Secrets of the Mikvah
by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach z’l
Recorded by Libby Bottero and Jesse Rappaport at Temple Beth Israel and Cougar Hot Springs –Eugene, Oregon – April 13-14, 1992
First, I want you to know there are two kinds of closeness. One closeness is when I’m standing face to face with you, right. Momish, you look at me and I look at you, very close, but that’s not the closest. The closest is when I’m so close to somebody I can’t even see them anymore. In the mikvah we close our eyes. When you kiss someone you’re so close to them that you have to close your eyes to really see them on the inside. In the mikvah you close your eyes, because you’re so close, you see so much, so deep.
Reb Nachman says when Moshiach is coming, the world will be filled with G-d knowledge like water in the ocean; when Moshiach is coming to us it will be like under the water of the mikvah, so deep, awesome. Moshiach knowledge is like water knowledge. Reb Nachman says there are two levels: G-d is First (rishon), like G-d is the first and the last; and G-d is One (echad), when we say “shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem echad.” This is so important. So I want you to know in the deepest depths that Earth is on the level of G-d is First; Water is on the level of G-d is One. Under the water we know that G-d is One.
In Hebrew, “mayim” has no plural, water and waters, there is only mayim. Water accommodates more water gladly. What is so special about water? What is water all about? Gemara says if only one hair is sticking out it doesn’t work in the mikvah; you must be completely immersed in the water, inside knowledge. Before Adam ate from the tree of knowledge he was .momish so connected to above. This doesn’t come from outside knowledge, from a book. This is momish inside knowledge, what a difference. 1+1=2 is outside knowledge; 1+1=1 is inside knowledge. Tree of knowledge is outside knowledge. I want you to know when you’re in the water completely covered with water you have inside knowledge.
After Adam ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, G-d is hiding. Adam says to G-d, I heard your voice in the garden. G-d cursed the snake; the snake is on the earth. Growing things are in the earth; seed planted in the earth needs water to grow. Water connects the seed to the inside of the earth, so inside us we also need the water of inside knowledge to nurture our growth. Water tells to the earth: open your inside, open inside. Pure and impure means open to receive and not open to receive. Sweet holy knowledge is coming to us from heaven but we need to be open to it, to be pure to receive it, so we must go to the mikvah. A pure person is someone who is so open. The more I connect the more I remember. You know in Hebrew the word “choshech”, darkness, is like the same word as “shakach”, forgetting.
You know what the tree of knowledge is? Why does it bring death into the world? Because it is disconnected from the inside. You know what death is? Death means the soul is not connected to the body. You know what water is? When G-d created the world there was separateness. You know what it means G-d is hiding from the world? Because G-d is One and the world is two. You know what happened to Adam and Eve after they ate from the tree of knowledge? They became two, but Paradise is one. Torah does not mention that water was created, because after creation it would be two, but water is still one. Shabbos — you know that G-d is One; Shabbos is peace and blessing. Always go to the mikvah before Shabbos. Reb Nachman says that mikvah comes from the word “tikveh” which is hope. Water is anti-death because giving up hope and dying are like the same thing.
Reb Nachman says that mikvah is the water, the river that comes out of Paradise. Mikvah water is pure on the level of Oneness. Why is water from the mikvah to be untouched? Because it is untouched as water coming down from heaven. Mikvah water is pure and untouched on the level of Oneness. Water comes to the inside of your life. The greatest crime in the world is when you are disconnected from your inside. If you live your life outside without being connected to your inside, what good is it? Water comes to the inside of your life. You know what it means G-d blew a soul into me? It means my soul is belonging to another time. Every soul, every breath is praising G-d. Air, “avir”, is coming from two Hebrew words: “av” and ir, the light of G-d. Water and air are the deepest G-d revelations.
What is the water doing to the earth? What is the water doing to me when I go into the mikvah? The earth has to believe in itself in order to grow. The snake comes to Eve and says, you want to be like G-d, eat from the tree of knowledge. You know what the snake does to you? Why is the snake biting you in the soul? Because the specialty of the snake is to reduce you all the way down to nothing. The snake says you are nothing, but if you eat from the tree of knowledge then you’ll know what’s right and what’s wrong, then you’ll be like G-d, imitating G-d. But my knowledge of good and evil doesn’t come from outside, it doesn’t need eating apples to know what’s right and what’s wrong, it comes from inside. The snake cuts you down all the time. Humanity needs the most for someone to lift you up. G-d says to Adam cut off the snake’s head. Take the lowest person and lift them up.
You know friends, people who never tasted the tree of life, what can I tell them about good and bad. Reb Nachman says the water of the mikvah is momish the highest from heaven. A person has to know that all my problems and brokenness, all my falling apart is because I am not completely surrounded by G-d’s heavenly love. If they go to mikvah they will feel surrounded by G-d’s love. Deep inside nobody wants to do wrong, deep inside they want to be so good, but sometimes my inside and my outside are disconnected. Water connects the outside of the earth to the inside of the earth, water connects my outside to my inside, water connects my inside to the deepest surrounding light. Under the water in the mikvah I’m momish completely surrounded by the most heavenly illumination. You know what water does to you? Mikvah makes you momish into one, every drop of water is one. Zohar ha-kodesh says one and one is one.
Reb Nachman says when you go to the mikvah momish it takes away all the fighting and all the anger; this has such deep meaning, because mikvah makes you connect to G-d is One. Reb Nachman says that anger comes from when I think I’m the master of the world, but in the mikvah I know that only G-d is my master. Compassion is better than anger. Angry words can be like a knife in the heart because we’re disconnected from our inside place, disconnected from our Oneness. Reb Nachman says there is earth knowledge and water knowledge. Remember what I said before that when moshiach is coming the world will be filled with G-d knowledge like water covers the ocean. Water knowledge is so deep, so pure, so beautiful, so good, so inside. Reb Nachman says, some people think when I have a cold I shouldn’t go to the mikvah. Mikvah doesn’t make you sick; on the contrary, it’s the most healing thing in the world.
Reb Nachman says when I’m in the mikvah, holy knowledge enters me; when I’m in the mikvah I have vessels to receive knowledge from the heavenly Source because I’m in another world in the mikvah, not this world. When I go to the mikvah I close my eyes, like when kissing, and connect to higher world, deeper knowledge. When I’m in the mikvah, completely surrounded by heavenly water, I see that G-d is absolutely surrounding me, G-d is taking care of my every step. G-d helps us. When you pray in the mikvah, when you turn your heart to G-d, when you pray at that moment G-d is taking care of you.
Reb Nachman says, what did Eve do when she ate from the tree of knowledge? She disconnected herself from heaven and earth and she connected herself to outside knowledge, the knowledge of good and evil. Mikvah is connection to inside knowledge. Friends, open your hearts to this, so anyone who wants to purify him/her self can go to mikvah. Why did the snake come to Eve and not to Adam? Because Eve is woman and to bring children, life, into this world is so holy, it’s god-like. Husband, wife, and children are connected to holiness and oneness by mikvah. Pure is coming from heaven; holiness is coming from heaven. Pure is a vessel for receiving the highest and deepest heavenly inside knowledge. If we are disconnected from our own hearts, the snake talk is outside knowledge, but inside is the will of my soul, inside knowing. Mikvah is giving strength to the inside of my inside of my inside and connecting me to the highest place in heaven; water knowledge is inside knowledge.
Jerusalem is the mikvah for Israel. Mikvah gives hope to people. The world needs to be purified, needs hope. Water is inside, mikvah is inside, Shabbos is inside. Under water I disconnect from outside knowledge and connect to inside knowledge. Reb Nachman says to go to mikvah is to know G-d is One, not that G-d is First, but G-d is One absolutely. You have to go to mikvah to be connected to inside, to Oneness, deepest, highest.
(At the springs, before the mikvah, Shlomo first tells several stories about mikvah from Hasidic rebbes in Russia before going on to teach a little from Reb Nachman on mikvah.)
Reb Nachman says, “Kabbalists say, it doesn’t say G-d created water. It says G-d created heaven and earth.” Water is between creation and before creation. Water makes things grow, water flows beyond space, infinite. Our mistakes come from when we disconnect ourselves from before creation. When you immerse yourself in water completely, you connect beyond time and space. Pure means open, I’m open to receive. Impure means not open to receive, not ready, closed up. One of the things given to Chava to fix the tree of knowledge is going to the mikvah. The tree of knowledge is knowing and doing things on outside, but closed up on inside. Water is open to inside. In Hebrew mayim is water. Before creation there is only Oneness, after creation then G-d and the world is twoness. Water has deepest depths of Oneness.
Q: Shlomo, when you go into mikvah it’s a little like dying, right? (Jesse Rappaport)
A: Yes, dying and being reborn, knowing that G-d is One.
Q: Shlomo, can you give us a kavannah, intention, before we go into the mikvah, into the living waters? (David Zaslow)
A: You know, the first time you go down to immerse yourself is to cleanse yourself. The second time is to purify yourself. The third time is to sanctify oneself. The fourth time is beyond…the level of Oneness. (Hay-Vav-Hay-Yod). The High Priest on Yom Kippur immersed five times: four times for the Holy Name, and the fifth is beyond everything, the deepest depths of Oneness.