cross-posted from Two Women Blogging

This morning I went to the mikveh.

Sam and I do not observe the laws of family purity. I don’t go the ritual bath every month. I didn’t go before my wedding. But for the past ten years, I’ve been to the mikveh some time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It has become an important part of my observance of yamim nora’im, the Days of Awe.

I go because I treasure my community of Jewish women, and because the trip to the mikveh promises me a moment of peace and contemplation in an otherwise hectic and stressful season. When I’m part of congregational leadership, and especially when I’m president of our shul, I have a much harder time finding spiritual sustenance in the services themselves. I’m too busy making sure everyone has a prayerbook and that there are enough chairs and that the security guard showed up and that the greeters are out front where they belong and that the babysitters are actually paying attention to the children. But mikveh time isn’t about the shul. It’s just about me, and quiet. That’s been enough for me. I usually leave feeling calmer and more centered, but not spiritually transformed.

Today was different.

I’ve always said the standard mikveh blessing, thanking God for sanctifying me with the commandment to immerse. But there is no mitzvah to immerse before Yom Kippur; it’s minhag, tradition, not mitzvah, commandment. Today our rabbi offered us alternate observances, taken from the Mayyim Hayyim website. I chose the ceremony of forgiveness.

As I immerse myself in Mayyim Hayyim, may I open to the possibility of forgiveness.
May my entry into these waters mark my intention to forgive myself, forgive others,
and ask others to forgive me.

The air was warm and the room entirely still. I walked down the steps, floated for a minute, and pulled myself under the water.

Baruch atah Adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam, asher kidshanu bi-t’vilah b’mayyim hayyim.
Blessed are You, God, Majestic Spirit of the Universe, who makes us holy by embracing us in living waters.

My tears surprised me.

The gates are open. Hear my prayer, God. May I have the courage and clarity to engage in the process of teshuvah.

The rabbi said “be gentle”. I floated, and brought my head completely under the water. I could not distinguish between the living water and my tears.

I stood up and the rabbi began to sing; I joined her and there was harmony.

V’al kulam, Elohah s’lichot, s’lach lanu, m’chal lanu, kapper lanu.
For all my wrongs, O God of forgiveness, forgive me, wipe the slate clean, grant me

I do not need to be worthy. I simply need to be, to be open, to be forgiving myself and of myself. To have intention.

I pulled myself under again, rose to the surface.


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