Ritual Purity - Woman's Rebirth
Rivka Olenick
"Sanctify yourselves and be holy." Leviticus 20:7 "Observe therefore and do them: For this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the people that, when they hear all these statutes, shall say, surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people!" Deuteronomy 4:6
Rabbi Akiva Said: "Happy are you, O Israel, before whom you cleanse yourselves and who cleanses you? Your Father that is in heaven, as it is said." Taharas hamishpacha, the laws of family purity is the mitzvah given solely to woman. In this commandment a woman makes a blessing and immerses herself into the mikvah. Only an immersion in a halachacly proper mikvah can a woman be purified. This must be done in a gathering of "living water" from a natural source i.e. a lake, a stream, rainwater. Through this activity she emerges in a state of purity and ritual cleanliness together with her potential to create new life. She does this after she has already given birth, as well.
The great privilege of procreation or "giving life" within the framework of family purity was put in the hands of woman that she has safely guarded for centuries. In Genesis 3:20, it says: "But Adom called his wife's name Eve, because she had become the mother of all living." Chaya means "living" as in a living creature whereas Chava means "giving life," that also includes the intellectual and spiritual giving of life with reference to Eve. According to Samson Raphael Hirsch: "It is through woman that man lives on in children." It is through the woman that an infant's religious status in Judaism is determined, whereas in Christianity and Islam it is through the man. No matter who she marries her children are Jewish. This does not mean that it is "ok" for a woman to marry a non-Jew but that the implication and consequences for a Jewish man marrying a gentile is quite severe. If he, God forbid should marry a non-Jew he has terminated himself. Unless he completely returns to God, ends the marriage and converts his children he has destroyed his contribution to the Klal. He has destroyed his ability to naturally live on through his future generations.
This is a very serious consideration, and should be taken more seriously with regard to non-observant Jewish men. These men need to be encouraged to marry Jewish women by understanding what they can actually contribute in terms of future generations.
Purity and cleanliness and impurity and uncleanliness also apply to man in terms of his moral self and in relation to the system of family purity that woman keeps in place. So important is this system of cleanliness that the sixth section of the Mishna is called Taharos, which includes the laws of purification, lustration (to make pure) and cleanliness. I believe that true purification includes "physical and mental hygiene."
"Sanctify yourselves and be holy." Which means we do this not only in our physical life but in our moral and psychological life as well, this is the ideal. This is how to be holy. Listen to the following statement of the Rambam: "Physical cleanliness leads to the sanctification of the soul from reprehensible opinions, for He who is physically unclean has no soul." The Rambam is making a connection here with regard to how we are to approach cleanliness and holiness through our physical self and our intellectual/philosophical self. There are those who think that going to a mikvah to cleanse oneself is degrading and that the laws of family purity discriminate against women; that women live with a negative sense of self due to the idea of being impure or unclean. Impurity or uncleanliness doesn't mean dirt or filth. These same people distort and misconstrue the concept and purpose of family purity laws. They are ignorant of the significance of a woman protecting and guarding these laws and that these laws were given to her specifically because of her great ability to adhere to and uphold family purity.
The given laws of immersion in the mikvah have tremendous symbolic significance and through all this a woman preserves the laws of family purity, given to her by God. In observing this ritual purity she prepares herself physically and emotionally for this "rebirth." In Judaism, marriage and family purity are based on holiness and the sanctity of God's name. These laws strengthen the bond between man and woman and sanctify their relationship before God. Christianity and Islam have no such laws as marriage and procreation have no inherent holiness in their religion. In Judaism, man and woman anticipate with joy the time when they can resume their relations and rejuvenate their relationship. Man recognizes the worth of his wife, she is dear to his heart and he understands his need for her friendship and trust. "She is his home." He realizes each time the tremendous importance of these laws that are placed in her care. He has a renewed appreciation for his Creator, Who in His laws brings happiness to husband and wife. This joy adds to a peaceful, calm home, the place where husband and wife can thrive together and individually in love and harmony. Where their children can benefit from this harmony and love and grow in morality as well. Together as a family they contribute to their community each with their skill and talent, helping others to come closer to Torah knowledge and mitzvos. "Sanctify yourselves and be holy."

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