I had a dream the other night. In the dream I woke up to see my wife sitting on the porch supervising the building of a Mikvah, a Sukkah and a Huppah. Let us put aside the fact that our tiny yard does not have room for more than a small Sukkah and that we rent and such innovations would not find favor with our landlords.
Why in my dream were these three Jewish symbols being built? Sukkot has just ended and every year with the help of wonderful friends I build a ramshackle Sukkah. We had just taken our Sukkah down so that might be part of the reason for that symbol. My beloved, brilliant and beautiful daughter has recently become engaged to a very nice Jewish man who is intelligent and giving and kind and loves her very much. So, symbol number two, the Huppah has a reason. I suppose that since we use the Mikvah before holidays, Shabbos and weddings there is a reason for the Mikvah. But why all three in the same dream?
I have taken many courses in psychology, but I am certainly no psychologist. I should probably try to stay away from trying to find some deep psychological reason. I am a Rabbi and I am blessed with a certain amount of spiritual imagination and that is the direction that my mind has taken.
The three symbols in my dream have certain characteristics in common. They each, architecturally speaking are parts of a whole. The Mikvah has walls and a bottom or floor but no top. The Sukkah has walls but no complete top. The Huppah has a complete top but no walls. Each has parts but is not ‘complete’ and yet each fulfills its purpose that helps to complete us.
The Mikvah is usually spoken of in terms of ritual purity. But the Mikvah touches me in a different wayA woman traditionally goes to the Mikvah ‘periodically’ and after a birth. Men and women go before Shabbos and holidays, after coming in contact with a dead body (washing the body of one who has passed) and before their wedding. Men were supposed to go to the Mikvah after what the Talmud calls a ‘nocturnal emission’ which is not car trouble at night. There are more times that people go to a Mikvah as I am sure others will share in their comments, but this will do for my point. For me the Mikvah is a tool to ease our spiritual vulnerability and in seeking spiritual balance. The best way to explain this is with a personal example. I was asked to do a funeral by a member of my Reform congregation in Florida. Though he was not a traditional Jew in any understanding of that word, he wanted the funeral of his father to be “Orthodox.” Though I have studied with Rabbis of every movement, or maybe because of that, I conferred with Orthodox and Hasidic Rabbinic colleagues to make sure that I could fulfill the wishes of my congregant in a conscious and conscientious manner. Of course part of the process is Taharat HaMaet includes washing the body. It happened to be a Friday morning and I performed the ceremony with the help of others with the funeral director standing outside the room. After finishing the washing I left others to sit and be with the body as I had to prepare for Shabbos and Erev Shabbat services in the Reform synagogue. I should say that since, in this town in Florida, we were the only shul there was no Mikvah. I phoned the police and asked if there was any ‘privateish’ beach where I could go into the ocean naked. After I explained, why and that I was not a naturist looking to go skinny-dipping, the sympathetic officer told me of a beach that was unpopulated and rarely used. After washing the body I went to that place and, in private, did the ritual. My Reform background was saying; why am I washing, I am not unclean. But there was a deeper place, beyond movement that replied, this is not about cleanliness but the feeling ofbeing vulnerable and off-balance in a spiritual way. That night I was going to lead services, hold the Torah read and chant prayers and I needed something to help me feel less vulnerable in a spiritual manner. Not that I did not want to be vulnerable to G, quite the contrary, but I needed to be less vulnerable to the physical/spiritual acts of touching life and death. And it worked. I felt less vulnerable and more balanced.
The Sukkah with its walls and open to the stars ceiling is another connective device for our spiritual/physical being and well-being. There is mystery and wonder and awd as we stand under the open covering and shake the Lulav and Etrog in the 6 directions. This year a man who follows the spirit path of the Lakota brought his pipe which is smoked and raised in the same six directions and he did his ritual in tandem with ours. The Sukkah itself is a threefold memory peg that balances us. There is the agricultural memory of people building Sukkot to rest in the noonday sun from our ingathering of the crops. It is the historical memory of the wilderness experience that built us as a people who has withstood the vicissitudes of history, keeping faith with our G our and the covenant, formed over those 40 years. And the Sukkah is a poor person’s shelter a reminder that there are people for whom this is not a temporary memory peg shelter but their lives. There are poor and needy and we are responsible. It is a Mitzvah, part of our minimum daily requirements for a spiritually meaningful and balanced life.
The Huppah, which has a top but is open on all sides, speaks to another area of spiritual balance. Many speak of it as Avraham and Sarah’s tent that was open on all sides so that travelers could be seen and invited into the safe space of their tent. I like to think of it as a way of setting up a new home in a public manner, with the entire tribe, a spiritual barn raising. Yes there are private times but the Huppah represents a place and a time or a place in time in which two people publicly articulate what they have already felt and shared and expressed in private. The Huppah is a shelter, symbolic of a G shelter of balance between the physical and the spiritual of life. It is also the joining of the two through the One who is always part of any loving relationship. The Huppah is the act of making sacred, less spiritually vulnerable and more spiritually balanced the relationship of loving partners.
The three symbols in my dream were about what is happening in my life, my own vulnerability and search for balance in my physical/spiritual life.