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An Early Morning Inspection

And these are the laws which you shall set before them… (21:1)

"You shall set before them" - said the Almighty to Moses: do not say to yourself "I shall review each chapter and law with them two or three times until they are properly fluent in it, but I shall not trouble myself to give them an understanding of the reasons and meanings to the law." Therefore it says, "which you shall set before them" - make it palatable to them as a table which is set before a person to dine.

- Rashi's commentary

 

In a letter dated Tammuz 8 5697 (June 17 1937), Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok of Lubavitch wrote to the chassid Rabbi Eliyahu Chayim Althaus:

Recorded in my journal is an incident which took place in the early morning hours of Teves 22, 5677 (January 16, 1917).

At that time, my master and father of blessed memory had a set arrangement to study with me at night or in the small hours of the morning. Father's method of study was to first summarize the content of a discourse and then to review it at length, with a tremendous display of erudition and razor-sharp reasoning.

The discourse of chassidic teaching which we studied on that particular morning was one of great depth and profundity, and I derived immense pleasure from the phenomenal ideas I was hearing. I noticed that father also greatly enjoyed our session that morning.

Two hours passed. When we finished, father looked at his watch - it showed close to 6:30 a.m. - closed his book, and said to me: "Put on your winter coat. We are going to the mikveh." This struck me as strange, for father was not in the habit of immersing himself at such an early hour. Also, he always had a servant accompany him to the ritual bathhouse whereas this time he did not want anyone to come along.

I'm sure you remember the mikvehin Rostov: the large room leading into the mikvehchamber, the mikvehroom itself, and the large roomy immersion pool.

When we arrived, the courtyard gate was still locked. I gave a sharp pull on the bell, and the watchman opened the small door set in the gate and ran to tell Mr. Chein Tov, the manager of the mikveh.

Father sat down to wait on one of the benches in the front room - the mikvehroom itself was locked. Mr. Chein Tov arrived full of apologies, assuring us that had he known that the Rebbe was coming this early he would have cleaned the mikvehroom and the immersion pool.

Said my father: "It is precisely for this reason that I did not come at my usual hour. I wish to see the state of the mikvehand the manner in which it is operated at all times." He then asked Mr. Chein Tov to open the mikvehroom, refusing the manager's repeated requests that he first be allowed to clean up a little.

When father entered, there was a most unpleasant odor in the mikvehroom. On the floor stood some broken water basins. The mikvehwaters themselves were clear, but there were insects floating upon the surface of the pool.

Father returned to the anteroom, seated himself on the south-wall bench, and said to Mr. Chein Tov: "For me it makes no difference. I can use a mikvehwhich has insects floating on its surface and a bad odor in the room. But the women do not wish to suffer this. And if a single woman, G-d forbid, refrains from immersing herself in the mikveh because the water or the room is less than clean, one is causing the transgression of a severe prohibition by a family and children to be born out of a state of impurity. On the other hand, when one takes care to keep a clean mikvehand as a result women keep the purity laws, one assists in the establishment of kosher progeny in Israel.

"Think of this, think of the difference. Imagine the scene when one enters the World of Truth and one stands before the supernal court, and there, presented before the court, are the insects and the stench which you have failed to remove and thereby caused kares-transgressions1 among Jews. Imagine the bitter punishment for this and, on the other hand, imagine the great reward one receives for being instrumental in bringing spiritually healthy children into the world."

Later, father told me that the author of the 'Reishis Chochma'2 guarantees that at any time, no matter the conditions, one can immerse three times in a mikvehwith no adverse results. "Many times," said father, "I have relied on this guarantee to immerse myself in all sorts of places.

"Once, I immersed myself in the sulfur springs at a health a spa - in sulfurous waters which were used only to prepare compresses to be applied to the body only, not the head). I felt as if I had emerged from a dip in a river whose water was light and pleasant.

"In earlier generations," he continued, "both men and women would immerse in cold mikvehs whose waters were not so clean. Nevertheless, they were all strong and healthy and knew of no ailment. Now women refrain from going to the mikvehwith the excuse that they are apprehensive of the mikveh'swaters. Yet many of those who stay away end up suffering from infective diseases, while those women who immerse themselves according to the law are, thank G-d, healthy and give birth the children who are healthy in body and spirit."

My friend, you certainly remember Mr. Chein Tov. Born in Dubrovna, he came to Rostov as a young man some forty years before our story. Rostov was in Cossack country, a place desolate of anything Jewish. Over the years Jews arrived, most of them laborers - simple folk, but wholesome and upright and with a chassidic background - and set up religious institutions, synagogues, and a bathhouse and mikveh. They appointed Mr. Chein Tov to manage the latter.

That evening Mr. Chein Tov came to see my father, who received him privately in yechidus. Mr. Chein Tov broke down sobbing and said that he had no peace since the morning. He promised that from then on the mikveh would be maintained according to the highest of standards.


FOOTNOTES
1. A most severe class of prohibition in Torah law.
2. Rabbi Elijah de Vidash (16th century).

 

 


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