"As Shabbat nears, the soul of everything in the world is geared to move up a rung — even many rungs — on the ladder of holiness that leads toward Godliness. But there is a stipulation to gaining entry to this spiritual channel: the body must be ready to join the soul along its journey. It must be cleansed of the mundane influences and temptations that drag on it the week through.

"This is the deeper reason for our bathing in hot water on Friday afternoon, and it is the reason some people also immerse in mikvah — a special, purifying bath. The waters counteract the damaging effects of our weeklong immersion in the marketplace, in its demands for competitiveness, high productivity and the trappings of success.

"The elemental forces we employ for this spiritual cleansing are fire and water.

"The 'fire' element is found in the hot water we use for bathing in preparation for Shabbat; in this element of fire is contained the mystery of like healing like. The water's heat burns away the intractable heat of rage and anxiety that has clung to us over the course of the week.

"The 'water' element is found within the mikvah, where we immerse ourselves. There we find the mystery of purity. In the short time during which our bodies remain submerged beneath the mikvah's surface, its waters of purity wash away the restlessness and feelings of alienation that have attached themselves to us during the weekdays.

With this preparation, the material and the spiritual within us end their weeklong struggle for dominance: body and soul are ready to work together as true partners, to achieve the spiritual growth that Shabbat inspires."