by Tzipora Miriam Speter
Since becoming a shomeres for Mikveh Bess Israel, I’ve had hundreds of appointments. I have found that assisting and observing a person as she does a mitzvah offers such a different perspective than doing the mitzvah myself. Only after observing this mitzvah of mikveh immersion being done hundreds of times from the sidelines have I been able to notice two aspects of it that have made me appreciate the mitzvah more deeply than I did before.
My first observation is that each woman who arrives to use the mikveh is coming from her own olam ha-zeh, her own everyday world experienced through the perspective of her unique circumstances, opportunities, and challenges. Every woman who comes to the mikveh is different in the way she dresses and makes herself up. Some women wear longer skirts, some shorter, and some wear pants. Some come in tichels (scarves), others in sheitels (wigs), and others in hats. Some come with no head covering at all. We are all so different. While each mitzvah requires preparation and—to various extents—intention, Taharat ha-Mishpachah has built into it an amazing preparatory ritual wherein the person performing the mitzvah removes all of her personal olam hazeh (especially its limitations) and physicality (or, what in Hebrew we call gashmiut). By the time a woman is ready, it is so obvious how similar we all are. You take away all of the externalities that you have imposed upon yourself and only when you are just as Ha-Kadosh Baruch Hu, The Holy One Blessed Is He, created you are you ready to do this mitzvah. And we are all so beautifully similar. Every woman presents herself to the world so differently, but at the moment she is performing this mitzvah, she comes as she really is: a reflection of the Divine image of her Creator. All the differences are added by us. It has been such a lesson to me in achdus, Jewish unity. We are all blessed with the privilege to have this special connection with Hashem and we are all the same.
The other thing I’ve noticed has to do with being tzenua, or modest. Proper etiquette for mikveh demands that no one except the shomeres and a woman’s husband (and perhaps a Rabbi, if one needs to be consulted) knows when she is going. Therefore, no one really knows who keeps this mitzvah, because in not knowing when she goes, no one can really know if she ever goes. Mitzvot that are done in public are susceptible to being performed with ulterior motivation: “I’ll come earlier to shul because so-and-so will judge me if I’m not on time,” or “I’ll build a better sukkah because last year my neighbor’s sukkah was nicer than mine.” With mikveh, however, there are no social benefits one can pursue because there are none to gain. Neither are there social stigmas. The only one who knows that you’re going is the Master of the Universe. There is a beautiful purity, an honesty of intention, when a woman comes to the mikveh. Some women come who you might assume don’t. A woman’s reason for immersing in the mikveh is something intimate; motivated solely by her personal relationship with God.
It is such a pleasure and zechus, a privilege, to serve at a mikveh. I would like to thank each and every woman who has given me the privilege of being her shomeres. Each of you has personally brought me closer to Hashem, and for that I will be forever in your debt.
Mrs. Tziporah Miriam Speter, a graduate of the University of Connecticut, is a trained nurse and the mother a two-year-old son. She and her husband Shaya Speter are expecting their second child soon—B’Shaa Tova)