May 12, 2021

Yoma 31

The Mishna (Yoma 3:5) in today’s daf (Yoma 31b) informs us with respect to the Kohen Gadol’s five mikveh immersions on Yom Kippur that: ‘if the Kohen Gadol was old or was physically sensitive, they heated water for him and poured the hot water into the cold mikveh water so that it would lose some of its chill’. Practically speaking what this teaches us is that we must do what we can to ensure that religious experiences, and especially the experience of immersing in a mikveh, is a physically pleasant experience so that all people – and especially those who are physically sensitive – do not find it discomforting.
However, beyond this, I am also reminded of the lessons we can draw from this rule – as borne out from a story involving the Chafetz Chaim (see ‘Along the Maggid’s Journey’ p. 255):
“The Chafetz Chaim once wanted to use the mikveh in his home town of Radin. The water in the Radin mikveh was heated by the attendant, R’ Label, who would pour scalding hot water from the large vat into the water of the mikveh.
The Chafetz Chaim asked R’ Label “Is the mikveh hot?”
“It most definitely is” R’ Label announced to the Chafetz Chaim, “I myself just added water from the vat”.
Relying on R’ Label’s assurance, the Chafetz Chaim stepped into the mikveh – but the water was ice cold. The great sage returned to R’ Label & asked “Did you warm the mikveh?”
“Yes” replied R’ Label “I used the water from the vat.”
The Chafetz Chaim put his hand into the vat, and indeed, the water was merely room temperature. “I learned from that” the great sage would often say afterwards “that when the vat is hot, the mikveh will be lukewarm, and if the vat is lukewarm, the mikveh will be cold”.
Significantly, we are taught that the Torah was given ‘from amidst the fire’ (see Devarim 4:12), and this led me to write, in my remarks to Pesachim 75b that, “today, there are many parents and educators who merely wish to communicate facts and not values to their children and students, and they also believe that the right way to do so is ‘dispassionately’ – with the hope that their children and students will, with the cool perspective of truth, be able to connect with those facts that interest them. However, the way of teaching Torah values has always been with warmth and passion, reflecting the way in which the Torah was given ‘from amidst the fire’”.
On first glance, these two explanations may not seem to be connected. However, it should be clear that if Jewish experiences are pleasant and positive, they are then likely to inspire those who have those Jewish experiences to speak and think positively about them, whereas if they are not, the opposite may occur.
And if we realise that this applies to the temperature of the water in the mikveh, then we should also realise that this equally applies in the Jewish home, in our Jewish schools, and in our shuls – and we should do whatever we can to ensure that the physical, emotional and spiritual temperature of each of those places is warm – not just for the ‘average’ person, but for all people with differing physical or emotional needs.
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