We’re getting really up-close and personal, today, so shield your mind if the word “sex” or “menstruation” makes you want to run for the hills. (Or if you happen to be related to me and this is TMI.) Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way…
Niddah (“need-ahh”) is the period of time (pun intended) when a woman begins the bleeding portion of her fertility cycle — also known as menstruation — to exactly 7 days after her last sign of bloody discharge. A woman can also be described as niddah post birth, or when she’s experiencing other conditions that can cause uterine bleeding. Traditionally, this status continues until she has completed the ritual water immersion known as a “mikvah”.
According to Vayikra/Leviticus 15:19-30; 18:19; and 20:18, a woman is ritually impure during this time and is instructed to abstain from sex until she is no longer niddah. I think it’s important to note that ritual impurity is not, scripturally, a basis for mistreatment or being viewed with disgust. Ritual impurity is also not exclusive to women — around these same verses, there are instructions regarding men’s emissions, and all throughout the Torah, you’ll find instructions on purifying various sacred tools and events.
Some might balk at the idea of abstaining from sexual intimacy for nearly two weeks at a time, but all this practice has ever done for me is allow for a meaningful rest, and charges up the desire for that connection as husband and wife. It’s like the difference between having ice cream every day and having ice cream only on Sundays. I appreciate the limited opportunity more and find myself really pining for that special Sunday ice cream. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and all that.
In the past, my husband and I (and this is where it gets really intimate — baddum tss) would simply mark the end of my niddah by engaging in marital relations. It wasn’t until I recently adopted the mikvah tradition that my eyes were opened to a powerful new perspective on the whole ordeal.
The preparation for the actual immersion turned out to be where the most unexpected inspiration came from, for me. There are seven reflections to get oneself ready for the mikvah (you can read more about these preparations according to Mayyim Hayyim here):
Hineni. Here I am.
Hiddur Mitzvah. The unadorned body is beautiful.
Nekavim nekavim. You, Hashem, designed the human being with wisdom.
B’tzelem Elohim. I am made in the image of God.
Elohai neshama shenatata bi tehorah hi. The soul in me is pure.
Kol haneshama t’halel yah. The breath of every living thing praises You.
Tikkun Olam. We can stand for justice and build a world of peace.
Each profound reflection is accompanied by a thoughtful action of gradually shedding all of the layers that most of us habitually accumulate in our daily lives, both outwardly and inwardly.
Without being entirely conscious to it at first, these actions and reflections brought me to a place in my mind that felt similar to my wedding day. Let's be real, when most of us prepare to step through that transitional phase of being a separate, single person to being one half of a lifelong partnership, our minds tend to go past the pomp and circumstance and on to the powerful event of physical unification (i.e. sex). So, when I took some of these steps in preparation, I prepared in such a way that made me feel like I was presenting the best version of my physical self.
That’s what this ritual of preparation for the mikvah ultimately brought me to and it’s why I’m sharing it with you all today— it has become this profound practice which brings me to a place of holistic renewal and sanctification, with the actual immersion into the living waters being the final marker of that transitional moment. So, after two weeks of abstaining from physical intimacy, then performing the transformative ritual of the mikvah, the —already awesome—reunification with my beloved has evolved into something of a truly sacred nature.
This reminds me of something someone told me once, when discussing the Torah’s instructions regarding abstinence in this way. She exclaimed, “[My husband] would divorce me if we did that!” But, honestly, I wonder how much healthier our intimate marital relationships might be if more of us practiced this particular combination of personal disciplines. Perhaps we’ll find out.