Returning to Eden
A central theme in Parashat Shemini is immersing in the mikvah (ritual bath), which is one of the three primary mitzvoth designated for the Jewish woman, in addition to the challah offering and lighting the Shabbat candles. Immersing in a mikvah has the power to change the status of either a person or a vessel by spiritually purifying it.
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan explains in Waters of Eden that the purpose of the mikvah is to bring us back to the Garden of Eden, from where we were expelled when partaking from the Tree of Knowledge. Immersing in the mikvah enables us to rise from the fallen state caused by eating from the Tree of Knowledge and to reconnect us with the perfected state of Eden. An allusion to this is found in the word mikvah (mem, kuf, vav, heh) which has the same Hebrew letters as the word koma (kuf, vav, mem, heh), meaning “rising” or “standing tall.” Since human mortality is also a consequence of our fallen state, returning to the Garden of Eden requires purification from everything associated with death by immersing in the mikvah. Coming to the Holy Temple and entering the sacredness of marital intimacy are ways to re-enter the Garden of Eden in a spiritual sense. Menstruation is related to death as it implies the loss of potential life. Therefore, the Torah requires the Jewish married woman to purify herself spiritually after her monthly period. By immersing in the waters of the mikvah, she prepares herself for marital relations – her personal return to Eden.