College "85), and in the process of preparing for an Orthodox conversion.Thank you for that link. Reply

Anonymous Montreal, Quebec via themtc.com January 20, 2008

Absolutely amazing article! My eyes were practically glued to the screen. Thank you for sharing your beautiful experience! I am really looking forward to your book, and to more articles from you. One of G-d's precious gifts to me is that I too was given "a piece of chocolate to taste" in "discovering" and becoming part of the wonderful chabad community and learning about the deeper, richer meaning to life. Reply

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