Why is it that there are many men who go to the mikvah every Friday? I learned that mikvah is something that a man goes to on Erev Yom Kippur. Is every Erev Shabbat considered like Erev Yom Kippur?
To the Questioner,
As you know, unfortunately the Torah laws regarding tumah and tahara (purity and impurity)do not apply nowadays; we are all considered as having become tameh through a deceased person and we do not have the red hefer ashes to become purified from it. But the partial levels of spiritual purification which are achieved through immersion in the mikvah can still apply in a non-halachic sense.
The fact that immersion in a mikvah brings about a level of spiritual purity is taught to us in the mitzva of Immersion in Mikvah. See Aseh 109 in the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvot where he quotes a Sifri that says – “In truth, anyone who became spiritually impure and immerses himself [in a mikvah] becomes pure, but his purity is not completed until the sunset [becomes night]”. The words of this Sifri indicate to us clearly, that although one’s purification may not be complete in regard to his ability to enter the Bet Hamikdash, there is nonetheless a level of purity that is affected already just by the immersion itself.
This is also the reason that immersion for men is not common nowadays. Since the full result of the tahara process is not achieved, namely that a person be extricated completely from his tumah – including tumah that was incurred by being in proximity of the deceased, it is not a halachic requirement for men to immerse.
Yet it is clear that even today the immersion brings about a partial level of tahara, since this is the reason for the custom brought in halacha to immerse oneself before Yom Kippur (Orach Chaim 606:4). Since the Torah says about the day of Yom Kippur “For on this day He will atone for you, to purify you from all your sins” (Vayikra 16:30), it was accepted in Jewish communities throughout the generations that individuals to do whatever they could in order to gain even more spiritual purity in preparation for this day – and this included immersion in the mikvah on Erev Yom Kippur.
It follows from all of the above, that our ability to “use” the reality of immersion in a mikvah for added purity, does not have to stop on Erev Yom Kippur. True, that is where the mihag to do so is quoted in in Shulchan Aruch; but that’s only because on Erev Yom Kippur the minhag for men to do so had already become widespread in all Jewish communities. If there exists another day or another time that purity would be helpful toward our spiritual goal, it is only logical that we should also utilize this tool.
The Zohar Hakadosh (Vayakhel 205:b) terms every Shabbat as being “Yoma D’Nishmisa” – a Day of the Soul. The Gemara tells us (Beitza 16a) that every Jew receives an Added-Neshama on Shabbat, and Rashi (ad.loc.) explains that this means that every Jew naturally feels a special openheartedness for rest and happiness and to eat and drink more on Shabbat than on any other days. The Yosher Divrei Emes (Siman 52) explains this Rashi to mean that the lowest level of experiencing one’s Added-Neshama would be in that way; but the higher levels of experiencing one’s “neshama yesairah” would be in the form of the pure spiritual pleasure of connection to Hashem.
It therefore makes sense that any man who wants to enhance his spiritual experience of any Shabbat of the year, should try to make use of the “tool” of immersion in a mikva to his benefit. Although this minhag was not so prevalent among all communities of Jews as was the immersion before Yom Kippur, this does not mean that it was specifically not practiced on Erev Shabbat. Rather, such custom was left to each person’s individual discretion and their personal level of preparation for the Shabbat experience.
It is only right for me to point out to you in this context, that historically there has been a tremendous shift in the availability of usuable mikvas for men from what it was in previous years. In many towns in Pre-war Europe, immersion in a mikva needed to be done in a natural body of water closest to one’s community, which may have meant immersion in an ocean, a spring, a lake or stream, or even in a river. During the winter, these bodies of water were generally freezing cold, with no “built in” system to warm them up. That’s why in previous years, if the immersion in mikvah was not an absolute necessity (or at least was taking place at the very beginning of the fall), it did not become a commonly accepted practice by the average man of a Jewish community to immerse in a mikvah every Erev Shabbat.
That is not our reality today. Baruch Hashem, together with the modernization of the first world countries, have come many improved conditions for mitzva fulfillment as well. Most communities today where Jewish people reside in larger numbers, have mikvaot that were specially built for spiritual immersion and whose water temperature can be warmed even in the midst of a freezing winter rumbling outside.
It therefore makes sense, that any man living in a community where he can easily access a mikvah for his immersion on Erev Shabbat, should try what he can to do so, in order to experience the “Yoma D’Nishmisa” – that one day that we have the entire week that is designated as “The Day of the Soul” to the fullest experience of its spiritual potential.
SUMMARY: Although the custom for men to immerse prior to a Shabbat and Yom Tov is not mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch other than before Yom Kippur, it is only logical according to our common goal of experiencing the Day of Shabbat to its greatest spiritual potential, that every man who can easily make use of this “tool” for purification, try to utilize it before every regular Shabbat and Yom Tov of the rest of the year as well.