There is a very holy mitzvah to take one’s new cooking utensils to the mikvah (spiritual bath) to spiritually dip them (Numbers 31:23). What is the purpose of such a ritual?
The Torah is about transformation. It is about transforming the self (mind, body, soul); it is about transforming our relationships; and it is about transforming society. Mitzvot are the primary vehicles we Jews use for accomplishing this holy transformation.
Throughout Jewish history, prophets and rabbis have attempted to summarize the 613 mitzvot (the purpose of the Torah) into unique principles:
Micah came and comprised them in three: “It has been told to you, O man, what is good and what does G-d require of you – only to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your G-d,” (6:8). Isaiah came and comprised them in two: “Keep justice and do righteousness,” (56:1). Amos came and comprised it in one: “Seek me and live,” (5:4), (Makkot 24a).
Common in all of these great prophets’ responses is a mandate to embrace life by walking justly and humbly with G-d. The mitzvot are the instruments to achieve this holy end but they must be performed in such a way as to make us better people.
Tevillat Keiliim is about the spiritual transformation of a utensil. In this case, it’s not a concrete-transformation, but a perspective-transformation which comes about through spiritual preparation. By taking the time and energy to make a utensil “Jewish” (like a convert who enters the mikvah) we intellectually, morally, and spiritually challenge ourselves to think about what it means to own and utilize objects used for the preparation of meals and nutritive consumption. We ought to ask ourselves, on a daily basis, more thought-provoking moral and spiritual questions about what type of food is worthy of placement upon a utensil that we have transformed into a holy object.
Now that we have “converted” the utensil from the mundane to the holy, we can no longer perceive food consumption as a mundane activity. Concomitant to the kashrut achievements, how were the worker, animal, and land treated in the food’s preparation? How will this food affect my family members’ bodies? Through ethical and spiritual food consumption choices and through blessing, we elevate the food even higher.
When we can collectively actualize and elevate our everyday actions from the mundane to the holy we may eventually fulfill the timeless and beautiful words of the prophet Isaiah:
At that time, there will be neither hunger, nor war; neither will there be jealousy, nor strife. Blessings will be abundant and comfort within the reach of all. The single pre-occupation of the entire world will be to know the Lord. Therefore there will be wise persons who know mysterious and profound things and will attain an understanding of the Creator to the utmost capacity of the human mind, as it is written, “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 2:9).
May we all merit to gain physical and spiritual energy from our meals and may the mitzvah of tevillat keilim help to remind us of our spiritual potentials while providing us the nourishment for actualization.
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the President & Dean of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of nine books on Jewish ethics. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.