Tattoo in the Mikvah
On Friday afternoons in traditional Jewish communities around the world, parents get home early to get the house ready and prepare delicious Shabbat food. Some take a short nap to enter the Shabbat calmly and well-rested. Women get ready to light Shabbat candles.
Many men go to Mikvah – the Jewish ritual bath. Some expect to find only Chassidic men in the Men’s Mikvah. While Chassidim are indeed the most regular male Mikvah-goers, the truth is that all types of religious Jews, many ‘traditional’ ones and more than a few ‘secular’ Jews connect with the beauty and power of the Mikvah. No wonder than in all denominations and communities around the world, appreciation of and use of the Mikvah is on the rise.
The Idea of the Mikvah is mystical, beautiful, and profound. It has nothing to do with physical cleanliness – a person needs to bathe before entering the Mikvah.
So what is Mikvah all about? Much of what we do in life associates us with negativity, death, and loss of vitality and potential. The Mikvah waters are by definition ‘living waters’ – connected to a live water source. Entering them connects us back to life, vitality, optimism, and the Source of all Good – G-d. In order to connect to G-d in the best way possible on the holiest day of the year, the High Priest actually went to the Mikvah FIVE times on Yom Kippur.
Women’s mikvahs are usually physically beautiful – a mini-spa. Men’s Mikvah’s are often not, though things are improving. You can imagine my delight when a massive, modern, spa-like men’s Mikvah was built just a few hundred meters from my house (I haven’t yet tried the sauna!).
I play a little game now every time I go: I try to guess which tattoo I’ll see in the changing room. As you may know, tattoos are against Jewish law and philosophy. But the reality is that they are fairly common in more than a few men’s mikvahs. There’s the guy with the American flag on his arm. There’s the guy with the palm trees on his chest. And there is the guy with Alfred E. Newman on his backside (Don’t ask!.
Some belong to people who became orthodox later in life. Others are not Orthodox – they are finding their own ways to connect to Jewish spirituality. They may have taken a step away from Judaism (knowingly or not) by getting a tattoo, but they are regularly taking a step closer by going to the mikvah.
Consistent? No. Beautiful? Yes. Forget labels. Forget categories. Forget what the neighbors do or don’t do. Each of us should try to find new ways to connect to G-d and add meaning to our lives. Consistency has its place. But so does exploration and growth. So don’t worry so much about your religious lackings – there is plenty of time to deal with those. For now, don’t worry about consistency. Just go and find a new way to connect to Judaism. With time, things tend to work out fine.
Wishing you a wonderful week
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