I wrote this mikvehThe ritual bath. The waters of the mikveh symbolically purify – they are seen as waters of rebirth. A convert immerses in the mikveh as part of conversion. Many Orthodox married women go to the mikveh following their period and before resuming sexual relations. Couples go to the mikveh before being married. Many, including some men, immerse before Yom Kippur; some go every Friday before Shabbat. ritual for myself to perform in the days before Yom KippurThe holiest day of the Jewish year and the culmination of a season of self-reflection. Jews fast, abstain from other worldly pleasures, and gather in prayers that last throughout the day. Following Ne'ilah, the final prayers, during which Jews envision the Gates of Repentance closing, the shofar is sounded in one long blast to conclude the holy day. It is customary to begin building one's sukkah as soon as the day ends. 5779. My children are almost 3 years old and 1 year old. After each birth experience, I did not have the time, space, or mental capacity to pause and reflect on this powerful life change. I felt plunged into parenthood without a sense of who I was or might become as a mother. Motherhood cracked me open spiritually. I am now at a place where I feel ready to meet myself as a mother, to integrate the pieces of myself that felt shattered, and to be reborn into my role as mother with a sense of purpose and power.
The words mayyim (water) and mikveh (gathering) both begin with the letter mem. Rabbi Pauline Bebe draws the following connection: “In the most archaic Hebrew script, the letter mem is a zigzagging line, drawn like waves that recall water. It is interesting to note that in many languages, the phoneme ‘m’ is associated with ‘mother’ (imaLit. Mother (Hebrew), umm, mutter, mere, madre, mama, etc.). The person who plunges into the ritual bath of the mikveh — entirely surrounded by water, nude, without any barriers, and without touching its sides — resembles the fetus in the mother’s womb. The immersion in the mikveh becomes a return to the sensations of the uterus, a return to our source and an act of renewal.”
She continues to bring out the meaning of the word kav, which is the root of mikveh: “You cannot know who you are without knowing whence you came. This return to what happened before is sometimes a way of softening the traumas of the past, to start anew after a difficult life experience. Conversely, sometimes it is a way to celebrate something precious in one’s life or something new. The word kav means ‘to be strong’ or ‘strength’ in Aramaic. The return to our source reinforces us” (from MyJewishLearning.com).
It seemed serendipitous to discover these connections at this moment: that the words mayyim and mikveh contain hints of both motherhood and power. I brought this kavannahLit. Intention Refers both to one’s intention when performing a mitzvah or when focusing for prayer. Kavanah also refers to specific readings to help focus one's attention prior to performing an act. with me as I plunged into the healing waters of birth and rebirth.
This ritual can be used either at some point after a birth experience or months or years later at a significant moment in a mother’s journey. I started with looking back at my birth experiences, highlighting both the challenges and ways that I grew from them. Then I explored some of my experiences in early motherhood and how I wanted to grow into my strength.
I wrote the following two accounts a few weeks before going to the mikveh. My mikveh guide, Rabbi Haviva Ner-David, director of the Shmaya Mikveh in Kibbutz Hannaton, suggested that she read these accounts back to me before I started the ritual. She read the accounts as a guided meditation, bringing me back to these memories. I suggest having a mikveh guide or close friend or even a small group of friends participate in this part. I found it quite powerful to hear my own story read back to me.
Please feel free to use and adapt this. I would love to hear from anyone who has found this meaningful or has questions (firstname.lastname@example.org).
1. Contemplating Your Birth Experience(s)
(Write your birth story(ies), including both the challenging and empowering aspects)
A little under three years ago I gave birth to my older son. Because he was premature and I had an emergency c-section, the experience was scary and traumatic. He spent five weeks in the intensive care nursery, lovingly cared for by nurses and doctors, as we, the new parents, visited and held him and fed him every day. Within my gratitude for surviving this ordeal, I experienced a sense of loss, not being able to hold my baby when he was born, being separated from him the first night, then spending endless days waiting for his release. Now he has grown into a beautiful, strong, funny little boy, and I’m far enough away from the birth to see how strong I am, how strong we both are, to have grown from this. Last year, I gave birth to my second son. I was able to hold him immediately after the birth, and in a way, it was like holding both sons and healing the wound of the first birth.
2. Contemplating Your Motherhood Experiences
(Write your early motherhood experiences: the good, the bad, and the ugly)
These early years of motherhood have been hugely challenging for me. I have often felt I have no idea what I’m doing or how to parent. I have often felt I’m juggling so much that I’ve lost a connection to my self, my core. I have felt fragmented, and long to reconnect the pieces of my self and to discover the new self that awaits. My intention is to move from a place of insecurity to confidence, self-judgment to self-compassion. In performing this ritual I intend to create a bodily memory of the feeling of being embraced, loved, accepted, and held: to be mothered as a mother. I invite myself to dip into this memory during moments when I need it most, when I’m struggling and need to connect to the infinite support of the universe that is within me and around me, symbolized and embodied by the waters of the mikveh.
3. The Ritual
Recite before walking toward the mikveh steps:
As I step toward these healing waters, I acknowledge the great transitions I underwent in becoming a mother.
I come to the mikveh to acknowledge that these powerful birth experiences made me a mother, and I choose to step into my power
I come to the mikveh to remind myself that I am always loved, always held, always growing, always whole
Descending the mikveh steps, recite out loud or internally:
Stepping into this sacred space I invite the live-giving water to heal and hold me.
Stepping into this womb I invite myself to be cradled.
Stepping into this expanding, infinite well of love I invite full acceptance of myself.
Stepping into this renewed love for myself I invite a renewed love for my children.
Dipping in the water, recite out loud or internally:
I dip and let the water flow through my hair
I dip and let the water clean and soften me
I dip and let the water hold what I cannot hold
I dip and let the water provide everything I need
I dip and feel my skin glowing reborn
I dip and receive myself
I dip and expand myself
I dip into my power
I dip into my love
I dip and emerge light and free
Read the accompanying blog post about the creation this ritual.