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The word mikvah literally means “collection”. In the Torah’s discussion of the laws of ritual purity and impurity, it states, “Nevertheless, a spring or a cistern where there is a collection [mikvah] of water shall be pure” (Vayikra 11:36).

A mikvah is not a glorified bathtub, sauna or swimming pool. Yes, cleanliness is important to the mitzvah of immersion, but only as a preparatory step. In no way can the bath, this act of preparation, take the place of the mikvah, the process of spiritual transformation which the bath merely readies us. The divinely-ordained change of status from tumah to taharah must be carried out using the divinely-prescribed tool, the mikvah. The Rambam summarizes this issue: “Immersion is also a matter which must be accepted on faith… for ritual impurity is not mud or filth which washes off with water” (Hilchot Mikvaot 11:12).

The divine commandment of immersion in a mikvah can be seen as a transition from a connection to death to the renewal of life. Beneath the mikvah’s waters, a woman rejuvenates herself and once again becomes a potential partner with G-d and her husband in the act of creation. She emerges from the life-giving waters “Born anew” and ready to conceive anew.

Each and every month a woman renews herself by immersing in the mikvah and returns to her husband as dear to him as on the day of the wedding. Just as the moon renews itself each Rosh Chodesh, and all wait to see her, so a woman becomes renewed each month, and her husband awaits her and she is dear to him like a new wife.
Pirkei DeRabbi Elazar

It is not just any water that is capable of bringing about the transition from tumah to taharah. A bath, shower, or another type of pool cannot serve as a mikvah. What is so unique about the mikvah’s waters?

Most of us think “water is water”. However, any tourist knows that the water in the country he is visiting tastes very different from the water at home. Scientists have discovered a tangible physical difference between ordinary water and heavy water. Is it so comprehend differences between the spiritual nature of one body of water and that of another He who commanded the mikvah waters to purify did not command so concerning tap water.

The laws concerning the erection of a kosher mikvah provide an insight into the spiritual nature of the mikvah’s waters. The pool in which we immerse ourselves is filled with fresh tap water. Connected to that pool is a cistern containing rain or well water; this water cannot have been contained within a movable vessel or carried by human hands. Thus, the water in which we immerse is connected to water that comes directly from a natural source.

The connection to these natural waters alludes to a connection with the primeval waters of creation. The spiritual message of such an association is obvious. As our great Sage Shammai said: “Great is the woman who observes the laws of niddah. They separate her from sin and bring her close to Gan Eden” (Niddah 81a).

Immersion in the mikvah differs from all other mitzvot in one crucial way. All other mitzvot involve the usage of just one limb or some other part of the body: Tefilling are placed on the arm and head; matzah is eaten. By contrast, as a woman descends the steps of the mikvah and lowers her body into the water she is entirely “immersed” in the fulfillment of a mitzvah.

This principle is reflected in the laws requiring us to avoid any kind of chatzitzah, intervening substance, that might prevent complete contact with the water. Nothing must stand between the woman and the water that enables her to change her status from tumah to taharah.

As the Rambam states: “A woman cannot emerge from the state of impurity… until she immerses in the waters of a kosher mikvah without having anything intervening between her flash and the water” (Hilchot Issurei Biah 11:16). But a deeper point is indicated here. Immersion in the mikvah represents a bond with the source of all existence, G-d. A woman who immerses so that her entire body is covered by the waters of the mikvah is relating totally, with her entire being, to G-d, It is only after such a totality of commitment that one can become purified.

A woman must see immersion in the mikvah as more than a rite to be carefully performed. In the physical act of immersion, the mikvah’s waters must cover the woman totally. Similarly, from an emotional perspective, the woman must be totally submerged in the experience of mikvah. She must appreciate it as a holy process, granting her new sensitivity to spirituality. The sense of taharah, the anticipated reunion with her husband and, most importantly, the satisfaction of fulfilling G-d’s will, all combine to create an uplifting experience. With the proper attitude, a woman will find that she can immerse herself with true simchah shel mitzvah, the Joy of fulfilling a mitzvah.

The Proper Time for Tevilah — Immersion in the Mikvah

  1. At the end of seven spotless days and nights, a woman is obligated to immerse in the mikvah. For example: If the hefsek taharah was performed on Monday afternoon, Tuesday would be the first of the seven spotless days. The Following Monday night would be the time for immersion.
  2. A woman should only immerse in the mikvah at night, after at least three stars are visible. This law applies even when, for some valid reason, she is forced to postpone her immersion. If it is totally impossible to immerse at night, a Rav must be consulted.
  3. If a woman’s husband is out of town, it is preferable that she postpone her immersion until his return. Nevertheless, the halacha allows her to immerse regardless.
  4. The requirement to immerse on time also applies on Friday night if a woman’s husband is in town. However, she should not immerse Friday night if her husband is not in town.
  5. A woman who was scheduled to immerse before Friday night and postponed her immersion without a valid reason may not immerse Friday night. Nevertheless, it is advisable to consult a Rav in such a case.
  6. On Yom Kipur, the fast of the 9th Av, and during her shivah week of morning, a woman may not immerse, even if it is her appropriate time.
  7. A husband planning to go out of town should try to postpone his departure if he had intended to leave home at the time of his wife’s immersion.