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mikvah for mikvah

Thursday, 4 June, 2020 - 9:22 am

Natan is having a bar mitzvah this coming Shabbat. We are, naturally, excited and making the necessary preparations, but there is one thing that is bothering us a bit: we are not sure that we will be able to go to the mikvah. How can a Chabad boy have a bar mitzvah without going to the mikvah? I am praying that we will find a solution for this, too.

So there may not be a mikvah, but at least we have a good story about a bar mitzvah and a mikvah.

Natan’s grandfather, my father-in-law, Rabbi Mordechai Gorelick, became bar mitzvah on the 4th of Shvat 5717 (1957). They were living in Samarkand in Uzbekistan, and the bar mitzvah hitva’adut took place in their living room. Luckily, my father-in-law’s father, Rabbi Mendel Gorelick, had already been released from the Soviet Gulag after spending ten long years there, and he was able to participate in his son and grandson’s celebration. It was early evening and the first of the guests showed up – R. Feivish Genkin.

Feivish was a simple Jew in its full meaning. He wore a cap on his head and had a full beard – and that was when most of the chassidim were afraid to grow a beard. But R. Feivish was a simple Jew who didn’t ask questions. When they had to bake matzahs secretly, he was the one who took care of the harvesting of the wheat and the grinding. He had golden hands and could fix and work out everything without resorting to strangers, who were not to know about the bakery. He had another important job. There was a secret women’s mikvah in the basement of a Jewish Bukharian family on Khochomaskiya Street, and R. Feivish was in charge of it. He made sure it was clean, orderly and warm. He also guarded it so that no man would enter it, no matter how important he was, as a chasid or otherwise.

So, R. Feivish, the first person to enter the Gorelick home, came over quietly to the boy and said to him: “Motik, have you been to the mikvah today?”

“What mikvah?” asked the bar mitzvah boy. “It’s freezing today, minus a few degrees centigrade. It’s impossible to immerse oneself in the mikvah in the middle of January.”

“Come with me quickly,” replied Feivish. “Don’t say anything to anyone – not even to your mother or father. We will go and come back quickly, and no one will notice.”

It was dark; white snow and frost covered the ground as they went together, Feivish Genkin and Motik Gorelick. One, an old-time chassid, and had already showed his devotedness to Torah and mitzvot when he served as a soldier in the First World War; and the other, a boy who had just become bar mitzvah.

“Listen, Motik,” said Feivish. “You are becoming Bar mitzvah. Remember that you are a Jew, keep the Torah and mitzvot that you just accepted upon yourself and don’t be impressed by anybody. We are Hashem’s soldiers.”

The mikvah was ready and warm. Feivish waited outside, the boy immersed himself quickly, and they returned shortly to the bar mitzvah celebration, without anyone having noticed their absence or their return.

Years passed. Motik became R. Mordechai Gorelick, one of the most important people in the Nachalat Har Chabad neighborhood in Kiryat Malachi. Feivish, too, came on Aliyah, on his own, as his wife Chasya had passed away back in Samarkand. They had had no children.

It was Monday, the 1st of Tevet, 5741 (1980). R. Feivish was leading the morning prayers in the Chabad Shul. It was the yahrzeit of his father, R. Efraim. Suddenly, during the chazarat Hashatz, R. Feivish collapsed and died on the spot. R. Mordechai Gorelick was there and he heard him say “Atah kadosh veshimcha kadosh” – You are holy and you name is holy, and then he heard the thud of R. Feivish’s body falling to the ground.

Wait – it’s not over yet.

Later on in the day, R. Mordechai was standing together with many others in the Shamgar funeral home in Jerusalem, waiting for the completion of the tahara of the body, so that they could proceed with the funeral. Suddenly the door opened. One of the Chevra Kadisha people peeked out, surveyed the unfamiliar crowd and asked, “Mikvah, mikvah?” “Mikvah, mikvah!” replied R. Mordechai immediately.

It turned out that immersing the deceased in a mikvah after the tahara had been performed cost extra money, and the Chevra Kadisha person knew that the deceased was childless and wanted to know if someone from the crowd would be willing to pay for that service. And yes, indeed, there was someone who paid. It was the bar mitzvah boy who with the question “Mikvah, mikvah?” found himself all at once back in that cold and dark night in Samarkand in 1957, and paid R. Feivish back with one mikvah for another.


Shabbat Shalom and Mazel Tov!


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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