Just as a Mikva purifies the impure, so too, the Holy One, Blessed be He, purifies Israel. – The Conclusion of Mishne Yoma Chapter 8
It was more than 30 something years ago and I was beginning a new chapter in life going out into the big city of New York to learn Torah with business people, millionaires and billionaires, men of industry. One thing began to concern me as I started. I knew there was a difference, back then, between having a TV or not having a TV. That was the challenge of that time. (Remember those days!?) I was one who had chosen to keep my focus away from worldly matters.
However, I soon discovered that my trips to New York, the Big Apple were having an effect on my basic level of Kedusha. I was mentally and physically and emotionally exhausted from the traveling and having to refocus my attention at all times. I felt like I was living in the TV. It didn’t matter whether I was the one who had or didn’t have. The environment itself was toxic for me.
So, I came to ask Rabbi Ezriel Tauber ztl. what I should do. He didn’t hesitate. He understood my dilemma right away. He too had worked there for many years. He insisted that I go to the Mikva every day. That meant getting up even earlier every day before catching the bus to the city.
He told me that that the Rambam waxes poetic and calls the Mikva “Mei Daas” – “waters of knowledge”. It had wondrous powers. If it can take a gentile and make him into a Jew, with the proper intent, then what can it do for a Jew!?
I started going regularly. It made a world of difference. I can’t describe it. I felt like a hot knife slicing through butter as I went about my business in the big city milieu. The one or two times that I missed I detected the obvious difference. It was like the difference between night and day. Every day I would go and refocus and rededicate my energies to a new day. I can’t see myself living any other way now.
That year went around and Yom Kippur arrived. On Yom Kippur, one of the five things that we don’t do, besides not eating and drinking, is not bathing and not washing. On Yom Kippur immersion the Mikva is forbidden. Yom Kippur was going as Yom Kippur tends to go. I still don’t know why they call it a “fast” day. It should be called a “slow” day.
Anyway, we were nearing the end of a long and intense Yeshiva Davening. There was more leg to go. After Mincha and before Neila we took just a 20-minute break to prepare for the last push of Teshuva.
I approached Rabbi Tauber as he was resting in preparation for leading that last service. I told him that I miss the Mikva terribly on Yom Kippur. I thought I would get a nod of agreement or approval. After all, it was his great advice that was working so well for me. Instead, he gave me a look that shouts. He said, “You think you need the Mikva today? Then you don’t know what the whole day is about!” I was shocked. Here, the whole day had almost passed and there was only a half hour yet to go and I don’t know what the whole day is about. He explained, “You are in the Mikva on Yom Kippur”. You are Toveling (soaking and bathing) in Yud and Hey and Vuv and Hey, in the name of HASHEM.”
The dirt is being removed by the most powerful and universal solvent, Teshuva, and HASHEM, Himself is washing us in his Mikva as the last Mishne is Yoma declares in the name of Rabbi Akiva; Rabbi Akiva said: ‘How fortunate are you, Israel; before Whom are you purified, and Who purifies you? It is your Father in Heaven, as it is stated: “And I will sprinkle purifying water upon you, and you shall be purified” (Yechezkel 36:25). And it says: “The ritual bath of Israel is HASHEM” (Yermiahu 17:13). Just as a Mikva purifies the impure, so too, the Holy One, Blessed be He, purifies Israel.’
I have to admit that for a very short while, a moment or two I felt the sting of deep disappointment but thankfully, now, and forever more I can say I know what the whole day is about.