Transitions are emotional for me. I get weepy watching kids get on the camp bus for their first summer, knowing that they will return forever changed. I celebrate a pre-K graduation in the same way as I celebrate a high school graduation. The way in which we mark these transitions, with a bittersweet mix of the joy of anticipation plus a little sadness at the passing of what was, fills my heart completely. Transitions are simultaneously scary because of the unknown and thrilling because of the accomplishment.
As Jews there are many moments of transition that we mark in our lives. Smaller moments of transition like lighting Shabbat candles or celebrating Havdalah help us to transition weekly in and out of holy space. Big moments like becoming a parent might be recognized with an aliyah to the Torah or a baby naming. A bar or bat mitzvah is marked as a transition with the recitation of Shehechiyanu and acknowledgment of the day, among many other related events.
Interestingly, one common theme found in several of our traditional Jewish transitions is the use of water. Both in Jewish weddings and burials, we see water used in purification. This week we read from parshat Tazria, one of two portions in the Torah that deal explicitly and fully with transitioning in and out of states of purity. The text begins with the notion of “impurity,” specifically including the transitional time after childbirth, and continues with the treatments and prescriptions for what to do when a person is in need of cleansing of both body and material items in order to re-enter society.
At the outset this parshah looks as though it is strictly medical in nature, but it is actually speaking to the core of what it means to be a people. Each of these moments in life (childbirth, illness, etc.) represents a change in the status of your body and your daily life. This fluctuation in the connection to self is a type of transition. As we already know, the Torah reminds us that transition demands ceremony, and the ceremony most often used is that of the ritual bath in the mikvah. This spiritual immersion in living waters is a physical step toward inward and outward purification.
The Torah of purification is a Torah that understands that life experiences change us in ways that need to be noted and even celebrated, and the use of water in these events serves as a purifier because water is the source of sustenance and life. Going to the mikvah is a beautiful way to mark a moment of transition, whether for conversion, marriage, or otherwise. We recognize the sacredness in marking these moments and moving forward through life’s many changes. Though they may be emotional or they may be mundane, Parshat Tazria reminds us to “dive in” and embrace our transitions.