I receive a reoccurring question very often. Actually, it’s not always presented in a question form. Sometimes it appears in other ways. Sometimes, I simply sense it underlying the communication between people writing or calling me with halachic questions.
The issue revolves around the preparation for immersion. In short: too often, some women become uncontrollably tense when preparing for the mikvah.
I’ll give some of my observations here. As this is a blog format, I’ll be writing in style which reflects that, not in the terse style I try to use in halachic writing.
The causes of this tension seem obvious to me. Put succinctly, there are many laws, rules and customs which dictate how the preparation for immersion should be done. (Preparing for immersion is called hafifah, חפיפה). Of course, anyone who is intending to immerse wants to do that correctly and in a valid manner.
Since, fortunately, halacha has evolved so much until today, many fine points which were not known or accented years ago, are today well published and well known.
And, of course, there are issues today which didn’t exist in bygone days. For example some types of manicure, hair dyes, contact lenses, dental procedures. Yes, some of these have been around since Talmudic times, but not in the sophisticated stage they are today.
In general, the requirements to prepare for the mikvah are quite demanding. Most women are familiar with the most well known ones. These include: There can be no intervening substances on the person which prevent the mikvah water from coming into contact with the body. There can be no knots in the hair, nothing stuck in the teeth.
Furthermore, many women are aware that there are ramifications for the immersion not being valid. It could be embarrassing to have to ask a rabbi or mikvah lady if a question arises after immersing.
Women are also fearful because of the spiritual implications of a questionably valid immersion.
There are other internal pressures which weigh heavily on many women. Just because it is their mikvah day, life does not stop to give them the necessary time and freedom of mind. They have to continue being mothers, wives, employees, siblings, etc.
They need to find babysitters. They need to travel to the mikvah. The list of “needs” goes on and on.
Preparation “needs” to be complete. It “needs” to be on time. It “needs” and “needs.”
What I hear explicitly and recognize intuitively is that many women are very stressed because of the preparations.
So, here are a few words about the stress.
Try not to stress. Try to be calm.
There they are. My four word suggestions. (I have a personal game I play. When I’m able to shorten a message to four words, I know I’ve polished it.)
Now, the reasoning.
Basically, the stress, the tension and anxiety do not add. They detract. Sometimes they damage.
They may be coming from the Bad King. (You know, I wrote the children’s book series, titled Two Kings.)
The Good King wants us to prepare for the mikvah. The Bad King wants us to be worried, tense, fearful.
Those are negatives. And, you need to find a way to avoid them. Too often I have questions from wives who cut their nails too short, and that caused bleeding. “What do I do now?” they ask.
There is no place in halacha that would even vaguely want someone to damage themselves while preparing for the mikvah.
Too often, I hear of wives who wonder and wonder and wonder if they immersed completely. They are fraught with fear, after the fact, that maybe something was amiss. Maybe their hair wasn’t all submerged. Maybe they clenched their fists or squinted their eyes too much.
If you went to the mikvah, did the preparations, tried your best – that means your human best, no one is an angel or a machine, the Torah only wants our human best – and the mikvah lady watched your immersion and declared it kosher, rest assured.
We all have doubts. It’s human. As a personal aside, in my kollel years I learned to be a schochet as part of my rabbinic training. I was constantly worried whether my knife was flawless enough, whether my movement was smooth enough.
A healthy dose of second guessing, of self introspection, is good for everyone.
What’s not good is when any of that paralyzes us. The other shochtim and the supervising rabbi said my knife and performance were excellent.
That’s how you should look at preparing for the mikvah.
You have your job to do. You have your checklist. You now what the goal is. The goal is very simple. And, just to keep things clear, we’ll restate it. Your goal is to make sure there are no substances intervening on the person or hair which could prevent the water coming into contact with the body. No food stuck in teeth. Immerse completely.
Keep it simple in your mind.
Now, for the next step. Once you know what you’re supposed to do. Now think about why.
The why is also very simple.
You’re immersing to do a mitzvah. All mitzvahs, especially one so central to our lives, need to be done in one, and only one way.
Do mitzvahs with joy.
Do mitzvah with confidence.
Keep it positive.
See that, we got that down to four word slogans, as well. We even got it down to three.
How do you create joy when naturally you feel anxiety? How do you switch feeling overwhelmed to feeling empowered?
You’ll have to find those answers for yourself.
But, first you need to know what should be.
If the technical side, work, watching the kids, quiet in the home, are a problem, without a doubt you’ll want address and fix those.
If your husband isn’t helping, tell him to read this. Or find a way to get him on board.
Not once, and not twice, have I seen husbands who simply are not aware of the wife’s unease on mikvah day. If he isn’t aware, how can he be expected to help?
If you need to, get him on board to help.
All said and done, preparing for the mikvah is part of an important mitzvah.
It should be an enjoyable and beautiful time.
Now you know what you have to do. Go and do it.