Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, spanning two days, began at sundown Thursday, Oct. 19, with the new moon in Libra. It’s in the sign of Akrav, Scorpio, whose symbol is the scorpion.
During Cheshvan, the grass withers, and it’s time for plowing and planting in Israel. The earth is dry, and the focus is on prayers for water, even though this month typically has the most rainfall.
It was during Cheshvan, often referred to as Mar Cheshvan, that the great flood occurred in the time of Noah. Mar means “bitter,” with no holidays to celebrate. We want to reverse mar, filled with bitterness, angst and worry, into ram, an elevated energy.
Rainwater, anxiety and elation mirror my first mikvah experience just before the High Holidays.
Tracie Bernstein, the wife of Rabbi Michael Bernstein, is the personification of integrity, humility and love. She suggested going to the mikvah. I’d never done it and wrongly thought being post-menopausal prohibited me.
Tracie gave me explicit instructions for appropriate preparation. Halachah stipulates that one must be scrupulously clean before immersing, as pristine and unadorned as when entering this world.
Beyond showering and washing hair, knots are thoroughly combed through, nail polish removed, and teeth brushed and flossed. There are no deodorants, perfumes, soaps or anything that might act as a barrier between G-d and you. Jewelry is removed, as are contact lenses. I meditated before leaving and felt prepared.
The private, spalike preparation rooms are simply elegant at the Metro Atlanta Community Mikvah. They’re appointed with all the necessary amenities, including flip-flops, robes and plush towels.
The tile under my bare feet helped me feel grounded as I showered and read the instructions, ritual meanings and blessings provided. When Tracie knocked on the door, I was surprised at my own heart-pounding anxiety. Opening the door to the mikvah room, I saw the aqua water with seven steps leading into the pool.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the extraordinary vulnerability I felt. I’m no stranger to Hashem, but the magnitude of this sacred moment nearly blocked my ability to hear and speak. Naked underneath the robe and without the mask of makeup, jewelry or product in my hair, I trembled before my guide and my G-d.
Tracie reminded me that she’d block her vision, except to witness that the three immersions were kosher, meaning I had fully immersed from my feet to the top strand of my untangled hair. With my back to her, I stepped out of the robe and descended the steps into the warm and gentle waters that rose to cover my chest.
I was instructed to dunk with my feet lifted and not hold my nose, which would create a barrier to one of the passageways. Tucking knees to chest, I plunged beneath the surface. As I rose, emotions tightened my throat, and I gulped in some water. “Kasher,” Tracie proclaimed.
Embarrassed to be choking, I forced clarity into my voice before reciting the blessing for immersion.
Seemingly out of my body for the second dunking, I submerged gently and felt as if I were floating in the womb. “Kasher.” Reciting the Shehecheyanu brought a vision of being surrounded by my ancestors. I sobbed silently.
For the third immersion, I reached my arms out, as if to embrace those who have gone before me. “Kasher.” It was complete.
I felt changed, as I had while standing under the chuppah and again when I crossed the threshold into motherhood. Overcome with gratitude and pride in being a Jewish woman, I set my mindful intention for the holidays. I also asked Hashem to bless my work in the world. For those who know me, asking doesn’t come easily.
The mikvah represents both the womb and the grave, as portals to life and afterlife. In each, we’re stripped of all but what we’ve arrived with in the physical form that houses the soul. It’s both powerful and humbling.
I thank Tracie for encouraging me. My experience was spiritual, sacred and profound.
Imagine yourself in the cleansing and purifying waters of the mikvah. What would make it meaningful for you? Venture out and create it at MACoM.