Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Lies Society Tells Us

There are certain "truths" that aren't true but, because they're repeated on such a regular basis they simply assume such a status.
For example:
1) All brides are beautiful
2) All babies are cute
3) There are alligators in the sewers
4) The cheque is in the mail
And most importanty:
5) Violence never solves anything.
In the wake of Rav Sliffkin`s recent posting on the ongoing Chareidi violence in Ramat Beit Shemesh, many different types of solutions have been called for.  Some advocate dialogue with the rowdies.  Others think that going to their `gedolim` and asking them to issue a cease-and-desist p`sak will fix things.  Finally, and this is my favourite, there are those who think a giant parade/protest will convince the barbarians in the streets of the unacceptable nature of these swarmings.  Good luck to all of those.  If any of you still think that these are potential solutions, I have a Middle East "peace process" you can help out with as well.
The problem with these thugs isn't that they are doing what they are - attacking those from a different religious community for daring to be from a different religious community - despite being Chareidi.  For these primitives, attacking Dati Leumi Zionists is a religious duty that defines them as Chareidim.  Ask them to stop?  Why not ask them to desercrate Shabbos and eat treif while you're at it?  You've just as much a chance to convince them there.
Rav Sliffkin is worried that these attacks will culminate in a Chareidi thug going too far one night and killing an unlucky teenager who is in the wrong place at the right time.  I don't agree.  One advantage the Dati Leumi have over the Chareidim is their army participation.  At some point, someone is going to be hurt and his/her older brother, the one on furlough with an M-16 is going to go solve the problem. 
Violence is the only thing these morons mascarading as frum Yidden understand.  Therefore violence, properly planned and controlled, is what they must be met with.  Yes, I know the cries that will come out: How can you advise violence?  How can you demand that people hurt their fellow Jews?  Since when has violence solved anything?
The Dati Leumi of RBS have two choices with how things are going.  One is to meet the enemy - and they are an enemy - head on with equal numbers and superior force.  Bullies don't respond to social workers, focus groups and getting help with their homework.  They respond to superior force.  Meet them, beat them back and make it clear that if they cross the line out of their self-imposed ghetto they will be shoved back into it again and again until they learn their lesson.
The other option is to capitulate and leave.  Give up the neighbhourhood, go where the thugs aren't, lose the lives that have been built up and try again elsewhere in the hope that the swarm will not follow.
Which should they choose?

The "Put Up or Shut Up Moment"

The recent RCA convention will be remembered as one of the most significant ones in recent history.  Although people don't always realize this, the RCA is the counterpart of the Agudah in the Modern Orthodox community.  However, while the Agudah plays a prominent role in its communities, the RCA is seen by the MO's as a more benign organization, one that sets some standards that people might want to hold by and provides a good drug plans for its rabbinical employees. 
If anything, this convention seems to have changed that.  Among the main matters discussed were those of how to deal with child abuse and the role of women's ordination into the Rabbinate.  For the former, it is no surprise that the RCA came out in favour of opposing the culture of secrecy and circling the wagons that so characterizes the Agudah's response to the issue.  No, it wasn't the "hang 'em all up by their testicles" approach that some might have favoured but it is a comprehensive head-on approach to the problem. 
The issue of women's ordination also came up.  This has been a more festering issue for the Modern Orthodox community because, unlike child abuse, it is not a simple issue of right and wrong.  Over the last several decades the Modern Orthodox have encouraged women to learn Torah, often on an equal footing with men.  Participation in public and community life has also been pushed and it was inevitable that questions regarding the final frontiers of difference between men and women would come into controvery.
Certainly those in favour of bringing elements of Conservatism into the Orthodox world were sure of their position.  It wasn't so long ago that Rabbi Avi Weiss had his hand slapped by the RCA for moving too fast to upgrade Sara Hurwitz' "semichah" from maharat to rabba.  With all the conviction of people who know that they are right for the right reasons, the YCT gang came to the convention with a "can't lose" strategy.  If women's ordination was accepted, they would carry the day.  If it didn't they could label the RCA as backwards and unaware of the realities of modern society.
What is most telling, and why it is important that the forces of tradition won, is in the approach both sides used to present their opinions.  As Rav Yitzchak Adlerstein notes:
Before the vote, the delegates heard a shiur by Rav Hershel Schachter, shlit”a, who said that there were two reasons lehalachah that women could not be ordained. He saw such ordination as a violation of the issur of serarah, citing an Avnei Nezer that modern semichah is invested with power.

In contrast, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky's two blog pieces on the subject (linked above) are completely devoid of any halachic reasoning.  Again and again the underlying reason for permitting women's ordination relies on two arguments:
a) There is no out and out prohibition found in Shulchan Aruch
b) It's the "right" thing to do
However the "right" thing to do, while sounding nice, is not a basis for law making in any serious legal culture.  Consistency with previous legal opinions, consistency with the constitution of the legal system, consistency with the overall principles of that system are the basis for law making regardless of what the population perceives to be "right".  Rav Herschel Schechter clearly understood this by basing his entire presention not on "right" and "wrong" as seen through contemporary liberal lenses but on halacha, the only acceptable method of adapting Jewish law to novel circumstances.  Rabbi Kanesky's blog response, on the other hand, sounded more like a pouting child who was sure that he deserved chocolate ice cream and just knew that his parents were wrong for not getting him some.
This convention just may become the "put up or shut up" moment for left wing Modern Orthodoxy.  Until now they have continued to use the word "Orthodox" to describe themselves even as they moved further and further into the Conservative form of worship.  The RCA has now thrown down the gauntlet to better define what Modern Orthodoxy is and what it isn't. 
In the end, the YCT gang will spin left and merge with UTJ.  Despite this they may continue to call themselves Orthodox, just as the Conservatives still call themselves traditional.  Those within the real Modern Orthodox community will no longer be fooled.

Friday, 23 April 2010

No Remose = No Mercy

(Hat tip: Failed Messiah)

The Rubashkins sage continues to putter along south of the border in America.  The latest development is the request by the prosecution for life in prison for Sholom Rubashkin as a result of his conviction for multiple crimes.  Naturally the response from his defenders has been predictable.  It's an outrage!  It's not like he killed someone!  Other people who have done similar things have gotten far less time in jail!  It's anti-Semitism!
Something many people don't do, or don't do often enough, is reflect on how their actions affect other's perceptions of them.  If they did a lot of bad behaviour might be avoided.
In the Rubashkin case this is obvious.  As FailedMessiah exhaustively documents, the Rubashkins have, all along the way, not only failed to show remorse but have continued to allege that the state's entire prosecution is really an anti-Semitic witch hunt.  With such an incorrigible attitude, is it any wonder an exasperated court system is throwing the book at them?
There is a time-honoured tendency in the frum community to circle the wagons when an external threat appears.  For centuries this behaviour was not maladaptive but necessary for survival from such things as pogroms and blood libels.  However, times and countries have changed.  Not every attack on a Jew is because the person is a Jew.  A failure to differentiate between the two types of attacks can only harm our interactions with the outside world.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The Eleventh Time Around

One of the exciting things about the Doctor Who television series was how it managed to reinvent itself every few years.  Premiering in 1963 it was initially meant to be a show that melded time travelling science fiction with historical education as the Doctor, a mysterious older man living in a time machine that was huge on the inside but looked like a 1960 British police box on the outside, jaunted through different eras along with human companions who were there to witness events.
After 3 years however, two things became readily apparent.  One was that the science fiction episodes were far more popular than the historical ones and the second was that the original Doctor, one William Hartnell, was no longer physically up to the job.  So, in a stroke of brilliance, the writers had him "die" only to be enveloped in a flash of light and emerge as a different man played by Patrick Troughton.  It was later established that the Doctor's race, the Time Lords, could do this twelve times in total (leading to thirteen incarnations).  After three years, Patrick Troughton handed the reins to Jon Pertwee and so it went until 1989 when three substandard actors along with shoddy writing and confusing plots led to the series cancellation a season before the seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, was due to complete his run.
In 1995 American television tried to bring the series back with a made-for-TV movie.  Unfortunately this incarnation, while staying faithful to the original series by showing McCoy regenerating into Paul McGann, went too far to the left in trying to appeal to an American audience that was mostly unaware of the Doctor's extensive history.  Plot twists that made no sense, a rewriting of the canon and finally an ending that didn't lead anywhere sent the series back into hibernation.
And then the trend that brought Battlestar Galactica back from the dead struck Doctor Who.  Russell T Davies, along with a gaggle of fans of the original series and armed with a real budget for special effects (the original series was famous for how badly those were done) brought the series back from the dead with a new ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccelstone.  I will admit I was hesitant at first because, like Battlestar Galactica, any reboot runs the risk of taking a few choice elements of the original show and then mucking it up with post-20th century cynicism and sexuality.
And while I wasn't quite wrong in my fears, there has been enough since then to justify my continued watching of the show.
Yes there were changes from the original other than a drastic improvement in special effects.  The Tardis control room, always a simple white room with a futuristic console in the original series had morphed into a giant coral reef-style room with a console that had no recognizable buttons.  The Doctor, instead of remaining aloof from his companions, seemed to get romantically involved with each in a way that really detracted from the show.  I was watching to see Daleks and Cybermen get massacred, not the Doctor making google-eyes at some tart from a district housing project in London.  In addition, despite being patient, we still have not been shown how the Time War ended and the regeneration from McGann to Ecclestone.
Finally, what started to annoy me after a while was how often certain enemies kept showing up in the series.  Every season seemed to have 2-3 appearances for the Daleks and 1 for the Cybermen.  Yes, they're the most popular enemies the Doctor has ever had but what does it say for the imagination the show requires?  The third Doctor never even encountered the Cyberman and the Fourth only ran across them once.  Daleks also were not a regular occurence although they would appear once a season for some Doctors.  And what does it say that no new perennial enemy has been introduced to the show since the Master made his appearance in 1970?
On the other hand, one of the weaknesses of the original series was its complete lack of continuity.  The history of Earth in the future constantly morphed from season to season.  Plots in one story would completely contradict those in others, sometimes during the same season.  One of the strengths of the new show was the idea of the meta-plot with each season building to a huge climax and the finale of the fifth bringing together buried hints from the previous five years together for an amazing end to the tenth Doctor's reign.
And now the eleventh Doctor has taken the stage.  Matt Smith, the younger actor ever to play the role, has shown himself to have a good start albeit in a way eerily reminiscent of Ecclestone's early episodes.  It's too early, of course, to decide on what will make his Doctor unique and he is following in the huge footsteps of David Tennant who made the best doctor since Tom Baker's fourth.
There is also the underlying concern that there will only be thirteen doctors in total which means after Smith runs his 3-4 season the producers will seriously have to look at how they intend to end the series, assuming they don't suddenly decide to give the Doctor a whole new set.
All in all an exciting season ahead with lots of potential.  But then, they said that about the fifth Doctor and he wound up being a total dud.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

A Mixed Blessing

In parshas Metzora we learn the rules of tzaraas which afflicts a house.  Two reasons are given by the commentators for this that seem to contradict one another.
The first reason is the one that fits tzaraas generally - it afflicts a person as a result of certain sins such as loshon horo.  In addition, tzaraas affects a persons house, we are told, in a special case where a person is asked by a neighbour for a certain item and denies owning it.  As a result of his lie, tzaraas appears in his house and he is forced to clear everything out of it, including the item he denied having.
However, the other reason is a positive one.  Rashi tells us that during the 40 years our ancestors wandered in the desert looking for that elusive penny someone dropped, the Canaanites hid their treasures in the walls of their homes in the hopes that if they were conquered they wouldn't lose their precious items.  After settling in the land, tzaraas appeared in the walls and when the house was demolished, presto!  The hidden treasures were discovered.
So in one perspective tzaraas is sent as an obvious punishment and in the other it's a reward?
I believe the common factor between both understandings is a person's love of materialism in this world.  The mishnah in Avos tells us that a truly rich person is one who is content with what he has.  Chazal also tell us that people who lust after money are never satisfied with what they have, always wanting more. 
A person who desires money or social status will inevitably come to commit many of the sins that bring tzaraas on a person.  According to Sifrei the house is affected first and one can say that this is because it is his "castle", his shield against the world.  Removing it takes away the artificial barrier between him and the society his sins have negatively affected.  Imagine having your house torn down.  Discovering a gold plated Maltese falcon in the ruins might assuage one's grief and distress somewhat but it doesn't change the fact that you don't have a roof over your head anymore!
Therefore the two perspectives are connected.  A person who is anti-social enough to deserve tzaraas in his house is left with the pretty baubles that he feels makes him wealthy even while a more basic personal need, a domicile, goes missing.  One who is content with his home and place in society has no need to find the treasure in the walls.  Even without them he has enough.  Thus the two perspectives mesh nicely, leaving the anti-social person with the rewards of his efforts.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Happy Yom HaAtzma'ut

May this holiday come with health and happiness to all of us and may we witness the final redemption of which this is the first unfolding speedily in our days.

Knowing His Place

The Kingdom of Jordan is an interesting historical phenomenon.  Although many Westerners assume it's an old player in the Middle East, the reality is that it is an artificial state created by the British Empire to reward their Hashemite allies after World War 1.  Originally called Transjordan, its ruling tribe was transplanted from Arabia where the House of Ibn Saud was busy wiping out opposition to its plan to paste the word "Saudi" onto the Arabia part.
As a result, Jordan has remained a fragile state despite its continued stable borders.  The Hashemites constitute no more than 25% of the population, the rest being so-called Palestinians.  What's more, being poor in natural resources and militarily weak by the standard of the region, Jordan has quietly relied on Israel for decades to guarantee its security.  This has led to unusually peaceful relations between the two countries even though such a thing could never be admitted in practice.
However, the current ruler of Jordan, one Abdullah II, seems to be outgrowing his britches and forgetting that his throne relies on the hated Jewish infidels across the Jordan river.  Again and again, in his most reasonable voice, he threatens the State of Israel with war.  Not directly, of course.  The thought that the Jordanian army, the Arab Legion, could mount a serious attack against Israel is laughable.
No, Abdullah's solemn warnings are that Israel, through its insistence on not commiting national suicide by accepting an Arab peace plan that would leave it defenceless is creating regional instability that will inevitably lead to war.
Moderate Muslim and Arab countries face great challenges as major players in the Middle East peace process who work to prevent the next war in the region – which could break out as soon as this summer, King Abdullah of Jordan told the Chicago Tribune editorial board in an interview conducted Thursday.
“There are countries in the Middle East that do not believe in the Arab peace proposal,” he said, explaining that 57 Arab and Muslim states had “basically all agreed that they want to have full diplomatic relations with Israel, but [want] in return a two-state solution, therefore a future for the Palestinians.”
Abdullah stated that at the last two Arab League summits, there were countries that spoke out against dialogue with Israel and suggested tabling the Arab peace initiative. “We managed to get an extension of the Arab peace proposal, which terminates in July,” Abdullah continued. “There will be a committee meeting of Arab countries in July, and for us as moderate countries, we’re going to be challenged by everybody else: ‘Nothing has happened; Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is not interested in peace, so why keep the Arab peace proposal on the table?’” By July, he said, something would have to change.
“What we’re hoping for is active engagement by the Palestinians with the Americans, the Israelis with the Americans,” he said. Through American mediation, he added, benchmarks for negotiations could be decided upon by July.
One wonders a few things.  For one, Bibi Netanyahu actually implemented a building freeze on parts of Yesha as a sign of good intention.  For another, he has constantly asked for direct negotiations with the Arab side, a request that is consistently ignored.  Finally, exactly what is so special about July?  Let's be real here: farcical discussions about the peace process have been going on for 35 years now without any real progress other than Israeli concessions that don't even earn so much as a "thank you" occuring.  Suddenly there's a deadline?
Then there's the false linkage issue:
Turning to the issue of Iran’s controversial nuclear program, Abdullah said that he, like other leaders in the region, would like “to see the whole region free of nuclear weapons.” He said that the need for such weapons stemmed from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “If you solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem, nobody needs a nuclear weapon,” he said. “If you solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem, why would a country such as Iran want to go to the extent of a nuclear military program when the mantra there is defending the rights of the Palestinians and Jerusalem?”

Is laughing in the face of a reigning monarch permitted?  How does it follow that Iran needs a nuclear bomb because of the Israeli-Arab conflict?  Is Israel threatening Iran?  Is Israel threatening a single Muslim country for that matter?  Considering that nukes have historically been used as defensive weapons, exactly what threat is Iran worried about that it needs them to defend itself?
Abdullah should take a look around and remember that the Iraqis and Syrians, if given half the chance, would take away most of his pathetic sandbox kingdom with the support of the Iranians he so seems to feel empathy for.  His only real ally in the region is the one he insists on blaming for all the Middle East's problems.
Hardly the sign of a man with his head screwed on straight.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Striving for Mediocrity

The unique position and difficulties Modern Orthodoxy faced in North America seem best illustrated to me by my personal experiences with three different summer camps I've worked in over the last few years.
The first was a Conservative camp.  In terms of physical facilities it is a real gem.  Excellent indoor and outdoor sports facilities, an extensive waterfront offering a great variety of activities, a great set of social programs, it has it all.  Until it comes to the Jewish side of things, of course.  There the weakness of the program - limited davening, limudei kodesh at very basic levels, and no real appreciation for deep Torah study or commitment to observance.  One example that really stuck with me was the Shabbos experience.  While the camp is official shomer Shabbos the practical rule is: shomer Shabbos in public, whatever you want in the privacy of your cabin.
The next was an Augdah camp.  In many ways, it was like the Star Trek mirror use to the first camp.  The physical facilities were quite limited.  No real facilities for arts & crafts, music and the like, a waterfront that had a couple of lifeguards and canoes but not much more and only basketball and baseball as sporting options.  On the other hand the level of observance was, as might be expected, quite high.  The emphasis on Torah study was always present and only got ramped up on Shabbos.  Everything revolved around that.
The final one was a Modern Orthodox camp.  Now, one might hope that being in the middle of the spectrum between the non-religious and ultra-Orthodox camps that it might strive for excellence in both areas.  Unfortunately the opposite was often the case.  The sports facilities were fine but not outstanding.  The waterfront was small and only had limited activities and the social programs were nowhere near the calibre the Conservative camp had to offer.  On the other hand the learning level was much closer to the Conservative camp than the Agudah one.  Although there was a building in the camp that functioned as a dedicated beis medrash it seems to sit empty most of the day unless a group was having a lesson there.  Most discouraging.
That's the real problem with being in the middle though.  Middle groups should strive for as much of the excellence that is found at the extremes as they can but sometimes it's just easier to avoid trying for either.  If Modern Orthodoxy is going to make its impact, this attitude must be jettisoned.  Only a movement commited to excellence in both the religious and secular parts of life can survive the onslaught from both sides.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Obama is Safe

Last week the pro-American president of Kyrgystan (or whatever) was overthrown in a coup.  Shadowy news reports suggest Russian involvement.
A couple of days ago a plane carrying the pro-American Polish president, military chief of staff and lots of top government officials crashed in Russia.  And it's the Russians who are running the investigation.
Suspicious yet?
However, the good news is that BH Obama is safe.  It seems that only pro-American presidents are being targetted.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Fighting the Wrong Battles

I had such high hopes for Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman when he first started on the job.  Other than one maligned statement about renaming swine flu, he seemed to handle the (non) crisis quite well.  However, recent events seemed to have precipitated his imminent political downfall.
As this article in The Jerusalem Post notes, the ongong controversy over the Barzilai emergency room building has pushed even those in Litzman's Chareidi community too far.
To summarize - human remains were found at the proposed site of the new ER.  Now, there are many acceptable solutions to such a problem, especially when the issue is building a new emergency facility that will be rocket proof and therefore save lives in the event of another rocket outburst from 'Aza or Lebanon.  Moving them is one possiblity.  Determining that they are not Jewish is another.
However, in Litzman's case, it seemed to be a predetermined conclusion that there would be no compromise other than the one he suggested: to relocate the ER to a relatively distant location from the rest of the hospital.  There would be no discussion of moving the remains and even after it was shown by archeologists that the bodies were those of Philistines (the real Palestinians, oh irony!) he refused to change his mind.
His trump card?  UTJ's participation in the shaky government coaltion, the timeless Chareidi party's tactic of political blackmail.  However, as the article shows, the party and many of its supporters have had an aboutface in response to the open and frankly justified hositlity to Litzman's intransigence:
Haredi online media outlets lambasted deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman Wednesday for the public outcry resulting from the delay in construction of a rocket-proof emergency room.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is apparently leaning toward retracting the cabinet decision from two weeks ago to shift the location of the proposed reinforced emergency room for Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center, following the public uproar and the recommendation of his office’s director-general, who reevaluated a cabinet decision to relocate the emergency room due to graves found at the site.
Meanwhile, haredi online media outlets are expressing discontent over what is being described as an unnecessary battle that caused immense damage to the ultra-orthodox sector.
Litzman, a Gur Hassid from United Torah Judaism, had threatened to resign if the facility were not built on the distant parking lot instead of the nearby plot chosen four years ago. In a Tuesday meeting between Litzman and Netanyahu, the premier reportedly insinuated that the ER would indeed be built on the original site.
Bibi Netanyahu knows what all good Israeli prime ministers have known before him.  UTJ and Shas will huff and puff but a nice infusion of cash into their institutions will allow them the heter they need to shut up and stay in government.  I would not be surprised to discover that such negotiations between Netanyahu and Litzman's superiors has already quietly taken place to ensure a compromise that will save lives will be reached.  Hopefully the only victim in the end will be Litzman's career.

Crying Wolf.... Again

The Chareidi public, and especially their leadership, are very sensitive when it comes to attempts to meddle in their private educational system.  Even well-meant suggestions are generally met with a fire and brimstone response that makes one think that the advice was something as bad as a law outlawying ritual circumcision.
What the community has never seemed to grasp is that if every confrontation with the outside is reacted to with hysteria and shouting, eventually the outside will conclude that the Chareidim are a bunch of spoiled children with no perspective and whose shouts of outrage are about as meaningful as those of a three year old who has been denied a second scoop of ice cream.
In the past, the anger and outrage has been directed that those who had the temerity to believe that Chareidi kids should get a good basic eduction in mathematics, science and language skills.  But now it's gotten far worse, as this article from Ynet demonstrates:
The leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community, Rabbi Shalom Elyashiv called for protest measures against the Supreme Court following its ruling in the matter of ethnic separation in the Beit Yaakov religious school in Emanuel.
In a meeting with Deputy Education Minister MK Meir Porush on Thursday, the rabbi said, "This is a dreadful ruling. This should prompt a great outcry."
The ultra-Orthodox public is furious with Judges Edmond Levy, Edna Arbel and Hanan Melcer, who fined the school and issued a contempt of court ruling against it and also subpoenaed the parents of Ashkenazi students who stopped sending their children to the school.
So what was the reason this time?  Mandatory viewing of Hannah Montana videos during hashkafah classes?  Mandatory shortening of the uniform skirts to Catholic lengths?  Oh no, something far worse: a demand by the state for an end to discrimination against Sephardi girls.
Imagine a school in the United States announcing that it won't accept black or Chinese children.  Well no, you can't imagine that because the laws in America rightly ban such behaviour and threaten violators with stiff penalties.
Now imagine a group of parents and their community leaders screaming and shouting about how wrong such rules are and of their intention to flout them.  What would we call such people?  Racists, bigots, and probably far worse.
So, any good reason why Ashkenazim who are willing to destroy their children's already limited education are any different?

Surviving in This World

The concepts of tumah and taharah are difficult for many people to understand.  Physical beings as we are, and especially as many of us understand the germ theory of disease, we would like to understand where tumah comes from and how it spreads in a physical sense.  Sometimes the rules make sense - a rishon touches something and makes it a sheni.  Sometimes they don't - a sheni touches a liquid and makes it a rishonTerumah can go to shlishi but chullin only sheni
The bottom line is that tumah is a spiritual, not physical phenomenon which therefore has rules that physically do not have to make sense.  However, there seems to be one rule about tumah that is physical: to remove it one generally requires an immersion in water.
This again leads back to the confusion with the physical.  We use water to wash off dirt.  We use water to wash off tumah.  If it's spiritual, how does a physical solution solve such a problem?
Rav Avraham Kook, ztk"l, on last week's parasha provides a deep answer.  He begins by recalling how the Chofetz Chayim, ztk"l, lived such a simple life that people were amazed by his frugality.  When asked about it, he noted that travellers rarely take much in the way of luggage along with them (he'd never met my wife's mother!) and he was just a traveller in this world, his true destination being Olam Haba.
Rav Kook notes that water, while in one sense a life-giving fluid, is in other ways totally hostile to the human body.  A person cannot live in water.  He literally can't breathe it and prolonged immersion would drown him.
From this, the Rav draws his analogy.  By immersing in water, a person leaves the comfortable material world he is used to and enters one which more closely resembles the one his soul is currently living in.
Our neshama, after all, being purely spiritual, is immersed in a completely hostile environment here in this physical world.  For the soul, it is like a physical body immersed in water.  Without the occasional coming up for air, it would totally drown and be extinguished.  By entering the mikveh we are reminded of what our soul is going through, the damage the contact with tumah has done to it.  This realization plays a role in the removal of the tumah from us.  We come up for air, refreshing our physical lives but it is by entering the mikveh that we refresh our soul by isolating it from our usual comfort zones.
This is a lesson well worth remembering.  Too often the physicality of our lives overwhelms us.  We forget our mission and become comfortable in an environment that is toxic to our true selves.  We values our houses, cars and other luxuries.  Instead of earning to live, we live to earn.
The mikveh reminds us that what makes us truly what we are is alien to this world and that our real yearning should be to return to our Father in Heaven.  Through immersion in the mikveh, the physical ritual provides us with the spiritual help.