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The Red Heifer - Parah Adumah - פרה אדומה

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)

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I.     Introduction. 1

II.    Dividing the Ashes 3

III.   Outside the camp. 5

IV.   Details of the Red Heifer 6

V.    Details of the Water used with the Heifer 8

VI.   Communication of Impurity. 11

VII.  Those who do the Service of the Heifer 11

VIII.   Impurity from Temple Services 11

IX.  Temple Service of the Red Heifer 11

X.   The Golden Calf vs. Parah Adumah. 13

XI.   Clean vs. Unclean. 13

XII.   The Haftarah. 14

XIII.  A Chok. 15

XIV.  The Meaning of the Materials 16

XV.  Shamayim - Heavens 16

XVI.   Messianic Aspect 17

XVII. Understanding the Parah Adumah. 20

XVIII.  Conclusion. 21

 

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I.     Introduction

 

The ritual of the Parah Adumah, the red heifer, is part of one of the most mysterious rituals described in the Torah. The purpose of this ritual is to purify people from the defilement caused by contact with the dead. The ritual is discussed in BaMidbar (Numbers) chapter 19. If you find it difficult to understand, don’t feel bad; our Sages themselves described it as beyond human understanding. What is so interesting about this ritual is that it purifies the impure, but it also renders the pure impure (i.e., everybody who participates in the ritual becomes impure).

 

Mashiach will offer the tenth red cow according to Chazal.[1] Thus, the existence of a red heifer is a possible, but not definite, sign of Mashiach. If Mashiach were coming, there would be a red heifer, but there could be a red heifer without Mashiach coming.

 

In this study I would like to examine the mitzva[2] of the Parah Adumah, the red heifer. I am interested in learning why it is so important that we must read about it every year right after Purim.

 

Three special Sabbaths take place before Passover. Each has a unique message for the mind and soul. The first is called Shabbat Parah. See the study titled:  ANNUAL.

 

Shabbat Parah takes place two weeks before the month of Nisan. Taken from Bamidbar (Numbers) 19:1-22, this portion of the Torah explains the ancient purification process involving the sacrifice of the Parah Adumah, the Red Cow.

 

The period before Rosh Chodesh Nisan is especially favorable for purification. This is one of the reasons that we read Parshat Parah at this time of the year.

 

But there is a more basic reason: In the time of the Beit HaMikdash, it was on the fourteenth of Nisan that the Pesach (Passover) lambs were brought by all of the Jewish People.

 

Parshat Parah deals with the laws of purification that were needed to purify the Jewish People from contact with a dead body, a necessary preliminary to entering the Beit HaMikdash and bringing the Korban Pesach.[3]

 

The Ashlamata, Yehezekel (Ezekiel) 36:16-38, describes the time of Mashiach, when HaShem will “sprinkle purifying waters on the Bnei Israel” and remove from them all the impurities that have encrusted their souls.

 

Yehezekel (Ezekiel) 36:26 I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh instead.

 

 

What is the Parah Adumah?

 

The dictionary tells us what a heifer is:

 

heif·er (hèf er) noun

A young cow, especially one that has not yet given birth to a calf.

 

From this definition we can see that a cow is a young, female, cow. If the coat on the cow is red, then we have a Parah Adumah, a red heifer. (The traditional translation of the Hebrew “Parah” as ‘heifer’ is misleading, since among the specifications for the animal given by the Torah, the requirement that the cow not yet have calved is not mentioned and is relevant.)

 

The mitzva of Parah Adumah involves taking a cow with reddish hair,[4] that is blemish-free, i.e. fit for the Altar. Even though the Parah Adumah is NOT a korban;[5] it is prepared away from the Mikdash[6] and Temple across the valley, on the Mount of Olives, east of the Temple.

 

Lets begin by looking at the Torah portion for Shabbat Parah, to see what the Torah has to say about the Parah Adumah:

 

Bamidbar (Numbers) 19:1-22 And HaShem spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, This [is] the ordinance of the law which HaShem hath commanded, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a perfect red heifer without spot, wherein [is] no blemish, [and] upon which never came yoke: And ye shall give her unto Eleazar the priest, that he may bring her forth without the camp, and [one] shall slay her before his face: And Eleazar the priest shall take of her blood with his finger, and sprinkle of her blood directly before the tabernacle of the congregation seven times: And [one] shall burn the heifer in his sight; her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, with her dung, shall he burn: And the priest shall take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast [it] into the midst of the burning of the heifer. Then the priest shall wash his clothes, and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp, and the priest shall be unclean until the even. And he that burneth her shall wash his clothes in water, and bathe his flesh in water, and shall be unclean until the even. And a man [that is] clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay [them] up without the camp in a clean place, and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water of separation: it [is] a purification for sin. And he that gathereth the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: and it shall be unto the children of Israel, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among them, for a statute for ever. He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days. He shall purify himself with it on the third day, and on the seventh day he shall be clean: but if he purify not himself the third day, then the seventh day he shall not be clean. Whosoever toucheth the dead body of any man that is dead, and purifieth not himself, defileth the tabernacle of HaShem; and that soul shall be cut off from Israel: because the water of separation was not sprinkled upon him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness [is] yet upon him. This [is] the law, when a man dieth in a tent: all that come into the tent, and all that [is] in the tent, shall be unclean seven days. And every open vessel, which hath no covering bound upon it, [is] unclean. And whosoever toucheth one that is slain with a sword in the open fields, or a dead body, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. And for an unclean [person] they shall take of the ashes of the burnt heifer of purification for sin, and running water shall be put thereto in a vessel: And a clean person shall take hyssop, and dip [it] in the water, and sprinkle [it] upon the tent, and upon all the vessels, and upon the persons that were there, and upon him that touched a bone, or one slain, or one dead, or a grave: And the clean [person] shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day, and on the seventh day: and on the seventh day he shall purify himself, and wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and shall be clean at even. But the man that shall be unclean, and shall not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off from among the congregation, because he hath defiled the sanctuary of HaShem: the water of separation hath not been sprinkled upon him; he [is] unclean. And it shall be a perpetual statute unto them, that he that sprinkleth the water of separation shall wash his clothes; and he that toucheth the water of separation shall be unclean until even. And whatsoever the unclean [person] toucheth shall be unclean; and the soul that toucheth [it] shall be unclean until even.

 

Questions[7]:

 

“Take a perfect Parah Adumah (red heifer) which has no blemish…” What does the word “perfect” -temima - mean in this context? According to Bamidbar 19:2, it means “perfectly red”.

How many non-red hairs disqualify a cow as a valid Parah Adumah? According to Bamidbar 19:2, it means “two“.

 

What happens to the one who:

a)     Sprinkles the water mixed with the ashes of the Parah Adumah? He remains tahor (pure or clean).

b)     Touches the water? He, but not his clothing, contracts tumah (impurity)

c)     Carries the water? He and his clothing contract tumah (impurity).

 

Why was the mitzva of the Parah Adumah entrusted to Elazar rather than to Aaron?[8] - Because Aaron was involved in the sin of the golden calf.

 

The mitzva of Parah Adumah included:

 

(1) burning the red cow to the state of ashes and,

(2) adding water to the ashes and using the mixture to sprinkle on one who had come in contact with a corpse.

 

A cow with red hair was slaughtered on the Mount of Olives (See EAST), its remains were totally incinerated, and the resultant ashes were mixed with water drawn from a fresh-water spring. A small amount of the mixture was sprinkled on a defiled person twice in one week. This ceremony was not, of course, performed anew every time the mixture was needed. Rabbinic tradition tells us that throughout Jewish history up to the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash it was necessary to slaughter only nine red cows: the resultant mixture lasted for a very long time. Indeed, we know for certain that the mixture obtained from the latest ceremony before 70 C.E. outlasted the Bet HaMikdash itself, and according to evidence in the Gemara was still in ritual use some two hundred years or more after the destruction!

 

We are introduced to the ordinance of the Red Heifer halfway through the Book of BaMidbar (Numbers), in chapter 19. According to Seder Ha Olam, it was actually instituted on the second day of the first month (now called Nisan), in the second year of the Exodus (2449 from Adam). The previous day had seen the first services of the newly completed Mishkan (Tabernacle). The following day, Moses was instructed to have a perfect red cow led outside the camp by Eliezar. There, it was to be slaughtered. The animal was then burned with a mixture of cedar, hyssop, and scarlet coloring. A minute amount of the finely sifted ash was thrown into water. It could be a vessel or even a large body of water. Purification occurred only if the surface of the water was disturbed upon contact with the ashes.

 

II.    Dividing the Ashes[9]

 

The ashes of the Parah Adumah were divided into three parts. As the Rambam[10] explains:

 

“And they used to divide all the ashes into three portions: one was kept on the Rampart, one on the Mount of Olives, and one was apportioned among all the watches of the priests. Those ashes which were apportioned among all the watches the priests used for sanctifying water of purification, and the ashes kept on the Mount of Olives ordinary Israelites used for sprinkling, and the ashes kept on the Rampart were carefully reserved, for it is said, And it shall be kept[11] for the congregation of the children of Israel,[12] teaching that some of the ashes should be reserved.

 

So, too, they used to reserve on the Rampart some of the ashes of every red heifer they had burnt.

 

Now nine red heifers were prepared from the time this commandment was received until the Temple was destroyed the second time: the first, Moshe our master prepared, the second, Ezra prepared, and there were seven from Ezra to the destruction of the Temple. And a tenth King Mashiach will prepare, may he soon be revealed!”

 

Since all aspects of Torah are precise, it follows that there is a conceptual relationship between the laws of the Parah Adumah and the coming of Mashiach. This is why the Rambam mentions the awaiting of Mashiach’s arrival in the laws of Parah Adumah, although the Mashiach is mentioned in Yad HaChazakah (Mishne Torah) before the laws of the Parah Adumah.

 

In the Mishna, Tractate Parah, we learn that there have been a total of nine perfectly red cows burned:

1.       By Moses;

2.       By Ezra;

3.       By Shimon Ha Tzaddik;

4.       Also by Shimon Ha Tzaddik;

5.       By Yochanan, the High Priest;

6.       Also by Yochanan, the High Priest;

7.       By Eliehoenai, the son of Ha-Kof.

8.       By Hanamel, the Egyptian.

9.       By Ishmael, son of Piabi.

10.     Will be burned by Mashiach.

 

The relationship between the laws of the Parah Adumah and the coming of Mashiach is as follows:

 

Exile is related to the concept of ritual defilement, coming in contact with spiritual death. For the exile came about through iniquities, the element of “You who cleave unto G-d your L-rd are all alive today” was lacking. The ashes of the Parah Adumah, offering purification from the defilement of death, allude to the time of Mashiach’s coming, the time of redemption from exile, when Jews sunder their bonds with spiritual death, for they then all cleave to G-d and are thus vitally alive.

 

As rare as it may be, the birth of a red heifer is nothing more than a curiosity. There is no source in Jewish tradition that sees the birth of a red heifer as a sign of the arrival of the Mashiach.

 

The keepsake phenomenon had two aspects:

 

1. Each Parah Adumah set aside a part of its ashes to be a keepsake till the time of Mashiach,

 

2. Each Parah Adumah became part of that tradition which traced its association back to the first Parah Adumah, which Moshe (Moses) made.

 

The Red Heifer was sacrificed outside of the Temple Mount, in contrast to all other sacrifices, which as a Chatat sacrifice, a sin offering, which atones for inadvertent transgressions.

 

Chatat: Sin Offering

 

A sin offering is an offering to atone for and purge a sin. It is an expression of sorrow for the error and a desire to be reconciled with G-d. The Hebrew term for this type of offering is chatat, from the word chayt, meaning “missing the mark.” A chatat could only be offered for unintentional sins committed through carelessness, not for intentional, malicious sins. The size of the offering varied according to the nature of the sin and the financial means of the sinner. Some chatatot are individual and some are communal. Communal offerings represent the interdependence of the community, and the fact that we are all responsible for each others’ sins. A few special chatatot could not be eaten, but for the most part, for the average person’s personal sin, the chatat was eaten by the Kohanim.

 

III.   Outside the camp

 

Where is "outside the camp"?

 

Well, lets look at an event which took place "outside the camp". Notice that the bull is burned "outside the camp" while the blood is sprinkled towards the front of the Tent of Moed:

 

Bamidbar (Numbers) 19:1-9 HaShem said to Moses and Aaron: "This is a requirement of the law that HaShem has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke. Give it to Eleazar the priest; it is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. Then Eleazar the priest is to take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the Tent of Meeting. While he watches, the heifer is to be burned--its hide, flesh, blood and offal. The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer. After that, the priest must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water. He may then come into the camp, but he will be ceremonially unclean till evening. The man who burns it must also wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he too will be unclean till evening. "A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. They shall be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin.

 

 

Moed Katan 28a The ashes of the Red Heifer are employed in gaining Forgiveness:       

           

Middoth 2:4 All the walls that were there on the Temple Mount were high, with the exception of the eastern wall, so that the Priest who burned the red heifer stood on top of the Mount of Olives and was able to see directly into the entrance of the Sanctuary when the blood was tossed.

 

Middoth 1:3 The surrounding wall of the whole quadrangle of the Temple area of the Temple mount had five gates, namely the two Chuldah Gates (named after the prophetess) on the south that served for entrance and exit to the Temple Mount, the Kiphonos Gate on the west that served for entrance and exit, the Tadi Gate on the north which served no purpose, the Eastern Gate whereon the Castle of Shushan was sculptured through which the High Priest who burned the red heifer and all the priests that assisted therewith went forth to the Mount of Olives (the Mount of Installation).

 

From this we see that outside the camp, in this case, meant on the top of the Mount of Olives. This is also interesting because the Kohen on the top of the Mount of Olives could see the Kohen (priest) in the holy place.

 

When Yeshua died, notice what people SAW:

 

Luqas (Luke) 23:44-48 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, For the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Yeshua called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last. The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, "Surely this was a righteous man." When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away.

 

Matityahu (Matthew) 27:50-54 And when Yeshua had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Yeshua' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Yeshua saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!"

 

Marqos (Mark) 15:37-39 With a loud cry, Yeshua breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Yeshua, heard his cry and saw that he so cried out, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"

 

I believe that the only way that they could say that the curtain was torn at the same “moment” that Yeshua died, was to see it. What made the centurion say that this was "the Son of God"? If the centurion knew how thick the curtain was and how important the curtain was, he might very well understand the significance. He surely did not think that the fact that Yeshua died and cried out would make him the Son of God! So, the only place "outside the camp" where the curtain could be see was on the Mount of Olives, in the same place where the red heifer was burned by a Kohen (priest) who was not Kohen Gadole (High Priest).

 

IV.   Details of the Red Heifer

 

The Talmud has much to say about the Red Heifer.

 

Pesachim 26a-b Come and hear: If he took it [the heifer] into the team and it [accidentally] did some threshing, it is fit; [but if it was] in order that it should suck and thresh, it is unfit. Now here it is impossible [to do otherwise], and he intends [to benefit], and he [the Tanna] teaches that it is unfit! — There it is different, because Scripture saith, ‘which hath not been wrought with,’ [implying] in all cases. If so, even in the first clause too [the same applies]? — This can only be compared to the following: If a bird rested upon it [the red heifer], it remains fit; but if it copulated with a male, it is unfit. What is the reason? — Said R. Papa: If it were written ‘‘abad’ and we read it ‘abad’, [I would say, it becomes unfit] only if he himself wrought with it. While if ‘‘ubad’ were written and we read it ‘‘ubad,’ [it would imply] even if it were of itself. Since however, it is written ‘‘abad’’ [active], whilst read ‘‘ubad’’ [passive]. ‘it was wrought with’ must be similar to ‘he wrought [with it]’: just as ‘he wrought [with it]’ must mean that he approved of it, so also ‘it was wrought with’ refers only to what he approved.

 

Menachoth 51b-52a ‘And concerning the Red Cow [they ordained] that the law of sacrilege does not apply to its ashes’. Is not this the law of the Torah? For it was taught: It is a sin-offering: this teaches that it is subject to the law of sacrilege; and ‘it’ implies that only it [the cow] is subject to the law of sacrilege but its ashes are not subject to the law of sacrilege! — Said R. Ashi: There were two ordinances. By the law of the Torah only it [the cow] is subject to the law of sacrilege but not its ashes; but when they saw that people treated [the ashes] lightly and applied them to wounds, they ordained they should be subject to the law of sacrilege. When they saw, however, that people in doubtful cases of uncleanness would avoid the sprinkling, they reverted to the law of the Torah.

 

Bava Metzia 30a Come and hear: If he took it [the heifer] into the team and it [accidentally] did some threshing, it is fit; [but if it was] in order that it should suck and thresh, it is unfit. But here it is for their mutual benefit, and yet it is taught that it is unfit! — There it is different, because Scripture wrote, which hath not beets wrought with — under any condition. If so, the same should apply to the first clause too? This [then] can only be compared to what we learnt: If a bird rested upon it [the red heifer] — it remains fit; but if it copulated with a male, it becomes unfit. Why so? — In accordance with R. Papa’s dictum. For R. papa said: Had Scripture written ‘ubad, and we read it ‘ubad, I would have said [that the law holds good] even if it were of itself; whilst if it were written ‘abad, and we read it ‘abad, I would have said, [it becomes unfit] only if he himself wrought with it. Since, however, it is written ‘abad [active], whilst read ‘ubad [passive], we require that ‘it was wrought with’ shall be similar to ‘he wrought with it’; just as ‘he wrought [with it]’ must mean that he approved of it, so also ‘it was wrought with’ refers only to what he approved.

 

What happens if someone slaughters the Red Heifer outside the Temple: The Gemara explains the answer:

 

Temurah 6b The Master said: ‘If it means, Ye shall not kill, is not this mentioned below?’ Where is this stated? — It has been taught: Blind or broken or maimed ye shall not offer these unto the Lord. What does Scripture teach us here? If it means not to dedicate, this is already stated above. Then what does Scripture mean by ‘Ye shall not offer’? [That] ye shall not kill. [The text:] Nor make an offering by fire of them refers to the burning [of the sacrifices on the altar]. From this I could only prove the burning of the whole sacrifice [as being prohibited]. Whence, however, will you deduce that the same applies to a part [of a sacrifice]? Because the text states: Of them. Whence will you deduce the prohibitory law for the sprinkling of the blood [of blemished animals]? The text states: Upon the altar. [The succeeding words:] ‘Unto the Lord’ include the case of a scapegoat. But do [the words]: ‘Unto the Lord’ come to include [something additional]? Has it not been taught: Now if you expound the word korban [offering], am I to understand it to include the case of animals dedicated for Temple repairs, which are described as korban as for instance when it says: We have therefore brought the Lord’s korban? The text, however, states: And hath not brought it unto the door of the tent of the meeting. [We therefore argue as follows]: In respect of whatever is fit for the door of the tent of the meeting, one may become liable on account of the prohibition of slaughtering consecrated animals outside the Temple court; but in respect of whatever is not fit for the door of the tent of the meeting, one cannot become liable on account of the prohibition of slaughtering consecrated animals outside the Temple court. Shall I therefore exclude these but not the Red Heifer and the scapegoat, since they are fit for ‘the door of the tent of the meeting’? Therefore the text states: ‘Unto the Lord’; [the law concerning slaughtering outside the Temple court applies] only to those designated as ‘unto the Lord’, but these are excluded, for they are not designated ‘unto the Lord’! — Said Raba: There we go according to the context [and here we go according to the context]. There, since the text, ‘Unto the door of the tent of the meeting’ includes, therefore the text, ‘Unto the Lord’ in that connection excludes. Here, however, as the text ‘by fire’ excludes, therefore the text, ‘Unto the Lord’ in that connection includes.

 

Its level of sanctification is that of items which are sanctified to be sold, with the proceeds to go for Temple upkeep:

 

Temurah 20a Said Rabbi: I do not approve of the opinion of R. Simeon with reference to a Passover sacrifice, since unused [money or animals] dedicated for the Passover is offered as peace-offerings. And why does he not Say: I do not approve of the opinion of R. Simeon in connection with a guilt-offering, since an unused guilt-offering is offered as a burnt-offering? — Rabbi holds the opinion of the Rabbis who say: The surpluses [of sacrificial appropriation] belong to the freewill-offerings of the congregation and the congregation cannot effect exchange. Now it is assumed that the reason why R. Simeon holds that a female set aside as a burnt-offering can effect exchange is because a female has the name of burnt-offering [in the case of a poor man who brings] a burnt-offering of a bird. According to this a cow set aside by a High Priest for his [sacrificial] bullock, should become holy and effect exchange, since we have the case of the cow of sin-offering? — The cow of sin-offering is regarded as a dedication for Temple repairs and a dedication for Temple repairs cannot effect exchange. Then if an individual sets aside a goat instead of a she-goat [for his sin-offering], let it become holy, since we find elsewhere the case of a ‘ruler’ who sets aside a goat for a sin-offering? Or, again, if a ‘ruler’ sets aside a she-goat instead of a goat [as a sin-offering], let it become holy, since elsewhere an individual sets aside a she-goat [for a sin-offering]? — These are two Separate persons [bodies]. But if he sinned before he was a ‘ruler’, even if he set aside a goat in place of a she-goat, let it become holy [and effect exchange] since, if he sinned now, [after his appointment] he brings a goat? — Here, [it is different, for] since he did not sin [as a ‘ruler’], he is not required to bring a goat. If so, here too, he does not [actually] bring a burnt-offering of a bird? — R. Simeon holds the opinion of R. Eleazar b. Azariah. For we have learnt: [If one says] ‘Behold, I take upon myself to bring a burnt-offering’, he brings a sheep, whereas R. Eleazar b. Azariah says: Or a turtle-dove or a pigeon.

 

Using a red heifer, which had been a prostitute’s fee:

 

Temurah 30b Our Rabbis have taught: [Scripture says:] In the house of the Lord thy G-d, this excludes the case of the red heifer which does not come to the House. This is the teaching of R. Eleazar. The Sages, however say: This includes beaten gold plates [as forbidden for overlaying]. Whose opinion is that of the Sages? Said R. Hisda: It is that of R. Jose b. Judah. For it has been taught: If he gave her gold as hire, R. Jose b. Judah said: One must not use it to make beaten gold plates even for the space behind the Holy of Holies.

 

V.    Details of the Water used with the Heifer

 

How the water was brought, to avoid impurity:

 

Succah 21a Is then R. Judah of the opinion that a tent which is not made by the hand of man is no valid tent? Let us point out an incongruity: [We have learnt] Courtyards were built in Jerusalem over a rock, and beneath them was a hollow [made] because of [the fear of] a grave in the depths, and they used to bring there pregnant women, and there they gave birth to their children and there they reared them for [the service of the Red] Heifer. And they brought oxen, upon whose back were placed doors, and the children sat upon them with stone cups in their hands. When they reached Siloam they went down into the water and filled them, then ascended and sat again [on the doors]. R. Jose said, [Each child] used to let [his cup] down and fill it from his place because of [the fear of] a grave in the depths; and it has been taught, R. Judah said, They did not bring doors, but oxen. Now oxen, surely, are a ‘tent’ which is not made by the hands of man, and does it not nevertheless teach, R. Judah said, They did not bring doors, but oxen?-When R. Dimi came, he said in the name of R. Eleazar, R. Judah agrees in, the case [of a ‘tent’ that is as large as] a fistful.

 

The water should be filled directly into the vessel in which it will be sanctified: Pesachim 34b-35a.

 

The Water may not come from a Running Spring:

 

Shabbat 109a Our Rabbis taught: One may bathe in the water of Gerar, in the water of Hammethan, in the water of Essa, and in the water of Tiberias, but not in the Great Sea [the Mediterranean], or in the water of steeping, or in the Lake of Sodom. But this contradicts it: One may bathe in the water of Tiberias and in the Great Sea, but not in the water of steeping or in the Lake of Sodom. Thus [the rulings on] the Great Sea are contradictory. — Said R. Johanan, There is no difficulty: one agrees with R. Meir, the other with R. Judah. For we learnt: All seas are like a mikveh, for it is said, and the gathering of [mikveh] the waters called he Seas: this is R. Meir’s view. R. Judah said: The Great Sea [alone] is like a mikveh, ‘seas’ being stated only because it contains many kinds of waters. R. Jose maintained: All seas [including the Great Sea] purify when running, but they are unfit for zabim, lepers, and to be sanctified as the water of lustration.

 

Swamp water:

 

Sanhedrin 5b We were told above that Rabbi authorised him, Rabbah, and Rab respectively, to] decide in matters of ritual law. Since he was learned in the law, what need had he to obtain permission? — Because of the following incident, for it has been taught: Once Rabbi went to a certain place and saw its inhabitants kneading the dough without the necessary precaution against levitical uncleanness. Upon inquiry, they told him that a certain scholar on a visit taught them: Water of bize’im [ponds] does not render food liable to become unclean. In reality, he referred to bezim [eggs], but they thought he said bize’im [ponds]. They further erred in the application of the following Mishna: The waters of Keramyon and Pigah, because they are ponds, are unfit for purification purposes. They thought that since this water was unfit for purification, it likewise could not render food liable to become unclean. But this conclusion is unwarranted, for whereas there, that is in connection with the purification offering, running water is required, waters, from any source, can render food liable to uncleanness. There and then it was decreed that a disciple must not give decisions unless he was granted permission by his teacher.

 

Whether the ashes must be poured into the water, or could fall in and be valid:

 

Succah 37a-b Rabbah further stated, A man shall not hold the hoshanna with a scarf, because it is required that the ‘taking’ shall be complete, and in this case it is not. Raba, however, ruled, Taking hold by means of something else is also regarded as a valid ‘taking’. Whence, said Raba, do I derive that taking hold by means of something else is also regarded as a valid taking? From what we have learnt: If the hyssop is too short, it may be made to suffice with a thread or with a reed and so it is dipped and brought up, but one must hold the hyssop itself when sprinkling. Now why [is this permitted]? Did not the Divine Law say, And he shall take hyssop and dip? May we not then deduce therefrom that taking hold by means of something else is also regarded as a valid ‘taking’? — But whence the proof? That case perhaps is different; since [the thread or reed] was joined on [to the hyssop], it is regarded as part of it? — In fact [the deduction is made] from the following: [If the ashes of the Red Heifer] fell [of their own accord] from their tube into the trough they are invalid.

 

From this it follows that if the man himself threw them into the water they are [presumably] valid. Now why [should that be so]? Did not the Divine Law say, And they shall take of the ashes . . . and he shall put? May we not then deduce that taking by means of something else is also regarded as a valid ‘taking’.

 

Whether the water goes in the vessel first, or the ashes do:

 

Temurah 12a, 12b MISHNA. [ANYTHING WHICH HAS BECOME SUBJECT TO THE LAW OF TERUMAH THROUGH] AN ADMIXTURE CAN AFFECT A [SECOND] MIXTURE ONLY IN PROPORTION. [DOUGH] LEAVENED [THROUGH TERUMAH] CAN AFFECT [ANOTHER DOUGH] ONLY IN PROPORTION. DRAWN WATER CAN DISQUALIFY A MIKWEH ONLY IN PROPORTION. WATER OF PURIFICATION BECOMES RITUALLY FIT ONLY WITH THE PUTTING OF ASHES [IN THE WATER]. A GRAVE AREA CANNOT CREATE A GRAVE AREA. [THE SEPARATION OF] TERUMAH CANNOT BE REPEATED. AN EXCHANGE CANNOT BE USED TO EFFECT ANOTHER EXCHANGE. THE OFFSPRING OF A DEDICATED ANIMAL CANNOT EFFECT AN EXCHANGE. R. JUDAH SAYS: THE OFFSPRING OF A DEDICATED ANIMAL CAN EFFECT AN EXCHANGE. THEY SAID TO HIM: A DEDICATED ANIMAL CAN EFFECT EXCHANGE, BUT NEITHER THE OFFSPRING OF A DEDICATED ANIMAL [NOR AN EXCHANGE] CAN EFFECT EXCHANGE.

 

THE WATERS OF PURIFICATION BECOME RITUALLY FIT etc. Whose opinion is here represented? — R. Hiyya b. Abba reported in the name of R. Johanan: It is not the opinion of R. Simeon. For it has been taught: If one puts the ashes [into the vessel] first before the water, it [the water of purification] is disqualified, whereas R. Simeon says: It is fit. What is the reason of R. Simeon? — Since it is written: And for the unclean they shall take the ashes [‘afar] of the burning of the purification from sin [and the running water shall be put thereto]. And it has been taught: R. Simeon says, Now is it ‘afar [dust]? Is it not efer [ashes]? The text departs from the natural expression in the matter in order to permit of a gezerah shawah. We read here ‘afar and we read there ‘afar. Just as there the ‘afar is placed upon the water, so here also the ‘afar is placed upon the water. And just as here if the dust is placed in the vessel before the water the ritual is fit, so there if he placed the dust before the water, it [the water] is ritually fit. And whence do we derive this [in connection with waters of purification]? — There are two Scriptural texts. It first says: And [running water] shall be put thereto, from which we see that ashes are put first in the vessel, and then the text continues: Running water . . . in a vessel. How [do we reconcile these texts]? If he wishes [he puts] ‘afar at the bottom [of the vessel], and if he wishes, he puts ‘afar on top [of the water]. And what is the reason of our Tanna? — He can answer you: The latter part of the verse is to be strictly interpreted, and [the text]: ‘And [running water] shall be put thereto teaches us that one must mix [the ashes and the water together]. But why do you see fit to say that the latter part of the verse is to be strictly interpreted? perhaps the first part of the text is to be strictly interpreted, [and the text, ‘in a vessel’ teaches us that the waters must be fresh in the vessel]? — You cannot interpret the text in this way: Just as we find with regard to all other cases that which makes [the water] ritually fit is placed on top, so here that which makes [the water of purification] ritually fit is put on top.

 

Shabbat 137a And an anonymous [statement in the] Sifra is according to R. Judah. R. Nahman b. Isaac said: We too learnt likewise: All are eligible to sanctify, save a deaf-mute, an imbecile, and a minor. R. Judah admits a minor, but invalidates a woman and an hermaphrodite. This proves it — And why is circumcision different? Because it is written, every male among you shall be circumcised.

 

Niddah 9a A NURSING WOMAN’? A WOMAN BEFORE SHE HAS WEANED etc. Our Rabbis taught: A nursing mother whose child died within twenty-four months is in exactly the same position as all other women and causes retrospective uncleanness for a period of twenty-four hours or from the previous to the last examination. If, therefore, she continued to suck it for four or five years it suffices for her to reckon her period of uncleanness from the time she has observed the flow; so R. Meir. R. Judah, R. Jose and R. Simeon ruled: Only during the twenty-four months does it suffice for women to reckon their uncleanness from the time they have observed a flow. Therefore, even if she suckled it for four or five years she causes uncleanness retrospectively for twenty-four hours or from the previous to the last examination. Now if you will carefully consider [the views just expressed] you will find that according to the view of R. Meir the menstrual blood is decomposed and turns into milk while according to the view of R. Jose, R. Judah and R. Simeon the woman’s limbs are disjointed and her natural vigour does not return before the lapse of twenty-four months. Why the necessity for the ‘therefore’ of R. Meir? — On account of the ‘therefore’ of R. Jose. But why the necessity for the ‘therefore’ of R. Jose? — It might have been assumed that R. Jose maintains that there are two [causes]; hence we were informed [that he upholds the one cause only]. So it was also taught: The menstrual blood is decomposed and turns into milk; so R. Meir. R. Jose stated: Her limbs are disjointed and her natural strength does not return before twenty-four months. R. Elai explained: What is R. Meir’s reason? That it is written, Who can bring a clean thing from out of an unclean? Is it not the Only One? And the Rabbis? — R. Johanan replied: The reference is to semen which is unclean, while the man who is created from it is clean; and R. Eleazar replied: The reference is to the water of sprinkling in the case of which the man who sprinkles it as well as the man upon whom it is sprinkled is clean while he who touches it is unclean. But is the man who sprinkles it clean? Is it not in fact written, And he that sprinkleth the water of sprinkling shall wash his clothes? — What is meant by ‘He that sprinkleth’? He that touches it. But is it not actually written, ‘He that sprinkleth’ and also ‘He that toucheth’? Furthermore, is not ‘He that sprinkleth’ required to wash his clothes while ‘He that toucheth’ is not required to do so? — Rather say: What is meant by ‘He that sprinkleth’? He that carries. Then why was it not written, ‘He that carries’? — We were informed that uncleanness is not contracted unless one carried the minimum quantity prescribed for sprinkling. This is a satisfactory explanation according to him who holds that sprinkling must be performed with a prescribed minimum of the water . What, however, can be said according to him who holds that no prescribed minimum is required? — Even according to him who holds that no prescribed quantity is required the ruling refers only to the quantity applied to the body of the man but as regards that which is in the vessel a prescribed quantity is required; as we have learnt: What must be the quantity of water that it shall suffice for a sprinkling? As much as suffices for both the dipping therein of the tops of the stalks and for the sprinkling. It is, in fact, in view of such laws that Solomon observed, I said: ‘I will get wisdom’; but it was far from me.

 

VI.   Communication of Impurity

 

The water Causes Impurity to People and to Impurity for an animal which is Slaughtered right after drinking the Water: Pesachim 17b-18a.

 

VII.  Those who do the Service of the Heifer

 

If the Sprinkler is someone from whom the sprinklee had vowed not to receive benefit: Rosh Hashanah 28a.

 

VIII.   Impurity from Temple Services

 

Impurity of the bringer of the Yom Kippur Scapegoat: Yuma 67b.

 

The Water of the Red Heifer causes Impurity to People and to Vessels: Pesachim 17b.

 

Vessels: Pesachim 17b.

 

Pesiqta deRab Kahana, Midrashic Homilies for Shabbat Parah Adumah, Pisqa IV:1 - All those who are engaged in the work of preparing the ashes of the red cow from beginning to end impart uncleanness to clothing [M. Par. 4:4], while the cow itself effects purification. [Supply:] Who has done so? Who has commanded so? Who has decreed so? Is it not the One, is it not the Unique One of the world?

 

Pesiqta deRab Kahana, Midrashic Homilies for Shabbat Parah Adumah, Pisqa IV:VI - R. Joshua of Sikhnin in the name of R. Levi: There are four matters concerning which the impulse to do evil brings doubts, and in the case of all of them, the word statute occurs.These are they: the rules governing the prohibition of marrying a brother’s wife, the prohibition of mixed species, the rule governing the goat that is sent forth [on the Day of Atonement] and the rule governing the red cow. As to the matter of the brother’s wife: You will not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife (Lev. 18:16). But it is also written, Her levir will have sexual relations [and take her as his wife] (Deut. 25:5). When the brother is alive, she is forbidden, but when he dies without children, she is permitted to him, and in that case the word statute occurs: You will guard my statutes and my judgments, which one will do and live (Lev. 18:5). As to the matter of mixed species: You will not wear mixed species [wool and linen together] (Deut. 22:11), but the case of a woolen cloak bearing linen show-fringes is one in which it is permitted to do just that. And in that case too the word statute occurs: You will keep my statutes (Lev. 19:19). As to the matter of the goat that is sent away: The one who sends the goat to Azazel shall wash his clothes (Lev. 16:26). The goat itself effects atonement for others [yet imparts uncleanness]. And in that regard, the word statute occurs: And you shall have this rule as an eternal statute (Lev. 16:29).And as to the red cow: there we have learned in the Mishnah, All those who are occupied with the work of burning the red cow from beginning to end impart uncleanness to clothing. The cow’s ashes themselves effect purification for the unclean [and yet those who burn the cow are unclean]. And the word statute occurs in context: This is the statute of the Torah (Num. 19:23).”

 

 

IX.  Temple Service of the Red Heifer

 

Which type of hyssop is used: Shabbat 109b, Succah 13a

 

The binding of the hyssop: Succah 13a

 

Using hyssop which is also known by a joint name: Succah 13a

 

Using a truncated hyssop: Menachoth 38b.

 

Sprinkling the Water on Shabbat, if it is the day before Pesach, to allow someone to eat the Pesach Offering: Pesachim 65b-66a.

 

Which parts of the Service require the Head Kohen: Kiddushin 26b.

 

How to dip a too-short hyssop into the water: Succah 37a.

 

What if one Sprinkled the water on the subject’s lips, or in his mouth: Kiddushin 25a.

 

What time the sprinkling is done: Megillah 20a [2x], 20b.

 

The type of rope used to bind together the cow when it was being burned: Eruvin 58a.

 

Purifying someone by sprinkling the water on them on Shabbat: Eruvin 67b-68a.

 

* * *

 

The Talmud relates the story of a non-Jew, Dama ben Nesina, who possessed a precious jewel needed to replace a stone missing from the breastplate of the Kohen Gadol. The Sages came to him and offered him a fortune for the stone, but he would not sell it to them because the key to the safe in which the jewel was kept was under the head of his sleeping father. He would not wake his father, even for a king’s ransom.

 

Because he was prepared to give up so much to honor his father, he was rewarded that a red heifer was born into his flock, and he sold that animal to the Sages for the same amount that he had forfeited.

 

Why was Dama ben Nesina rewarded specifically by a Parah Adumah being born into his flock?

 

The role of the Jewish People is to be a “Nation of priests and a holy people”, singled out from the rest of the nations by their exemplary behavior. So, when Dama ben Nesina, a non-Jew, demonstrated such self-sacrifice to honor his father, it awakened an accusation in the Heavenly courts against the Jewish People. For here was a non-Jew whose devotion to the mitzva of honoring his father was at least equal to that of the Jews, and where was the exemplary difference of the Jewish People?

 

Thus, the red heifer which was bought from him by the Sages demonstrated that even though Dama ben Nesina was capable of giving up a fortune for a mitzva that logic dictates, the Jewish People are prepared to give up an equal fortune for a mitzva that is infinitely beyond the grasp of human logic, merely because it is the will of HaShem.

 

The transformation of Rav Yochanan ben Torta is not as well known. The source is the P’sikta which describes the incredible, spiritually redemptive power of the Parah Aduma (Red Heifer):

 

Pesikta Rabati parsha 14 Our Rabbis taught: There was once a story of a Jew who owned a cow, with which he used to plow. He fell on hard times, so he sold his cow to one particular non-Jew. The non-Jew took it out and plowed with it for six days of the week. On Shabbat he took it out to plow, he placed it under the yoke, he walked and beat the animal, but it would not budge from its place. When he saw this he went to the Jew who sold him the cow and told him “Take your cow. It must be injured, for no matter how much I beat it, it will not move from its place.” The Jew understood that it must be because of Shabbat, being that the cow was accustomed to rest on the Shabbat. He said, “Come and I will get the cow moving”.  When they got there he went over to the cow and said in its ear “Cow, cow, you know that when I owned you, you ploughed during the week, and rested on Shabbat. Now due to my sins [I lost my money and had to sell you. Now] you are owned by a non-Jew. Please, I ask you, get up and plough”. The cow immediately arose and ploughed. The non-Jew said, “I ask of you, please take your cow. Until now I have been moving myself trying to get the cow up. Moreover I am not releasing you until you tell me what you said in that cow’s ear. I exhausted myself and beat the animal and it would not get up.” The Jew tried to placate the non-Jew, and said, “It was not magic and the cow is not possessed, but this is what I said in its ear …  and as a result it got up and ploughed.” The Non-Jew became immediately frightened; he said, “If a cow which can not speak and has no human intelligence can recognize its Creator, while I whom my Creator created in His image, and endowed me with human intelligence – I don’t recognize that I have a Creator?!” He immediately came and converted. He studied and merited [great success in] Torah. They called him Yochanan ben Torta (literally, son of the ox), and until this very day the Rabbis teach laws in his name. And if you are astounded how a cow brought a person under the wings of the Shechina, by virtue of a cow is the purity of the entire community of Israel.

 

X.   The Golden Calf vs. Parah Adumah

 

Our Hakhamim (Rabbis) tell us that by following a specific procedure, the Jewish people would atone for the sin of the golden calf. Several analogies can be drawn between the golden calf and the Parah Adumah process. As the golden calf was burned in fire, so too was the Parah Adumah. As the golden calf was crushed to dust, so too was the Parah Adumah reduced to dust and ashes. As the golden calf’s dust was mixed with water, so too were Bne Israel commanded to mix the Parah Adumah’s dust and ashes with water. As three thousand Jews died because of the golden calf, so too three different species: cedar wood, hyssop, and a red thread, were burned in the fire of the Parah Adumah. As the golden calf made impure a pure nation, so too the Parah Adumah made impure a pure person who touches it. As the golden calf’s dust purified the people when Moshe forced the Jews to drink water mixed with its dust, so shall the Parah Adumah purify an impure person. As the sin of the golden calf is preserved for all generations, so too the water of the Parah Adumah may be used in all generations.

 

XI.   Clean vs. Unclean

 

On the Shabbat after Purim, two Torah Scrolls are removed from the Ark. The Sidrah of the week is read from the first, and from the second, the chapter of Parah Adumah, the Red Cow (or Red Heifer), is read. It gives the procedure through which people can purify themselves from the contamination caused by a human corpse.

 

The reading of this chapter was instituted for this time of the year because Jews were required to purify themselves before coming to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festival of Passover.

 

The Ashlamata read on the Shabbat of Parashat Parah contains the verse, “And I shall sprinkle pure water upon you, that you be cleansed. From all your contamination and from all your filth I will cleanse you”.[13] There are other parallels in the Ashlamata between the concepts of sin represented by contamination, and atonement represented by purity.

 

This idea is discussed in the commentary to the ArtScroll Ezekiel (pp.534-5), as follows: Freedom of will in moral matters is the first and irreplaceable condition for living one’s life on the higher plane demanded by the Torah. Belief in man’s freedom of action, however, is endangered by the fact that man cannot avoid death and that he is subject to the superficial limitations imposed by the forces of nature.

 

This belief is particularly shaken by the sight of a dead human being. If the whole human being has succumbed to death, been overpowered by physical forces, If man, like all other organic beings, cannot escape the spell of an overpowering force, then there is no room for the moral “you shall” next to the physical “you must.” Moral freedom of will would then be an illusion, and the Divine law of morality with its demand for total free-willed devotion to the illuminating, purifying fire of its sanctuary would be incomprehensible.[14]

 

Thus, sin is related not only to death, but also to contamination, which is closely associated with death. Because the sinner is shackled by his desires, he loses spiritual control of actions. He is swept along by the physical lusts that have overpowered his spiritual self. Thus, the most meaningful part of life, the spiritual, has been killed. For this reason, when G-d forgives man’s sin and grants him a new heart and a new spirit, He is imbuing him with purity, the state of mind in which man is the sole master of his actions.

 

A living (and therefore a pure) person uses his body as he wills; it is his tool to use as he sees fit. The regenerate sinner, upon returning to the state of purity, joins once more the state of the living, and the free.[15]

 

As with the other of the Four Parashiyot,[16] a boy who is not yet of Bar-Mitzva age should not be called to the Torah for Maftir on Shabbat Parshat Parah, nor should he read the Parshah for others. For since he is free of the obligation of mitzvot, he cannot enable others to fulfill their obligation through him.

 

XII.   The Haftarah

 

PARSHAT PARAH Yechezkel 36:16-38

 

This Ashlamata, which we read in conjunction with Parshat Parah, predicts the Jewish people’s ultimate state of spiritual purity. The prophet Yechezkel addresses the Jewish nation and says in the name of HaShem, “I will sprinkle pure waters upon you and you will be cleansed from all your impurities and repulsiveness”.[17] These words refer to our final stages of purification wherein we will be totally cleansed from sin. Yechezkel compares this purification to a purification process from spiritual uncleanness. Careful analysis of this will reveal a significant dimension of this purity. Instead of comparing this purification to the traditional immersion process the prophet compares it to the waters of the red heifer. This particular procedure was reserved for one who came in contact with a corpse. Such contact transmitted severe ritual uncleanness, which required a unique purification process for its removal. This particular comparison suggests a corollary between one’s association with sin and association with death. Apparently, our spiritual state of purity from sin is likened to the ritual state of purity from death.

 

In order to appreciate this similarity it is necessary to examine the unique nature of the red heifer service. In this week’s maftir portion we read about the sacrificial service of the red heifer and its unique details and regulations. This sacrifice was limited to a perfectly red cow, which had never worn a yoke. Unlike all sacrifices the slaughtering of the heifer took place outside the walls of the Bait HaMikdash. The blood was not offered on the Temple alter but instead on Mount of Olives, facing the Temple. The entire heifer was burned and the ashes were mixed with spring water yielding the ritual mixture. This mixture was then sprinkled on all who came in contact with a corpse and ritual purity was achieved. Chazal[18] comment on the unusual nature of this sacrifice and reveal that it atoned for the sin of the golden calf. The redness of the cow reflected the redness of sin and the lack of yoke represented the Jewish people’s lack of recognition of HaShem’s sovereignty. The sacrifice itself was repeated whenever a new supply of ashes was necessary indicating the necessity for constant atonement from this grave sin.

 

The above insight reveals that purification from death can only be achieved through atonement for the sin of the golden calf. It stands to reason therefore that ritual impurity generated by death is directly related to the spiritual impurity caused by the golden calf. Apparently the spiritual impact of this sin was so powerful that it created an ongoing effect on the ritual purity status of every Jew. This intriguing phenomenon can be understood through the profound words of Chazal.[19] The Talmud teaches us that when the Jewish people received the Torah at Har Sinai they were released from the curse of mortality and became eternal beings. Their superhuman commitment and love for HaShem was so intense that it actually transformed their physical being into a semi spiritual one. During those elevated days, their bodies corresponded with their spiritual drives and contributed to their perfect service of HaShem. Even the cravings and urges of the body translated into perfect spiritual pursuits which elevated the Jewish people beyond our human comprehension.

 

We now return to the ritual sprinkling process and to the sacrifice of the red heifer. The Sefer Hachinuch[20] shares with us why association with death produces ritual uncleanness. He explains that when one passes away and his soul leaves the body nothing remains behind besides a physical shell. Now, barren of any trace of spirituality the body reflects the image of vanity. It now represents all one’s earthly urges and cravings and identifies with all his sinful practices of life.

 

When one comes in contact with this vain, sinful entity a degree of spiritual impurity is transmitted. As we have now discovered, this identity and association stems back to the shameful plunge of the golden calf. It was then that the Jewish body reverted to its physical state which now produces ritual uncleanness after one’s death. Therefore, atonement for the sin of the calf is actually a prerequisite of ritual purity. One must first recognize the severe repercussions of straying from the ways of HaShem and seeking alternate approaches to life. Detaching oneself from HaShem will result in a severe spiritual decline which accents mortality. Following this, as was the case for the Jewish people, one will succumb to his physical urges and cravings and plunge into sin. Understandably, atonement from the influence of these drives qualifies one for purification from the ritual impurity caused by these very same drives. The atonement waters produced by this sacrifice purify one from the impurities of his barren physical entity. This results in a proper appreciation of his true entity, the harmonious unit of body and soul.

 

We now understand the corollary between our purification from the effects of death and our ultimate state of purity. In describing our ultimate purity HaShem says, “And I shall give you a new heart and I will place a new spirit in your midst and remove the stone heart from your flesh”.[21] Ramchal in Daat Tvunot[22] explains that these words refer to the lifting of the curse of mortality. Our future appreciation of spirituality will have such an impact that it will virtually return us to the lofty state of spirituality. At that point, even our physical drives will be completely focused on HaShem allowing no trace of sin to exist. In essence, these very same waters which presently purify us from our contact with vanity will ultimately remove the entire curse of vanity from us. This ultimate purification will reflect such interest in HaShem that it will literally transform us unto eternal spiritual beings. May we merit this development in our very own days!

 

XIII.  A Chok

 

The laws surrounding the Parah Adumah are called chukim, decrees without apparent logical explanations. Other laws are called mishpatim, laws that are apparently logical or sensible, such as “Thou Shall Not Commit Murder”.

 

Everyone has had difficulties understanding the mitzva of someone who is impure due to contact with a corpse, which is effected through the ashes of the Parah Adumah. About King Solomon who says:

 

Kohelet 7:23 All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be rise; but it was far off from me.

 

R. Yitzchak says “Solomon said, I have understood the entire Torah, and this section about the Parah Adumah, from the time that I touched it, I have inquired into it, delved into it, probed it”.[23]

 

The reasons for the mitzva of Parah Adumah have always been beyond the knowledge of even the wisest scholars. In particular, it is a mystery how it purifies an impure person while at the same time rendering a pure person impure. The Torah does, however, give us certain hints in this regard. A parable is brought: one day, the little son of the maid, while playing, dirtied the spotless floor of the palace. “Where is this boys mother?” cried the king. “Let her come here and clean up her son’s mess”. Similarly, let the Parah Adumah come and clean up for the golden calf.

 

The ritual of purification using the Ashes of the Red Heifer is one of the least understood of HaShem’s commandments. Though these ashes were necessary to cleanse anyone entering the Temple, even the wise Solomon confessed that this was a riddle far from him. According to the Midrash,[24] when King Solomon wrote, “I said I would acquire wisdom, but it is far from me”,[25] he was alluding to his inability to comprehend some of the profound paradoxes involved in the commandment of the Red Heifer. This connection is verified in his use of the words vehi rechokah, which have the same gematria (441) as the words “Parah Adumah”, red heifer!

 

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch gives a complete straightforward explanation of this in his commentary on Numbers 19. Before making three supportive comments I will briefly explain Rav Hirsch’s 50 page commentary: Rav Hirsch claims that the Parah Adumah teaches us that: “All of us have a right to be bullish (=Parah) in our life aspirations. Our consequent passions (=complete redness) can be prevented from leading to sin (Chatat=sin offering) if we direct our life force (=blood) towards spiritual acts (=seven sprinkles towards temple). When a person partially loses his drive to produce in life because of his exposure to death(=Toomath Mayth) we cure him (=Taharah) by reminding him (=sprinkling) that he is both spiritual(=water) and animal(=Parah ashes)”.

 

Rav Hirsch continues to show how the Parah Adumah deals with our quest for freedom. I recommend reading the fifty pages in detail. Let me now make three further supportive points:

 

1) Rav Hirsch did not INVENT his symbolic methods. Rather they are based on his one hundred page essay “Towards a Groundline of Jewish Symbolism” in which he asks, “Can we interpret mitzvot symbolically?”, “Should we?”, “If yes how are we to do it?” So they are objective.

 

2) If Parah Adumah has a reason why is it called a Chok, which is erroneously translated as “without reason”? Actually, “Chok” simply means “deep reason”. Let me give an analogy: “Don’t play in the snow without a coat” has a transparent reason (since I will probably get sick immediately) while “Don’t eat salt because you might get high blood pressure” has a “deep reason” (ie. its consequences are not immediate but DO come).

 

3) Finally to quote Rav Yonah on Pirke Avot (“we do not understand the suffering of the righteous”) “We of course know the reason people suffer (because of their sins) but it is not as easily acceptable as most reasons.” I would say the same thing here for King Solomon.

 

XIV.  The Meaning of the Materials

 

Ash generally endures. The ash of the Parah Adumah symbolizes the principle of enduring life.

 

To the ash of the Parah Adumah cedar-wood and hyssop were added. Cedar-wood is a symbol of endurance and used as such in the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem, an enduring holy place. Hyssop is a symbol of purification. Since it was used for the smearing of blood on the door posts of the Israelite houses on the night of the exodus from Egypt, we may infer that hyssop was thought to open up blocked passages for the inflow of purifying energies. In Egypt this ensured that the angel of death did not enter the household carrying the symbol. The addition of cedar-wood and hyssop to the mix reinforced the impression in the minds of the people that the waters of purification opened up the blocked passages, preventing tumah = decay, and rendering the person free from impurities.

 

XV.  Shamayim - Heavens

 

What is ohna, Shamayim?

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 1:8 And G-d called the firmament “Shamayim” (Heaven). And the evening and the morning were the second day.

 

Rashi explains that the Heavens were actually created from an admixture of fire and water:

 

ohna  Shamayim = at Aish + ohn Mayim

 

Shamayim (Heavens) = Aish (fire) + Mayim (waters)

 

The symbols of water and fire are often used to indicate the presence of HaShem. In the wilderness, the presence of HaShem was manifest during the day by a pillar of cloud, the water, and at night by a pillar of fire. The ability for fire and water to exist in harmony is an act of HaShem. Only HaShem can bring this shalom between opposites.

 

Yosef HaTzaddik was an amalgamation of diverse character traits. On one hand, he manifested “gevurah” (strict justice and strength), as the pasuk says:

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 37:2 Yosef brought evil reports about his brothers. 

 

On the other hand, Yosef was capable of great Chesed, loving-kindness, as Yosef confided in the angel Gavriel:

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 37:16 I seek the fraternity of my brothers. 

 

Yosef was the fierce dictator of Egypt, as the pasuk describes:

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 42:6 Yosef was the ‘shalit’ (in absolute control).

 

This was another display of gevurah, strength. Simultaneously, he fed and nurtured the entire civilized world, “He was the provider”, an indication of his extreme Chesed, loving-kindness. This dichotomy fascinated Paro and precipitated Yosef’s rise to power. This is what Paro meant when he said:

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 41:38 Can we find another like him, who possesses such an inward spirit of HaShem

 

Yosef’s external appearance was one of pampering and physical indulgence. Therefore, when Paro discovered his hidden prophetic and spiritual powers, he reacted with fascination. How can one embody qualities that are so diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive?

 

The Parah Adumah, the red cow, is the perfect picture of Shamayim. The waters of the Parah Adumah are also Aish (fire) + Mayim (waters). These ashes bring shalom between HaShem and those who have come in contact with the dead – truly these are two opposites!

 

Once we understand the purpose of the ashes of the Red Cow, we can appreciate that Yeshua, Mashiach ben Yosef, had contracted tumah, uncleaness, by His contact with the dead (Himself) and his contact with a grave. When His Majesty ascended through the seven heavens, He was being sprinkled seven times with Shamayim = Aish + Mayim! Aish (fire) + Mayim (waters). When His Majesty returned from the Heavens, He was again sprinkled seven times. The Torah requires that one who has come in contact with the dead or a grave must be sprinkled seven times on the third day and seven times on the seventh day. After he immerses in the mikveh, he no longer has tumah and has become tahor (clean).

 

This repitious use of seven is the pattern in the Midrash as well:

 

Pesiqta deRab Kahana, Midrashic Homilies for Shabbat Parah Adumah, Pisqa V:2 - R. Hanan bar Pazzi interpreted the cited verse [The sayings of the Lord are pure sayings (Ps. 12:7)] to apply to the pericope of the Red Cow, which contains seven times seven [references to matters of purification, thus:] seven times is the red cow mentioned, seven times the burning, seven times the sprinkling, seven times the laundering of garments, seven times the matter of uncleanness, seven times the matter of cleanness, seven times the matter of priests. And if someone should say to you that in fact they are lacking [in not mentioning the priests seven times,] say to him, “Moses and Aaron count.” Now the Lord said to Moses and to Aaron, ‘This is the statute of the law which the Lord has commanded (Num. 19:1-13, pass.).

 

By ascending through the Shamayim, His Majesty was being purified so that there might be shalom between Himself and HaShem.

 

Thus we can see the connection between Yosef HaTzaddik and Mashiach ben Yosef. As Mashiach ben David, His majesty will truly encompass the character opposites that were displayed in Yosef HaTzaddik.

 

XVI.   Messianic Aspect

 

In this section I would like to examine the role of the ashes of the red heifer as they apply to Mashiach.

 

Since Yeshua came into contact with a dead body (His own) on Nisan 14, He would not have been allowed to enter either the earthly nor the heavenly Temple.

 

The Torah is clear on the procedures to cleanse the one who has touched a dead body or a grave:

 

Bamidbar (Numbers) 19:1-22 HaShem said to Moses and Aaron: "This is a requirement of the law that HaShem has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke. Give it to Eleazar the priest; it is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. Then Eleazar the priest is to take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the Tent of Meeting. While he watches, the heifer is to be burned--its hide, flesh, blood and offal. The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer. After that, the priest must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water. He may then come into the camp, but he will be ceremonially unclean till evening. The man who burns it must also wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he too will be unclean till evening. "A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. They shall be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin. The man who gathers up the ashes of the heifer must also wash his clothes, and he too will be unclean till evening. This will be a lasting ordinance both for the Israelites and for the aliens living among them. "Whoever touches the dead body of anyone will be unclean for seven days. He must purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third and seventh days, he will not be clean. Whoever touches the dead body of anyone and fails to purify himself defiles HaShem’s tabernacle. That person must be cut off from Israel. Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on him, he is unclean; his uncleanness remains on him. "This is the law that applies when a person dies in a tent: Anyone who enters the tent and anyone who is in it will be unclean for seven days, And every open container without a lid fastened on it will be unclean. "Anyone out in the open who touches someone who has been killed with a sword or someone who has died a natural death, or anyone who touches a human bone or a grave, will be unclean for seven days. "For the unclean person, put some ashes from the burned purification offering into a jar and pour fresh water over them. Then a man who is ceremonially clean is to take some hyssop, dip it in the water and sprinkle the tent and all the furnishings and the people who were there. He must also sprinkle anyone who has touched a human bone or a grave or someone who has been killed or someone who has died a natural death. The man who is clean is to sprinkle the unclean person on the third and seventh days, and on the seventh day he is to purify him. The person being cleansed must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and that evening he will be clean. But if a person who is unclean does not purify himself, he must be cut off from the community, because he has defiled the sanctuary of HaShem. The water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on him, and he is unclean. This is a lasting ordinance for them. "The man who sprinkles the water of cleansing must also wash his clothes, and anyone who touches the water of cleansing will be unclean till evening. Anything that an unclean person touches becomes unclean, and anyone who touches it becomes unclean till evening."

 

Now, since Yeshua was unclean because He had come into contact with both a dead body and a grave, we know that the requirements of the Torah demand that He be sprinkled with the ashes of the red heifer and immerse in the mikveh on the third and the seventh days.

 

It is also worth noting that the ashes of the red heifer are a picture of a greater reality. What is that greater reality? To answer this question, it is instructive to note the Master’s words:

 

Yochanan (John) 20:17 Yeshua saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

 

This sod level passage speaks in a confusing manner. What does “ascending to my Father” have to do with the Torah requirements? Nowhere does the Torah command that a man should ascend to HaShem before he can be touched! What is going on here?

 

Death requires the ashes of the red heifer and mikveh on the 3rd and 7th day, according to the Torah:

 

Bamidbar (Numbers) 19:9-12 And a man [that is] clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay [them] up without the camp in a clean place, and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water of separation: it [is] a purification for sin. And he that gathered the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: and it shall be unto the children of Israel, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among them, for a statute for ever. He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days. He shall purify himself with it on the third day, and on the seventh day he shall be clean: but if he purify not himself the third day, then the seventh day he shall not be clean.

 

This washing for death, and by intimation for sleep, is also found in:

 

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Mashiach shall rise first: Then we which are alive [and] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

 

Here we see both heaven and clouds. It bears repeating that heaven is called shamayim (שמים) in Hebrew. Shamayim is made up of two words, according to the Gemara:

 

Chagigah 12a What does ‘heaven’ [Shamayim] mean? R. Jose b. Hanina said: It means, ‘There is water’.[26] In a Baraitha it is taught: [It means], ‘fire and water’;[27] this teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, brought them and mixed[28] them one with the other and made from them the firmament.

 

Aish - אש = fire

Mayim - מים = water

 

Passing through the seven heavens is the reality typified by the ashes of the red heifer (red = fire, ashes = the result of fire) which are mixed with water (Mayim) and sprinkled on those who have come in contact with the dead or with a grave. When our Master died both his body and spirit were unclean because of death, but as he ascended through the heavens to present himself to the father, the heavens (Shamayim) themselves acted as the waters of purification of the Red Heifer which consist as well of fire and water mixed together. So passing through the seven heavens is the same as being sprinkled by the ashes of the red heifer.[29] This is the greater reality!

 

After the sprinkling with the ashes of the red heifer, the one who came in contact with the dead must be immersed in the mikveh. (In John 20:26, we see that after eight days Yeshua invited people to touch Him because He was now clean.)

 

 

Further, the cloud that the righteous are “in” is clearly an allusion to the mikveh (ritual immersion - baptism):

 

I Corinthians 10:2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;

 

So, those who have died, according to I Thessalonians 4:16-17, are given the same treatment by HaShem as the Torah required of all who came in contact with the dead.

 

Why are the ashes of the red heifer used for those who come in contact with a grave? I understand why they purify one who comes into contact with a dead body, but why a grave?

 

One of the Hebrew words for a grave is kever. Curiously, kever is also the Hebrew word for a womb. What does a womb have in common with a grave?

 

The answer is quite amzing! Both the womb and the grave are a portal to and from another world. Through this portal, this kever, a soul enters a body, an through the portal, this kever, a soul returns to the world it came from. When a soul is born, the mother must be purified according to the Torah, because she came into contact with a person coming through the portal (the mother came in contact with the portal – her womb). When a person dies, the grave becomes his soul’s portal to return. Those who come into contact with the portal must be purified. The purification from contact with a grave is more severe than from childbirth. So, a new mother is purified through the mikveh while those who come into contact with a grave are purified by the ashes of the red heifer and the mikveh.

 

XVII. Understanding the Parah Adumah

 

A chok (or chukim in the plural) in the Torah is a straightforward commandment from HaShem to people. Traditionally, we are meant to understand that chukim are not mitzvot we can explain – and the archetype of all chukim is the red heifer, the parah adumah.

 

It is, at least at first glance, a very difficult commandment to understand. Why should a red heifer that has never been yoked, be slaughtered and burned, and its ashes used to purify those who have been in contact with a dead human body?

 

The answer, like the Torah itself, is within our grasp. We start by reviewing the purpose of purification in the first place.

 

Ritual purification is not, in itself, holiness. Purification is nothing more or less than a preparatory step for doing something in holiness,  women go the mikveh before joining with their husbands in an act of potential biological creation, for example. The Torah is full of mitzvot requiring such purity, especially when approaching or serving in Hashem’s house on earth, the Mishkan.

 

So for almost every kind of impurity, the Torah tells us to immerse ourselves in the mikveh, and we are then ready to spend the rest of our day doing HaShem’s commandments to connect with the spiritual side of the world. But not for the worst kind of impurity: contact with a dead human body. For that impurity, immersion in a mikveh will not suffice. To serve HaShem in His house after contact with the dead, we must be sprinkled with the ash of the parah adumah, combined with water: the Torah calls it mayim chayim, usually translated as “spring water”, but literally it means “living water”.

 

And herein lies the first break in the case. The name for the parah adumah is “red heifer”. The colour red represents blood, the essence of the life force itself. And adumah, “red”, shares the very same root word as “land” and indeed “Adam” the first man. Nothing in the Torah is a coincidence! And neither is the fact that the word for ashes that the heifer is turned into, affar, is spelled “ayin-peh-reish - עפר” when the ashes are sprinkled on someone to remove the impurification of a dead person.

 

Consider: if the mikveh is to return to a ground state in place, then the red heifer is a way of returning to a ground state in both place and time. Time is important, of course, because every living thing was once alive, if we could but dial back the clock to before there was any death in the world, when everything was alive. And the mitzva of the parah adumah allows for precisely this to take place.

 

This is why the animal must never have been yoked. In order to take the person back to the time before death, to the moment of the creation of mankind itself, we must recreate the world of the sixth day of creation. In the moment that Adam was created, animals were free from the yoke of humanity.

 

HaShem made the first man, Adam, by taking ashes from the earth, and blowing the soul of life into his body. But note the language. G-d makes Adam from affar, spelled “ayin-peh-reish”. And then he blows chayim (life) into his nostrils.

 

In the case of the Parah Adumah, we also take the ashes from the earth (for the animal’s very name contains “earth”), and we combine those ashes with mayim chayim which we can now translate as “living water.” When we use the ashes and water to restore the purity of a person who has touched a corpse, we are doing nothing less than recreating the fundamental act of mankind’s creation, taking us back to the time before death!

 

P.S. One of the most famous questions asked by our Sages is why the priest who sprinkles the ashes becomes impure, tamei, in the process. There must be hundreds of proposed answers to this question. The above explanation would provide another: human acts of profound creation, briya always leaves the person committing the act in an impure state. Sprinkling the ashes and water is like recreating Adam haRishon, and it is an act of creation similar to human intercourse. Both acts require tahara (purity – cleaness) in preparation, and both leave the actors b’tamei (unclean) after the fact.

 

Why is this so? My guess is that every human act of creation leaves a whiff of what-might-have-been. We are imperfect, and so when we create, we always leave some potential creation uncreated. Such a missed opportunity is, in its own way, a shadow of death, of failure. Yet we are not commanded to avoid tumah; it, like failure, is an unavoidable byproduct of a productive life.

 

XVIII.  Conclusion

 

It will never be possible to remove the mosques that are on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and to build the Beit HaMikdash in their place except after the site and the builders etc have been ritually purified by the mixture of the ashes of the red cow, which must be slaughtered in a ritually clean site. Since no such sites are known to us today, we would need the mixture of the ashes of the red cow to prepare such a site.

 

The laws surrounding the Parah Adumah are called chukim, decrees without apparent logical. Other laws are called mishpatim, laws that are apparently logical or sensible, such as Thou Shall Not Commit Murder.

 

The regulations governing the Parah Adumah are introduced by the phrase: “This is the hukkat - the law of the Torah”.[30]

 

The text does not read: This is the law about impurity and purity. We may thus infer that all of the mitzvot of the Torah should be observed as chok, of divine institution, irrespective whether we understand the reason for their observance or not. They must be kept, even if they are shrouded in mystery and do not appeal to logic.[31] Hidden meaning underlies even the most obvious of the mitzvot, and underpinning them all there is one fundamental principle, the lifestyle regulated by our minds influences our quality of life.

 

Finally, the ashes of the Red Heifer were lost in the period of the later Talmudic sages (Amaraim), during the generation of Abaya and Rava [who lived in the Fifth Century], as mentioned in the Talmud.[32] This means that we require a Prophet to tell us where they are.

 

* * *

 


Passover  Nisan          Messianic

Day          Date            Event

--------------------------------------------------------------

0              14                Mashiach eats Passover with His disciples.

1              15                Mashiach is in the grave. Day 1

2              16                Mashiach is in the grave. Day 2

3              17                Mashiach is in the grave. Day 3

4              18                Mashiach is resurrected. Day 1 of uncleanness. He does not want to be touched.

5              19                Mashiach is alive. Day 2 of uncleanness.

6              20                Mashiach is alive. Day 3 of uncleanness. Red heifer sprinkling.

7              21                Mashiach is alive. Day 4 of uncleanness.

                22                Mashiach is alive. Day 5 of uncleanness.

                23                Mashiach is alive. Day 6 of uncleanness.

                24                Mashiach is alive. Day 7 of uncleanness. Red heifer sprinkling.

                25                Mashiach appears to disciples. He invites touching.

 

 


* * *

 


This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:

 

Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

4544 Highline Drive SE

Olympia, WA 98501

 

Internet address:  gkilli@aol.com

Web page:  http://www.betemunah.org/

 

(360) 918-2905

 

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Send comments to Greg Killian at his email address: gkilli@aol.com


 



[1] Chazal (Hebrew) = Our Sages

[2] A mitzva is the observance of one of HaShem’s commands.

[3] the sacrificial lamb

[4] Even two black or white hairs invalidate it

[5] A sacrificial animal

[6] The Tabernacle.

[7] Written and Compiled by Rabbi Eliyahu Kane & Rabbi Reuven Subar.

[8] Bamidbar  (Numbers) 19:3

[9] Based on the Talks of The Lubavitcher Rebbe

[10] Laws of the Red Heifer, ch. III: end

[11] As a keepsake

[12] Bamidbar (Numbers) 19:9

[13] Yehezechel (Ezekiel) 36:25

[14] R’Hirsch, Numbers 19:22

[15] Chazon HaMikra

[16] These are the four special readings that are read in the synagogue on the four of the Sabbaths preceding Passover.

[17] Yehezechel (Ezekiel) 36:25

[18] Rashi to Bamidbar 19:2 II

[19] Avodah Zarah 5a

[20] Mitzva 263

[21] 36:26

[22] 3:40

[23] Yalkut Shimoni Chukat 19

[24] Numbers Rabbah 19:3

[25] Ecclesiastes 7:23

[26] I.e. שמים  is explained as a compound of שם (‘there’) and מים (‘water’).

[27] I.e. שמים  is explained as a compound of אש (‘fire’) and מים (‘water’), the א of אש being omitted.

[28] Lit., ‘mixed by beating’.

[29] I learned this from my teacher, Hakham Dr. Yosef ben Haggai.

[30] Bamidbar (Numbers) 19:2

[31] Toldot Avraham

[32] Chagigah 25a