Former Shaliach in Cape Town (2001-2002)
Currently Tour Guide in The David’s Citadel Museum
The Red Heifer – Why here?
In this week's parsha we read about a very special Mitzvah, the Red Heifer, who's ashed purify the "Tameh Met" (one who touched a dead person), but at the same time makes the Cohen who dealt with it Tamei himself. This mitzvah is so incomprehensible that even king Solomon admitted: "I said: 'I will get wisdom' but it was far from me". (Ecclesiastes 7, 23), this mitzvah is the epitome of a 'Law', which we follow without asking questions, without trying to understand.
I want to ask a question not about the reason for the mitzvah of the red heifer, but rather about its location in the parsha; why did the Torah put the mitzvah here? The laws of "Tum'ah and Taharah" are already mentioned in the book of Vayikra, and that seems like the logical place to learn about the Red Heifer. What is the link between the Red Heifer and the rest of our parsha, and how does this connection illuminate this mitzva?
The parsha speaks about several subjects that are connected to the significant change Am Israel is going through. There is a 40 year gap in the parsha, as we suddenly jump to the preparations to enter Eretz Yisrael. The parsha describes the changes in the nation's leadership as well; Miriam dies and the miraculous well that escorted Am Yisrael for 40 years disappeared. Consequently the people complain to Moshe and Aaron, asking for water, a demand that will ultimately lead to their failure at The Waters of Meribah, and the decree that they will not lead Am Israel into the land of Canaan. Additionally messengers were sent to the king of Edom, asking permission to pass through his lands. He refuses, as does Sichon, king of the Amorites, who also sets out to attack Am Yisrael. As we know, Sichon is vanquished, as is Og, the king of Bashan. Yet another event in a very eventful parsha is the story of the Bronze Serpent; Am Israel complained about the Manna and are punished by serpents who strike at the people, and who are cured only by raising ther eyes to the bronze statue of a serpent Moshe creates.
Looking deeply, we can see that all the stories in the parsha are dealing with a dramatic change, from a leadership of miracles to a leadership of the nature. The people now need to search for water on their own, fight physical wars and even the miraculous Manna losses value in their eyes. Moshe and Aharon, who embody the idea of divine intervention and leadership will not lead any more.
To my opinion there is a link between that process and the Red Heifer. The mitzvah of the red heifer is unique because there is something very strange that happens here. You take a red cow, burn it, add some ingredients, put it water, some sort of a magical potion, then you sprinkle it on the "Tameh Met"(one who touched a dead person), and all of the sudden he is pure. From a state of the most serious Tumah to a complete purity in an almost miraculous way. I think there is a special connection between the red heifer and the rest of the parsha, the red heifer represents the great miracle, the ability to purify the impure, but the tasks of the slaughtering and burning of the red heifer represent nature, and naturally slaughtering or burning an animal can cause impurity, as in fact burning other "Chatat" sacrifices causes Tumah.
In my opinion, the Red Heifer combines the two worlds of the miraculous and the natural, which is why it is here in our parsha, a parsha that describes the transition from a miraculous leadership to a natural one. This is why, to my opinion, it is called "Chukat Ha'Torah" (The statute of the law), because the Torah is the most amazing link between heaven and earth, between the action of G-d and action of men