Mikvah off the Coast of Tokyo – First-Person Stories – Chabad.org

Posted By on October 30, 2020

Becomingfriends with a Chabad Rebbetzin was going to be a different sort ofrelationship from any I had had before. The Rebbetzin was wise beyond heryears, yet I was practically old enough to be her mother. She was a woman ofthe house in ways that I had been raised to shun. She reigned in her kitchenwith a sense of purpose and joy that I found astonishing; she could multitasklike nobodys business. I learned from her while peeling potatoes to besingle-handedly focused on the goal at hand. We were preparing for dozens ofgueststhose who made reservations for Shabbat meals and those who just showedup in the way family members do when they feel at home.

Theculmination of the week for me was the clearing of the table after Shabbatlunch. I would open the Chumash, theShe could multitasklike nobodys businessGutnick edition of Torah, with nearly every page offering fascinating insightsfrom the Rebbe, Rashi and other Torah luminaries. The Rebbetzin would sit downand join me, and together we would work on solving one perplexing issue afterthe other. Except she never called it work. The Rebbetzin called it learning,and I found this sweet and inviting. To learn Torah is so different from studying Torah. To learn sounded tome pleasant and from the heart with no pressure attached.

Oneweek we sat down to learn Chayei Sarah,Sarahs Life. This portion (parshah)starts with Sarahs death. Here we learn that the news of her beloved son,Isaac, and his imminent sacrifice caused Sarah to have a heart attack and die.She didnt live to hear the end of the sentence. She never got to hear the partabout the ram, which happened to appear in the bushes, being sacrificed insteadof her son. It was one more lesson in how to choose words carefully, and thetiming of their delivery with utmost care.

Iwas learning week by week at the Chabad House how Torah provides the rawmaterial for rich conversation, and it made our blossoming friendship evencloser. The parshah shaped thedirection of the conversation.

Thereis indescribable intimacy by sharing Torah with a study partner. I could leavebehind my puny troubles, which paled in comparison to Abrahams. As we gotdeeper into the story about the sacrifice of Isaac, the plot thickened at themoment when the ram appeared through Divine intervention. Here was a lesson forthe toolbox of life: to act out of faith and let Gd choose the sacrifice. ThisI could understand just fine. But what bothered me more than Abrahams finelyattuned ear to hear and follow Gds commands, which I could understand, washow Yitzhak, a 37-year-old man, could comply without the least bit ofresistance. He lay down, allowed his father to bind his hands and didnt evenresist the knife to his neck. What sort of a son does that?

TheRebbetzin read each sentence slowly, absorbing Sarahs Life as if for the first time, even though she had beenlearning Torah all her life.

Theresnot a word here to hint of Isaacs reaction, I insisted. The Rebbetzinexplained how Mishnah and Talmud and rabbinical commentary fill in between thelinesnot that she was suggesting I take up reading Mishnah instead of thedaily newspaper. Her words were more nuanced than that. She explained that eachTorah chapters understanding is shaped by the learner. Since each Torahportion shows up once a year, we read the text differently according to ourlife circumstances. This year, I may obsess over Isaacs mysterious surrenderto the knife. Next year, maybe Ill get into a tizzy over the rams suddenappearance in the bushes and why nobody heard that big beast approaching.

Inthe end, I could accept the Rebbetzins view that it wasnt complacency at allthat motivated Isaac. Isaac was so eager to do what Gd had commanded hisfather that he begged his father to tie his wrists to his feet extra tight, inorder to prevent him from jerking suddenly under the knife.

Whew,thats intense.

Lets read on, she said. Along came a ram.It appeared after Abraham heard Gds angel; it was trapped in a nearby thicketso it could be easily slaughtered instead.

WhenAbraham reached the end of the road, so to speak, not even challenging Gd to adebatewhen there was nothing more for Abraham to do except follow Gdsordersthat rams appearance showed Divine intervention. It also required quickthinking on Abrahams part to put aside, at the very last moment, an intentionhe was poised to act upon.

Howdo you know whether your actions are ever correct? I asked. You cant alwaysexpect a ram to be waiting in the bush.

TheRebbetzin laughed. Why not? Thats what it means to have faith in Gd.

Myown faith, a relationship with the Gd of Abraham, didnt happen overnight. Butone Shabbat at a time, it was gaining traction. Sarah had become a mother at90. Miracles could happen. I could believe them. I was 42 years old.

Iwent home and prayed for another baby.

LearningTorah on Shabbat was one thing. Faith that it actually meant somethingsignificant in my life was another. I had to take Sarah, the matriarchsextraordinary story out for a test drive. In other words, I had to apply it tomy own life.

Ithought to myself what can I do that would be a stretch of faith. I didnt needa miracle, just something a little bit unexpected.

Im over 40, I sighed to the Rebbetzin on another Shabbat.After six years of trying, I feel lucky to have one child. And here Ihesitated to admit the truth. I would love to have a second.

Of course, you can! the Rebbetzin said.

Tell me, what is the secret? Why is it that Orthodox women seemto have an easy time of conceiving one child after the other? I said,returning to conception. At my age, I couldnt afford another long wait.

The mikvah, shesaid.

Now this was going to be a stretch. It just wasnt the thing todo in my family.

But is there even a mikvahTokyo? I asked.

You can do it in the sea. The Rebbetzin made it sound like nobig deal.

Well, there are hordes of people at the beaches.

We know a secluded beach.

And just like that, my faith would be tested. On the appointedevening, the Rebbetzin turned up in front of my house with the rabbi idling thevan in the drivers seat.

Hes coming? I asked in surprise. I understood that going toThis was about to morph into a Chabad House projectmikvah is usually a completely private womens affair, certainly without anyrabbi present. But now, this was about to morph into a Chabad House project.

The Rabbi adjusted his black hat with a taxi drivers smile.Ill be your driver tonight.

I stepped into a van with a giant menorah fixed to the roof. Hemight as well have driven with a banner saying: Off to Purify theMenstruator! We zoomed off for a fast drive to the Miura Peninsula coast. Thebeach was empty when we got there, well past dark. The sea was tranquil and brightstars were our only peeping Toms.

The Rabbi stayed in the car, far from where we were heading. TheRebbetzin swapped her wig for a scarf, then she accompanied me waist-deep intothe sea. She held a prayer book up to the moonlight, and I recited a short prayer.I dunked for an instant, then reached for the towel in the Rebbetzins hands.

Lifewent on. I forgot about the mikvah.But not long after, I felt queasy and repelled by one of my favorite Japanesevegetables, burdock root. I was pregnant again. And more eager than ever tolearn Torah and find out how every decision we make can set off consequences,however insurmountable, that can lead to a miracle, too, when there is faith.

This is an excerpt from myforthcoming memoir The Marriage Out: My Jewish Family Made in Japan.

Continued here:

Mikvah off the Coast of Tokyo - First-Person Stories - Chabad.org

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