The Price of Holiness and Healing
Posted on June 24, 2015
This week in the book of Numbers we read the odd, ritualistic Torah portion of Chukat, the rites of the red heifer. In order to achieve true ritual purity ancient Jews were required to find a completely unblemished young red female cow, slaughter it, burn it to ashes, and mix the ashes with water to create a liquid of purification in which to wash away ritual impurity.
While many elements in the sacrificial code of our ancestors seem odd or alien, this might be the strangest ritual of all. For it turns out that the red heifer, the Parah Adumah, makes the one who is washed in its ash-water pure—but it makes everyone else who comes into contact with it impure. The mystery of this is complete, and commentators have struggled with its meaning ever since the time the Torah was given. Just what is it that makes the red heifer the right animal to bring purity to the people? And why does it make you pure if you use it properly, but make you impure when you are properly preparing it?
Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Weekly Torah Talk on Chukat 5775