I have written before about the Monsey mikvah and how skeevy I felt the first time I went there. This was how I put it:
What I wasn’t ready for was the mikvah lady to be intrusive and to check my nails so thoroughly. She came into the room, sat down, and like a manicurist, took out her clippers and cuticle remover thingummy and inspected my nails for minute traces of dirt, cuticles and polish. She did the same with my toenails. I felt weird. I know how to prepare for mikvah, I always do it properly. I don’t need some woman that I have never met before going over me with such a fine toothcomb. This mitzvah is between me and God. He has trusted me with the mitzvah of Taharat HaMishpacha – I don’t need some shnook of a woman telling me I am not doing it properly.
It seems that every time I have returned to the Viola mikvah, it has been the same story. Apparently their policy is to check the fingernails and toenails, even if you politely ask them not to. The balaniot (mikvah ladies) were gruff and abrupt – they totally hindered my enjoyment of the fulfillment of this mitzvah.
After the last time I went there I told the KoD that I needed to find another mikvah to go to. There was no way I was ever going back to the Viola mikvah. I felt that the balaniot had gone out of their way to make me uncomfortable – I am not a recalcitrant child who needs to be bullied into submission. They did NOT actually bully me, but that’s how I felt. My experiences at this mikvah took away from the joy I used to feel at keeping this mitzvah. When mikvah time was coming up again I didn’t want to go. Honestly. I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that it was going to be uncomfortable and I would rather stay home with a good book than subject myself to someone else’s fine toothcomb.
There are other mikvaot in Monsey, but the Viola one is close-by and gorgeous. KoD convinced me to try it out one more time. I tried explaining to him what it’s like to be standing there and have another woman, one much more clothed than you, examining you and your body for irregularities. Yes it’s only the fingernails and toenails, but still, it’s invasive. I don’t mind the checking for hairs so much – that’s something I need help with. The rest of the checking makes me uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to put it in terms that the KoD would be able to relate to, but he boiled it down to this – it’s only 2 minutes of your time – grit your teeth and bear it, if you can, otherwise speak up and tell them you’re OK, you don’t need to be checked. Somehow speaking up in this situation seems tougher than it sounds. Sigh.
I promised him I would give this particular mikvah one last shot, even though I really didn’t want to. On the appointed evening I prepared myself at home – I wanted to be at the mikvah for as little time as possible.
I drove there, and sat in the parking lot. My evil inclination was arguing with me. I really didn’t want to go in. I really didn’t want to subject myself to inspection. I just wanted to be done with the whole thing. Sitting there in the car a little voice was telling me – “KoD won’t know. Just pretend you went. Your hair is wet – how will he know the difference?” That voice was making it sound just so simple. There was a problem – I didn’t want to go in, and there was a solution – so don’t.
I sat there for 3 minutes in the parking lot debating with myself. It took tremendous strength of will for me to get out of the car and walk into the mikvah, pay my $23 and go do the final preparations. As I was getting ready to press the button to summon the balanit, I felt so uneasy. I so wanted to enjoy this experience yet I felt dread in the pit of my stomach.
The aura around the balanit that arrived at my door was different than those of her coworkers that have attended me before. She just seemed to be of a much nicer disposition. Cheerful. Chatty. Non-intrusive. Yes, she checked my nails, but somehow I didn’t mind it quite so much (that plus the fact that I have gel nails, so there is less to check). The toenail thing bothered me, but she was brief – not like the others taking time and cutting stuff that wasn’t there….
She walked with me, instead of ahead of me, to the mikvah, chatting all the way, really putting me at my ease. She gave me privacy to remove my robe and descend into the ritual waters. Every time I dunked and raised my head out of the water, she sang out “KOSHER” – with such joy! Seriously. Like she was happy to be part of my mitzvah. She helped rekindle the inner light I used to have when doing this mitzvah. As she walked me back to the preparation room, she was playing Jewish geography with me, after I told her we are from Montreal. Playing Jewish geography without sharing one’s name is a little different, to be sure.
I was glad that I overcame that momentary temptation to not go in to the mikvah. I am still upset that I felt that unenthusiastic about the whole experience. I know that there must be some women who would have taken those negative feelings and just stopped going. The KoD trusts me 100% to fulfill this mitzvah. He trusts that when I go to the mikvah, I do it properly. How could I not have gone in? How could I have lied to him after not going in? I know there are women that do that, but how can they live with themselves? What is the point of Taharat HaMishpacha if you aren’t going to keep it properly? I have heard some women say that if a husband sleeps with his impurified wife it’s his aveirah (sin), not hers. But the decision between right and wrong is taken away from a husband who is not aware that his wife has lied about her immersion in a mikvah. Yes, fine, the wife technically does not commit the same aveirah (if indeed this assumption is true) but she has sinned by lying to him. There is no place for lying in a marriage. None at all.
The KoD knew how I struggled with the mitzvah of tevilah on this particular occasion. But he encouraged me and supported me, validated my feelings, and eventually it worked out well. I returned to my husband’s embrace knowing I completed the mitzvah in the right way.