Why were the priests in ancient Israel involved in checking for leprosy and other infectious disease? Surely this was the job of the doctor. But then if you think of the term “Witch Doctor” you realize that it was common practice for religion and health to be interconnected. The priest reminded us that we need a spiritual dimension to lead a full and healthy life.
But what was the point of the Mikvah, the special pool or sea or lake that people who had become ritually separated, had to dip into before resuming normal intercourse? It had nothing to do with cleanliness. If one was not completely clean one couldn’t go into the Mikvah. So clearly it was not a physical thing. In fact, it was the symbolic transition from one religious state to another. Just like Noah’s flood changed the world from a prehistoric state to a moral ethical one, or a convert changes from one religious state to another, so the Mikvah symbolized a new start.
Most of the laws we read this week about the Mikvah no longer apply because the change in status only applied to people who wanted to go into the Tabernacle or the Temple which no longer exist. In that sense, every one of us is “impure” at this moment because we have lost the methods of purification they used in Temple times and we have no “Red Heifer” which was needed for the rituals. Interestingly in much of Islam today you cannot pray if you have had sex before washing yourself.
In Judaism, today the Mikvah marks the transition from a woman’s monthly period to resuming normal sexual activity. This is a major requirement today, even if it is not explicit in the Torah. But many men, Mystics, Chassidim, go to the Mikvah at the start of every day, others before each festival to symbolize a new start. Similarly, converts go to the Mikvah to mark their transition into a different world of Torah.
The Mikvah nowadays is usually an elegant, modern spa often with facilities for beautification and salon service. Just google Mikvahs your area to see how different they are to the old poor places our grandparents were familiar with.
But the main point of all this, is that we need to recognize the transitions in our bodies and in time, to understand how we go through different phases and to infuse a spiritual dimension into every aspect of one’s private life by doing an act that reminds us of change.