To meet the requirements of the Old Testament law, a red heifer was needed to help accomplish the purification from sin—specifically, the ashes of a red heifer were needed. The red heifer was a reddish-brown cow, probably at least two years old. It was to be “without defect or blemish” and to have never borne a yoke. The sacrifice of the red heifer was unique in the law in that it used a female animal, it was sacrificed away from the entrance to the tabernacle, and it was the only sacrifice in which the color of the animal was specified.
According to rabbinical tradition, there have been nine red heifers sacrificed since Moses’ time. Since the destruction of the second temple, no red heifers have been slaughtered. Those who anticipate the construction of a third temple are eager to find a red heifer that meets all the conditions, because the red heifer ashes will be necessary to purify the new temple. The cleansing waters are necessary to ritually purify the Temple Mount area, the sacred vessels, and the entire Levitical priesthood that are all being prepared for service today. The waters of sanctification were also sprinkled onto all those who were impure, and many were first purified in this process before entering the courts of the Temple.
In order for a cow to qualify as a red heifer for this holy purpose of purification, it must meet the following requirements, as outlined in Numbers 19, and also in the writings of the oral tradition of the Talmud:
The red heifer must be absolutely perfect in its redness. Even two hairs of any other color will disqualify it. Even its hooves must be red.
It was to be three or four years old. Although older animals could be used, younger could not.
It must be free of any kind of internal or external defect or blemish.
It must not have been used for any type of physical labor and never have been placed under a yoke – not even once!
Only an animal that meets all these requirements may be used to provide the ashes of the purification process in fulfillment of the commandment.
But rare is the operative word. Such a perfect creature is so elusive that its ceremonial burning has seldom happened in all of Jewish history. The Mishnah (an authoritative, written embodiment of Jewish oral tradition) teaches that only nine red heifers were sacrificed from the time of Tabernacle worship until the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD on Tisha B’Av. The Jewish sage Maimonides believed that the tenth animal would only be found and sacrificed when King Messiah was ready to appear. And this is one reason why many Jews and Christians wait in anticipation for the discovery of that perfect, unblemished red heifer capable of inaugurating the service of the Third Temple, which the Bible seems to indicate will play a central role in the spiritual life of all mankind.
The Temple Institute is the organization dedicated to preparing for the construction of the Third Temple in Jerusalem. Since 1967, red cows have started to be born in Israel. Two possible red heifer candidates were born—one in 1997 and then again in 2002. Although both were initially thought to be kosher, they were later found to be unsuitable. Even Christian Zionist ranchers in Texas have tried to produce a red heifer that they hoped could be transported to Israel. Still, efforts to produce the Parah Adumah are ongoing, and rumors abound that this rare red heifer does exist today.
In 2015, the Temple Institute began its Raise a Red Heifer in Israel project.
In 2018, they announced the birth of the first red heifer candidates, two perfectly red heifers, eligible for the historic role of being THE red heifer who returns to Israel, after 2000 years, the ability to achieve the highest level of Torah purity. Since their birth, the rabbinic experts of the Temple Institute have been keeping a close watch on these heifers, for any non-red hair that a heifer sprouts, or any minor injury that the heifer sustains will disqualify it from being a kosher red heifer.
In June 2020, they visited the two most advanced red heifers and filmed them. In the upcoming weeks they will receive another visit from the Temple Institute's experts for yet another close inspection. From the footage we are looking at, our two heifers seem perfectly red, but clearly they need to be cleaned up and properly inspected to truly determine their status. Should either or both of these red heifers remain eligible candidates, we will soon be ready to advance toward the stage of actually preparing the ashes.
Future Prophesies - the Stage is Set (Can Happen Any Day)
Numbers 19 is perhaps one of the most fascinating chapters in the entire Bible as it relates to the prophetic picture in which it paints.
Numbers 19 - Laws of Purification
Nu 19:1 Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 2 “This is the ordinance of the law which the Lord has commanded, saying: ‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come.
Red heifer – a cow that has never given birth or produced milk, and had to be completely red in color.
This would not only be rare, but pure as well, which as we’ll see shortly, has profound implications.
In addition to being rare and pure, this red heifer had to be without defect and it was to never have had a yoke, or burden placed on it.
The Lord gives them a new ordinance of the law commanding them to bring a red heifer without blemish as a sacrifice to the Lord.
This is interesting because it’s given years later, and the red heifer was to be sacrificed outside the camp instead of in the tabernacle.
I believe it’s for that reason a whole chapter is devoted to this sacrifice and the specific details regarding the instructions for the priests.
Charles Spurgeon – Observe that this red heifer was one where there never came a yoke. Perhaps this sets forth how willingly Christ came to die for us. Not dragged to His death. The free Son of God wears no yoke, except that yoke which was easy to Him and that burden which was light, the yoke of love which constrained Him to lay down His life for His people. www.spurgeongems.org
One commentator noted how that the Talmud claims the Red Heifer sacrifice was the only one of God's commands that King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, claimed he did not understand. They say that when Solomon wrote, "this was beyond” me Ecclesiastes 7:23), he was referring to the Red Heifer ritual.
Nu 19:3 You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, that he may take it outside the camp, and it shall be slaughtered before him;
They were to bring the red heifer to Eleazar who, as a priest, was to take it outside of the camp and slaughtered as he looked on.
While it’s about to get very graphic and very detailed, all of these specific instructions will have profound prophetic implications.
Nu 19:4 and Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood seven times directly in front of the tabernacle of meeting. 5 Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight: its hide, its flesh, its blood, and its offal shall be burned. 6 And the priest shall take cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet, and cast them into the midst of the fire burning the heifer. 7 Then the priest shall wash his clothes, he shall bathe in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp; the priest shall be unclean until evening. 8 And the one who burns it shall wash his clothes in water, bathe in water, and shall be unclean until evening. 9 Then a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and store them outside the camp in a clean place; and they shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for the water of purification; it is for purifying from sin.
Notice the graphic detail with which the sacrifice of this red heifer was made.
Also, notice the types of articles used in this sacrifice. They were to have cedar wood, hyssop, scarlet, fire, and water, all of which were part of this unique sacrifice unlike all of the others.
The use of scarlet will paint a powerful prophetic picture as it relates to the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
"When the female of the scarlet worm species was ready to give birth to her young, she would attach her body to the trunk of a tree, fixing herself so firmly and permanently that she would never leave again. The eggs deposited beneath her body were thus protected until the larvae were hatched and able to enter their own life cycle. As the mother died, the crimson fluid stained her body and the surrounding wood. From the dead bodies of such female scarlet worms, the commercial scarlet dyes of antiquity were extracted. What a picture this gives of Christ, dying on the tree, shedding His precious blood that He might "bring many sons unto glory" (Heb. 2:10)! He died for us, that we might live through Him! Ps. 22:6 describes such a worm and gives us this picture of Christ. (cf. Isa 1:18)" Henry Morris, "Biblical Basis for Modern Science" p. 73
Nu 19:10 And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until evening. It shall be a statute forever to the children of Israel and to the stranger who dwells among them. 11 ‘He who touches the dead body of anyone shall be unclean seven days. 12 He shall 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 day and on the seventh day, he will not be clean. 13 Whoever touches the body of anyone who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the Lord. That person shall be cut off from Israel. He shall be unclean, because the water of purification was not sprinkled on him; his uncleanness is still on him. 14 ‘This is the law when a man dies in a tent: All who come into the tent and all who are in the tent shall be unclean seven days; 15 and every open vessel, which has no cover fastened on it, is unclean. 16 Whoever in the open field touches one who is slain by a sword or who has died, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.
This is interesting for a number of reasons not the least of which is the large numbers of deaths everyday in the wilderness wandering. There is much speculation as to how many deaths per day, but suffice it to say, they would have touched dead body’s every day.
One reason for this purification was that it would protect them from diseases that one could get from coming into contact with a body.
This cleansing was for those who were unclean from touching a dead body. This was an effective medical law as well as a spiritual law. The water was combined with cedar, hyssop, and scarlet thread. This combination actually had the ability to destroy germs and infection because it contained "cedar" oil that came from a kind of juniper tree that grew in both Israel and in the Sinai. This cedar oil would irritate the skin, causing the person to vigorously rub the solution into their hands. The hyssop tree-associated with mint, possibly marjoram would produce hyssop oil. This hyssop oil is actually a very effective antiseptic and antibacterial agent containing 50 percent carvacrol, an antifungal and antibacterial agent still used in medicine. (Taken in part from: None Of These Diseases)
The Book of Hebrews (9:12-14) reveals that Paul, an educated rabbi, understood that the Red Heifer sacrifice had a practical medical effect (v. 13 “for the purifying of the flesh”), as well as its more obvious spiritual element.
Nu 19:17 ‘And for an unclean person they shall take some of the ashes of the heifer burnt for purification from sin, and running water shall be put on them in a vessel. 18 A clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water, sprinkle it on the tent, on all the vessels, on the persons who were there, or on the one who touched a bone, the slain, the dead, or a grave. 19 The clean person shall sprinkle the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day; and on the seventh day he shall purify himself, wash his clothes, and bathe in water; and at evening he shall be clean.
Now we get into specific uses for the ashes and how they were to be put on a vessel in order to purify and cleanse those items as well.
Nu 19:20 ‘But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself, that person shall be cut off from among the assembly, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. The water of purification has not been sprinkled on him; he is unclean. 21 It shall be a perpetual statute for them. He who sprinkles the water of purification shall wash his clothes; and he who touches the water of purification shall be unclean until evening. 22 Whatever the unclean person touches shall be unclean; and the person who touches it shall be unclean until evening.’ ”
Here the Lord gives them additional detailed instructions as it relates to purifying and cleansing oneself when becoming defiled.
It’s interesting to note that one must purify himself, and if he is assisting in the purification of another, he must be purified himself.
Also, ones uncleanness could easily make other people unclean in the event that he came into contact with them. How true is this?
There are many prophetic implications of this chapter – all the details in this sacrifice of the red heifer paints a perfect picture of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
The red heifer is significant prophetically as it relates to the first coming of Jesus Christ and the second coming of Jesus Christ as well.
“The orthodox Jews today, envision a tremendous problem in the rebuilding of the temple, before they could start sacrifices and all again, the priest would have to be purified. Well, interestingly enough, in one of the Ashbeas in the old city, young men are being trained for the priesthood right now. …But, as the orthodox point out, they cannot enter into the priesthood without going through the cleansing rites, and to go through the cleansing rites, “We have to have the ashes of a red heifer.” Pastor Chuck Smith, Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa
The Red Heifer and the Third Temple in End-Time Prophecy
“The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “This is a requirement of the law that the Lord has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke. … This will be a lasting ordinance both for the Israelites and for the aliens living among them.” (Numbers 19:1–2, 10)
Throughout almost 1,900 years of exile, the Jewish people yearned to return to Israel, build the Third Temple in Jerusalem and restore the Temple service.
Three times a day, observant Jews pray, “May the Holy Temple be rebuilt speedily and in our day.”
Although Jewish people have always lived in the Holy Land, after the Holocaust the Jews began returning to Israel en masse. In 1948, the Jewish nation was prophetically reborn (Isaiah 66:7–8) as the State of Israel, and ever since Jews have been streaming back to the Land from all four corners of the earth.
Since 1967, there has been a movement in Israel to rebuild the Holy Temple; however, the main obstacle is that the Temple Mount is currently occupied by the Dome of the Rock.
Just as the regathering of the Jewish People is fulfillment of Bible prophecy, so too is the building of the Third Holy Temple.
“He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:12; see also Jeremiah 23:3, 8; Ezekiel 28:25; Ezekiel 11:17; Zechariah 10:6–12; Psalm 147:2)
“‘The glory of this present [acharon—last] house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD [YHVH] Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD [YHVH] Almighty.” (Haggai 2:9)
Today, many of the preparations for the Third Temple have already been completed, including the sacred worship vessels and priestly garments to be worn by the Levites in Temple services.
As well, over 500 young Jewish men, descended from the tribe of Levi, have been trained as Temple Priests to fulfill their duties of worship and sacrifice in the Temple.
But the Temple service can’t begin without the parah adumah (red heifer).
What does a cow have to do with the rebuilding of the Holy Temple? How could a simple animal play a vital role in the success or failure of such a monumental event?
God’s word states that only the red heifer can restore the Biblical purity needed to rebuild the Temple.
“Then Eleazar the priest is to take some of its [red heifer] blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the Tent of Meeting.” (Numbers 19:4)
An unblemished, pure red heifer is the key ingredient to Temple worship (Numbers 19:1–2, 10).
The Ashes of the Red Heifer and Ritual Purity
“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 are to be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin.” (Numbers 19:9)
According to The Temple Institute, the organization dedicated to preparing for the construction of the Third Temple in Jerusalem, these cleansing waters are necessary to ritually purify the Temple Mount area, the sacred vessels, and the entire Levitical priesthood that are all being prepared for service today.
The waters of sanctification were also sprinkled onto all those who were impure, and many were first purified in this process before entering the courts of the Temple.
“‘You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them.'” (Leviticus 15:31)
Many conditions may cause ritual impurity or defilement, but one of the most severe comes through exposure to death. Defilement from contact with death is called tumas meis. This state of uncleanness lasted seven days and prevented a person from participating in the community or Temple worship.
Although various methods may be employed to cleanse a person from other forms of defilement, such as ritual water immersion (mikvah), the ashes of the red heifer is the only remedy for the defilement that results from contact with a corpse.
Although some Jews and Christians think that the red heifer is something from the past, never to be seen again, Ezekiel, who prophecies about the rebuilt Third Temple, also mentions these waters of purification in conjunction with the regathering of Israel, linking the red heifer to the end times and the coming Messianic Era:
For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back to your own land.
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:24–26; see also Daniel 12:10; Isaiah 1:18)
The Mystery of the Red Heifer
The rabbis consider the red heifer one of the greatest mysteries of the Torah. Even they wonder how it’s possible that the ashes of the sacrificial animal can purify from sin and defilement.
Furthermore, in an apparent paradox, these same ashes that purified also made anyone involved in the red heifer preparations—from the person who gathered the ashes to the person who sprinkled the water—unclean until evening.
The commandment regarding the red heifer is such a mystery that the rabbis place it in the category of chukkim—divine decrees that cannot be understood by our limited human understanding. Kosher and dietary laws also fit into this category.
Some Jewish sages believe the ordinance of the red heifer to be connected to the sin of the golden calf.
The red heifer is believed to serve in some way as atonement for the terrible consequences of the Israelites worshiping the golden calf when they were brought out of Egypt.
Ultimately, however, understanding the reasons behind the red heifer and the mechanism of this purification process is beyond our intellectual capacity.
Nevertheless, there are those Orthodox Jews who are willing to humble themselves and be obedient in performing it because they love and fear God.
“Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, ‘We will do everything the LORD [YHVH] has said; we will obey.’” (Exodus 24:7)
The Third Temple: Finding the Red Heifer
In order for a cow to qualify as a red heifer for this holy purpose of purification, it must meet the following requirements, as outlined in Numbers 19, and also in the writings of the oral tradition of the Talmud:
1. The red heifer must be absolutely perfect in its redness. Even two hairs of any other color will disqualify it. Even its hooves must be red.
2. It was to be three or four years old. Although older animals could be used, younger could not.
3. It must be free of any kind of internal or external defect or blemish.
4. It must not have been used for any type of physical labor and never have been placed under a yoke – not even once!
Only an animal that meets all these requirements may be used to provide the ashes of the purification process in fulfillment of the commandment.
The animal was not technically a sacrifice, since it was not slaughtered and burned in Temple; rather, it was slaughtered on the Mount of Olives, outside the camp (Numbers 19:3).
The Temple Institute, which has already prepared the sacred Temple vessels, has in the past identified two possible red heifer candidates—one in 1997 and then again in 2002. Although both were initially thought to be kosher, they were later found to be unsuitable.
Even Christian Zionist ranchers in Texas have tried to produce a red heifer that they hoped could be transported to Israel.
Still, efforts to produce the Parah Adumah are ongoing, and rumors abound that this rare red heifer does exist today.
But rare is the operative word. Such a perfect creature is so elusive that its ceremonial burning has seldom happened in all of Jewish history.
The Mishnah, which is an authoritative, written embodiment of Jewish oral tradition, teaches that only nine red heifers were sacrificed from the time of Tabernacle worship until the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD on Tisha B’Av [begins on the evening July 28, this year].
The Jewish sage Maimonides believed that the tenth animal would only be found and sacrificed when King Messiah was ready to appear.
And this is one reason why many Jews and Christians wait in anticipation for the discovery of that perfect, unblemished red heifer capable of inaugurating the service of the Third Temple, which the Bible seems to indicate will play a central role in the spiritual life of all mankind.
“Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7)
The Jewish sages believe that when the Messiah comes, He will stand on top of the roof of the Temple and proclaim, “Humble Ones! The time of your redemption has arrived! (The Temple Institute)”
Yeshua and the Red Heifer
Despite the willingness of many Jewish people to rebuild the Temple and reinstitute the Temple service, including the slaughter of the red heifer, the Jewish people have been left without a Temple in Jerusalem to perform the animal blood sacrifices that make atonement for sin. Because of this, blood atonement is no longer a focal point in Judaism.
The focus has been put on doing charity, good deeds, and prayer for about 1942 years! That’s a long time! And that’s why the concept of blood atonement is far from the Jewish People.
This is one of the reasons why it’s difficult for Jewish people to connect the Messianic Prophecy of Isaiah 53 and the concept of the blood atonement for the forgiveness of sin with Messiah Yeshua’s death on the execution stake.
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, … he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:10, 12)
The red heifer itself prophetically points to Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah and His death on the execution stake. He who was perfect, unblemished and sinless took upon Himself the sins of the world so that we could become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Just as the red heifer was slaughtered outside the camp, so was Yeshua slaughtered outside the City of Jerusalem (Hebrews 13:12).
The Book of Hebrews confirms that it’s through the blood of Yeshua the Messiah that we may be purified from all of our sins.
The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:14)
THE MYSTERY OF THE RED HEIFER: DIVINE PROMISE OF PURITY
"Then I shall sprinkle pure waters upon you, and you shall be clean, from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. I will also give you a new heart, and I will place within you a new spirit... " (Ezekiel 36:25-26)
The following in-depth study of the history and tradition of the red heifer has been excerpted from the book The Mystery of the Red Heifer: Divine Promise of Purity, (no longer in print), written by Rabbi Chaim Richman, 5757/1997, © 1997, 2005, Rabbi Chaim Richman, Jerusalem, Israel - All Rights Reserved.
In our own times, the commandment of the red heifer takes on more and more significance. For without it, the Divine service of the Holy Temple cannot be resumed. There is a spiritual renaissance today in Israel; after almost 2,000 years, Israel is clearly moving towards the time when the Holy Temple on Mount Moriah - the prophesied Third Temple - will be rebuilt.
More and more Jews are returning to the Torah, to the G-d of Israel and the ways of our fathers. And more and more are beginning to realize that the Holy Temple is the only solution for achieving the elusive peace we all desire to see: for the Creator Himself, the Supreme Author of peace, has stated: "The honor of this last house will be greater than that of the first, says HaShem of Hosts; and in this place I will grant peace, says HaShem of Hosts" (Haggai 2:9).
But the sages of Israel enigmatically stated that when the Messiah arrives, he will stand atop the roof of the Holy Temple and cry out: "Humble ones! The time of your redemption has arrived!" Thus: the Temple will be built before the Messiah arrives.
YEARNING FOR THE TEMPLE
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we
remembered Zion. We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst
of it. For there those who carried us away captive required of us
a song. And those who plundered us required of us mirth, saying,
"Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
How shall we sing HaShem's
song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my
right hand forget her skill! If I do not remember you, let my
tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth - if I do not exalt
Jerusalem above my chief joy.
The 137th Psalm, a hymn of the exiles of Jerusalem during the Babylonian captivity, eloquently expresses the yearnings of the Jewish people for their homeland, their City and their Temple - then and now.
JERUSALEM, OUR SPIRITUAL SOURCE
Jerusalem, the city chosen by G-d, has always remained the focal point of the Jewish people and the object of all their yearnings. The Jews have never had another capital, and it has never been the capital of any other nation. The unique status the city holds for the people of Israel is unparalleled. And the Holy Temple that stood in Jerusalem is what gave the city its eternal meaning. It still continues to inspire its future hope. The Temple was not only the soul of the city, but the soul and conscience of the entire earth; the wonder of the world and focal point for the prayers of mankind... as it will be again. Through all their bitter wanderings, Jews have prayed three times daily "may the Holy Temple be rebuilt speedily and in our day." And when a Jew prays, wherever in the world he happens to be, he stands and faces Jerusalem and the spot of the Holy Temple, just as Daniel did in Babylonian captivity. The act of facing Jerusalem in prayer shows solidarity with our spiritual source.
For a period spanning nearly 1,000 years, the Holy Temple functioned as the heart of the Jewish people. It was the center of life for all that was considered of value in Israel: the kingdom, the spirit of prophecy, the Sanhedrin, and most importantly... the Divine service. Here, in this house of prayer for both Israel and the nations, the kohanim (priests) and Levites attended to their sacred duties. From every corner of the ancient world, people streamed to the Holy Temple to absorb something of the holiness and the spirit of purity that resided in this place.
THE ROLE OF THE HOLY TEMPLE
The Holy Temple was not just some magnificent building or synagogue rooted in Jerusalem's ancient Biblical past; it was an arena of cosmic themes; a place where man could meet with his Creator. This represents one of the most important concepts of Jewish belief: that man has the capacity to engage in a direct, constant, and fulfilling relationship with his Creator. It was the world's true spiritual center, and the medium for that unfolding relationship.
It is the reality of the living memory of that relationship as it once was, and the dream of its renewal, that keeps the fires of the Temple altar burning within the collective heart of the nation of Israel, and the hearts of all those who cherish her G-d and His message for humanity. The Holy Temple is the secret of the Jewish people's survival; when it stands in the place chosen by the Creator, Israel is able to focus and connect all of her energies and powers to a sense of Divine purpose. This is the role of the Holy Temple in the life of man: to enable one to realign himself, to dedicate one's whole self to G-d, to elevate every aspect of the human experience to holiness and return the energy which He gives us to His service.
RABBAN YOCHANAN AND THE DESTRUCTION
The Jewish people have never forgotten the Holy Temple; it has never left their collective consciousness, not even for an instant. The great Jewish leader Rabban Yochanan was an eye-witness to the Temple's destruction. Acting out of a firm belief that the Temple would be rebuilt speedily, and concerned that its practices and procedures should remain fresh in Israel's collective memory, Rabban Yochanan enacted a series of measures which fully demonstrate the centrality of the Holy Temple in the lives of the Jewish people... a centrality so vibrant and a force so powerful in her life, that it remains not merely a memory, but a fire which refuses to be extinguished. Truly, all other factors in Israel's national life are eclipsed by the importance of the Holy Temple.
Rabban Yochanan's legislation includes, for example, the ruling that priests who can keep track of the day on which their shift serves in the Temple service should behave themselves on those days as if the Temple still stood - meaning, they should abstain from drinking wine, so that they will remain in a state of readiness to resume their priestly duties.
Similarly, other customs were adopted by the majority of Israel which were designed to keep the Temple's memory at the forefront of their awareness. For example, the famed sage Hillel's custom of eating the matzah and bitter herb together in a sandwich on the seder night, in the same manner that the Passover celebrants ate in Jerusalem in the shadow of the Temple. Likewise, to paraphrase Psalms 137:6, "Jerusalem is to be raised above our chiefest joy." Thus at the hour of a man's chiefest joy, his wedding, he breaks a glass under his foot to symbolize the destruction of the House of the Lord. The message is clear: Even this great moment of joy, perhaps the greatest of his life, cannot be complete as long as the Temple still lies in ruins.
In section 560 of Rabbi Joseph Caro's (1488 - 1575) monumental Code of Jewish Law, we find other instances of these remembrances which were enacted by the great sages living in the generation of the Second Temple's destruction. For example, when an individual builds a home, he must leave a small section of the wall opposite the entrance blank and unplastered.
THE RED HEIFER: THE MISSING INGREDIENT
What does a red heifer have to do with any of this? Perhaps it would be difficult for some to believe that a cow could be so important. But in truth, the fate of the entire world depends on the red heifer. For G-d has ordained that its ashes alone are the single missing ingredient for the reinstatement of Biblical purity - and thereafter, the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. And as we will discuss in these pages, the ashes of the red heifer rectifies humanity's most basic flaw: despair. The despair brought about by the loss of the Temple and the Divine Presence amongst us.
Purification with the red heifer reminds us that man has the potential to rise above his transitory physical existence, with all its false sense of hopelessness and misery... the "impurity" of death. This is the role of the Third Temple for all mankind, and this is the Messianic vision of the future: the call to live an eternal life, liberated from the sham and unhappiness which is the sum total of the human condition for so many people. The call for the true joy of living life to the fullest - with the knowledge of G-d.
The Divine ordinance of the heifer, beyond the grasp of man's frail intellect, with all the details of its preparation and ceremony, calls out to Israel and to all who seek to cling to the living word of the G-d of Israel: "Purify yourselves! Shake off your despair! Death is an illusion!" Thus it is written, "...but all of you who cling to HaShem your G-d... you are all alive today" (Deut. 4:4)
THE GOLDEN CALF
In this light, we are aware of an important tradition taught by the rabbis: there is a connection between the concept of the red heifer and the sin of the Golden Calf which Israel, under the influence of the Mixed Multitude, committed in the desert forty days after the Revelation at Mount Sinai.
The consequences of this sin were enormous, for it was this single event which introduced the concept of the impurity of death into the world. The rabbis employ a parable to aid in our understanding of the cord that connects between the golden calf and the red heifer:
"A handmaiden's son soiled the king's palace with his filth. The king commanded, 'Let the mother come, and clean up the child's filth'."
In the same way, the red heifer serves to atone for the spiritual chaos brought into the world through the golden calf.
Similarly, the prohibition against a yoke, as well as other aspects of this detailed commandment, can be interpreted on a symbolic level.
For example, the heifer must not have harnessed a yoke, for it reminds us that at the fiasco of the golden calf, Israel threw off the yoke of heaven. It must be red, on account of the verse which promises "If your sins will be red as scarlet, they shall whiten as snow" for sin is alluded to as red. But it must be "perfect" in its redness, for Israel was faultless in her devotion to G-d before she sinned.
But it must be remembered that all of these comments are merely allegorical allusions, for we cannot even scratch the surface of understanding the true nature and essence of this commandment...
MOSES UNDERSTOOD THE MYSTERY
In the future world, when all men live on a higher plane of awareness, we shall be able to understand the mystery of the red heifer. In the meantime, Moshe was the only human being to whom G-d ever granted the ability to understand. This is expressed by the words of the verse, "Speak to the children of Israel and have them bring you a red heifer." As the sages comment on these words, "G-d told Moshe, 'To you I have revealed its secret; but for everyone else, it shall remain a chok - it must be adhered to without questioning."
The story of the red heifer has attracted the attention of thousands, the world over. In Jerusalem, we continue to receive letters from people hailing from many countries and all walks of life, always asking the same questions: "Is there a red heifer yet?" "Could you teach us about the red heifer?" Indeed, a cow can be very important, to many people!
Perhaps this unusual degree of global interest can best be illustrated by a story recorded in the Talmud, almost 2,000 years ago:
Once, a Jew became impoverished and was forced to sell his plowing heifer to a heathen. The heathen used her to plow for six days, and when the Sabbath arrived he took her out to plow as well, just as he had done on every other day. But on this day, the heifer seemed possessed. She struggled under the yoke, and refused to move. The owner kicked her and hit her, but the heifer would not budge from the spot.
The heathen went back and told the Jew, "take your heifer back; perhaps there is something wrong with her. As much as I strike her, she will not move." The Jew understood that the heifer was accustomed to resting on the Sabbath. He bent down and whispered into the animal's ear, "Heifer, heifer, I know that when you belonged to me, you would plow during the six work days, and rest on the Sabbath. But alas! I have had to sell you, and now this one possesses you. He does not recognize the sanctity of this day. Please go and plow for him."
The heifer began to plow immediately. The buyer stood spellbound at this sight, and when he sufficiently recovered from his shock he grabbed hold of the Jew and demanded "I asked you to take her back. Now I won't let you go from here, until you tell me what it is that you did in her ear! I struggled with her and hit her, and she wouldn't stand!
The Jew began to calm and appease him. "I did no magic or spell," he explained. "I just told her that she must come to terms with the fact that she must now work on the Sabbath... "
The man stood thunderstruck. Trembling with awe, he whispered "If this cow, who cannot speak and has no understanding, recognizes its Creator....what of me, whom that same Creator made in His own image, and bestowed with intelligence?! Should I not become acquainted with Him?"
That man embraced the G-d of Israel, and eventually became a great and respected scholar.
G-d uses many devices to bring His children back to Him. And commenting on this anecdote, the rabbis observed: "And if one should wonder, how could a man turn his life around, and come close to G-d on account of a heifer?!" Do not wonder: For it is through the heifer that all of Israel becomes pure.
We are now in the time foreseen by the prophet Haggai, and when we come together to hear about the G-d of Israel and His plan for the Redemption, the Holy One "shakes the heavens and the earth, the dry land and the sea, and the finest things of all nations" are drawn out, in search of ways to serve our Creator and to understand our obligations to Him.
Our prayer is that this teaching will reach the hands of those who are looking for it, those who identify with its message: The vision of purity, repentance, joy, and the time of prophetic fulfillment, when the prophet Zechariah tells us that "G-d and His name will be One."
"Behold, He stands behind our wall, watching from the windows, peeking out from the lattice-work" (Song of Songs 2:9).
Our Creator guides our lives, and the more sincerely we search for Him in our lives, the more He allows us to sense His presence in our affairs; the more He allows us a glimpse , however fleeting , of the awesome destiny that beckons to us, if we only have the courage to rise to meet it.
The question is often asked Why is there such a sense of urgency to make ready the red heifer ?
The answer is simple. To be a Jew is to be filled with a sense of urgency. The Jewish people were chosen by G-d. But what were we chosen for? To sanctify His Name by bearing witness to His existence, and to be the vehicle by which G-d manifests His will throughout the course of human history. If one is given a task to perform by the Almighty, should it not be considered urgent? The prophet also calls upon Israel to be "a light unto the nations." But one cannot be a light to others if he himself sits in the dark. The source of our light is the Divine Presence, which will again dwell in the Holy Temple, as promised by every prophet of Israel.
We are moving towards our destiny. For all those who wish to be alive in the truest sense - "And all of you who cling to HaShem your G-d, you are all alive today" - to be alive in these special times is an urgent matter. G-d beckons to us to hasten our own redemption, and nothing is by chance.
The Divine ordinance of purification through the ashes of the RED HEIFER, as outlined in the book of Numbers, chapter 19
Biblical law is concerned with several types of impurity which have a direct affect on everyday life, especially when the Holy Temple is standing. The most severe type of impurity is that which is caused by exposure to death. There are several methods for restoring purity, most notably immersion in water - but the Torah's exclusive antidote to the impurity of death is purification by sprinkling of the red heifer's ashes. Many of the thousands who arrived at the Holy Temple had to undergo this process before they could enter into the Court.
The ordinance of the red heifer has detailed requirements which must be met. Some of these are directly relayed in the Biblical verses of Numbers chapter 19; many others were transmitted orally to Moshe and than passed down by the rabbis throughout the generations, until the present day. These are expounded upon in the writings of the Oral Tradition.
The heifer must be three years old and perfect in its redness. This means that the presence of as few as two hairs of any other color will render it invalid; it is related that for this reason, the red heifer was always very expensive to procure. Even its hooves must be red. It must also be totally free from any physical blemish or defect, whether internal or external.
Although the red heifer is not a sacrifice per se, for it is not slaughtered in the Temple, it is forbidden that the heifer should possess any of those blemishes which render any sacrifice invalid - such as those enumerated in the book of Leviticus, chapter 22. The red heifer also has an additional, unique requirement: it must have never been used to perform any physical labor. In fact, using the animal in any physical sense at all would render it invalid, even for the slightest, most minor thing. This would include riding, or even leaning on her. The only exception would be some labor which is intrinsically necessary for the heifer's own welfare, such as tying her for her own safety. But if a yoke were placed upon her even once, even if she were not used to plow - this would be enough to render the heifer unfit for use. Thus Scripture states, "that a yoke never went on."
The commandment calls for the animal to be a "heifer," that is, 3 or 4 years old; although an older animal could also be used. Since the verse instructs us to take a heifer, we do not purchase a calf and wait for it to grow older while in our custody; "and take a heifer" means that the act of acquisition has to take place while the animal is a heifer. However, if a red calf is available, a price can be set with its owner, and the transaction can be concluded, but we do not take possession until it reaches the proper age as mandated by the Torah.
The animal which meets these requirements and others could be used to fulfill the commandment of providing the ashes for the purification process. This heifer must be brought to the "Mount of Anointment," a precise location on the Mount of Olives, opposite the eastern gate of the Temple Mount. There the heifer must be slaughtered and burned. Afterwards, its ashes are mixed together with natural spring water. It is this solution, called by Torah "the waters of sanctification," which is used to sprinkle on those who are impure.
Understanding the Concept of Biblical Purity: An Idea that Defies Translation
One of the aspects of life during the era of the Holy Temple which is perhaps most difficult for contemporary man to relate to is the concept known as "cleanness" or "purity" and its opposite, various states of "impurity" or "uncleanness." We arbitrarily assign these terms as translations for the original Hebrew, but a precise translation is impossible to achieve.
G-d told Moshe and Aharon, "you must warn the Israelites about their impurity, so that their impurity does not cause them to die if they defile the tabernacle that I have placed among them" (Lev. 15:31). This verse thus indicates that the laws of purity apply to the tabernacle and the Holy Temple. For this reason, many of these rules have less bearing on our day-to-day lives nowadays (however, all who are ritually unclean are still forbidden to enter the sanctified area of the Temple Mount, even today). But even so, those knowledgeable and observant kohanim (the priests; all those who are descendants of Aharon) amongst the Jewish people do abide by some of these guidelines even today - as they are required by the word of G-d, for all generations.
In the context of the Temple, purity and impurity are not mere words, but vast concepts. They defy literal translation because this purity or its lacking has no connection with physical cleanliness. It is a spiritual, ethereal state; a unique Torah law. To be impure in this state is most certainly to be "unclean" in a sense, yet it is not rooted in the realm of hygiene or the like at all - for it is not a physical state, but a condition of the soul; a spiritual lacking.
Causes of Impurity
Torah law teaches that impurity can be caused by a variety of factors. Certain types of impurity are more serious - meaning more difficult to cleanse - than others. The most severe of all is that which is brought on by exposure to death; indeed, although there are many types of impurity, the state which Torah law is most commonly concerned with is generally associated with some aspect of death, either of a human being or another life form; or with sickness. We shall see that this concept has a vital relationship to the subject of life in the Holy Temple.
Impurity Retards and Repels Holiness
This illusive impurity is in diametric opposition to the state of holiness, man's intended and desired aspiration. Thus one who is impure is forbidden contact with anything holy: he cannot eat of that which is sanctified; neither can he touch that which is holy. He cannot enter a sanctified area; for this reason an individual who has been exposed to death is forbidden to enter the sanctified area of the Temple Mount until he undergoes the proscribed process of purification... sprinkling by the ashes of the red heifer. Impurity indicates a spiritual imbalance, and the Temple is the place which restores this balance.
The Highest Levels of Sanctity
The sanctity of Jerusalem in general and the Holy Temple in particular is greater than any other place on earth. Because of this, these places are governed by special laws of purity mandated by the Bible. While the priests must generally be on their guard against any form of defilement, they must exercise particular care to guard themselves from contact with the most stringent form of impurity of all: that which is caused by exposure to death. This is why they are instructed not to become defiled "by the dead among his people," with the exception of the close blood relatives who are mentioned. This applies to the ordinary priests, but the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) may not even come into contact with these.
The entire notion of ritual impurity is difficult enough to understand. But the most severe form of this state, contact with death, brings about a state of defilement so aggressively uncompromising in its spiritual hold, that it cannot be rectified except for purification through the ashes of the red heifer. This topic encompasses an entire world-view so enigmatic that an individual seeking to fathom its implications will almost inevitably encounter confusion - and possibly, grave misunderstandings as well.
The very fact that this concept is a chok precludes complete understanding. Still, by attempting to scratch the surface so that we might have some idea of even a modicum of its significance, we will be able to gain a more correct insight into the Torah's view of death itself.
Just what is it about death that causes such impurity? Is this a throwback or remnant of some deep-rooted, tribal taboo; a superstitious practice recalling the earliest, most base and primordial fears of man?
Nothing can be further from the truth, for the very essence of Jewish religious teachings is that the sanctity of life is above else.
Then why must the tribe of Aharon stand back from contact with the dead?
In reality, within the answer lies the core of what distinguishes Judaism, the faith of the One G-d of Israel. For while ancient heathenism paid tribute to gods of death, who claimed everything and everyone as their own, and overpowered all - Judaism pays no heed to death. While other religions viewed - and still view - life as a preparation for death, and thus center their lives around death as the main event in the human experience, Judaism is a celebration of life.
A G-d of Life, Not Death
For the masses, religious matters are associated with death. Judaism does not concern itself with death, nor with thoughts of death. While others view death as a manifestation of a God who sends death so that men should fear Him, the G-d of Israel declares through His Torah that He is the G-d of life.
The foremost place of the Jewish priests is not around the dead and dying. They are emissaries of the G-d of life, who manifests Himself by giving life and the promise of eternal life. The commandments of the Torah concern themselves not with how one is to die, but how one is to live in the sanctification of that G-d of life. In order to really live a life of dedication to Divine purpose, one must conquer death... the death in life of those who are enslaved by their own physical urges and moral weaknesses. "The righteous are called 'alive' even after they have died; but the wicked are called 'dead' while they yet live" (BT Berakhot 18:A).
The Debilitating Illusion of Death
Yes, death is a reality, and very much a part of life. But when others must busy themselves with acts of lovingkindness for an empty body whose soul has been removed by G-d, the priests must keep their distance... for that body is now devoid of life. This is the secret of why a dead body defiles! For only life is holy. Once life has departed, it is not the stuff of death itself which renders impurity - but the absence of G-d-given life. And faced with death, the priests who serve before the eternal G-d must occupy themselves with thoughts of what life really is, and not allow themselves to succumb to the morbid illusions of despair which the vision of death invariably causes for others.
Those illusions, those thoughts of death, are not the truth; the priest must not allow the truth of the Infinite Creator, who has no beginning and no end, to be overpowered by human frailty's fear of death. And that truth is that as long as man has free will, and uses his days on earth to live in accordance with his Creator's will, he creates eternal life from death, and proves that death is not the end, but merely a graduation. Death itself is merely an indication that the power of life is so great, it cannot be contained in physical form forever, but must expand and surpass.
Thus the kohanim who serve in the Temple, itself the source of eternal life - for it is the place of the Shechinah, the Divine Glory of G-d - must distance themselves from the deception of death. For the impurity rendered by death is the contamination of a false vision, a lie. What men call "death" is nothing more than the bonds of transitory life breaking forth and giving way to eternal life. But in our limited vision and understanding, we view this bleakly and oppressively as death. It is a myopic outlook, but it is also a facet of the human condition that cannot be undone until the day that "death will be destroyed forever, and the Lord G-d will wipe the tears from every face... " (Isaiah 25:8).
In the meantime, the kohanim are exhorted to ignore this ruse. They are sanctified, and their innate holiness simply prevents them from paying any mind to such falsehood. With the exception of extending the last possible acts of love for his closest relatives, itself a duty of life, the kohen's calling mandates that he ignore the morose and debilitating cycle of our misleading world, and his eyes may not look upon that vision which makes such an erroneous and damaging impression upon the soul of man. Were the priests of the Temple to pay any attention to the evanescent image of human death, they would be committing an even greater offense to the honor due life... they would be killing the truth.
Because of the elevated status of the kohanim, a status which raises them aloft of the flitting shadows of ephemeral, earthly death - they are commanded: "They shall not make baldness on their head... nor make any cuttings in their flesh" (Lev. 21:5).
Damaging the body was done to effect a permanent sign of loss that one feels because of the death of a loved one. The ancients, faced with death, sought to make atonement for themselves and give honor - by damaging their own bodies - to their gods, whom they perceived as essentially hostile to life. They offered a tribute to the god of death.
Although these actions are prohibited to all of Israel, their prohibition is repeated for the priests, whose need for distance from all things relating to the false fears of death is even greater. They are warned again not to bear any outward symbol of death. Their mandate is to teach and live the example of the force of life, not the power of death.
The Oral Tradition: Shedding Light on the Secrets of the Bible
Although the ordinance of the red heifer is indeed a chok, a Divine statute which by its very nature defies human understanding, our Creator who is the author of that law enjoins us to expound upon His Torah, and to find as much meaning and explanation as our understanding allows... for the sake of His glory, and for the honor of His word.
We can find many, many levels of meaning even according to our limited intellect; the more we delve, the more we stand stilled and awestruck by the wondrous wisdom of the word of G-d. And even though we know that we shall never reveal the true nature of this matter, we are still commanded to explore and investigate. As many of our greatest thinkers and sages have stated, "the highest level of knowledge is to know that we know nothing at all."
When a human being can humble himself before His maker in submission and recognition of own smallness, he may begin the process of truly drawing nearer to his Creator. This very process of search, of sincerely delving into the meaning and message of the Torah for us today, helps to enrich our relationship with G-d.
We can offer some allegorical interpretations and allusions to explain aspects of the red heifer. There are many, many more which we shall not cite in these pages, for the penetrating insight of the sages of Israel knows no limit. Yet interpretations like these only help us to appreciate the wisdom of God's Torah; they do not purport to relate the real truth of the red heifer! For ultimately, the very idea that this precept is a chok means that the final explanation is not attainable by our intellect. Only Moshe, who was not subject to the limitations of human intellect, was able to reach that level of knowledge and yet remain in this world.
The greatness of Israel is her ability to adhere to laws that have no explanation, such as the red heifer. Israel lives by the word of God. The laws of kashrut, the dietary laws, are another example of a chok. No reason is given by Scripture for these rules. In recent years, many science and health experts have concurred that one who follows a kosher diet is healthier and less prone to certain diseases. This may indeed be so - yet let no one think for an instant that God gave these laws to Israel for health reasons alone. For kashrut is a chok; it is a diet of the soul.
This is the essence of the following anecdote, recorded in the Talmud:
"An idolater once confronted Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai on the issue of the red heifer, and posed this question to him: this ritual which you Jews perform, with all these details - it all just seems like some sort of superstitious, magical rite! You bring a heifer, burn and pulverize it, and save it's ashes. Then when one of you becomes impure on account of exposure to death, you sprinkle a couple of drops on him, and you say that he has become pure!"
The great sage responded: "Have you ever in your life been possessed by an evil spirit?"
"No," said the pagan.
"But have you ever seen someone who was?"
"And what did they do for him?" asked the rabbi. "What treatment was administered, to relieve his condition?"
"Well, the roots of certain plants are gathered and brought, and these are burned underneath him. Then water is thrown upon it, and the unclean spirit leaves him."
Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai said to him, "let your ears hear what your mouth is saying. For the verse in Zechariah 13:2 says "and also the prophets and the unclean spirit I will cause to pass from the land." We sprinkle some of the solution on him, and it departs.
When the idolator left, the students confronted Rabban Yochanan. "Our master! You pushed him away easily by telling him a simple explanation. But what will you tell us? We want the real truth!"
Said the great sage: "By your lives, understand this well: it is not the death which renders impure, nor the waters which cleanse - it is all the word of God. So said the Holy One, "I have engraved an ordinance with no explanation - and you cannot transgress it."
One of the most important foundations of Jewish faith is the belief that G-d gave Moshe an oral explanation of the Torah along with the written text. This Oral Tradition was given directly by God at the Revelation of Mount Sinai. We are taught that when Moshe was with God for forty days and forty nights (Ex. 24:18), the Holy One taught him a set of rules and principles of the Torah which could be applied to every eventuality and situation that could arise in the course of time. God also revealed to Moshe all the details of how the commandments should be observed. Among these, He revealed many things which would not be used until much later. While Moshe was on the mount, God taught him the Written Torah during the day, and the Oral Torah at night. This is how Moshe was able to distinguish between day and night while he was with God, since "Moshe entered the cloud where the Divine was revealed" (ibid. 20:18).
Thus when we speak of the Torah, we actually refer to "two" Torahs, which are one and the same: the Written Torah, known as the Tanach (from the acronym of the Torah - the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings, sometimes called the Old Testament) and the Oral Torah. Both are alluded to in God's words to Moshe: "Come up to Me to the mountain, and I will give you the Torah and the commandments" (Ex. 24:12).
This provides the explanation for the many, many instances where the Torah refers to details which are not included in the written text - as if we must be aware of these details from some other source. These details can all be found in the Oral Tradition. We shall see that in this manner many of the details pertaining to the red heifer are recorded in the Oral Tradition.
Some Other Important Examples:
The Torah states "You shall slaughter your cattle... as I have commanded you" (Deut. 12:21), which clearly implies that there is a commandment concerning ritual slaughtering. In fact, these rules comprise one of the most complicated areas of Jewish law. Yet the details concerning ritual slaughtering, the kosher method of killing animals by which Jews are permitted to eat meat, are nowhere to be found in the written text... for it is an oral commandment.
Similarly, complicated observances such as tzizit (fringes - see Num. 15:38) and tefillin (phylacteries - Deut. 6:8) are given in the Biblical verses, but no instructions for their fulfillment are listed. These details, too, were commanded and clarified within the framework of the Oral Tradition.
Even the most basic cornerstone of Jewish life, the Sabbath, does not receive any clarification within the written text as to just how it is to be kept. Yet the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments! This is why G-d said, "You shall keep the Sabbath holy, as I have commanded your fathers... " (Jer. 17:22) - meaning, as I have commanded them in the Oral Tradition.
The Oral Tradition and the Tanach Are Equally Divine
The Jewish people depend on the Oral Tradition for the interpretation of the Torah. Indeed, as we have illustrated above, the Bible simply cannot be understood without it. These examples show that the written text could even be perceived as being defective unless it is supplemented by the information contained in the Oral Tradition. This is why believing in the Divine source of the Oral Tradition is so important for the Jewish people... for if it is denied that this tradition is God-given, this can lead to the denial of the Divine origins of the written text as well. Thus, if one does not believe in the Oral Tradition, he is regarded as one who does not accept any aspect of the Torah.
Originally, this tradition was meant to be transmitted by word of mouth only, throughout the ages. It was always handed down from master to student. Since the time of Moshe, it had been passed down in this manner in every generation. This process ensured that this information was transmitted in a clear manner. Any student who had a question was always able to ask, as opposed to studying from a text which is only written - it can always be misinterpreted.
The Oral Tradition is Committed to Writing
However, during the era of the Roman empire, decrees were passed which forbade teaching the Jewish faith and spreading knowledge of the G-d of Israel. The great sages of Israel were persecuted, tortured and killed for the crime of teaching. At this time, it was feared that all those who possessed this knowledge would perish, and it was decided that the traditions could be committed to writing. This vast body of information was compiled and preserved in the Talmud and Midrashim, but this entire area of knowledge is still referred to as the Oral Tradition.
Historical Background: Pharisees and Sadducees
During the era of the Second Temple, the influence of apostasy began to make inroads in Israel. The mainstream Pharisees (who held fast to the Oral Tradition of Bible interpretation) were opposed by the cult of the Sadducees. The former upheld the performance of the commandments as they were received by Moshe at Mount Sinai, and passed down through every subsequent generation by the people of Israel. The Sadducees did not accept the traditions of Sinai; by opposing the Oral Tradition, they rebelled against G-d Himself - for it was He, in His ultimate wisdom, who decreed that this process should keep the Torah alive and bind it steadfast to His people through every generation and circumstance.
Instead, the Sadducees cut themselves off from this body of tradition, and translated and interpreted the Bible in a very literal sense. Thus, a classic example of the difference between the two groups is their opposing interpretation of the famous verse "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand... " (Ex. 21:24). The Sadducees interpret this verse, which deals with payment for personal damages, in a literal sense. However, the Pharisees received a tradition from Moshe that these words are meant idiomatically and not literally - that is, full monetary compensation must be made for the loss caused by these injuries.
The Sadducees also denied the belief that there will be a resurrection of the dead, since this important principle of Jewish faith is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah, but only alluded to; like other interpretations of the Pharisees, it too is included in the Oral Tradition.
While the Pharisees could be considered the true guardians of authentic Judaism - for their influence has kept adherence to the true Biblical ways alive amongst the Jewish people to this very day - the Sadducees sought ways to undermine the former's influence, and to establish customs and practices of their own making. Because many of these men came from aristocratic families, there were periods when they succeeded in infiltrating the Sanhedrin, where they deliberately enacted legislation that changed the accepted customs which had been practiced for generations.
Moshe - and the red heifer
"Speak to the Children of Israel and have them bring you a red heifer... "
The oral traditions that expound upon the meaning of this verse, explain that the heifer is to be paid for with funds donated by all of Israel. In the preparation of the first heifer, made while yet in the desert, Moshe acted as treasurer: "... have them bring you a red heifer." We have learned that the precept of the heifer was given by God following the debacle of the golden calf; God decreed that since Israel made the calf out of their gold, they should bring the funds for the heifer. And how fitting it is that it should all be brought to Moshe, who acted as the "treasurer," the overseer of the project... because it was Moshe who prayed for Israel and beseeched God to forgive their sin.
The words of this first verse have even more meaning and depth, for they also allude to the singular connection that Moshe has with the precept of the red heifer:
"Said Rabbi Yose b. R. Chaninah: What is the meaning of the words "And they shall take it unto you?" G-d told Moshe, 'to you, I reveal the secret - but to all others, it is a chok, a decree with no explanation'." And let Scripture record that "they shall take it unto you" for all time; even if all the other heifers are null, yours endures forever - for all the other heifers were sanctified from the one that Moshe made, and those ashes were hidden away for the future.
How much does G-d concern Himself with our mundane world? The following teaching demonstrates that the Creator's desire is for Israel to apply His Divine laws to our physical, ordinary world... and this is more precious to Him than the mystical spheres of the angelic beings:
"Said Rabbi Acha in the name of Rabbi Yose: When Moshe ascended on high, he heard the voice of the Holy One engaged in Torah study. The Creator was contemplating the subject of the red heifer, and His book was open to that section. He was quoting a legal decision in the name of one by the name of Rabbi Eliezer. Said He: 'My son R. Eliezer says that a heifer must be at least two years old.'
Moshe was amazed by what he heard, and he spoke before G-d: "Master of the Universe! The entire universe belongs to You, all of the myriad worlds, the physical and spiritual realms, and You are busy with the study of heifers, quoting a decision in the name of a man, who is but flesh and blood?!" God told him, "All I occupy myself with is the purity of Israel."
And the Holy One answered Moshe, "Know Moshe, that in the future, a righteous scholar will rise up My world, and he will begin clarifying the issue of the red heifer. His name is Rabbi Eliezer." Moses was moved and beseeched God, "May it be Your will that he be a descendant of mine!" And G-d answered him, "Yes, by your life, he will be your descendant."
Why did Moshe desire that Rabbi Eliezer be his own scion? When Moshe ascended to G-d, the Almighty showed him a vision of all the future generations, and each leader who was destined to arise. For example, Moshe was shown the great Talmudic sage Rabbi Akiva, martyred by the Romans during the Second Temple era. Moshe, in his own humility, was so impressed with the great knowledge of Rabbi Akiva that he exclaimed to G-d: "Master of the Universe! You have one such as this, and yet You want Israel to receive the Torah through me?!"
God acquainted Moshe with every generation that was to be, till the close of all the ages, together with the respective leaders. During this process He must have had ample opportunity to quote decisions in the name of many great rabbis; Rabbi Akiva is only one that we have mentioned. If so, why was Moshe so impressed with Rabbi Eliezer, that he specifically requested that this man be one of his own descendants?
Furthermore, Moshe's request is even stranger, and more difficult to understand, when we consider the fact that the accepted halacha, the correct decision in Jewish law, goes against the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer! For a heifer is actually not considered mature for use until it reaches the minimum age of three years... not two! And it is another rabbi, Rabbi Eliezer's contemporary Rabbi Meir, whose decision is accepted in this regard.
Should not Moshe have wanted Rabbi Meir, whose analysis brought him to the correct conclusion, for a descendant? Why should he be interested in Rabbi Eliezer, whose opinion was incorrect?
But Moshe saw something special about the future Rabbi Eliezer, and his opinion. He felt an affinity with Rabbi Eliezer that made him desire a stronger bond. The answer goes back to that enigmatic statement of our sages which links the precept of the heifer to the golden calf. We have written that even though our sages did not comprehend the secret of the commandment, they alluded to it by telling us that "the mother should clean her child's filth"... the red heifer comes to atone for the sin of the golden calf.
Rabbi Meir only knew that each aspect of the heifer corresponds to an allusion of the golden calf. Therefore he maintained that she should be 3 or 4 years of age, because only then could it give birth - for the mother must give birth to the child; "the mother must clean up after her child."
But Rabbi Eliezer believed that a heifer could even be two years of age, because he had no need to find any parallel or comparison with the gold calf.
for like Moshe, he knew the actual secret of the red heifer. Obviously, he could not have known to the same degree as Moses, since we have established that no other human being knew this, not even King Solomon. But perhaps he knew on a prophetic or intuitive level. When Moses saw in his heavenly future glimpse that this Rabbi Eliezer went against the accepted reasoning of the other sages, reasoning which was based on a connection to the golden calf - he knew it must be because Rabbi Eliezer has no need for these allusions; he knows something deeper. This is why Moshe desired Rabbi Eliezer as a descendant.
The Unique Stature of Moses
One of the principles used to expound upon the Torah is the general rule that all of the episodes which are recorded in Scripture do not necessarily appear in chronological order. Since the Torah is the word of G-d, it is the most direct manifestation of His will which we have in our physical world. As such, like the Creator Himself, it is above the ordinary rules of time.
Our tradition relates that the words "... there He made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there He tested them... " (Ex. 15:25) teaches us that certain laws were given at Mara, the place where Moshe sweetened the bitter waters, while the children of Israel were staying there. One of the ordinances which Israel received at this time is the ordinance of the red heifer. Yet the section of the red heifer is not recorded in Scripture until Numbers 19, where it appears after the controversy of Korach.
It may be recalled that Korach led a rebellion against Moshe (Num. 16). Korach himself was a Levite - the grandson of Kehat, and the great grandson of Levi. He expressed criticism of Moshe's leadership and Aharon's priesthood, saying, "You take too much upon yourselves! All the people in the community are holy, and G-d is in their midst. Why are you setting yourselves above G-d's congregation?"
Korach's motivation was born solely of his own arrogance and self-interest. Moshe emphasized to him that he was not acting out of his volition, but had been chosen by G-d. Moshe also tried to reason with Korach, saying that the latter should be glad G-d chose him as a Levite for the service of the Tabernacle, and for being granted the privilege of ministering as a community leader. Moshe also explained that by complaining against G-d's decisions, and by bearing grievances against Aharon as well, demanding the priesthood, Korach and his party were actually demonstrating against G-d Himself.
Our sages explain that on a deeper level of understanding, Korach's claim against Moshe was "how can one person be so many things at once? A kohen, a Levite, a king and leader... it is impossible to be all of these because they contradict each other; you could be one, but not all." Korach did not think it was possible for one human being to possess all these attributes together. Each one represents a different, contrasting spiritual power and it would be impossible for one man to include them all, since they work in opposition to each other.
It would be impossible... for anyone other than Moshe And this is the reason that the section of the red heifer appears after the incident of Korach:
For the Holy One responded to Korach, this is the secret of why Moshe is able to be all these things at the same time... with no contradiction. Because he is the only man who can understand the secret of the greatest contradiction of all, the red heifer. The great mystery, the most enigmatic contradiction of the ordinance of the red heifer, is the fact that its ashes have the effect of both cleansing and rendering impure at the same time. Why is it that only Moshe was worthy of understanding this profound knowledge?
The explanation of this secret is a level of Divine intellect, which is hidden from the grasp of man because its root, the spiritual source from which it emanates, is very high. Now Moshe's own root was also very high - so much that he himself was above all contradictions. His understanding was connected to the place of perfect Divine knowledge, above all the seemingly paradoxical situations that are manifest in our physical world. Perception that stems from such knowledge is completely tranquil, because at that high level there are no contradictions; there is only the complete unity of G-d.
Moshe's knowledge came from this level of unity with the Divine, the highest level any human being can reach. His perception was similar to the way human understanding will be in the future, rectified world... the time when "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d like the waters that cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). Indeed, our sages write that in the future, everyone will understand the mystery of the red heifer. One who possesses this knowledge realizes that in truth, there are no contradictions, because everything is pure G-dliness, and pure Godliness is pure Oneness. But in Korach's myopic view, Moshe gave the opposite impression; he appeared to be the supreme man of contradictions.
We shall return to the concept of Moshe and the red heifer again when we discuss the original ashes of the red heifer.
The Levitical Priests: Their Function and Role in the Holy Temple
"And it shall be for them an appointment as priests forever, for all generations." (Ex. 40:15)"For HaShem your G-d has chosen him out of all your tribes, to stand to serve in the name of HaShem, him and his sons forever." (Deut. 18:5)
Who are the Priests?
The first kohen, the founder of the priestly clan, was Aharon, brother of Moshe, of the tribe of Levi. All of Israel are descended from the twelve sons of Yaakov. Yaakov's third son was Levi, and Aharon was a fourth generation descendant of Levi.
Aharon and his four sons were designated as the first kohanim; Aharon served as the first Kohen Gadol. All of his male descendants were chosen by G-d to be kohanim forever; it is an eternal covenant. Thus even today, a kohen amongst the Jewish people is genealogically a direct descendant of Aharon.
The Role of the Priests
The Holy One chose these men to be in a position of spiritual leadership. In the days of the Temple, they were responsible for the sacred service. The Hebrew word kohen actually means "to serve," and a deeper linguistic connection can be found in the word ken, meaning "yes," itself related to kivvun, "to direct." Thus a kohen is called upon to direct himself, and others, in the proper service of G-d: "And you, separate your brother Aharon and his sons from among the Israelites, and bring them close to you... so they can serve me." (Ex. 28:1)
A Conduit for the Reception of Divine Blessing
The reader is undoubtedly most familiar with the primary role which the kohanim perform in the Temple, that of officiating at the offerings and other parts of the service. But more importantly, by attending to the various aspects of the Divine service, the kohanim serve as a conduit to bring down G-d's radiant blessing and influence into this world. In fact, it is on this account that they are commanded to deliver G-d's blessing of peace and love to the people, as well: "Say to Aharon and his sons... Thus shall you bless the people of Israel: 'May HaShem bless you and protect you. May HaShem shine His face upon you, and be gracious unto you. May HaShem lift up His face to you and may He grant you peace'." (Numbers 6:22 - 26)
The Priestly Blessing is Delivered Daily in the Temple
Every day in the Temple, at the conclusion of the morning service, this blessing was performed by the officiating kohanim, standing on the steps leading up to the sanctuary. Thus while it is only G-d who has the power to bestow blessing upon people, the function of the kohanim was to serve as a vehicle, a medium, through which the Divine influence may descend.
"... He stands behind our wall... "
This concept of the kohanim "directing" the flow of Divine blessing is alluded to by a verse in the Song of Songs (2:9 - 10): "Behold, He stands behind our wall, watching through the windows, glancing through the cracks."
The sages of the Midrash interpret these words to mean that it is G-d who stands behind the priests as they deliver His blessing. The illumination of His Presence shines through their hands, which are outstretched as they utter the priestly blessing.
The Priests Possess Special Qualities
The kohanim represent kindness, and the focusing of life's energies on sanctity and Divine purpose. It was the attribute of kindness, understanding and love for all which Aharon, the first Kohen Gadol, was best known for, and his descendants are entrusted to exemplify Hillel's famous dictum in the Chapters of the Fathers (Avot 1:12): "Be of the disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow-creatures, and drawing them near to the Torah." This quality was highly visible and crucially instrumental following the rebellion of Korach, when it was Aharon who saved the people from the full extent of Divine wrath (see Numbers 17).
Because of their ability to invoke Heavenly influence, the sages even record that the priestly families possess distinctive character traits and qualities which are part of their special spiritual heritage: they are known to be joyful, giving, and driven by a loftier nature. In the era of the Temple, they were praised for their zeal and dedication to fulfill the commandments and give honor to the Creator.
Later, through the ensuing course of history, it was generally the tribe of Levi and the priestly family in particular that were exemplary in their zealousness for the honor of G-d. Thus it was the priestly family of the Hasmonaim - the famous "Maccabees" - who led the revolt against foreign idolatrous influence and rededicated the Holy Temple, events marked by the holiday of Chanukah.
The daily blessing of the priests in the Temple serves to open the Heavenly gates of mercy. Through it, the people of Israel merit not only material well-being - including offspring and longevity - but spiritual blessings as well; mercy, Divine protection and the greatest blessing of all... true peace. Since the priests themselves represent the attribute of kindness, their service brings the flow of G-d's blessing down to His people.
General Rules of Priestly Conduct
"The kohen must be holy to his G-d. You must keep him holy, for he presents the offering to your G-d... He must be holy, for I am G-d - I am holy and I am making you holy" (Lev. 21).
G-d Has Sanctified The Kohanim Above All Men
The Holy One ordained special laws which effect the lives of the kohanim. The fundamental understanding behind these principles is that the status of the kohen is different than that of other men. Their lot is one of dedication, of separation - for they are the servants of HaShem and the custodians of His service. "... For he presents the offering to your G-d... "
Because of this, "... he must be holy, for I am G-d - I am holy and I am making you holy." The Creator has sanctified these men above the rest for all time, and drawn them to Himself through unique commandments.
These laws are recorded in the book of Leviticus, and by way of an introduction, let us examine the verse quoted above. The kohanim are expected and commanded to keep holy... but what is meant by "holiness?" What is the Bible's intention?
"He must be holy, for I, God, am holy." How are we to understand this state of holiness? How can we best explain such a concept? It seems intangible at best - for in the context of this verse, it seems that the kohen is called upon to be holy in the same sense that G-d Himself is holy.
It would surely be instructive at this point for us to attempt a definition for the word "holy." For we can see that Torah uses this word quite emphatically in the context of the kohanim: they are actually mandated to be holy, to lead holy lives, because G-d is holy. But how can a person be holy like G-d?
Many people seem to equate the concept of holiness with spirituality in general; anything ethereal or mystical is presumed to be holy. According to this mentality, one supposes that holiness is a matter of secret knowledge, or simply a question of allegiance to any proscribed ritual claimed by its adherents to bring the devotee closer to fulfillment.
To Be Spiritual Does Not Automatically Imply Holiness
This is a serious misconception, one which is completely out of tune with the Torah idea of holiness as exemplified by the "holiness" which is expected and required of Aharon's descendants. For holy and spiritual are not the same things and they are certainly not equal.
Consulting Webster's Dictionary, we find that the word "spiritual" is derived from the Latin spiritualis, "of breathing; of wind; relating to or consisting of spirit." Thus: "INCORPOREAL," (fortunately, we are also given "of or relating to sacred matters,") and since the primary meaning of this word seems to be that which is non-physical, we end with "of or relating to ghosts or similar supernatural beings(!)"
Thus many people, disciplines, philosophies and the like may be considered spiritual in nature, they may concern themselves with the esoteric, they may even occupy themselves with the service of G-d - but this does not necessarily imply that they are holy in any way.
Forbidden Spiritual Pursuits
In fact, some spiritual paths can most definitely be the absolute epitome of unholiness:
The Torah is clear in its prohibition of spiritualism which has not been authorized by G-d. "Do not act on the basis of omens... do not act on the basis of auspicious times" (Lev. 19:26), we are warned. These forbidden practices include one who acts on the basis of a superstitious omen, and those who seek out auspicious times through astrology.
When the Children of Israel were preparing to end their desert wanderings and enter into the Promised Land, they were specifically warned by G-d to uproot the perverted spiritual practices of the former inhabitants from the land, and to be particularly cautious not to be tempted to experiment with mystical occult practices. "When HaShem your G-d excises the nations to which you are coming, and drives them away before you, you shall dispossess them and live in their land. Be very careful not to fall into a trap by following after them, after they have been wiped out from before you. Do not try to find out about their gods, saying, 'How did these nations worship their gods? I would also like to try this.' Do not worship HaShem your G-d with such practices. In worshiping their gods, these nations committed all manner of perversions hated by HaShem... " (Deut. 12:29 - 31).
Reaching levels of inspiration and revelation that are not rooted in holiness, as personified by the wicked heathen prophet Balaam, King Balak, and the elders of Moav and Midian, are all equally reprehensible (these practiced various forms of divination and occult arts in order to bring about prophetic revelation. See Numbers 22).
So, while other nations may have their own routes to connect with the "Divine," or their own conception thereof; or, perhaps they merely delude themselves and others into thinking that they are serving G-d, and the side of holiness - clearly, the Torah's prohibitions instruct Israel that these other ways are not for her. There may be other paths of spirituality, but they are not for Israel; she is to be "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex. 19:6).
But we have not yet come any closer to an understanding of the kohanim's exhortation to live holy lives "because G-d is holy;" neither have we come any closer to a grasp on how an individual can be holy like G-d. If God is incorporeal, if G-d is spirit, is a man therefore commanded to be spirit? Spirituality is clearly a separate concept, and one that is not necessarily pure, at that.
Holiness Means Separation
By contrast to the concept of "spiritual" - which seems to be rather unstable for our liking, since it can actually apply to things quite far from all which we have considered sacred - we find that the primary definition of "holy" is "set apart to the service of G-d."
G-d Himself is called holy because He is completely separate; unique and unequaled in all of His creation. Nothing can be compared to Him because He is peerless; He is the Creator of the universe and all existence, and absolutely different from anything else that exists. It is in this light that Israel is collectively called upon to be a "holy nation" - that is, a nation set apart from all others, completely different from any other, whose Divinely-mandated lifestyle serves as living proof that an entire nation can walk with G-d in its midst... "it is a nation dwelling alone in peace; not counting itself among other nations" (Numbers 23:9).
This separation is the true Torah view of holiness. This is why the opposite of something holy is said to be mundane or profane; ordinary. To be holy is to be removed from the realm of the ordinary. Israel lives separately, according to the Torah's commandments, precisely because G-d is separate... for the highest form of religious experience is to reflect, to imitate the Divine. Man must strive to be a reflection of his Creator.
So too, the priests in the Holy Temple "must be holy for I, G-d, am holy." If Jewish life is to be holy, then the kohanim must take care to be especially holy. They have been distinctively sanctified by the Creator Himself for all time and singled out for a life dedicated to Him. The vehicle that accomplishes this sanctification is the commandments, which obligate them to their Creator. These commandments reflect their unique status.
The Order of Burning the Red Heifer
Precautions and Preparations
The event of burning a new heifer for its ashes, which did not occur too frequently, was an occasion of tremendous significance for the entire nation. Because of this ordinance's unique status, special precautions were taken and some unusual procedures were employed, during the process of the heifer's preparation. Especially stringent measures were taken to ensure that the priest who would be burning the heifer would not become impure.
The Dispute With the Sadducees
Some of these precautions were enacted as a direct result of the ongoing, confrontational dispute waged between the rabbis, the authoritative sages of Israel, and the Sadducees. One point of contention between them, figures prominently in the halachic issue of the red heifer's preparation. It deals with the priest who sprinkles the water of purification on another. Because the Sadduccess do not subscribe to the Mosaic tradition and its interpretation of Scripture, they held that in order for the officiating priest to be considered pure (before sprinkling the water on another), it was necessary for him to immerse himself in water, and also to wait a full day, until after sunset, and only after sunset would he be cleansed.
"Laws to Moshe from Sinai"
The sages, however, received a tradition from Moshe which established that immersion alone was sufficient for the kohen, and it was not necessary to wait until sunset. This tradition is actually part of a large body of Jewish law known as "Laws to Moshe from Sinai," which are laws which Moshe taught directly to the Jewish people after having learned them himself on Mount Sinai from the Holy One, blessed be He. All of these laws were very carefully preserved and transmitted orally from generation to generation. Thus, even though there are occasional disputes among the rabbis of the Talmud concerning laws which are derived from the Bible by hermeneutic rules or logic, there are no disputes concerning any of the "laws to Moshe from Sinai."
As mentioned earlier, the Sadducees did not accept any of the rabbinical interpretation, including these laws which were revealed to Moshe. They had their own literal interpretation of Scripture, through which they removed themselves from the traditions of Israel. In this case, while it might seem that the Saducees were being more stringent than the rabbis, for they necessitated not only purification by immersion but an additional requirement of sunset as well - they were actually undermining the authority of the Sinai Revelation by creating their own rules which had no basis in the word of G-d.
In some ways, the kohen who is entrusted with burning the heifer has a similar status to the High Priest, who must separate himself from his wife and family as part of his preparations for conducting the service on Yom Kippur... in order to insure that he will be in a state of purity when that awesome day arrives. Similarly, the Mishna teaches that seven days before the heifer is to be burned, the officiating priest is separated in the same manner, and secluded to a special chamber. This chamber was called the "Chamber of Stone," and was located in the northeast corner of the Temple Mount complex. It was constructed completely out of stone, and all of the vessels which the priest used within were also fashioned exclusively out of stone. This is because Biblical law mandates that the only material which is impervious to the penetration of impurity is stone. These measures were taken as another "extra" method of safeguarding the kohen from inadvertently becoming defiled during the course of the week, thus rendering him unfit for attending to the heifer.
The special measures like separation to the Chamber of Stone, and others which we will discuss, were established as a direct result of the sages' dispute with the Sadducees - in order to emphasize that the sages were not lenient or, Heaven forbid, lax when it comes to the red heifer. For the misguided may even gain the erroneous impression that the Sadducees are more strict because they would require the attending priest to wait for sunset after his immersion. But Moshe specifically taught that G-d's tradition does not require sunset to render the priest's final purity in this case.
As we shall see, it was of such importance to the rabbis to prove that we do not subscribe to the Sadducees' misguided and heretical view of Jewish law, that they even deliberately contaminated the attending priest before he began the process of burning the heifer, thus rendering him impure... in order to demonstrate that by his immersion in a mikveh, he may immediately begin the ceremony of burning the heifer, without having to wait for sunset of the same day.
On account of this, special practices were established regarding the heifer's preparation, which showed the seriousness and caution with which the sages of Israel and priests indeed conducted the entire matter of the heifer.
Sprinkling the Kohen Daily - With Ashes of Previous red heifers
One such practice was to sprinkle the kohen during the course of this week of separation, with a solution of the "waters of sanctification" which had been prepared from ashes made previously, from earlier generations. According to the Mishna, the priest was sprinkled every day from a mixture of all the ashes which had been produced until then, back to the heifer of Moshe. For every time a heifer was burned, one third of the ashes were removed and kept by the kohanim for future generations.
Why was this sprinkling administered? After all, we know that this kohen has not been allowed to come in contact with anything that could defile him; this was the very reason for his separation to the Chamber of Stone, and his every move there has been calculated to guard against contamination - he has even used vessels made from stone.
But it is still possible that before the kohen withdrew to his chamber, he had unknowingly been exposed to the impurity of death. We know that according to the instructions of Numbers 19:12, one who has been exposed to death must undergo the sprinkling of the ashes on the third and seventh day following his exposure. Therefore, he is sprinkled every day of his week, in case this day happens to be the third or seventh day of the count.
"Special Courtyards in Jerusalem... "
A Grave in the Depths of the Earth
Another practice which was an extra measure of safety against impurity involved the halachic concept of a grave which may be buried deep within the earth, whose existence is unknown because it cannot be detected from the surface of the ground.
Biblical law with regards the impurity of death is quite unique. For if there is a grave which is concealed from sight, buried far below the ground with no indication of its presence on the surface - the power of the impurity is such that it radiates upward and out, through to the surface.
Thus, even if one has taken care never to come within the proximity of the dead, and has generally exercised caution not to become exposed to impurity, he still may be impure due to some occasion when he passed an area over an unknown grave within the earth's depths.
Normally, considerations such as these would be minor. The likelihood of such exposure is minimal and one can only be so cautious; a suspicion alone which cannot be verified as fact is not enough for an individual to be considered impure. In fact, the great codifier of Jewish law Maimonides rules that we are lenient in cases of doubt concerning ritual impurity in a public place. But since the precept of the red heifer is so important, with the purity of the entire congregation of Israel hanging in the balance, and in order to prevent unnecessary strife from the Sadducees, special precautions were taken to ensure that those attending to the heifer and its preparation would even be protected from the impurity of an unknown grave.
The rabbis sought to protect the separated kohen who will burning the new heifer, from even the slightest possibility of impurity; for this reason they instituted that he should be sprinkled with the previous ashes all throughout the week. But the solution which purifies, the "waters of sanctification," contains another ingredient besides the ashes... the water, which the Torah specifies must be drawn from a natural source.
The Waters of the Shiloach
In the times of the Holy Temple, this water was taken from the Shiloach (Siloam) spring in the City of David, located at the foot of the Temple Mount. This spring is Jerusalem's original source of water, and it has always had great spiritual significance. Indeed, at the famed Festival of the Water Libation which took place daily during the Festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), the priests and all the participants would descend to this same spring, and there they filled a golden vessel with its clear waters, to be poured out on the Temple's altar at the first rays of dawn.
But an interesting question arises, and it concerns the person who will fetch this fresh water:
Who is Pure Enough to Bring the Water?
That individual must be pure beyond doubt, or else he will render the water unfit upon contact! How can water which he brings be used to mix the solution for sprinkling on the isolated priest, who will in turn be burning a new heifer to make new ashes... if he might also be impure! Since we can never be absolutely sure that one has not become defiled, and it is virtually impossible for a person not to have been exposed at some point in his life, how could a person ever be found who is pure, in order to bring the water for this procedure?
The Mishna records that during the days of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, this problem was solved in an extraordinary way:
Special courtyards were constructed in Jerusalem, in such a way that they could not be penetrated by the force of impurity. Firstly, the houses within were built on top of solid bedrock which had never been disturbed or altered by man in any way since the dawn of creation. If the rock had been untouched until now, it was impossible for any body to have been buried underneath.
In addition, a hollow space of one tefach ( the Biblical measurement of a handbreadth; app. 10 centimeters) was left underneath, between the floor of the courtyard and the rock. Biblical law states that if there is any impurity rising from below, it will be stopped from ascending any further by such a hollow space. So, even though the complex could already be considered impenetrable to impurity because it was built on an intact area of rock, the buffer zone provided by the hollow space made for double insulation, and guaranteed that these were "safe houses" without a doubt.
Raising Children in Purity
Pregnant women would come and stay in these courtyards, and give birth to their children inside. These children would spend their early years within in the courtyard, not venturing outside until the age of eight. Thus, having been born in this protected environment and remaining within, they were never exposed to impurity in their lives. A miniature societal system is present within the complex, so that an infrastructure including food, medical care and an educational system provides complete care within.
These were the children who would gather the waters for the solution of "waters of sanctification," when the time came to purify the priest assigned the task of burning a new heifer and preparing its ashes.
When they became of age, they left the courtyard in a manner as unique as was their stay inside. Oxen were brought, and boards were placed across the oxen. The children rode out of the courtyards atop these oxen, sitting on the boards and carrying stone vessels to hold the water they will gather. Like the hollow space underneath the courtyard, the space below the boards protected the young riders from the possibility of any exposure from impurity emanating up from within the depths that may cross their paths, while en route to the Shiloach spring.
Gathering Water At the Shiloach
Arriving at the spring, they dismounted at its banks and filled the vessels with its water. Here, they could stand on the ground with no suspicion of impurity rising from below, since people are not accustomed to bury their dead under water (actually, one opinion maintains that they were so exceedingly cautious, they did not dismount but remained upon the oxen and lowered the vessels down into the spring by a cord).
Unique Construction of the Temple Mount
Their mission accomplished and the water safely secured, the children remounted the oxen and assumed their previous positions atop the boards, and rode up to the Temple Mount. Here, arriving at the eastern gate of the Temple, they were able to stand on the ground with no fear of contamination - for the Holy Temple with all of its chambers was erected with a hollow space below, and the entire Temple Mount complex was built upon overlapping arches, in the same manner as the bridge leading from the eastern gate to the Mount of Anointment, which we will discuss below.
The youngsters walked, vessels in hand, to the gate at the entrance to the Women's Court. There, a stone vessel known as the kelal was kept at all times, which held ashes of the red heifer. A child now takes from these ashes and mixes the proper amount into the water, preparing the mixture of "waters of sanctification." Then, it is the children who will sprinkle the attending kohen.
On account of the principle already familiar to us that impurity from below rises up, a special bridge was erected which led out from the eastern gate of the Holy Temple, and connected with the "Mount of Anointment" - that is the spot on the Mount of Olives, directly facing the gate and aligned with the entrance to the Sanctuary, where the purification process was conducted.
This bridge was especially constructed of arches which overlapped one atop the other, so that there were hollow spaces under the path which the priest tread. In this manner contact with impurity was stopped, as detailed in Biblical law. It was by this same bridge that the scapegoat was taken out of the Temple and into the desert on the Day of Atonement.
The heifer, the officiating priest who will be burning it, and all those who will be aiding or assisting in the ceremony, make their way over this bridge to the appointed location on the Mount of Olives.
Deliberate Contamination - To Undermine the Influence of the Sadducees
Meanwhile, the elders of Israel left the Temple earlier, and already reached the place on the Mount of Olives prior to the arrival of the priest and his entourage. They embarked across the bridge by foot, as opposed to riding, to demonstrate how much they cherished the commandment of G-d.
At the Place of Burning, they await the arrival of the procession. The Mishna records that an unusual procedure took place once the priest reached them: After the entire week during which he was so carefully guarded from the slightest shadow of impurity, the elders would deliberately contaminate him! Once again, this was done on account of the serious dispute between the Sages and the Sadducees. The traditional Mosaic law which states that immersion is sufficient purification for the attending priest, and that it is unnecessary for him to wait until after sunset, was not accepted by the Sadducees. By not accepting any traditional laws, the Sadducees declared war on the system established by the G-d of Israel Himself. In order to prove and maintain the authority and authenticity of these laws, the sages were careful at such an important and public occasion as the burning of a new heifer, to undermine the seditious Saduccean influence with the greatest publicity, and in the most ostentatious manner, as possible.
"My Master, the Kohen Gadol!"
The sages of Israel placed their hands upon the kohen's head. (Some opinions hold that it was by this laying of the hands that they made him impure; other authorities maintain that they touched him with some other source of impurity). To facilitate the purpose of immediate purification from this contamination (so that he could burn the heifer directly, without waiting, as per the prevailing opinion of the sages), there was a special mikveh built at this spot for the kohen to immerse himself before beginning his task. With their hands upon his head, the elders declared: "My master, the Kohen Gadol! Immerse yourself once!"
The kohen descended into the Chamber of Immersion and purified himself, and came up and dried himself. Through this act of contamination and purification, witnessed by a large assembly in the presence of the elders of Israel, the influence of the Sadducees and their illicit, unfounded rulings was silenced. At the same time, with the exception of this necessarily deliberate device which had its emphasis on the one specific halachic point of not waiting until sunset, the hallmark of the entire procedure was purity in the highest degree. The most elaborate precautions had been taken for that purpose, as we have seen throughout.
A singular altar is erected at this spot. The wood arranged on the altar is preferably made up of cedar, pine, cypress and fig, for these are generally free from knots and holes. The fire will be ignited from its western side, the end facing the Temple. The wood is placed in the shape of a small tower, wide at the bottom and narrower towards the top. Small spaces are made in the pile to let the air circulate.
The heifer is bound to the altar with cords made from reed-grass, which do not become impure. It is placed on top of the wood arrangement with its head on the south side, and its face westward - towards the Temple. The kohen stands on the eastern side, also facing west.
Returning to Numbers 19, we recall that G-d's instructions state "... And you shall give her to Eleazar the kohen, and he shall have it brought outside the camp. And she shall be slaughtered in his presence... " At the time this commandment was decreed, Eleazar was assistant to his father Aharon, the Kohen Gadol. These words teach us that the actual slaughtering of the heifer is performed outside the Temple, and that it can be carried out by a lay kohen; it is not a required exclusively of the Kohen Gadol (though in reality the Kohen Gadol always guarded the honor zealously within their own ranks).
The priest stands atop the altar and slaughters the heifer. He uses his right hand for the act, then gathers the blood, not in a vessel, but in his left hand. With his right index finger he sprinkles from it seven times, standing opposite the entrance to the Holy Temple, facing that direction all the while and looking towards the entrance, as the verse states: "towards the front of the Tent of Meeting."
He descends from the altar and lights the fire, then the heifer is placed on the fire. He takes up the three ingredients required by the Torah to throw into the fire: cedar wood, hyssop, and wool dyed with scarlet.
Publicly Acknowledging Our Adherence to Scripture
Lifting each item, the priest faces all those assembled and asks aloud:
"This cedar? This cedar? This cedar?"
"This hyssop? This hyssop? This hyssop?"
"This crimson dye? This crimson dye? This crimson dye?"
He asks for confirmation of the identity of these particulars, repeating the question three times for each thing. To which the entire congregation gathered there responds resoundingly: "Yes! Yes! Yes!" for each.
This was done because there are many variations of these things; of the cedar tree alone, there are seven different varieties. There are four species of hyssop, and the scarlet dye which is used is obtained from a particular type of worm, though it can be produced from other sources as well. The priest publicly acknowledges and displays that these are the types which are required by Scripture.
He wraps the hyssop together with the cedar inside the crimson wool, and throws it into the belly of the heifer - as it is written, "and he shall throw it into the fire of the heifer." These words teach us that the ingredients must be cast into the fire while it is burning; that is, he must wait until the majority of the heifer has been consumed, but he also must not wait until the entire mass has been reduced to ashes.
After the fire is finished and all has been completely burned, everything there is ground down and pulverized - including the wood, and all parts of the animal. The entire black mass is beaten with rods and sifted, and these are the ashes which will be saved and used for purity.
The ashes would be divided into three portions. One share was watched for safe keeping in the Holy Temple, within the wall in front of the Women's Court. Another portion was kept at the burning station on the Mount of Anointment, and the third was divided for use between all the priestly shifts serving in the Temple. The attending priests would then use their respective portions to purify the country folk and the impure, while the allotment that was on the mount, was to be used for the priest who came to burn a new heifer.
The third portion that was kept within the wall in the Holy Temple was not used at all - it was placed there as a remembrance, as the Holy One commanded: "and it shall be for the congregation of the Children of Israel for a remembrance."
The Sprinkling of the Ashes
How the Process of Purification is Conducted
The Torah established that one who has had contact with the dead is impure for seven days. During the course of that week, on the third day and on the seventh day, the individual would be sprinkled with the waters of sanctification, in the following manner.
A vessel is filled with "running waters," which is water flowing from a natural source, like a spring. Some of the ashes are flung into this same vessel, and this mixture of ashes and water are sprinkled on the body of the man on his third and seventh day, after sunrise. It was also sprinkled on clothing or vessels that became impure by having been within the same tent (or any enclosure) that contained a body.
How Was the Sprinkling Done?
The waters were administered by one who was already pure. This was not done by hand; he who purifies the others ties a bundle of three stalks of hyssop. Each twig must have one bud, and he dips the tops of the buds into the solution in the vessel. He then uses the hyssop to sprinkle the water onto the persons or the vessel.
It is not necessary for a large amount of the sanctified waters to come in contact with the impure. As long as a slight amount of the water touches him, it is sufficient to purify. Even if a tiny drop touched only his fingertip or lips, it would be enough.
All the people who are involved with the heifer and its preparation, from beginning to end, become impure from contact with it. The same applies to their garments. They were required to immerse themselves and wash their clothing in order to be reinstated. And it is this concept - that the pure are rendered impure by the very same agent which brings purity to those who are lacking it - that is the mystery of the commandment, beyond the grasp of all understanding. For this is a profound paradox, that the same instrument can have opposite effects.
Symbolic Levels Of Interpretation
The Desire to Understand
In the beginning of our study we learned that although the precept of the red heifer is a chok, which automatically indicates that we will never be able to fathom its true meaning and significance, still, we are permitted and even obligated to comprehend to the best of our abilities. The act of study itself is of primary importance. By searching for levels of meaning we demonstrate our desire to understand the word of G-d, and its application for our lives today. By trying to make it part of our lives, we show the Almighty how much we strive to fulfill His will, and how important His commandments our to us. King David said, "The Torah of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver" (Psalms 119:72). By studying, the Holy One sees how much we cherish His word. This is what we can do for G-d; our effort to draw closer to Him.
What is Prophecy?
Since we are about to closely analyze the words of the prophet Ezekiel, perhaps we would do well to define the concept of prophecy according to the authentic Jewish tradition. Prophetic revelation is the closest brush with the Divine that a human being can have. In the true prophetic experience, a man becomes the instrument through which G-d exerts His power. This is like becoming a human amplifier for the word of G-d; he becomes a channel for the Divine message.
G-d only grants the gift of prophecy for the sake of His people, and it is an experience which requires tremendous effort and preparation. One must attain the highest level of sanctification; it can only be attained in the holy Land of Israel.
A Million Prophets!
Although true prophecy is virtually unobtainable today under the present circumstances, there are still levels of Divine guidance and inspiration which G-d bestows upon those who are deserving. However, during the era of the First Temple, prophecy was a commonplace thing. An amazing tradition relates that so many people in Israel experienced prophecy, they numbered over a million - a different prophet was sent every day. In the future, all their names will be revealed.
Prophecies for All Time... Here and Now
If this is so, the immediate question arises: Why is that only very few of these prophecies are mentioned in the Torah? If so many people were given the privilege of tasting a glimpse of the Divine reality, and they shared that experience with the people of their own generation, why is the Canon of the Torah only 24 sacred books? Why were these other prophecies not recorded for all time, so that we would be able to study them?
The answer is compelling in its simplicity - and its urgency: Even though many, many people were granted the gift of prophecy, the Torah only records those who had a message for all generations. Thus the prophecies which have come down to us are timeless - or rather, for all time. Their message is not only as relevant today as it was then; the main thrust of that message is for now, for us. They were spoken to us, in our own time, and when we study them it is as if they were spoken today. Through the words of the prophets, G-d has given us the tools we need today, here and now, to seek Him in our own lives... and to prepare for the days ahead.
"I Shall Sprinkle Pure Waters Upon You... "
This book began with the words of the prophet Ezekiel, to whom G-d told, "Then I shall sprinkle pure waters upon you... and I will take away your heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh." The imagery of the Holy One Himself sprinkling His people with pure waters has an obvious association with the sprinkling of the heifer's water of sanctification. Yet as one of the holy sages asks, to what water is this verse actually referring? It can't be speaking of the waters mixed with the heifer's ashes - for although that solution is the key to cleansing, purifying all it touches - the mixture itself is impure, which is why it contaminates those who were already pure! This is an aspect of the mystery that we have spoken of throughout these pages.
Knowledge of G-d
In truth, the "pure waters" which G-d will sprinkle upon us at that time, is Divine knowledge itself. In the future, "G-d and His Name will be One," and that explosion of Divine consciousness will enable us all to be on the level of understanding that Moshe reached.
The prophet tells us that at that time, the "earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d like the oceans that cover the sea." But when we think a little deeper about this verse, we can see that the prophet chose his words carefully, and G-d provided him with the vision which would make for a perfect analogy to teach us this point.
The verse states that knowledge of G-d will be compared to the waters of the sea. Why? Because the ocean is seemingly endless, stretching out as far as the eye can see. But even so, how much are we really seeing? Only the surface! Our vision does not reveal what lies beneath the depths, for miles and miles. Although the knowledge of G-d will be so widespread that all men will be on a level of higher awareness and true recognition of the Creator, even so, we will never truly penetrate to complete understanding of G-d; that is impossible. "No man sees my face and lives" (Ex. 33:20). Yet G-d has assured Israel that in the future, all will understand the mystery of the red heifer.
May He fill us with the sincere desire to serve Him, and open our hearts to Divine knowledge, so that we may have the proper intentions for fulfilling His will.
The Concept of Repentance
The Greatest Gift
On a symbolic level, one of the great secrets intimated by the process of the red heifer is the concept of repentance. Repentance is the greatest gift which G-d gave to man - so holy, so G-dlike, so completely above all logic or comprehension. The sages teach that the concept of repentance is one of seven things which G-d "thought of" even before He created the world. Thus He created repentance before He created man; this means that the ability for man to repent existed well before sin... it even existed before the beginning of time. Repentance was one of the pillars of creation; before He created man, the Holy One already knew that "the impulse of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen. 7:21), and that it would be impossible for even the best of men not to sin and stumble. "There is no righteous man on earth who does only good, and does not sin" (Ecc. 7:20). G-d knows that this is an integral part of human nature, and it cannot be avoided. Angels are perfect, people make mistakes... yet it is the service of man which G-d desires. Without mistakes, there can be no growth.
Thus, in the words of the rabbis, "G-d created the cure even before the illness," and the concept of repentance was prepared in advance of man and built into the very fabric of creation, so that when one transgresses the will of his Creator, a path is left open for him to return.
Understanding the Nature of Sin
How do we understand sin? Judaism defines sin as a spiritual sickness, but it can be more precisely defined as a kind of temporary insanity. Indeed, if a person did not loose track momentarily of the priorities of life; if he did not suddenly and inadvertently suffer a brief disconnection with his Divine purpose, and a short "snap" of his bind with the Eternal Creator, then he would never sin! For when one sins, it is only because he forgets the spark of holiness within him for an instant; his perspective blurs. He simply forgets about G-d! For if he felt himself to be part of the whole, and connected with the Divine source of his soul from which he was hewn, he would never come to sin. As the sages advised, "Let a man remember three things and he will not come to sin: A seeing eye is above him, and an attentive ear, and all his deeds are written in a book."
In this light the rabbis further explained that "a person does not sin unless he was first seized by an insane impulse."
Both pure logic and experience tell us that this is certainly true. For let us consider what really happens when a human being sins. He cuts himself off totally from G-d, and even worse, he rejects the spark of life, the holiness, the Divine image in which he was created! How is this possible? How can anyone transgress the will of the Almighty? After all, every movement a man makes, every thought that goes through his head and every word he speaks, all come about through the power which G-d gives him. But G-d bestows this power in order for man to live a holy life, to seek Him out and serve him... "In all of your ways, know Him" (Proverbs 3:6).
Rebelling Against the Creator
Yet the sinner takes that very same power which G-d, in His infinite love, gave man for ultimate good - and he uses it against Him. He uses the very life energy within him to rebel against the Creator who breathed it into him in the first place, by directing that energy into an area which G-d does not desire! Can there be a greater, a more brazen audacity then this? Like an insult of the worst kind, it is as if the entire universe is moving in one direction, fulfilling the will of the Creator and thus sanctifying Him, but this one has separated himself and is moving in the opposite direction. It is as if he is handed a cup of wine by a benevolent benefactor, and in sheer ingratitude he throws it in the latter's face. By right, we would expect G-d's punishment against this offender to be swift and exacting. Yet G-d withstands this insult and waits patiently for the sinner to repent.
"... And you shall return to HaShem your G-d, and hearken to His voice." (Deut. 4:30)
"Return, wayward sons, says HaShem. (Jer. 3:14)
"... return, you children of men" (Psalms 90:3)
When any person repents, his sins are forgiven. The doors of repentance are open for every human being, Jew and Gentile alike. And repentance is effective for any sin, no matter how serious. Just as one can repent for an individual sin, he can repent for an entire lifestyle as well. The sages taught that repentance is so powerful, nothing can stand in its way. As the verse states, "If you return to HaShem your G-d and listen to His voice... G-d will then accept your repentance and have compassion on you" (Deut. 30:2 - 3).
By obeying G-d's commandments, we purify ourselves and attach ourselves to Him. Living according to the Creator's will brings man closer to Him. Sin has the opposite effect: it diminishes one's spiritual stature and makes it more difficult to reach perfection. Even worse, sin actually serves to separate a person from G-d, as it is written, "Only your sins have separated you from your G-d" (Isaiah 59:2).
Thus repentance precedes sin; "G-d created the cure before the illness."
Which comes first, a mother or her child? The intrinsic necessity of a mother to precede her child is one way of understanding that cryptic parable, "let the mother come and clean up her child's filth:" Let the concept of repentance come and erase the sin.
How Does One Prepare for Repentance?
But no religious experience can come about without proper preparation. True religious experience is an imitation of the Divine; an infusion of Godly light. If a man does not prepare his vessel properly, it cannot contain this great light. Just as a prophet cannot receive Divine inspiration unless he follows the steps which lead to that exalted level, so too, the main preparation for repentance is the attribute of submission and humility. "The offerings of G-d are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O G-d, you will not despise (Psalms 51:19)."
"Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to HaShem."(Proverbs 16:5) How ironic it is that no individual is as far from G-d, as he who feels that he has already attained perfection, and has no need to search his deeds. By the same token, another type of person truly seeks to better himself, but on account of his own humility he is beset by feelings of inadequacy. Because he so much wants to improve, he feels that he will never be good enough, and consequently he feels rejected by G-d and unworthy. This is the man who is truly moving closer to G-d! And the further away he feels... the closer he really is. G-d desires that a person should recognize his own limitations and hold his fellows in higher esteem than himself. When one nullifies himself to the whole, he can then merit to repent in sincerity and purify himself.
This concept is a key to understanding one of the allegorical levels of that greatest of all mysteries - why the heifer's ashes "cleanse the impure and render the clean impure:"
Judging Others Favorably
In order to open one's heart to the way of true repentance, even though he may be aware of his own good qualities, he should not think highly of himself. Let him view himself as impure, being far worse spiritually than his own neighbor - let him "make the pure (himself) impure" - and then he may "purify the impure;" he can believe in his own heart that his friends are good and righteous when compared to him. When a man gives others the benefit of the doubt, and feels enough compassion to allow for others to make mistakes and make amends... when a man knows that his neighbor has sinned, and yet he still feels that by contrast to himself, in comparison to his own lowliness, the other one is pure... then he has merited one level of the heifer's ashes: true humility, upon which spirit the Divine Presence can rest.
When the true penitent can negate himself in this manner, he will merit holiness and purity. Thus Scripture states, "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one." (Job 14:4) This verse itself teaches us that one should view himself as impure, but his friend as pure. For "not one" in Hebrew can be read as a play on words; lo echad, if not for "the oneness!" What other way could bring a clean thing out of an unclean, if not for the oneness of Israel coming together! Through that union, each one is able to see his fellow's good points and his own shortcomings. The "gathering together" of Israel within the consciousness of each individual, is itself her purification.
The Greatest Secret of All
There is a well-known question: If we have received an explanation that the purification by the heifer's ashes is related to the golden calf episode, and "let the mother come and clean her child's filth," then why is the ordinance of the red heifer still considered a chok? Surely the element of mystery has been abated; it is simply a matter of rectifying the sin of the golden calf!
Yes, even if it is granted that the secret mechanism which powers the cleansing of these ashes is the power of repentance... but this itself is above the realm of comprehension! For even the greatest wisdom and understanding cannot fathom or explain the power of repentance, and how it works... only the Holy One Himself, in his infinite mercy, decreed that it should be so. Repentance is the most G-dly secret of all!
Sensitivity to Others
Perhaps this is one way of understanding how the cleansing ashes serve to atone for the havoc wrought by the sin of the calf. That transgression was so severe that it left its impression on all generations to come, down through the ages. And the rectification is through studying the Torah, G-d's word, serving Him, and most of all, by bestowing kindness upon each other. But what is the single greatest act of kindness one can perform? To feel the next one's suffering and to participate in the sorrow of the entire nation. For when one sensitizes himself to others, he will be prevented from sinning - for he will then understand that when he transgresses, he causes others to suffer, even the entire world! For we are all connected. True unity is achieved when each of us can feel another's pain. The sages thus taught that "whoever has mercy for G-d's creations will himself receive mercy from heaven" because the same attribute that man deals with others is the one which G-d metes out to him.
The great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (the "Master of the Good Name," c. 1700 - 1760; founder of the Hasidic movement) taught that whatever a man does to his fellow, he actually does to himself. If he gives charity or bestows kindness, he is giving himself charity - for G-d will act towards him in the same measure. But if he endeavors to cheat the next one, or steal from him, or bears him ill will... these will be visited against him from on high, and it is none other than his own doing.
When a man really understands this concept of unity, and he is able look beyond his own feelings and needs, to those of the entire whole, he will refrain from sinning merely out of the desire to have mercy on them. His main concern will be to not to cause another suffering on account of his sin. In turn, he will receive the ultimate heavenly mercy: his own sins will be atoned for, and he will merit the resting of the Divine Presence. When the people of Israel are truly united as one with peace reigning between them, G-d will rest among them. This is the secret of the verse, "And He was king in Yeshurun, when the heads of the people and the tribes of Israel were gathered together" (Deut. 33:5).
In the Merit of Avraham
This is also a deeper level of meaning contained in the words of the verse, "And he that gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes." The "clothing," representing the physicality will be washed by he who gathers. The real cleansing, the highest level of purification, is through the "gathering" itself - the gathering together of the individual into the totality of the congregation of Israel. This is true humility; the humility of Avraham, the first Jew. The ashes of the heifer reflect the level of humility achieved by our forefather Avraham when he declared before G-d "I am but dust and ashes" (Gen. 18:24). Indeed, the sages record that G-d told Abraham: "In the merit of these words you have spoken - 'I am but dust and ashes' - I will give your children a commandment they will perform through ashes, and by your life, they will receive atonement through it." (Similarly, on the verse which states "Who can count the dust of Yaakov?" (Numbers 23:10), the sages reflected: "who can count the merits of the Divine commandments they fulfill with dust?")
Then the verse continues and instructs "And lay them outside the camp in a clean place:" This process of each one "gathering" himself into the congregation will even facilitate the return of those who are "outside the camp" - those who have not yet repented. For whoever is connected to one who is pure, will ultimately be influenced for the better, and be purified himself.
But why is it that "Satan and the nations of the world tease Israel" about this specific commandment, asking for its explanation - to which we answer, "it is a decree which G-d wrought." G-d says, "I have ordained it, and you have no permission to question it." What difference does it make to the other nations of the world, whether or not they could understand this? Why are they so curious; why is this the particular point of contention which they have latched on to...
The Secret of Israel's Faith
The nations hound Israel on account of the red heifer, precisely because her adherence to this precept is a revelation of Israel's truly inimitable spiritual status. Israel's obedience to commandments such as the red heifer reflects her level of faith, a level that is impossible for others to grasp or emulate. It irks the nations of the world to perceive this unflinching faith; Israel is the only nation that can follow G-d unquestionably.
"We Will Do!" - Afterwards, "We Will Listen"
The purpose of the Divine commandments is to plant the faith of G-d within Israel's heart. At the Revelation of Mount Sinai, the people of Israel accepted the yoke of G-d's commandments upon themselves even before they understood what this compliance would entail, and before they received any explanations. They committed themselves to G-d on faith alone, stating "All which HaShem has spoken, we will do and we will listen" (Ex. 24:7) - meaning, we will perform all of these commandments even if we do not understand why. The cornerstone of Jewish belief is that man is obligated to G-d, not that God is obligated to man. The main thing is action; first and foremost, "we will do."
The highest level of faith is when one is capable of believing something above the grasp of his own frail comprehension. This is the aspect of faith which the psalmist referred to as "your faithfulness at night;" (Psalm 92) "night" represents pure faith against a backdrop of darkness; the unknown. This level of simple, perfect faith, without sophistication or philosophy is the degree which is the most beloved and desired in the Creator's eyes. This was Avraham's faith, as the verse testifies: "And he believed in HaShem and He counted it to him for charity." (Gen. 15:6).
Giving G-d "Charity"
How are these words to be understood? G-d reckoned the fact that Avraham believed in Him as charity?! The explanation is exactly along the lines we have been discussing. Avraham personified Israel's faith in G-d, especially as illustrated by their adherence to ordinances such as the red heifer. If a person only believes in the things which make sense to him, all he is really doing, is returning to G-d that which He already deposited with him - for man's intellect and reason is not his own, but merely a gift given him by G-d. Thus a man willing to believe something that he can understand by using his G-d-given reason, has not crowned some special achievement! But when he trusts in G-d even though he cannot understand.. this trust is like "charity" which he gives back to his Creator, because it is an extra measure which is outside the confines of his own reason... for once, he is doing something original for G-d.
The sages taught that it is the merit of this powerful faith which will bring about Israel's final redemption. The idolaters know of Israel's great power and cannot abide by the fact that she has such faith. They chide and taunt her: "What is the explanation of this precept?" For they wish to dissuade Israel from her perfect faith in the Holy One, a faith which encompasses not only commandments of reason (like honoring one's parents, or the prohibition against killing, which anyone with intelligence can accept), but also commandments of chok like the red heifer. The heathens cannot countenance the performance of commandments without knowing the reason. Thus G-d declares to all of these: "It is a decree which I have issued!" Tell them that you perform this commandment because of your perfect faith in Me.
This is also another level of meaning within the words, "This is the ordinance of the Torah, which HaShem has decreed saying" - the extra word "saying" indicates, "say to them!" Tell all the scoffers that as far as Israel is concerned, the entire Torah is a chok, and we perform it all only because G-d has commanded it... and no explanation is necessary.
The Secret of Israel's Purity
This characteristic is the secret of Israel's purity, as well. For it is faith that cleanses the mind from the impurity of sin. It should therefore be of little wonder that one of the prerequisites of preparation for the holiday pilgrimage to the Holy Temple is to be cleansed with the "inexplicable" ashes of the red heifer - so that we might merit that perfect faith to perform all of G-d's commandments for no other reason other than the fact that He has decreed it thus. Indeed, we likewise endeavor in all of our pursuits, both physical and spiritual, to aspire to the level of not questioning G-d's plans, but simply believing with perfect faith that "He is the rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice (Deut. 32:4)." There is no hope but trust in G-d. And Israel, in the merit of the faith which surpasses understanding and is above the laws of nature, also receives salvation beyond the limitations of the natural world - as the verse states, "Your love is great above the heavens" (Psalms 108:5) - meaning, G-d's attribute of kindness is not subject to the laws of nature, but comes from a realm far above them.
A Closer Look at the Other Biblical Ingredients
Now these nations ask: what is this unusual quality of the red heifer, which is so great that it has the power to cleanse the impure? Yesterday, this man was "outside the camp" - abhorred, shunned and avoided. But today all that is forgotten; the same man is altogether pleasant and precious in God's eyes. In order to understand this "transformation" we must examine the other ingredients by which this mysterious purification is rendered: the cedar tree, hyssop and scarlet wool.
How does it come about that a man sins? Only because he has momentarily forgotten G-d, and allowed his own heart to become haughty and high - like the cedar. Now that he wishes to return before G-d, the sages teach: "he raised himself like the cedar; let him lower himself like the hyssop, the lowest of all trees, and like the worm (from which the scarlet dye is produced) - for the attributes of submission and humility are very dear in the eyes of the Holy One." Thus the Midrash states that "the hyssop is compared to a human being: it appears to be inconsequential, yet in reality its power is very great before HaShem."
G-d does not shun the lowly, those that remain modest - "the offeringsof G-d are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O G-d, You will not despise." (Psalms 51:18). Such a person's repentance is accepted; he is exonerated by G-d's strict justice, and even merits to be a vehicle for the Divine Presence to rest upon. G-d commanded us to use the hyssop and the scarlet worm, so that we might contemplate them... truly insignificant creations. Why did He not command the use of lofty, grand specimens?
The true and complete rectification for haughtiness, that despicable character trait which is the root and cause of most sins, is humility. Haughtiness is considered so serious a flaw that it is even likened to idolatry. Thus haughtiness is an offshoot of that primary, reverberating sin of old: the golden calf. Therefore the purification for this attribute, this aspect of that idolatrous image present and lurking within each individual, must be brought about by humility and modesty, in order to undo the damage of pride. A humble spirit can be the vessel to fill man's heart with the proper fear of G-d.
But what is real humility? When we understand our complete dependence on the Holy One. Without G-d, man has nothing; he is nothing.
"Have them bring you a red heifer... " The heifer is called after Moshe, for G-d Himself testifies that he was the humblest man ever who ever lived: "And the man Moshe was exceedingly humble, more than any man on the face of the earth" (Numbers 12:3) The humility of Moshe will aid the penitent, his holiness and righteousness will illuminate and manifest itself to all those who truly desire to emulate him - it is called by his name for all time, and his power will shine through to all who seek to emulate his quality.
The Episode of the Golden Calf
Text of the Book of Exodus, Chapter 31-32
"And He gave to Moshe, when He had made an end of speaking to him upon Mount Sinai, two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of G-d.
And when the people saw that Moshe delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aharon, and said to him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this man Moshe, who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him. And Aharon said to them, break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them to me. And all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aharon. And he received the gold at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it a molten calf: And they said, These are your Gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of the Land of Egypt. And when Aharon saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aharon made proclamation, and said, Tomorrow is a feast to HaShem. And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to disport themselves.'
And HaShem said to Moshe, Go, get down, for your people, which you brought up out of the Land of Egypt, have become corrupt... "
The Mixed Multitude
"And the Israelites traveled from Ramses toward Sukkot; approximately 600,000 adult males on foot, besides the children. A mixed multitude also left with them... " (Ex. 12:37 - 38)
A vast number of people participated in the exodus from Egypt. This verse numbers the "adult males" alone as being in the vicinity of 60 myriad. This classification includes all those who were over the age of 20 (there were 80,000 souls under the age of 20), excluding the aged and infirm who cannot travel without assistance. All this was only the tally for the household heads, "besides the children," and the women. Each family numbered at least five souls - in all, rabbinical tradition reckons that some three million people were involved in this great event. Also, this entire figure does not take the tribe of Levi into account. Their numbers were not counted here by Moshe since they had been exempted from the servitude by Pharoah when they were in Egypt.
The mixed multitude which this verse mentions was a group which numbered well over a million souls. They originated from among the Egyptians and from the ranks of many other nations as well, hence the term "mixed multitude." When they saw the great glory of Israel revealed, they desired to convert to Judaism and to leave Egypt together with Israel.
God Did Not Approve the Mixed Multitude
The presence of this group among the assembly of Israel proved to be a pitfall for her - then, in the beginning, and throughout history as well. In fact, the Midrash relates that the Holy One Himself did not want to accept the mixed multitude into Israel's ranks. But Moshe approved their acceptance, and G-d acquiesced to him:
The sages explain: what is the meaning of G-d's words, "... Go, get down, for your people which you brought up out of the land of Egypt have become corrupt... "
"I See What These Will Do In the Future... "
Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to Moshe: My creations have already caused Me to descend once before to observe the destruction they wrought - as it is written, "And G-d went down to see the city;" "Let us go down;" "I will go down and see" (Gen. 11;18). Now, Moshe, it is your turn to "go down," for it is appropriate behavior for a servant to emulate his master.
When Moshe heard this, he was afraid that this meant Israel could no longer obtain forgiveness. But the Holy One was aware of his fears and told him, "Moshe, did I not tell you at the bush, ' have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt'? (Ex. 3:7). You are but a human being, and you see with only one vision. But I see with two. I see that in the future, they will come to Sinai and accept my Torah, and I will descend at Sinai with My quadriga (Latin; a chariot drawn by four animals abreast) - and they will "unhitch" one of the four animals of my chariot, thereby angering Me! As Scripture states (Ez. 1:10) "And they four had the face of an ox from the left side." And it is written (Psalms 106:18 - 19), "They made a calf in Horev, and worshiped a molten image. They exchanged their glory for the likeness of an ox that eats grass!"
But the Holy One explained to Moshe: "Go down, for your people have become corrupt." It does not state "the people," but "your people" - for the Holy One said to Moshe: "Your people have created the calf! For I told you, "And I will take out My hosts, My people the Children of Israel (Ex. 7)," but you caused all of this - by insisting upon accepting the mixed multitude. They are not My people. My people did not do it - as it is written, "Israel does not know, My people does not consider" (Isaiah 1).
Moshe, you pleaded before Me that it is better to accept them! But I foresaw what they would do in the future... and it is they who made the golden calf, for they are idolaters, and they caused My people to sin together with them. They said, "These are your Gods, Israel," and not "our Gods" - for it is they who were responsible.
Who is greater than Moshe, chief of all the prophets, who most certainly had only the best of intentions, but inevitably caused these evil ones to become a snare for Israel... and they have continued to cause Israel anguish to this very day. They are the cause for the extension of the exile. It was clear to G-d that they would cause Israel damage and confuse them, leading them astray from the true service, but He did not want to say this explicitly to Moshe. Everyone has free choice, and perhaps even they could repent. But instead, it was they who influenced Israel to sin. If the mixed multitude would not have been clinging to Israel, G-d would have lead them straight into the Promised Land. They are like an open wound; an evil mixture that always incites and lures Israel from serving G-d.
The Bible's laws of impurity are very similar to the laws of leprosy, for the state of impurity which renders a person further from G-d is like a spiritual leprosy... the idolatry which is represented by the golden calf. Just as He commanded that the purification of the leper be accomplished with cedar and hyssop, so too, the impure must be separated, and sprinkled on the third and seventh day. This one is separated because of his contact with death, just as a leper is considered like one dead.
The Golden Calf and the Red Heifer
We have learned that the sages gave a hint for understanding the red heifer: it is related to the sin of the golden calf. "To what can this be likened? To a maid who worked in the palace of the king. One day her child came and soiled the palace with his filth. The king said, 'let the mother come, and clean her child's filth'." This is the concept of atonement for the golden calf, for the Holy One said, "Let the red heifer come, and atone for the golden calf."
If we examine the concepts of red heifer and the golden calf, we can find many parallels and connections. For example:
Why must the heifer be red? To rectify the infamous idol which shone with a reddish hue... it is an atonement for Israel's "red" sin. And in general, Scripture likens sin to red: "Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be white as wool" (Isaiah 1:18). Says the Holy One: Since Israel's sins are red, let the heifer also be red - and when it is burned, its ashes are white... thus the prophet assures his people in the Creator's name that G-d promises "they shall whiten as snow."
In order for the heifer to be fit, it must never have carried a yoke. This is an allusion to Israel, who threw off the yoke of Heaven in insubordination when they worshiped the golden calf.
Why must the heifer be given to Eleazar, and assistant, and not to the Kohen Gadol himself? Because Aharon oversaw the creation of the golden calf, and therefore it would not seem proper for him to officiate with the heifer. There is a principle, "the same one who was prosecutor, cannot become a defense attorney."
The heifer is burned, an allusion to the calf that was burned: "And he took the calf which they had made, and burned it in the fire... " (Ex. 32:20)
Three species are used: hyssop, cedar, and scarlet wool, which are reminiscent of the 3,000 who fell at the sin of the calf. And why these three? The cedar is the highest, and the hyssop is the lowest... and whoever is haughty (equal to the sin of idolatry) must become like a worm (from which the red dye is obtained) in his own eyes, as King David prayed: "I am a worm and not a man" (Psalms 22:7). If he will lower himself, his sins will be atoned.
Just as the sin of the golden calf exerts its influence forever, as it states "and on the day that I will remember you and I will remember your sin" (Ex. 32:34), so too the Holy One commanded that the ashes of the red heifer be kept as a remembrance for all generations: "and they shall be for the congregation of the Children of Israel for a remembrance."
And just as the golden calf rendered all those who participated in it impure - for idolatry causes impurity, as it is written: "You shall cast it away as a thing impure... " (Isaiah 30:22), so the heifer renders all those who come in contact with it impure.
And: As Israel became pure through the ashes of the golden calf, which Moshe burned and ground into a dust - "... and he burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and scattered it upon the water... " So Israel becomes pure through the ashes of the red heifer.
But why must the heifer be free from all blemish?
... Because at their spiritual source, according to their true exalted nature, Israel is perfect and free from blemish.
All the Heifer's Requirements are a Metaphor to Israel
On still an entirely different level, the entire precept can be seen as an affectionate allegory to Israel herself - the Holy One compares His nation with the secret of that which cleanses her.
How fitting that the heifer which figures so importantly in the process of Israel's purification, must be completely red, perfect and without blemish.
Israel is red, as it is written (Lamentations 4:7) "... they were more ruddy in body than rubies."
Israel is perfect - so the verse states (Song of Songs 5:2) "... open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect... "
Israel has no blemish, as it is written (ibid. 4:7), "You are all fair, my love, there is no blemish in you."
Moshe said to Korach, "The red heifer will atone for their gold which is red. As it is perfect and without blemish, let it atone for the nation which is perfect. Israel was perfect but became blemished through this sin; the sprinkling of the ashes will restore their perfection and cleanse them of their blemish. And just as it has had no yoke - let it atone for our insubordination."
The Original Ashes
"Speak to the Children of Israel, and have them bring you a red heifer... "
These words teach us that G-d told Moshe, "even if all the heifers throughout history are lost, that your will remain forever." For there is a tradition that all the heifers are sanctified through Moshe's original heifer, and a portion of those ashes were put away for the future sanctification of Israel.
Why are the earlier ashes needed?
Earlier it was mentioned that in the days of the Holy Temple, the priest who was to burn a new heifer was sprinkled during his week of separation with ashes that had been made previously, back through the generations. This was done as one of the extra measures of purity associated with the ceremony of the red heifer, even though he was known to be clean, and there had been no opportunity for him to become otherwise while he was in the Temple.
Some opinions maintain that the newer ashes were always mixed together with a combination of the previous ashes. One way of understanding this, is to the view this mixture of old and new ashes as being yet another precautionary measure... actually, as a kind of insurance policy.
The ordinance of the purification has an almost unparalleled status for Israel; after all, the purity of the entire congregation is dependent on it. But every man has his limitations, being only human. What would happen if the entire process had been carried through according to the letter of the law, but some detail which could render the procedure invalid, had gone undetected? One scenario might be that a perfect red heifer had been chosen and found to be blemish - free, and all of the other steps had been followed, exactly as we have discussed in these pages. But unknown to those officiating, in reality the heifer had a blemish which disqualified it. If such a thing could happen, how can Israel's purity be vouchsafed?
One way would be to simply depend on the ashes prepared by the leaders of an earlier generation, since those great men were more scrupulous than we. There is a general principle taught by the sages that as the generations progress in time, they become weaker spiritually. The previous generations were on a far more exalted and powerful level than those who follow. This notion may appear strange at first; after all, what of all our technological advancements, our discoveries and achievements?
This is an interesting point to ponder. The last 100 years has seen more scientific discoveries and advancements than the last 1,000. However, if we are more advanced scientifically than our predecessors, that does not mean we are more advanced spiritually. The opposite is true; the spiritual power of the sages who lived in the era of the Second Temple was so great that every one of them had the ability to resurrect the dead. Those giants did not have the machines and technology that we have today because they did not need them! However, as the generations dwindle and draw closer, in these waning end - days, to the coming of the messiah, we are truly impoverished spiritually. We need all of these advancements in order to serve G-d; when used properly, our discoveries can be tools for spiritual fulfillment as well. The Creator has granted bursts of inspiration and illumination in recent years so that man, whose own perceptual capacities are diminishing, will be better equipped to seek the meaning behind it all... G-d, who directs the universe towards His purpose.
So too, the "insurance policy" with regard to the ashes prepared by those men who were closer to the Sinai Revelation than we. The chances that something has gone wrong now are not that likely. However, even if such a mishap has transpired, if we combine these ashes with a previous solution, we can rely on the majority portion of the mixture, which is certainly error - free beyond any doubt.
A Deeper Insight
Additionally, mixing in the newer ashes we have produced now with those from olden times is a way of connecting through time with the original heifer that was slaughtered and prepared by Moshe. As such, in a sense, it is a way of connecting with the level of Moshe himself.
We have seen that Moshe has a special, personal association with the concept of the red heifer. "... Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without defect;" G-d decreed that it was to be called after his name for all time. One reason that Moshe alone was able to comprehend the great paradox of this precept, is because Moshe reached a spiritual level of understanding that no man, before or after, can ever hope to imitate.
On that exalted level, Moshe achieved a closeness to G-d which was also without equal:
"And He said, hear now my words. If there be a prophet among you, I HaShem make Myself known to him in a vision, and speak to him in a dream. But not so when it comes to My servant Moshe; he is the trusted one in all My house. With him I speak face to face, directly, and not in dark speeches; and the likeness of HaShem he does behold. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moshe?" (Numbers 12:7). And: "And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like Moshe, whom HaShem knew face to face." (Deut. 34:10)
Moshe understood the truest nature of one of the most important aspects of the heifer's purifying quality: repentance. He was a master of repentance. Moreover, Israel's collective forgiveness was so important to him that he was willing to negate himself completely for their sake ("And now, if You will forgive their sin - and if not, I pray, blot me out of the book You have written" - Ex. 32:32). Moshe's act was imbued with these qualities, and they were present in the ashes of that first heifer, made as a response to the incident of the golden calf... "let the mother come and clean her child's filth."
All of Israel strives to repent, to attain the level of Moshe, the man called "the man of G-d" by the Holy One Himself (Deut. 33:1; Psalms 90:1). Even though such understanding is far from us, as King Solomon declared regarding the precept of the red heifer... by mixing the waters of sanctification together with ashes prepared by Moshe himself, it is as if we have some connection, beyond our own limitations, with the true and absolute understanding of the red heifer which Moshe attained. As we are sprinkled by the ashes, our hope is that we shall merit to some infinitesimal degree of the true repentance, and the fear and love of G-d, which Moshe had, so that we may indeed be cleansed and purified.
Can We Proceed Without the Original Ashes?
An oft - asked question with regard to preparations for a new red heifer in our own time is: Even if a new red heifer could somehow be obtained, slaughtered and burned, how can ritual purity be reinstated without the kelal, the container of original ashes dating back from the time of Moshe?
Indeed, many people seem to be under the impression that without those original ashes, it would be impossible to rebuild the Temple - since they would have to mixed in with the new ones, as was done in the past, whenever a red heifer was prepared.
Raiders of the Lost Ashes?
To this end, many people are aware that in recent years, certain individuals and groups have embarked upon numerous expeditions, most of them centered around a particular location in Israel, where it is believed that the ashes of the red heifer may have been hidden. Most of the evidence for this belief comes from a particular interpretation of passages in the Copper Scroll, one of the well - known and most cryptic Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in one of the Qumran caves in 1952. These scrolls were found in a series of caves in and around the desert area of Qumran. Presumably, they were authored by members of the Essene community at the close of the Second Temple period.
Background: About the Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient documents which have great historical and scholarly value. The first scrolls were discovered in 1947; more were discovered later in caves above the Northwest end of the Dead Sea. According to the findings of archaeologists, the scrolls stored in jars in the first cave at Qumran were written or copied between the 1st cent. B.C.E. and the first half of the 1st cent. C.E.
One of the most important finds among the scrolls are two copies of the Book of Isaiah, almost 1,000 years older than any Hebrew biblical manuscript previously known. Another important scroll was the so - called Manual of Discipline for an ascetic community, which has been identified with both the ruins at nearby Qumran and the Essenes, a Jewish religious sect living an ascetic communal agricultural life in that region between the 2nd cent. B.C.E. and 2d cent. C.E. On the basis of parallels between the Qumran scrolls and the New Testament, some scholars have suggested a tie between the Essenes and the early Christians. However, recent work by other archaeologists and biblical scholars has questioned the association of the scrolls with the Qumran ruins and the Essenes.
Evidence from the Copper Scroll
Some have claimed to have discovered "linguistic" evidence that proves Qumran is the site described in this scroll, known as Wadi HaKippah, and that "Cave #4" is the "Cave of the Column" whose entrance is described in the Copper Scroll. It is believed that this scroll was hidden along with items from the Holy Temple just before the destruction by the Roman legions in the year 70 A.D. The scroll relates that vessels and treasures, as well as a container of ashes of the red heifer, were taken from the Holy Temple before the destruction and hidden in this area.
Among those who have led expeditions in search of the ashes are those who claim to have "used seismic, electromagnetic and infrared ground penetrating radar and Molecular Frequency Analysis (such as Nasa uses from satellites) at the Qumran site." This particular ministry solicits funding to continue operating archaeological digs in the area, and claims to be aware of many more as yet undiscovered scrolls. They advertise that their equipment has shown that "there are readings of anomalies which indicate underground caverns. One of these anomalies is an underground cavern almost 50 feet below ground level and not visible from the surface. The readings indicate that they contain, as yet, undiscovered scrolls."
In these advertisements, it goes on to state that "the MFA analysis shows other details that are just as intriguing. One reading, from Qumran, of a vessel with ashes in it is of great interest. Could this be a hidden portion of the Ashes of the red heifer, necessary for purification of the Temple, which has been the focus of extensive searching by a number of archaeologists?"
The following is a quotation which appears the internet site of one of these organizations:
"There are differing attitudes towards the need of the red heifer's ashes. A small percentage of Jewish people (and a few Gentiles), believe a new red heifer can be offered and its ashes used for the purification. To accomplish this, two herds of red cattle have been started in Israel in order to raise an unblemished red heifer born in the land of Israel. There are two problems with this. First, a new future heifer would have to be offered on the Miphkad Altar (currently in the hands of the Muslims) located on the Mount of Olives. Second, in order to have a new offering of the red heifer, ashes of the heifer that could be traced back to Numbers 19 would have to be used to cleanse the Miphkad Altar to have the required "clean place." This leads to the obvious conclusion that, even if a newly born, unblemished red heifer were to be offered today, ashes that can be traced back to the first offering of the heifer (Numbers 19) would still have to be found for the continuity of the "perpetual and forever," as prescribed in this passage."
An Authoritative Response
Because of the importance of the red heifer for all of Israel, there is a great need for this issue to be addressed. Since we have examined the significance of the original ashes from the heifer that Moshe prepared, it should be obvious to the reader that obtaining those ashes would truly be a most fortunate turn of events.
Our intention here is not to discredit anyone or cast aspersions on the motivations of any of these groups or individuals. However, there are a number of points which must be remembered. Firstly, it is inconceivable that incorrect or inaccurate information should be passed off as truth. Whatever their true intentions may be, the statement quoted above is a gross distortion of the issue, and has no basis in the reality of Toeah law or Jewish practice. All of the information in this statement is false. More importantly, how does one who is not an authority on Jewish law come to an "obvious conclusion" that a red heifer cannot be made without the earlier ashes - unless he is driven by another motivation?
It is also important to state that even if one concedes to the historical significance and value of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and accords them the honor due all ancient documents, the fact remains that the Copper Scroll is literally a closed book. Its passages can be deciphered in any one of several contradictory directions; its authorship is unclear; it lacks the conviction of an authoritative source.
These are some of the questions which should be asked:
Is it correct to assume that a red heifer cannot be prepared without the original ashes?
Is it correct to assume that the Copper Scroll provides the location of the ashes?
Is it correct to assume that the exact location described in that scroll has been identified?
Assuming that some substance was found, and assuming that it could even be proven scientifically to be organic and possibly from an animal - how could it be proven that these are the original ashes, from the time of Moshe?
How could it be proven that they were not rendered impure?
If a portion of those ashes were indeed set aside for the future sanctification of Israel, then perhaps they shall be found. Or, perhaps they will only be revealed through Divine intervention; perhaps when the Messiah arrives he will identify their location. It would certainly be desirable for all of Israel if the original ashes could be located and proven to be authentic beyond any doubt.
But in the meantime, let the truth be known: there is nothing to stop the people of Israel from raising a new red heifer, from birth, and preparing it in the manner we have described in these pages, and raising children in purity to carry out the procedure - even without the original ashes. On the contrary: we may be in doubt as to the true nature of any discovery that is unearthed whose authenticity cannot be completely verified. But a perfect heifer, born and raised under a controlled environment, would be fit to be used for the Temple. And that is precisely what is being done today.
The Tenth Red Heifer
From Moshe to the Second Temple: Only Nine Red Heifers
The Mishna teaches that up until the destruction of the Second Temple, ashes had been prepared from a total of only nine red heifers. The very first red heifer was processed by Moshe himself - as the verse states, "... have them bring you a red heifer." The second was done by the prophet Ezra in the days of the First Temple, and during the entire era of the Second Temple only seven more heifers were used for ashes. This was enough to provide for the nation's needs for purification throughout all those years.
The names of all the High Priests who prepared those seven heifers during Second Temple times are recorded by the Mishna: Shimon the Just and Yochanan each made two; El'yhoeini ben Hakof, Chanamel HaMitzri and Yishmael ben Pi'avi processed one heifer each. Thus, from the time that Moshe received the commandment of the red heifer from the Holy One, blessed be He, until the destruction of the Second Temple, purifying ashes had been produced by the hands of these great leaders from a total of nine red heifers.
The Tenth Red Heifer Will be Prepared by the Messiah
In recounting this historical record in his commentary to the Mishna, the great Maimonides ends with the enigmatic statement: "... and the tenth red heifer will be accomplished by the king, the Messiah; may he be revealed speedily, Amen, May it be G-d's will."
With this amazing statement, Maimonides recounts an ancient tradition - that the tenth red heifer is associated with the Messianic era. Does this perhaps mean that the appearance of a red heifer in these waning end times is an indication, a forerunner of the appearance of the Messiah himself, who will officiate at its preparation?
If there has been no red heifer for the past 2,000 years, perhaps it is because the time was not right; Israel was far from being ready. But now... what could it mean for the times we live in, to have the means for purification so close at hand? With the words of Maimonides in mind, we cannot help but wonder and pray: If there are now red heifers... is ours the era that will need them?
On this note, it is fitting that we pay particular attention to a Midrashic teaching:
Each day in the Holy Temple, the Levites sang a special daily song. The order of the daily songs have a deep significance, and there is a mystical connection which each song had for the particular day it was sung. The Oral Tradition has preserved the listing of the Levitical songs that were sung each day in the Holy Temple, and various commentators and sages have explained some of the connections which can be seen between these songs and the days of the week..
According to tradition, the Second Temple, like the First, was destroyed at the conclusion of Shabbat - on a Saturday night. Both Josephus and the Midrashic writings describe how even though the flames of destruction raged all around, and the blood of the slain flowed through the Temple, the priests nevertheless continued to serve atop the altar, and the Levites did not cease to sing, right up until the very end.
Yet despite the fact that the actual destruction of the Holy Temple took place on a Saturday night, the Midrash records that at those moments the Levites sang the song for Wednesday - "O HaShem G-d, to whom vengeance belongs; O G-d, to whom vengeance belongs, shine forth!" Why did they not sing the song for that day of the week, which was Saturday?
Perhaps the Levites were addressing their song to the destruction itself, and consoling Israel by reminding her that G-d has sworn vengeance against His enemies. In this context perhaps their song was even meant to "remind" G-d to keep His word, and to "shine forth" at the proper time, to manifest Himself in the garb of Divine vengeance.
But we know that there is a close relationship between each day of the week and its respective song. We have seen something of the great insight and understanding which the sages of Israel possess. It is possible that in our own generation, we can shed new light on this perplexing question... based on our own contemporary knowledge, and the wisdom and experience that we have acquired from hindsight in our own times. For although the sages of yore were great and inspired, we in our own generation, are privy to new understanding to which those great men had no access; in short, we have new evidence.
For on that fateful evening of destruction, it is true that the kohanim and Levites consoled each other and all of Israel with the knowledge that G-d will avenge His honor; perhaps their song summarized the entire epoch. It is certainly possible that they chose to remind the Holy One of his own vow, as well.
But while all of these explanations are acceptable, it is also quite possible that as the Levites stood atop the platform in that place of sublime inspiration and holiness for the last time, all of a moment they received the most profound flash of prophetic revelation...
And they prophesied, they saw with perfect clarity of vision, that although the terrible destruction now loomed all around them on this Saturday evening, the continuation of their service would most certainly come about as well. The day would come when the Holy Temple would be rebuilt. Though it may be far off in the distance, it would certainly transpire, for it is a Divine promise...
At that moment they could see that it would truly come to be. The rebuilding would happen, even if it happens very slowly, and in stages, one step at a time. For like the morning dawn, "such is the way of Israel's redemption. In the beginning, it progresses very slowly... but as it continues, it grows brighter and brighter."
So too, the Levites perceived that the long process of Israel's redemption, hinging on the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, would begin again on a Wednesday... thus they sang the song of Wednesday, for they sang not of destruction, or revenge, but of promise continuation, renewal and rebirth:
The Levites saw that Jerusalem and the Temple Mount would stand desolate for nearly two millennia... but they would be regathered by Israel once again on a Wednesday: Wednesday, June 7th, 1967 was the day they saw. This day could be considered the first step towards the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. For this day marked a turning point in Jewish history, and began a new era, which progresses in our own time, and moves towards the great destiny of the Jewish people, to be a light to the nations and a people who walk with G-d in their midst.