As you may recall when I spoke about the subject of water on Yom Kippur, I am a terrible swimmer. Nevertheless, there is something magical about water, and being near a body of water has always been a calming force in my life. For almost my entire life I have lived within a quick drive of the lakes in Michigan or the coast in California and Oregon, and it somehow soothes me to know that I can be near the water in a matter of hours. And although Texas has the Gulf of Mexico, being mostly land locked in Dallas never felt quite right. I missed the soft waves on the shore of the lake, the open expanse of an ocean, and the calming feeling of that ebb and flow with no end or beginning.
Although I’m not usually actively thinking about it, it’s also likely my strong feelings about water are due in part to the sense of purity and cleansing it provides. It both hydrates and cleans my body, and that relationship to water is one that’s fundamental to human existence. Our combined Torah portion this week, Parshiyot Tazria and Metzora, remind us of the healing properties of water as well. The text of these parshiyot tells us of the laws for the purification of both our homes and our bodies after disease or death has occurred, and the laws remind us that our bodies and our places of residence need to be treated with respect. We also have an obligation to help each other maintain healthy living and to support one another when we find impurities.
In chapter 14, verse 9 of Leviticus, we learn about the purification of the leper; we read that he should “bathe his body in water; then he shall be pure.” This is not referring to just any ordinary bath. This is a symbol of rebirth and recreation. The Seifer HaHinnukh teaches that the experience of illness and recovery has made the leper a new person. In other words, someone who now looks at life differently. While it is ultimately the experience that changes a person, the water symbolizes that moment of change. As infants we are born out of water. When we enter a new life phase, including converting to Judaism, we visit the mikvah. In fact, our entire world was created only as it emerged out of a giant body of water.
As the spring begins to give way to the first signs of summer, may we find refreshment in all that we do and take as many opportunities as possible to enjoy all the peaceful reassurance and calm our beautiful Pacific Northwest has to offer.
As a final note, I encourage you to visit our beautiful community mikvah located on the Mittleman Jewish Community Center campus. It’s closer than the ocean and cleaner and calmer than the river. We have been blessed as a community through the support of the Oregon Board of Rabbis and Jewish Federation to sustain a beautiful, tranquil place to refresh and transform ourselves.