Mikvah PeopleThis is a guest post from our own dear son, OOS.
During my second year learning in Israel, I began going to the mikvah on Erev Shabbos, and have continued this minhag ever since. I find that toveling is the perfect culmination of my week, and an uplifting way to enter Shabbos. More than the spiritual benefits that result from immersing, (which I must admit I donÂt really understand) I use the time to reflect upon all that has happened during the previous week, and what I would like to improve on during the coming one.
The mikvah experience is a spiritual one. Yet, because of the tiny confines that usually characterizes male mikvaos, and because of overdeveloped male homophobia, it can be also be an uncomfortable one. Indeed, the mere thought of the mikvah nauseates many lesser men. Those of us who brave it in order to reap the spiritual benefits possess a certain respect for one another.
Any veteran mikvah- goer knows that much of the mikvah populace are caricatures and are replicated in virtually every mikvah in the world. The following is a brief list of these people.
1. Token Chassidish Guy (TCG)
: It never ceases to amaze me that I can go to the mikvah at 2:37 PM and my chances of having privacy are absolutely zero. This is because of TCG. Truthfully, you don't even need to go to the mikvah to know about TCG-- he is quite famous. Rest assured that right now the mikvah in Biloxi, Mississippi is occupied by TCG, and after he dries off he is probably going to Akron, Ohio. My theory is that in the heart of Boro Park there are Chassidim operating a satellite coveraging every mikvah in the world. When a mikvah turns blue an alarm sounds: WARNING!!! WARNING!!! UNOCCUPIED MIKVAH!!! Immediately, a dispatcher traces the location of the nearest Chassid who is promptly sent to fill the void. Does anybody have a better way of explaining this phenomenon?
2. Baal Shem Tov Guy (BSTG):
Under the illusion that he is taking a dip in the icy waters of the Carpathian Mountains, BSTG can spend up to three hours in the mikvah, dipping and muttering strange incantations. One hundred dunks? Three hundred? Six hundred and thirteen? It's all good. BSTG either has a long beard with long payos and lots of tattoos, or a scraggly beard with bushy payos and lots of tattoos.
3. Mitzvah Haba Beaveira Guy #1 (MHBG #1) or "I showered at home" Guy:
Yeah, sure you did. Technically, this despicable act is not really a MHB (see Minchas Chinuch, mitzvah 1), but when I start my own religion not only will the perpetrator's mitzvah be canceled out, he will also receive malkos and be forced to bathe in all of the filth he has left for the rest of us. Is there anything more inconsiderate and disgusting than not showering before immersing and leaving all your grime for everyone else to wallow in? To make matters worse, I presume that often, MHBG is also One Shower a Week Guy
, or even No Shower, One Mikvah a Week Guy
4. Mitzvah Haba Beaveira Guy #2 (MHBG #2) or "I'll pay next week" Guy
: Sure you will. While not as physically revolting as MHBG #1, MHBG #2's actions are just as morally disgusting. Amazingly, MHBG #2 is almost always the one to complain that the water was .0046 degrees too cold, or that there are no towels left. He wonders why the mikvah board cannot provide these basic services, and criticizes their awful fund- raising skills.
5. Country Club Guy (CCG):
Unable to afford membership fees at the local country club, CCG takes solace at the mikvah. Indeed, CCG can kill an entire morning or afternoon shmoozing in the mikvah (yes, in the actual water), sometimes talking politics or business, but usually just some good old loshon harah. The reasoning behind CCG's decision to forgo the country club and go for the mikvah is really quite logical, as a quick comparison will show. CC- sparkling, heated, indoor pool. Mikvah- dirty, occasionally heated, indoor rainwater. CC- sprawling 18- hole golf course. Mikvah- ???. CC- Naked old men in a locker room. Mikvah- Naked old men in a locker room. Makes sense to me.
6. Yomim Noraim Guy (YNG):
You can smell the discomfort emanating from YNG when he goes to the mikvah before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I actually think that YNG gets all his caparah simply from the mesiras nefesh it takes to step into that highly awkward place where he sooooo doesn't want to go.
7. "Come on in, the water's fine" Guy (COITWFG):
A little background is in order. During the hours immediately preceding Shabbos many mikvaos get very crowded. Since there is only one mikvah for many people, and because it is Erev Shabbos and these people are in a rush, (except BSTG and CCG) one usually needs to 'share' the mikvah. Although this is very uncomfortable it is something that all consistent mikvah goers must endure. Normal mikvaos can hold two people, or even three if it is really crowded. More than that and I refuse to go in. However, while I wait on top of the stairs leading down to the water it seems that inevitably one of the men already inside notices my hesitation and yells, "nu, there is plenty of room. What's the problem?" What's the problem???!!!! Are you nuts???? Even worse, COITWFG is often also BSTG or CCG so they are going to be in there for a while.
8. Fake Rebba Guy (FRG):
Accompanied by two hulking 'shamashim' FRG nobly walks into the mikvah hoping that someone, ANYONE!! will give him a kvitle. Unfortunately for FRG nobody is fooled, because we all know that no self- respecting rebba would even think of stepping foot into a public mikvah. FRG is going to have to wait until some rich guy buys his story that if he builds a private mikvah for the 'Rebba' he will get a portion in the world to come.
9. Random Englewood/ Lawrence/ Riverdale etc. Guy (REG):
Stories are told about certain Rebbas who would refuse to touch someone who had not gone to the mikvah that day. For the friends of REG the opposite is true-- they put out a restraining order against him. "You go to the what???" is the common response when they hear about his Friday afternoon activities. Assuming that REG has lost his mind, they immediately call his wife. When they hear that she knows about it, and (oh my God) approves, they then call their psychotherapists and beg him to take on this sad case.
10. CANNONBALL!!!! Kid (CK):
Actually, this only happened to me once, but it was so completely bizarre that it must be mentioned. One Erev Shabbos as I was stepping out of the water I noticed a Sephardi kid who was probably ten years old run by me. Since the sight of Sephardi kids running around is not an uncommon one in the mikvah, I paid no attention to him. But, as I was putting on my clothes I heard, "CANNONBALL"---splash--- "WOOHOO!!" Curious to see what was going on I walked to the mikvah and saw the Sephardi kid doing the backstroke back and forth in the mikvah. Suddenly the mikvah man rushed by me and the two started to yell at each other in Arabic. Not wanting any part of this fight I quickly backed away. As I left the premises the mikvah man walked by me in a huff, and I continued to hear CK splashing around in the water. Never underestimate the power of a naked, psychotic kid.
I hope that I have not scared anyone away from this beautiful minhag. Although these people may seem odd, you learn to appreciate them after a while. Friday is just not Erev Shabbos without them.
Labels: Random Thoughts