Making Aliyah in 2018 was a life-changing experience for me and my husband of 40 years. After following our youngest son to Eretz Yisrael, we settled into living in Zichron Yaakov and really love and appreciate the natural beauty of the area, the diversity of the religious community and our wonderful new friends.
However, it’s hard to put into words how much I miss my former experience as a shomeret / balanit in the Boston area. Thursdays were my night. I had the pleasure of sometimes bringing the kallot I taught to the mikveh for the first time. Occasionally the kallah would be accompanied by her mother, sisters, or friends, and when she emerged from the mikveh there would be singing, much excitement and celebration. Often there would be refreshments as well!
Being a part of sending off a kallah to her chuppah and new stage in life certainly was a big privilege. To this day, when a woman approaches me and tells me I look familiar, it’s often because she remembers that I was the balanit at her immersion in the mikveh. Remembering that connection always makes me smile inside and be most appreciative of that opportunity. One of my goals here in Israel is doing my part to help make a woman’s preparation for marriage and perhaps her first immersion be a time of joy, excitement and anticipation.
It is now the time of year when we are all very aware of our aveirot, as well as our vulnerability. When I think about the beauty and positivity I experienced as a balanit, I hope that those feelings can imbue other areas of our lives as Jewish women. Each month we have this potential to retain the tahara that accompanies us after our visit to the mikveh…to feel the ‘new-ness’ and opportunity for renewal and positive change that we crave especially during the season of the chaggim. Perhaps we can use the analogy of how the mikveh changes our status to bring tahara, to think about bringing this in the form of purity of action and speech into our lives, and to carry us for the forthcoming year. In fact, the Torah readings of both the morning and Mincha of Yom Kippur have to do with the purity of the Kohen Gadol and Jewish life in general. In preparation for the sanctity of the Day of Atonement, it is a custom of some women to use the mikveh erev Yom Kippur. It’s a meaningful act to be mindful of the special redemptive quality of the day. For those of us who have reached the time of menopause and no longer use the mikveh on a monthly basis for tahara from niddah, this annual immersion can be a very special and much anticipated time; as a milestone for the seriousness of the day, and also an opportunity for those of us who miss the mikveh experience!
Another insight into bringing mikveh into our Yom Kippur preparation is the nature of the word “rachamim”, which is associated with the Yom Tov. The Shabbat Shuva shiur I attended associated rachamim with the word “rechem” (womb).
Being partners in creation, and having the ability to carry and raise a child seems like the ultimate act of love and compassion. As women we have the ability to raise birthing and parenting – as well as self awareness – to an even higher level of kedusha with our unique gift and mitzvah of mikveh.
May we all be blessed with a year of good health, spiritual growth, connection to mikveh and the ability to show compassion to others.
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