Red Heifer

August 29, 2011 | by

I was reading the Book of Numbers, chapter 19, which describes the Red Heifer. The whole thing seems quite mysterious. Can you explain?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

In Temple times, the red heifer was used for the purification of those who had come into contact with the dead. This had great practical importance during Temple times, because all participants in the Temple service needed to be ritually pure.

The unique feature of this cow is that it must be two years old and could have no more than two non-red hairs. (Mishnah Para 1:1, 2:5)

Maimonides writes that from the time of Moses until the destruction of the Second Temple, only nine red heifers have been used to prepare the “purifying waters.” The tenth red heifer, says Maimonides, will be prepared by the Messiah.

As for the deeper reason for the red heifer, that is regarded as one of the deepest secrets in the Torah. So much so that even King Solomon, the wisest scholar who ever lived, was unable to fathom its full meaning.

There have been numerous cases of red heifers being born, the most recent being last year in a northern Israeli village called Kfar Chassidim. When these red heifers are born they usually draw quite a bit of attention – which tends to fade as the calf gets older and black hairs begin to appear.

But no need to worry. When the Messiah comes, rebuilds the Holy Temple and reinstitutes the use of the Red Heifer, one will surely be available!


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