In Parshat Tetzaveh, the Torah gives extensive description about the clothing that the High Preist needed for doing the service in the mishkan. At one point we are told that Aharon Hakohen had the names of all the tribes of Bnei Yisrael engraved on stones that he wore on his shoulders. (Shmot 28:12)
And a few pesukim later we are told that he had the names of all the tribes of Bnei Yisrael on the breastplate that he wore over his heart. (Shmot 28:29)
Carrying something close to your heart has the connotation of connection, of love, of closeness, an overall positive image. Whereas carrying something on your shoulders, evokes a very different image. The connotation is one of responsibility, of weight, even of burden.
I believe that in the context of Aharon Hakohen there were both these elements in his relationship with Bnei Yisrael. They were challenging, sometimes burdensome, and the weight of guiding them spiritually was surely not simple or easy. On the other hand, without Bnei Yisrael in all their complexity, Aharon Hakohen had no one to guide. Bnei Yisrael gave his role as Kohen a context, a reality, a meaning.
I referenced this recently while giving a blessing to my sons before their Giyus to Tzahal, because I, as many mothers of soldiers, carry this stage of life both in my heart and on my shoulders. There are concerns, fears, and constant prayers. For their safety and wellbeing and that of all the soldiers. That is the weight. But there is no doubt that I carry it very close to my heart. With so much pride in who they are, their values and commitment. With so much gratitude that we have been blessed with this State, this army, this opportunity to serve and strengthen and be part of this chapter of Jewish history in a significant way.
It’s not a far jump to carry this idea to the mitzvah of Mikveh.
Keeping the mitzvah of Taharat Hamishpacha overall is complex. It’s not simple, easy, or one-dimensional. It involves diligence, awareness, commitment, and sometimes math. Going to the mikveh can be logistically complicated and can come at inconvenient times. It involves scheduling, travel, preparation and attention to detail. It can be emotionally complex or socially complicated. When the right time comes, I don’t get to decide if I’m in the mood for it or not. That is the weight.
But, once again, there is no doubt that it is something I carry very close to my heart. It connects me to generations and generations of Jewish women before me. It can offer an opportunity for a renewed connection with my husband and with myself – both as wife and as an individual. It adds a spiritual and almost alluringly secretive element to my identity as a Jewish woman and wife. The Torah doesn’t say exactly WHY we have this exact mitzvah in this exact format. But that leaves it open for me to find MY connection to it, to assign it the meaning it will have in my life, in my relationships, and those connections and meaning can evolve and change over time as I evolve and change over time. Ultimately I carry gratitude and commitment to being part of this masoret, part of this tradition.
Perhaps the two seemingly opposite elements are actually complimentary, two facets that together symbolize a relationship or experience which is profound, complex, deep and hopefully meaningful.
Join Chana Even-Chen for “Keeping the Waters Fresh”, a class to renew and refresh the mikveh experience with tips for before, during and after mikveh. The class will take place in Maale Adumim, Monday, May 20th at 8pm. RSVP info@theEdenCenter.com