Faith & Encouragement

Mikveh

May 10, 2011

“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
  • Ministry

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 Havdalahseparation 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.

  • Thanks for this post

  • cruft

    Heidi, New guy in your block. So are you also Ariele? Anyway the topic of ‘baptism” leads to The crucifixion which leads to the spot on symbology of the ‘sacrifice of the red heifer”. If you are drawn to the deep take a plunge. Get this http://www.askelm.com/books/book001.htm, don’t first go to google as you’ll miss the richness of your christian inheritance. Think of this as you’ve been starving and stumbled across the bestest buffet, but you’re starving. The first station has saltines and now your so filled you can’t do the salad bar let alone the entries. Now spend a few bucks and chow down.

  • Res Ipsa

    Thanks Heidi.

    Just to clear something up for me, were you brought up Jewish and converted to Christian or are you from a family that was Christian with a Jewish history?

  • Raised Christian. Genetic Jew who is learning Jewish history.

  • Heidi is not Arielle, Arielle is me. 😉

    As for the post, Heidi, there is a lot of food for thought here and I know I’ll be reading this more than once and pondering it in my heart.

  • Arielle, not Heidi… 🙂 Ponder to your hearts content. That’s more than I even hoped for.

  • Res Ipsa

    Thanks.

  • Thanks, but I thought you were going to talk about the guy who blew up the Murrah building.

  • Heidi,

    Another thought has come to me about this topic. It seems from your description that a Jew would tevilah several times a year. If Christian baptism comes out of the tevilah tradition, how often do Jews that have converted to Christianity tevilah? Is it a one time affair, done in the name of Christ, like in most Christian churches, or is it an ongoing rite?