Tuesday, July 10, 2007

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Spiritual Immersion

by Reb Gutman Locks of the Old City, Jerusalem, Israel at Mystical Paths

This week we read two portions of the Torah. Here's a word of Torah on the first of those two portions...

Numbers 30:2 - Mattos

In this week’s portion of the Torah, some of the laws regarding the spiritual cleansing of food utensils are given.

The main requirement to kasher a vessel is to dip it into a qualified gathering of water, a mikvah. The laws regarding the physical requirements and use of a mikvah are many.

For instance, some immersions required specific intention, and if that intention would be lacking, then that immersion would not be sufficient. For example, when a Kohen prepared himself to eat sanctified food, he had to have in mind which type or level of sanctification that food was, and he would immerse with that in mind.

However, in another case, if a Jew brought a pot that needed to be immersed in a river without any intention to kasher it, still, since it passed through a qualified body of water, it would become kosher to hold food.

The requirement to immerse a food vessel applies only to a vessel that is owned by a Jew. A vessel that is clean but owned by a gentile may be used to cook and serve food to a Jew even though it had not been immersed in the mikvah. This means that a Jew can borrow a clean vessel from a gentile, cook his kosher food in it and eat that food from that vessel. However, if the Jew bought that same pot from the gentile and cooked that same food in it, the Jew would not be allowed to eat that food from that pot.[i] He would have to transfer that food to another vessel before eating it.

We see that a Jewish food vessel, even though it is clean, cannot be kosher until it has been immersed. So the same food can be eaten or not from that pot depending upon who owns the vessel and not merely on the condition of the pot itself or the food’s cleanliness. Why should a pot’s ownership determine whether the food is permitted or not?

This can be likened to a Jew who lent money to a gentile for interest. Whereas a Jew is forbidden to charge interest to a fellow Jew, he is allowed to charge interest to a gentile. Lending at interest is a perfectly legal arrangement. However, if that gentile who owed the Jew that money would convert to Judaism and immerse in a mikvah, the interest due on that loan may not be collected. It is forbidden.

Since it is the same pot and the same food before and after the ownership was transferred, and it was the same loan before and after the gentile converted, we see that the requirement and result of immersion is entirely spiritual and not physical at all.

How could dipping something into a pool of water possibly change its nature? What does a convert’s immersion into the mikvah have to do with his receiving a Jewish soul? Why doesn’t scrubbing in a shower permit a wife to her husband, but immersion in the mikvah does? Also, a child who is born to a woman who did not immerse in the mikvah before its conception is called blemished. This child may very well have less favorable characteristics than the child who was conceived after the mother went to the mikvah. What is it about the mikvah that can reach into the next generation? Seemingly, it is just a physical pool of water.

The spiritual workings of the mikvah are unknown to us, but its benefits are known. The benefits of a pure family life are so great that Jewish women have been known to travel hundreds of miles to reach a mikvah, and only then allow their intimate marital life to resume. Jewish men have been sent into bitter exile in Siberia for many years when the oppressive communist government caught them digging mikvahs.

But to the spiritual seeker, the strongest reason to take advantage of the mikvah every day is the Baal Shem Tov’s testimony. He said that he attributed his great spiritual height to his frequent use of the mikvah.[ii]

[i] Yoreh Deah, Laws of Vessels 120:8
[ii] Sefer Baal Shem Tov

Posted at Mystical Paths. Read it elsewhere? Stop by the source.

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