Palpable purity: The incredible Chabad mikvah in Tenafly

Palpable purity: The incredible Chabad mikvah in Tenafly

Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck, Orthodox

It is a gem of Jewish Bergen County. One truly experiences a palpable sense of purity permeating the attractive Chabad mikvah of Tenafly. Under the capable founding, supervision, and direction of Rabbi Mordechai Shain, the mikvah maintains the highest halachic and aesthetic standards. Its beauty makes a deep impression on visitors. The spectacularly intelligent design of this special space allows for elegance combined with simplicity.

After having studied the laws of mikvah construction and maintenance with an advanced group of students, we were interested in seeing an actual mikvah in vivo. I called Rabbi Shain who promptly and eagerly extended an invitation for us to benefit from his guided tour of the workings of the Tenafly mikvah.

Immersion in a mikvah is truly an experience of spiritual cleansing and uplifting in God’s waters. Although the Torah normally prefers human action over God’s action (the idea of b’rit milah, circumcision, is a prime example — God wishes us to improve and complete the world He created; hence the concept of tikkun olam), in regards to mikvah, the natural is a sine qua non. Immersion is valid only in a natural source of water or water that directly connects to a natural source of water.

Mikvaot (plural for mikvah) typically maintain a pool of actual rainwater next to the pool in which women immerse. The immersion pool is filled with tap water which is rendered acceptable for immersion by virtue of a physical connection to the rainwater pool through a hole in the wall separating the two pools. The connection between the tap water and the rainwater is called hashakah (“kissing”), since the waters “kiss” and become one metaphysical unit. In this manner, dipping in the immersion pool is regarded by Jewish Law as being enveloped in God’s water.

Moreover, mikvaot throughout the world engage in a somewhat elusive pursuit of satisfying the opinion of Maimonides who requires that the original rainwater remain in the rainwater pool. Significant efforts are made to attain this goal with mixed results worldwide. The students and I were eager to visit the Tenafly mikvah as we had heard that this mikvah was one of the few that successfully met this goal.

The students and I were not disappointed in the least. We were happily surprised to learn how the Tenafly mikvah’s waters are supplied by underground springs. Rabbi Shain had the enormous fortune (or heavenly intervention, one might say) of having a natural spring located beneath the mikvah he built for his flock. Even the water in the Tenafly mikvah’s immersion pool is natural water; it is a wonderful opportunity to dip directly in God’s waters.

To satisfy even those opinions in the Jewish law that are skeptical about springs, the spring water is purified in another step by its connection to a natural rainwater pool located beneath the immersion pool. Lubavitch custom is to follow the enactment of the fifth Lubavitcher rebbe, Rav Sholom Ber (referred to as the Rebbe Rashab), to locate the rainwater pool immediately beneath the immersion pool, instead of the more typical side-to-side construction. Interestingly, there is archaeological evidence to ancient mikvaot in Judea of two thousand years ago being constructed in both the side to side and top to bottom methods of hashakah.

Mikvaot are designed with the aspiration to reach halachic perfection, which is so appropriate for the concept of purifying oneself in God’s waters. While human achievement of perfection is elusive, the Lubavitch mikvah in Tenafly comes very close. I encourage skeptics to consider a visit to the mikvah with an open mind and soul. One might just experience a life-changing encounter with God in this mikvah or any of the other wonderful mikvaot in Bergen County. It is especially auspicious to visit near Parashat Naso which speaks of the dedication of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, a place of purity at its zenith.

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