Holy Waters: Mikveh for Men
What is Shovavim שובבים?
Shovavim is an acronym for a set of parshios in which the Torah is telling us about the increasing levels of kedusha of klal yisroel.
The parshios are: ש Shemos, ו Vaera, ב Bo, ב Bishalach, י Yisro, מ Mishpatim.
Redemption began with Moshe’s birth and but it was not until Har Sinai, as we conclude in the final week, that klal yisroel were finally at a place of Kabbalos HaTorah. We make a similar journey of increasing our kedusha not just between Pesach and Shavuos, but also during these weeks of reading the parshios.
How can we Increase our Kedusha?
Part of the concept of Shovavim is to have a Rav or Rebbe teach a series of classes over the period to help a group of men grow in their kedusha. Sometimes these classes are on tefillah or chinuch, other times miscellaneous topics related to kedusha.
An area of kedusha that I have personally been working on and was encouraged to teach about is Mikveh. My hope is that by sharing with you what I’ve learned, we can both grow in this area of practical observance that can assist one in increasing their kedusha.
What’s the Purpose of the Mikveh?
For women, the Torah is clear. Mikveh serves as a transition from Tamei to Tahor.
But what about mikveh for men?
When we had a standing Temple, men had to follow laws of ritual purity in order to bring their korbonos. With the loss of our Temple, we do not have mikveh use mandated in codified halacha. However, there are still many reasons that a man may want or need to use a mikveh, including even regularly. The mikveh still provides the transformation from a state of tumah to a state of tahara, spiritually unclean to spiritually clean.
It’s a fascinating notion that just as we use water to clean our bodies, so too a kosher mikveh of at least 40 seah of fresh rainwater collected properly can provide a cleaning all the way to our neshama. Water has this amazing ability, and even has unique properties in regard to brachos and kashrus.
Despite this, we don’t come to the conclusion that the mikveh purifies off our own logic, but solely because HaShem says so in the Torah. A mikveh functions this way because it’s a chok. Nonetheless, we can still learn from what the Torah says to have a better understanding and connect with this amazing resource in a deeper way.
Since a man isn’t required to toivel for bringing offerings to a Temple today, what reasons are there to use the mikveh.
- The most obvious use is when a non-Jew uses the mikveh to make their conversion formal and valid as an act of teshuvah.
- A Baal Teshuvah is often sent to the mikveh as a siman of their teshuvah.
- We can go to the mikveh to mark teshuva in any area, just like the Shulchan Aruch discusses the inyan to go Erev Rosh Hashanah and Erev Yom Kippur.
- Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan writes that “[i]mmersion in a mikveh is a process of spiritual purification and cleansing.”
- Anyone who feels like they are in a “rut” or need to overcome an area they struggle in can use the mikveh as a spiritual means of marking commitment to change or succeed.
- The mikveh spiritually nullifies the ego and brings humility. We are essential batel in the flow.
- The Baal HaTanya said that using the mikveh before prayer can help lead to inspiration in prayer. One who is looking for an aliyah in their davening can look to mikveh use as an assist.
- Just as we should review the Akeida with regularity to keep ourselves humble, so too regular mikveh use can help in this area.
“Prepare to meet your G-d, Israel.”Amos 4:12
- We do morning hand washing for many reasons. One reason presented in the Shulchan Aruch is that it is like the Priest’s hand washing, which they would do before their morning avodah.
- The Priest would also immerse themselves before their Avodah and Korbonos.
- The Avodah today is Tefillah, and we recite Korbonos in the morning seder, so it’s logical to toivel before davening just as we wash before davening.
- Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi, author of Shulchan Aruch HaRav and the Tanya, writes that it is Tosefos Tahara, not just for baal Keri, and is a hakana for shacharis.
- Ezra HaNavi made a ruling that required a man to immerse in the mikveh before learning Torah or davening after becoming a baal keri (for any reason).
- Chazal noted in the Gemara on Brachos that due to decreased learning, the ruling was removed in regard to Torah study.
- Today, there is a maklokes on if it still applies to tefillah.
- Many Rishonim argue that it does still apply, notably the Rav Hai Gaon and Rabbeinu Chananel.
- The Yesod Veshoresh Ha’Avodah states there is a need and great value to immerse in a mikveh before davening, especially in regards to a Baal Keri.
- Although the Rambam wrote that Tevilas Ezra no longer applied for tefillah, he was taken to task by scholars in Bavel over the matter and stated that he was only citing stam halacha and that he was makpid to toivel immediately whenever required.
- The Steipler Gaon held one should toivel regularly and to treat Tevilas Ezra as mandatory.
- Rav Chaim Kanievsky z”l writes in Orchos Yoshor that many early authorities held that Tevilas Ezra was only abolished for Torah study, not for tefillah.
- While minhag today seems to not view Tevilas Ezra as mandatory, there is certainly what to rely on that one should treat it as mandatory and be makpid on this area.
- The Mishnah Berurah, in the name of the Pri Megadim, says it is praiseworthy for one to treat it as mandatory and have a custom to use the mikveh.
- She’eilos U’Teshuvos Min HaShamayim posits that one reason we still do not have a Temple today is because our prayers are not given in a state of purity and thus are not recited properly.
- Even if one isn’t makpid to go daily, or for Tevilas Ezra, have a reason to go for Shabbos and Yontif.
- Immersing in the mikveh gives extra sanctity commensurate with the sanctity of the day.
- Dishes made or owned by a non-Jew need tevilah to reach a higher level of kedusha for Jewish ownership.
- One could logically conclude that if our dishes need purity, then we too need purity to better serve HaShem.
- Immersion helps us be more sensitive to the holiness of the day.
- The Pela Yoetz writes that the mikveh brings kedusha. One should not let anything prevent him from immersing as it enables deeper tshuva and is a tikkun for impurity.
- Sefer HaChinuch writes Mitzvah 175 is the mikveh and that those that are righteous cannot stand to remain impure.
- The Arizal is noted to have held that daily immersion was essential as one needs to be pure at all times.
- Rav Moshe Feinstein wrote that immersing in a mikveh is necessary for anyone who wants spiritual growth and righteousness.
- Rav Chaim Kanievsky z”l held that even for those not a baal keri, regular use of the mikveh would raise kedusha.
- Rabbeinu Yonah held that those who go to mikveh will have their prayers more readily answered.
- Kabbalists say there are 400 aspects of impurity that can only be removed by a kosher mikveh.
- When we sleep, we are considered about 1/60th dead. As a result, after about thirty minutes of sleeping, we have a Ruach Ra on our hands that require a hand washing in the morning, to the extent that some poskim hold if one touched food in this state the food must be destroyed. If we look at the argument of Sefer HaChinuch, there is reason to suggest one should use the mikveh after any type of exposure to Tumah to maintain purity.
- The Talmud Yerushalmi discusses how one can remove nearly all types of Tumah via a kosher mikveh, but that one should be especially careful to not wash their head and/or most of their body after the mikveh or they will maintain a level of the impurity.
- One is permitted to toivel at any point day or night, subject to local mikveh rules and availability. The tumah, however, remains until night.
- When I visited my grandmother’s kever for her Yartzeit, I looked for a mikveh to be able to use in the afternoon to rectify the issue as soon as possible. When a nearby mikveh attendant was aware of my situation, they made arrangements to open the mikveh for me for afternoon use.
- The Shulchan Aruch doesn’t bring a clear set of halachos on men’s usage of a mikveh, due to the citation of the Rambam.
- As already stated, the Mishnah Berurah writes in the name of the Pri Megadim that those who are noeg to use the mikveh will be blessed for it.
- Rav Chaim Kanievsky z”l wrote that using the mikveh erev Shabbos is a mitzvah and one should even pause their learning for it.
- The Ramchal wrote that immersion in a mikveh removes all flaws and one should go erev Shabbos.
- The Zohar states that the neshama yeseirah only comes on Shabbos morning, but one who toivels erev Shabbos acquires it Shabbos night as well.
Noted Individuals on Mikveh Use:
- Rav Chaim Kanievsky z”l personally was makpid on mikveh.
- Rabbi Akiva Eiger toiveled every day, even when sick, before sunrise.
- The Steipler Gaon was known to toivel even when he was weak.
- There’s a story that one morning that Gaon was particularly ill and his wife, before he woke up, hid the keys to the mikveh. Shortly after hiding them, there was a knock on the door. It was the Rabbi’s Gabbai, who explained that the Rav just came to him in a dream and told him to come over and bring a spare set of keys to the mikveh.
- The Chofetz Chaim is noted to have never missed going to mikveh.
- Rabbi Yitzchok Specter went to mikveh several times a week.
- The Alter of Novardok went every morning.
- Rav Ahron Kotler was makpid to go erev Shabbos Chazon.
- The Ribnitzer Rebbe toiveled daily.
- The Ribnitzer Rebbe was known for nissim. I have personally experienced the zechus of seeing several petitions made at his kever happen nearly immediately after over the years.
- I had the amazing opportunity of hearing this story from the naturopath of the Ribnitzer’s wife.
- There was a man who needed a bracha from the Rebbe. He tried all day to get to the Rebbe but was unable to. When he petitioned the Gabbai, the Gabbai tried to go to the Rebbe but the Rebbe was at mikveh. For some reason, the Gabbai felt an overwhelming sense of urgency and need to help this fellow yid. He went into the mikveh room and tried to speak to the Rebbe. The Rebbe was deep in thought in the mikveh and submerging for long periods of time. Without a second thought, the Gabbai jumped into the mikveh in cannonball formation, splashing the waters all over the room. As he cameaobe water, he saw the Rebbe was still under the water. Dread came upon him. Slowly, the Rebbe rose to the surface, first just his eyes with his usual intense gaze. The Gabbai was mortified, fear in his soul. The Rebbe then burst upward, laughing deeply over the event. He asked for the yid’s name and predicament and pronounced a blessing while still in the mikveh.
How to use a Mikveh (for men)
Now that we see there is a clear reason to use the mikveh regularly, at least every erev Shabbos, how does one do that?
- For Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur, one needs to remove any interposition with their body, including earwax, trimming nails, etc. This is not required for any other time.
- The OU’s commentary on the Mishnah Berurah says to trim nails before mikveh use and not afterward when preparing for Shabbos.
- Erev Shabbos use should occur after chatzos.
- One should shower before using the mikveh. One needs to thoroughly wash off any stray hairs, etc., if using a community mikveh or women’s mikveh so that the mikveh is left pristine for women.
- If one does not have a condition that requires them to shower afterward, it is ideal that they do not shower after in order to keep the mikveh waters of kedusha on them.
- When drying off, one should leave one part of their body wet with the mikveh water in order to absorb the waters. The Gemara says leaving one’s feet wet is a sakana so don’t choose your feet.
- If one is using the mikveh on Shabbos or Yontif, it is very important to not squeeze the hair dry, as that is a melacha.
- Contrary to popular belief, many hold using the mikveh on Shabbos is mutar, even if one does not have a pattern or any regularity at all to mikveh use.
- In a warmer or hot mikveh, one shouldn’t dawdle on Shabbos or Yontif so they aren’t over the issur of bathing.
- Unless one is converting, there is no bracha for a man to say when toiveling.
- If one is toiveling for purposes of teshuvah, the minhag is to dunk three times. Otherwise, there are a variety of minhagim, the most popular ones being five times or however many times to match that day of the week.
- One should pay for using the mikveh if they are able.
- Ideally, if one goes in the morning before davening, it should be in this order:
- Wake up, negel vasser without bracha
- Birkas HaTorah and Krias Shema
- Learning schedule
- Go to mikveh
- After mikveh, to start davening, hand washing with bracha, tallis/tefillin, morning brachos, and shacharis.
- To meet all opinions on the reason for morning hand washing, the hand washing with a bracha should be done immediately before davening with no interruption that would require hand washing before shemoneh esrei.
- There is a clear reason to use the mikveh every day for purposes of tahara and kedusha.
- It’s possible we don’t have the Temple because we aren’t careful to maintain ritual purity. Mikveh use is the solution to this problem.
- Many have the opinion that Tevilas Ezra still applies for tefillah, but not for Torah study.
- If one is not noeg to go throughout the week, there is strong argument that it is a mitzvah to use the mikveh erev Shabbos.
- It’s mutar to use the mikveh on Shabbos with adjustments to avoid melachos.
- There is a halachic basis to use the mikveh erev Rosh Hashanah and erev Yom Kippur.