“What is mikveh?”, Res has asked.
This is my attempt to bring some insight to that question.
First, we have to make sure we are using the right terms.
A mikveh is a place, not an event or an action. A mikveh is a series of joined pools, fed by rainwater (in the strictest sense) with both an inlet and an outlet. The action is called tevilah and, literally, means immersion.
In a traditional ceremony of purification you will fully immerse yourself not once or twice but three times. Every hair, every square centimeter of skin is completely immersed. If there is any part of you which is not fully washed? You submerge yourself again until you are completely soaked.
Tevilah is much more than a sprinkle on the head of a baby while surrounded by godparents in the flickering sunlight through stained glass windows. It is more than a childish acquiescence to a fuzzily comprehended concept. It requires a conscious personal decision. And, in the life of a Jew, it happens often.
There are several commonly recognized purposes for a mikveh:.
- Conversion & Repentance
- Sanctification & Purification
One of the most common modern uses of the mikveh pool is in ritual cleansing after a woman cycles through her menstrual cycle, after childbirth or other elements of what is commonly referred to as “Family Purity”.
Historically, any purification rite in worship or every day life was not complete unless a mikveh was used. Complete immersion, tevilah, was absolutely mandatory. Every person in Israel, from the youngest to the most important, the Kohen HaGadol or High Priest, routinely participated in tevilah.
Tevilah marks complete surrender, a giving of oneself from one paradigm into the waiting arms of a new one. It is a thoughtful and personal decision, not a communal action. In other words, it happens one person at a time, not en masse.
All of Jewish life is marked by the notion of Havdalah — separation and distinction. On Saturday night, as the Shabbat departs and the new week begins, Jews are reminded of the borders that delineate every aspect of life. The seventh day, the birth and death symbolized in a woman’s body every month, sowing and harvest festivals. Early and late harvest. Worship. Ministry. Holy service.
In the life of a believer, our walk is also defined by separation and distinction. In salvation we are converted, we repent. We are changed. As we walk the life of a believer, we are washed and purified. By water, by blood, by fire. We are changed from identifying with the first Adam and now, accepted through the blood of Yeshua, we reign forever with Him. We have a new identity.
I find it interesting that the three “dips” correlate beautifully in the life of a believer. We are washed in the Blood. We are washed by the Word. The Holy Spirit with and in us permeates and saturates every aspect of our lives. By those three “immersions” we are redeemed, sanctified/purified and empowered.
Conversion, sanctification, ministry…
In our lives we are washed by the Word of God. Not just a sprinkle. Complete immersion. Repeatedly. Until we are saturated and all that wants to cling to us, all that reeks of our former life, is washed away. We are completely covered by the blood of the Lamb, completely indwelt by the Spirit.
We make a conscious choice to surrender our lives, our personal identity and our own vision for our lives. Over and over again. We make the choice and take the opportunities to repent, to be changed and to take on a new mantle.
This is a brief synopsis of my understanding of mikveh/tevilah.
I hope it was at least encouraging.