By Rav Aryeh Z. Ginzberg
Questions abound: Do we need a new mikveh in the community? And even if we do, do we need such a beautiful one? With so many pressing needs in the community–overcrowded yeshivos, struggling families, youth programs–should we prioritize the building of a new and beautiful state-of-the-art mikveh in the community?
The clear and unequivocal response to all these questions is yes.
First and foremost, the responsibility for every community is to build a mikveh. When Rav Yosef Breuer, zt’l, the founder of the famed Breuer’s community in Washington Heights, became the rav of the small shul with the broken survivors of World War II, he was driven by his vision to rebuild the illustrious kehillah of Frankfurt, Germany, which boasted yeshivos, chadarim, Beis Yaakovs, etc.
When they gathered together to discuss the first step of that building process, some suggested that they start with a gan for the small children and work up slowly, but Rav Breuer disagreed. He told that small group of pioneers that the first thing the kehillah needs to build is a mikveh, “for without kedushah in a kehillah, you will have nothing.”
The late Klausenberger Rebbe, zt’l, added to that thought and held strongly that the mikveh has to be pleasant and inviting. The Rebbe once shared with his chassidim at a Friday night tisch that he now feels vindicated. Years earlier, when he decided to build a beautiful mikveh in the holy city of Tsfat to replace the old and antiquated mikveh that was there, his chassidim gave him much opposition. They felt that the needs of the fledgling chassidic group were so many; there was already a functioning mikveh in place and the much-needed funds could be best used elsewhere. However, the Rebbe held his ground and proceeded to build the mikveh, involving himself in every minor detail of its construction.
Several years later, the Rebbe shared with his followers that he feels vindicated. He received a letter from two women who told him that they were so disgusted by the condition of the mikveh, that they used to go for a walk together instead of using the mikveh, but now they actually look forward to their opportunities to use the new mikveh, for which they thanked him.
The Rebbe, zt’l, told his chassidim, “For just these two women, it was worth all my effort to build that mikveh, and if the opportunity presented itself to me again, I would do so again.”
If these incidents alone do not motivate us to do whatever needs to be doneÂ to finish the last stages of construction of this new beautiful mikveh so it can finally open its doors, then maybe the following powerful thought that came to my attention recently from Rav Avrohom Schorr will knock it out of the park.
Rav Avrohom Schorr quoted the Baal Shem Tov that there is a remez to the fact that every city must have kosher shechitah, a kosher mikveh, and an eiruv wherever possible. The roshei teivos, the combination of the first letters of each of these three foundations, is the word “Za’am,” Divine wrath.
The Baal Shem Tov explained that a community that possesses these things is protected from Divine wrath. It is no secret that our community has been hit recently with so many tragedies (as have other communities as well). We have seen the loss of so many young people, an epidemic of divorces, and increased drug usage amongst our teens. Yes, we can just let out a loud communal “krechtz” and say this is what Chazal meant by “chevlei Mashiach,” the birth pangs of Mashiach. Or we can join together to remove the “Za’am” that is upon us and bring more kedushah into our homes and into our community. The completion of a new mikveh will go a long way in that direction.
And while many of the affluent people in the community have already generously participated in the mikveh so far, giving of their time and resources, there is still much more to do. The final stretch is an opportunity for every family to participate in this important community project in whatever capacity that they are able to.
In the building of the Mishkan, the Torah says, “Vayakhel Moshe,” that Moshe gathered together Bnei Yisrael to join as one in the building campaign. The gematria of “mikveh” is “Vayakhel”–the building of a mikveh together as one is a great unifying force that creates a sense of achdus. There is no greater nachas ruach to the Borei Olam than the feeling of achdus in Klal Yisrael, especially during the dark days of Sefirah.
A small community in Eretz Yisrael was in desperate need of a new mikveh, as many women stopped using it due to its condition. The rav was a gifted orator and he decided he would travel around the country giving inspiring speeches about the importance of having a local kosher mikveh. He went to the Chazon Ish, zt’l, and asked him for a special berachah that his speeches should go over well.
The Chazon Ish, zt’l told him that instead of giving a thousand derashos about the importance of mikveh, he should put all his efforts into building a beautiful spacious mikveh and that will accomplish much more.
I am close friends with the members of the small chevrah that has dedicated heart and soul for the last few years to see this project through to completion. They are not gifted orators (sorry, guys), but as the Chazon Ish instructed, they instead they rolled up their sleeves and built the mikveh, brick by brick, and they will not let themselves take a much-deserved break until its doors open.
There is a well-documented exchange between two of the gedolei ha’dor of the previous generation. Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, zt’l, had heard that the great gadol of Yerushalayim, Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zt’l, who was already at an advanced age, was still particular to immerse himself in a mikveh every day, despite his great difficulty in doing so. He asked him why he was so stringent in this matter. Rav Sonnenfeld responded, “The Gemara in Yevamos (46a) says that if a non-Jew undergoes b’ris milah for the purpose of becoming a Jew but fails to immerse in a mikveh, it’s meaningless. Now, if a mikveh is capable of transforming a goy into a Yid, then most certainly it can turn a Yid into a much better and more refined one, so how can I not continue to do so?”
I would add, in that vein, what transformation would come to the whole community by building a new and beautiful mikveh right in our midst? How transformative that would be.
I began this article by asking a few questions and I would like to conclude by asking just one more.
I’ve overheard some people ask, why not just open the mikveh already and worry about the finishing touches at a later date?
Again we turn to the Chazon Ish, zt’l, for his guidance. When the aforementioned mikveh was being built, there was great difficulty completing it. The committee came to him and suggested that they open it as is, and when people come and see that it is not yet completed, maybe they will step up to the plate and help complete it. The Chazon Ish, zt’l, responded with an unequivocal “No.” He explained, “This mikveh is not only for your families to use; it is being built for the future as well, and maybe a non-religious woman will come in to check out the mikveh and see it not completed and she will never come back. The mikveh should not be open for business until it’s all completed and beautiful to anyone who enters.”
For us as well, the Chazon Ish, zt’l, has spoken. We need it completed and we need it now. “Vayakhel,” let everyone gather together, join together as one, to complete this wonderful project of Kiddush Hashem in our community, and maybe, just maybe, together we can bring an end to the Divine wrath on our families, our community, and on all of Klal Yisrael.
This article is written l’zecher nishmas Sara Chaya, z’l, bas R’ Aryeh Zev.