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Thought for the Day: Mikvah and Kedushas Yisrael

I have heard two egregious misrepresentations of the role of the mikvah in Jewish life.
  1. Orthodox Jews think that women need a "cleansing" after menstruation; which is a completely natural part of a woman's life.
  2. Non-torah based religions that have the word "jewish" in their title laud it as a woman's mitzvah, and therefore worthy of incorporating into their practice.
Actually.... a resounding "no" on both counts.  I know; you're shocked that the surrounding foreign culture got something wrong about HaShem's Torah.  You shouldn't be.  After all, a culture that pays big bucks to watch people pretending to be someone who never existed doing things that never happened is bound to get a few things wrong about reality.

First, going to mikvah has nothing to do with cleansing.  Dirt, in fact, could pose an interposition; cleanliness is an absolute prerequisite to mikvah use.  The preparation takes on the order of an hour or more for someone who needs the mikvah to transform them from a state of tuma to tahara.  Tumah and tahara are completely spiritual concepts that are associated with k'dusha (holiness).  The Kohain Gadol immerses ten times during the avoda on Yom Kippur.  He is certainly not dirty, nor does he require cleansing.  He is interacting with k'dusha at the most intense level, and therefore requires a state of tahara at the most intense level.

Second, the fact that the major use of mikvah today is by women is circumstantial and not intrinsic.  Since we don't have the opportunity to ascend to the Beis HaMikdash at the moment -- may we have that opportunity soon and in our lifetime -- there is no obligation for a man to go the mikvah.  We do wash our hands each morning, after certain events (such as cutting hair and nails), and before eating bread.  All of which is a sort of mini-taharization.  But full blown mikvah use would not help to transform the kind of tuma that men have.  Some men go as a nice minhag, but never as an obligation.

What is the underlying intent of mikvah use?  What is tuma and tahara?  My feeling is that tahara is associated life, while tuma is associated with death.  The woman, in whom a soul becomes fused with a physical body to make a new Jew, is naturally more sensitive to tuma and tahara.  Even when there is not a physical progeny, the s'farim tell us that every experience of marital union produces (at least) spiritual progeny.  The menstrual cycle is a cessation of that opportunity to produce those progeny, and so is associated with tuma.  Before the couple can return to normal life, an immersion is required; not unlike the immersion required by the Kohain Gadol on Yom Kippur.

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