When we were beginning to plan our wedding, Ben and I began researching Jewish wedding traditions to see which ones felt meaningful to us. We were both raised Jewish and we were both bar mitzvahed (or bat mitzvahed, in my case), but neither one of us consider ourselves to be practicing Jews. However, as I’ve begun to connect with my spirituality and higher power over the last year and a half, I’ve found myself much more open to traditions that I remember from childhood than I was.
One of the things that came up through our research and talking to people was the idea of doing a mikveh before the wedding. This was something that I had never considered and I didn’t really understand how it would be appropriate for me. The only context that I knew of mikveh in was during conversion ceremonies or in Orthodox Judaism, when the female goes to mikveh following menstruation so that she can resume marital relations. Neither of these seemed relevant to me.
Unbeknownst to me, however, was the fact that there is a progressive mikveh near our home that does immersions for all kinds of life transitions. They do bridal immersions as well as healing, celebration, conversion, and monthly immersions. The more I read up on what the immersion process would be like, the more intrigued I became. My wedding weekend was so centered around what other people wanted and where other people needed me to be and the idea of having this time to myself, to be alone with God, became more and more appealing.
I scheduled my immersion for 4 days before the wedding, the night before all of my family began arriving for the festivities. The mikveh itself was absolutely beautiful. The facility was clean, sleek, and peaceful. I felt welcomed from the moment I walked into the door. I walked into the preparation area, which is just a bathroom and dressing room. I followed the Seven Kavanot, or intentions, as they were laid out for me.
1. Hineni. Here I am.
Take a minute and think about the transition mikveh will help you mark today.
Immersion in the mikveh represents a spiritual transformation from one state to another. In traditional language, your change is from ritually unready (tameh) to ritually ready (tahor). Prepare yourself by writing in a journal, or saying a personal prayer, or reading something of meaning to you. Breathe deeply. Sigh audibly.
I took this time to pray quietly to myself and to reflect on what my reason for immersing was. I thought about the fact that I was about to embark on a journey of marriage with another person, whom I cared for deeply.
2. Hiddur Mitzvah. The unadorned body is beautiful in itself.
Remove all jewelry as well as makeup, paying special attention to the eyes. Remove nail polish on fingers and toes. (Acrylics may stay on if they have been on for more than a month.)
There is no need for adornment or artifice in the mikveh. There should be no physical barriers between the body and the living waters.
This mediation, as well as #4, were very, very powerful for me. I’m someone who “accessorizes” my body in many ways.I have tattoos and piercings and I color my hair. The idea that my body was beautiful the way it was made was something that felt very overwhelming to me. I started to cry as I thought about that statement. The unadorned body is beautiful in itself.
3. Nekavim nekavim. You fashioned the human being intricate in design.
Empty your bladder.
Our tradition celebrates and blesses the body in every possible moment and mode.
I emptied my bladder before I began. Whoops. I’m pretty certain that it didn’t matter.
4. B’tzelem Elohim. I am made in the image of God.
Remove all clothing, eyeglasses, contact lenses, dental plates, hearing aids.
Each person enters the mikveh as naked as the day of his birth, as the day of her birth. Without rank or status. Simply a human being. Gloriously a human being.
This is when I really broke down crying. Looking at myself in the mirror sans clothing or adornment, I felt very overwhelmed. I’m okay with my body but thinking about myself as being in the image of God, of being beautiful as I am, is very hard for me. I have a lot of trouble really feeling that my body is my own and it was a difficult thing for me to accept, standing there. It was very powerful though, too.
5. Elohai neshama shenatata bi tehorah hi. The soul in me is pure.
Shower or bathe with thoughtful attention to the miracle of your own body. Pay attention to every part of yourself. Wash yourself, head to toe; shampoo your hair, lather your shoulders, back, arms, belly, and genitals. Scrub elbows, knees and heels, removing calluses and dead skin. Wash between fingers and toes.
Relax and enjoy. The water of the mikveh will feel even sweeter after this.
I got red hair dye all over the shower and tried not to worry about whether I was ruining the beautiful facility. I tried to stay present and to clean myself with purpose.
6. Kol haneshama t’halel yah. The breath of every living thing praises You.
Clean your ears, blow your nose, brush and floss your teeth, rinse your mouth.
Stand before the mirror. Consider all of your senses. Look into your own eyes and smile. Think about the words that come from your mouth.
Looking into my own eyes and smiling was another thing that was difficult for me. This brought more tears, but in a good way.
7. Tikkun Olam. We can stand for justice; we can build a world of peace and justice.
Clean under your nails – toenails, too. (Nails do not need to be cut.)
Consider the power of your hands and feet to create wholeness in your life, in our world.
At this time, I decided that I was ready for the immersion. Something that I really, really liked about the immersion process was this:
“Immersion in water softens our form, making us malleable, dissolving some of the rigidity of who we are. This allows us to decide who we wish to be when we come out of the water. The water changes us neither by washing away something or nor by letting something soak into us, but simply by softening us so that we can choose to remold ourselves into a different image.”
I really liked the language that was used, and I was happy that it didn’t talking about “cleansing” or “purifying” or any of those things. It talked about change, and that the water was symbolic of being able to mold ourselves into something else. I liked that a lot.
I chose to have a witness for my immersion, as I was told that was traditional. I walked down the steps to the mikveh, turned the knob to let “living water” into the pool, and did my three immersions, reading from the ceremony between each one. After those were complete, I chose to spend a few minutes alone in the mikveh, reflecting and praying. I thought about my past relationships, one by one. I visualized letting them go. I realized that I no longer have to allow myself to be treated that way. I understood that I never had to be abused or treated poorly again. I thanked God for the man that I was marrying. I asked God to help me to be the best partner that I could, every day. I cried. A lot. The visualizing of letting go of my past relationships, the recognition that they no longer needed to define who I was or be a part of me, was very powerful and freeing.
The ritual of immersion was exactly what I had hoped it would be. The facility was so wonderful and welcoming. I could make the event whatever I wanted to make it. In the future, I plan to go back and have a healing immersion to help me move on from my pain and trauma. I know that I’m not ready for it yet, but I hope to be one day and I hope to use the mikveh as a way to move beyond that part of my life.
I’m incredibly grateful for the experience of the mikveh. It felt symbolic and personal and special, and was the perfect transition into the hectic wedding weekend.