The extraordinary devotion of the Chassidim of Samarkand extended far beyond that which was mandated by Jewish law or prevailing Chassidic custom. Oftentimes a certain Chassidic sensibility, or a feeling about a particular matter, would quickly evolve into a custom or Chassidic rule. Drying yourself with a towel after immersing in the mikva, for example, was out of the question for the Chassidim of Samarkand, and even looked down upon. Apart from understanding the mikva water to be holy, and not wanting to remove them from one’s body, there was a larger issue at hand: For them, being unable to just throw one’s clothes back on after the mikva was just altogether too fussy. They were even more critical of anyone so precious he had to circumvent the prohibition against carrying on Shabbos by wearing a towel around his neck on the way to the mikva. To us, this behavior was the product of a self-indulgent materialism, and came from the type of person who feels that he deserves to be thanked for the very fact that he goes to the mikva altogether.

The stigma of drying oneself after the mikva was so great that even Eliyahu Mishulovin, who had a weak heart and needed to take extra care preventing his body from getting chilled, was ashamed to be seen doing so. He was worried that an onlooker, and especially a younger yeshiva student, might not realize that his health required him to dry himself, and would thus become a “negative” influence for some impressionable youth.

It once happened that a young man came to the mikva while R. Eliyahu was there drying himself with a towel. He was mortified and didn’t know how to justify his actions. He apologized and explained that he was sick and the doctor had warned him to be extra careful not to get chilled, and therefore he needed to dry his body.

I recently went to the mikva on Shabbos and heard some men talking about not using a towel after going to the mikva. One said in a tone of amazement, “I knew two older Chassidim—R. Yisrael Jacobson and R. Shmuel Levitin—who never used a towel after immersing!” I told him that in Samarkand, I didn’t know anyone who did.

R. Bentzion Rubinson, one of the students in the yeshiva we later opened in Samarkand, related to me a recent farbrengen that he had been in London for a Shabbos not long after leaving Russia, and went with R. Mendel Futerfas to the mikva in the morning. To his surprise, he saw a large pile of clean towels at the entrance, and R. Mendel took one for himself and one for R. Bentzion. “What’s this?” he asked in astonishment. “Don’t worry,” R. Mendel replied with a wry grin. “You will yet see worse...” R. Bentzion ended his story by saying, “Even today I cannot dry myself after immersing in the mikva.”

In a 1982 talk, the Rebbe once discussed drying oneself after going to the mikva. He said that although it is recorded in Kisvei HaArizal that legendary kabbalist the Arizal did not dry himself after immersing himself before Shabbos, we are careful to dry ourselves. The Rebbe continued that whoever wants to conduct himself in the manner spoken about in Kisvei HaArizal should leave a certain area of the body wet, and by so doing, will allow the sanctity of the water of Shabbos to spread to the rest of the body.

In light of this development, using a towel after the mikva is actually not a negative conduct. Still, I describe our behavior in Samarkand since it stemmed from our reverence for the holy waters of the mikva. Even though we weren’t aware of what was written in the Kisvei HaArizal, it was a given for us that this was the proper chassidic conduct, and we didn’t have the audacity to dry ourselves of the mikva water.

A number of years ago, a Lubavitcher man innocently told me that he showers after dipping in the mikva. It was the first time I had heard of such a thing, and I was shocked. I said, “How could you do that?” Trying to justify himself, he said that if he would not shower after the mikva his body would itch, from the chlorine, I supposed. I said, “At least go home and shower there, but don’t shower with soap right after immersing!”

Some years later we met and had a friendly chat. I had already forgotten our conversation, but he reminded me and said, “You should know that since then I haven’t showered after the mikva.” I immediately recalled our conversation and I asked, “Well, how do you feel?” He didn’t understand what I meant and I said, “Don’t you itch afterwards?” He gave a dismissive wave with his hand and laughed.

I remember that when someone would complain to R. Berke Chein that the mikva water was dirty, smelly or cold, he would always answer, “Yes, indeed.” But what of us, spiritually speaking? Are we as pristine as we'd like the water to be? So perhaps it's fitting that the mikva matches our spiritual state, he suggested: “We are also dirty, smelly and cold...”