The Torah states that immersion in a mikveh of water purifies a person from Tuma (spiritual impurity). Why does water do this? Is there some kind of spiritual powers imbued in water?

Or is this just a decree of the torah without a reason?

Please source.


1 Answer 1


R Aryeh Kaplan in his beautiful book Waters of Eden (also part of his Anthology vol. 2) writes this is a chok (law without explicit reasons) and cites Bamidbar Rabbah 19:8

By your lives, a dead person doesn't make things impure, and the water doesn't make things pure. Rather, God said: I have engraved a rule, I have decreed a decree (chukah chakakti, gezeira gazarti), and you have no permission to transgress what I decreed, as it says "This is a chok (rule) of the Torah."

He then goes on to provide some explanations, knowing full well they are only an incomplete picture and the full rationale is beyond the human intellect.

  • Water is a cleansing agent. The same way we wash with water, we also purify with water
  • He describes at length how a mikve is like a womb and how one emerges "anew" from the mikve. Like a womb is full of water, so a mikve
  • By placing himself in the water of the mikve, a person enters a place where he cannot breathe, therefore cannot live. When emerging from water, he is like born again (incidentally, he writes this is one of the reasons a mikve as to be directly in the ground, like a grave)
  • He describes water as the ultimate fluid, the substance that most represents change and unstability (see Bereshit 49:4), while earth is stability and permanence. Until God brought water in the world, no life or change was possible. Water is life, earth is death (and thus we return to earth after death). When immersing in a mikve, one spiritually immerses in the basic concept of change itself, nullifies one's ego (which represents our permanence) and emerges renewed and re-birthed. Water represents change, and therefore that no evil is ineradicable, and no sin unforgivable ("repentance can wash away any sin"). Water therefore represents spiritual cleansing
  • He has a long section on the analogy between mikve and the water of the river from Eden (i.e., water as the primary connection to Gan Eden) - too long to summarize here - see original if you are interested

The above summary is a very inadequate representation of R Aryeh Kaplan's beautiful words - you should read the original for yourself.

  • isnt water supposed to represent the sefira of chesed or something like that?
    – ray
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 18:14
  • so it's a chok but has reasons isnt that a contradiction?
    – ray
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 18:17
  • he writes explanations, i.e., we don't know the full reasons but can try and explain - he writes explicitly what I write in first para after quote: it is only an incomplete picture
    – mbloch
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 18:18
  • you are saying what water does and represents and giving a nice summary of that book but the reasons u give dont answer what water is, i.e. is there some kind of spiritual power imbued in water that give it the power to do all these things etc. looking for a more fundamental reason
    – ray
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 18:24
  • 1
    I think that the answer to your question is in the midrash quote. It is not water that makes things pure. Water is only the mechanism God uses to effect spiritual change. Water per se is nothing. R Akiva Tatz says it is no coincidence that in many languages water means What? (Water/What in English, Wasser in German/was is what, acqua in Italian/qua is what). Therefore one cannot say what water is, only what it does
    – mbloch
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 18:33

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