Tevila & Tefila – Tazria Metzorah
What may seem clean and pristine to one may appear dirty and soiled to another. What one woman may proudly describe as “neat as a pin” could be perceived by another as the aftermath of a tornado. Dirty vs. clean. Neat vs. messy. They’re all relative, even as they have a clear physical manifestation. Tumah and taharah – purity and impurity, in contrast, are wholly spiritual states that lack material manifestation but are brought about by a physical action…
The consecutive Torah portions Tazria and Metzorah, (and actually beginning in Parshat Shemini), discuss at length the concepts of tumah and taharah. Who is impure? How does one become impure? What process is required to regain a state of purity?
My topic today focuses on one particular form of taharah that applies exclusively to women and has a very high rating! Much has been spoken and written about taharat hamishpacha – the rituals of family purity… “And a woman who shall release blood… Seven days she will remain in her [state of] niddah… And she will count seven days…and be purified” (Vayikrah 15: 19-28).
There are various causes and cases of how a person may become impure (ibid 15:5-11); but the singular means of purification for all is immersion in the waters of a mikveh. “But with a fountain or pit where there is a collection of water, he will be pure” (ibid 11:36).
Rashi explains what is so special about mikveh waters, “That are connected to the earth and do not accept impurity.” Matter that is connected to a living spirit is not rendered impure.
The same is true of a woman’s journey to purity which culminates with her immersion in a mikveh. Rashi adds, “And there is much left to learn,” regarding the qualities of mikveh waters. There are countless Halachot attached to the concept of a kosher mikveh, but that is not my forte. In this blog, I’ll stick to my more natural inclination which, of course, is design!
Beautifying a mitzvah
Many mitzvot are enhanced by design and beauty. Aesthetics and splendor can greatly improve a person’s connection and feelings toward a mitzvah. From decades-long personal experience with the triangular relationship of woman-mikveh-design, I can unequivocally state my belief that design is a critical aspect of this specific mitzvah, and I would even dare to say essential to its fulfillment.
For many women out there, the mikveh’s exterior, design and ambiance impact their inclination to immerse in its waters and their personal feelings toward the entire process. That’s why when I make use of my professional skills and talents to improve the design in mikvehs, I view it as a special mission and honor.
Recently, there’s been vast improvement in the cleanliness, safety and aesthetic design of mikvehs. The improved physical appearance is likewise complemented by the smiling faces and understanding, friendly service provided by the balaniot. During the last two years, I’ve participated as a judge in a wonderful national competition sponsored by the Council for a Beautiful Israel which rates new and renovated mikvehs. Mikvehs with the highest scores are awarded Five-Star ratings.
Ivria mikveh – Givat Shmuel, Kfar Haroe & Ramat Rabin Mikveh
I was also lucky to join a team (with Timi Lausen, Sandy Brudner & Tami Yungurwood, Naomi Cohn zentner & Leora Roth) that renovated and redesigned the mikveh taharah in the Baka neighborhood in Jerusalem. Special effort was invested into beautifying the reception area and waiting room, which were dedicated in memory of Elana Blidstein, an outstanding woman, mentor and friend who passed away at a young age following a difficult illness. We All sought inspiration from Elana’s unique spirit, striving to imbue facets of her remarkable personality into the mikveh.
A woman’s first glimpse into the mikveh is in the reception and waiting room – a place with a wearying connotation. A mikveh waiting room is the dreaded place where she sits and waits until a room becomes available for her to commence preparations for immersion. Sometimes the wait can be long, and also embarrassing. (Whom will I meet? I hope I don’t see anyone I know…) These interminable minutes cap the days of anticipation preceding immersion which all contain a heavy dose of waiting.
Elana was a staunch believer in the beauty of this particular mitzvah of taharat hamishpacha. She was wont to say that the days of waiting are a special gift to a couple and that the reunion is a time to reaccept oneself, one’s husband and joint life together. We strove to accentuate these aspects when dedicating the waiting room and reception area in memory of a woman whose inner beauty radiated and brought joy to so many. Inspired by Elana’s love of learning, and to help women pass the time in the waiting room, we also included a small library featuring a collection of Torah-based and general literature on subjects pertaining to marriage and relationships. In Elana’s merit, even the waiting room became a place that women can’t wait to visit!
(Not) all roses
The biggest plus in designing a ladies’ mikveh is letting the woman inside me loose!
When designing a home bathroom, I account for the men in the house, as well. After all, how many guys do you know who’d agree to shower in a frilly pink bathroom adorned with rosebud towels?!
Okay, so it’s doesn’t all have to be pink! Besides, there are lots of other feminine elements as well, such as rounded, fluid edges that shout woman. Because, this, dear ladies, is the time to let the femininity inside you surface!
As far as the visitor’s experience, there are three primary areas that need to be designed in a mikveh:
Public domain: The entrance foyer and reception, waiting room, and/ or exit area which may include a blowdrying and makeup area.
Private domain: The bathroom/preparation room. If it’s normal to invest into the design of a home bathroom to ensure maximal comfort and pleasure, then how much more crucial it is to invest into this room in a mikveh in order to ensure that women will enjoy taking their time and relaxing leisurely there before immersing.
The Mikveh: The pinnacle moment of the mitzvah experience must be in a comfortable, attractive, clean, well-lit and pleasurable environment.
The Baka Mikveh. Design: Aviva Loberbaum
Tevilah & Tefillah – Immersion & prayer
Emerging from the mikveh, a woman completes a spiritual journey which begins with a waiting period and culminates in renewal and purity. Upon arriving, the first focus is usually externalities such as who else is there and how long the wait will last. The end, however, is deeply introspective as she immerses in the warm, clean and silent waters.
Betzalel ben Uri was the lucky one chosen to design the Mishkan, and his name – Betzalel – attested, “B’tzilo shel K-el hu choseh v’oved – He takes refuge and serves in the Shadow of Hashem.”
Every design project begins with a heartfelt prayer for success. When commencing a new project, I always pray that my clients will be satisfied, that we will both like the results, and that we will work in close cooperation and friendship together. However, when designing sites that encompass inherent holiness, such as synagogues, mezuzot, Arks, batei medrash or mikvehs – I feel that an extra special tefillah is required in order to merit success.
Thus, my prayer when designing a mikveh is that I shall merit taking refuge in the Shadow of Hashem, and that the efforts that I imbue in the project will increase each and every woman’s love of the mitzvah of family purity.
A designed “Tefila After Tevila”… in the Baka Mikveh