Weekly Commentary

"The Red Heifer"

This Parashah contains one of the mysteries of Rabbinical Judaism, the Parah Adumah — the Red Heifer — and it is described by the Sages as "the quintessential decree of the Torah." But, since all teachings of the Torah are the product of God’s intelligence, therefore, the inability to fully comprehend them indicates our limitation, the students, and not that of the teacher. There is nothing meaningless or purposeless in the Torah, and if it seems so, it is only a product of our own deficiency and this deficiency often comes about from not studying the complete Scriptures. The misunderstanding arises from the seemingly paradox: the ashes of the red heifer were needed for the purification of people who had become contaminated, and yet those who were engaged in the preparation of these ashes became themselves contaminated.

For we read in Bamidbar 19:1-10: “This is the ordinance of the Torah which Yehovah has commanded, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without spot, which has no blemish, and upon which never came yoke; you shall give it to Eleazar the priest, that he may bring it forth outside the camp, and one shall slay it before his face; and one shall burn the heifer in his sight; its skin, its flesh, and its blood, with its dung, shall he burn; and the priest shall take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer. And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up outside the camp in a clean place, and it shall be kept for the congregation of the people of Israel for a water of sprinkling; it is a purification offering. And he who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the evening; and it shall be to the people of Israel, and to the stranger who sojourns among them, for a statute forever.’”

The conclusion of the Sages was that it was not the corpse of the heifer that caused contamination or its ashes that caused purity, but they had no answer what caused either. Accordingly, the ritual cleansing with the ashes of the Red Heifer must have a different meaning beyond the obvious. Also, an important note, this commandment was to be performed not only by the Jews but by any (in the text: the stranger) who would desire purification from sin, and this commandment was to be for a statute forever, an eternal decree. But how can anyone perform this commandment today without the sacrificial system of the Temple in Jerusalem?

Verse 13 of Bamidbar 19 further says that a person not cleansed by the sprinkling of the ashes of the Red Heifer will contaminate the Temple of God, therefore, without a red heifer the Temple cannot be rebuilt. The ultra-orthodox Jews not stepping foot on the Temple mount without being purified by the ashes of the heifer is based on this verse which says that the one who defiles the Temple will be cut off from Israel. Does that mean that the Jews have not been able to be cleansed from their sins for almost 2000 years?

The tradition says: “Nine red heifers rituals were performed from the time the Jews were given this mitzvah, until the destruction of the Second Temple. The first heifer was performed by Moshe, the tenth will be performed by the Moshiah - may he speedily be revealed" (Ramban). It is said that today in Israel all is ready for the rebuilding of the Temple except the Red Heifer. Hopes were raised as early as 1997 with the birth of Melody, a red heifer that became blemished with the appearance of a few white hairs — a heifer needs to be three years old before it can be sacrificed. In February of 2002 another red heifer was declared kosher only to be disqualified in November of the same year.

For Rabbinical Judaism the quest remains even though the answer has been given almost two thousand years ago. In the book of Hebrews 9 and 10 we read: “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have become unclean, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Moshiah who through the eternal Ruach HaKodesh offered Himself without defect to God, purify our conscience from dead works in order to serve the living God? For the Torah, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come, can never by the same yearly sacrifices make perfect those drawing near. Otherwise, would these not have stopped being offered, because the worshipers, having experienced purification even once, would no longer have had consciousness of sin? But by those sacrifices there is a remembrance and a reminder of sins year after year. For it is impossible for the bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire but a body You prepared for Me; burnt offering and sin offering You have not desired. Then I said, Look, here I am, I have come, it is written about Me in the scroll. I desire to do Your will, O God" [Psalm 40:6-8]. He takes away the first system in order to establish the second. It is by this that we will have been set apart through the korban (offering) of Yeshua HaMoshiach, once and for all. Every kohen stands daily ministering and offering again and again the same korbanot that can never take away sins; but He, having offered up one korban for sins for all time, "Sat down at the right hand of God," [Psalm 110:1]. For by one korban He has perfected forever the ones being set apart; and the Ruach HaKodesh also bears witness to us; for after saying, "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord, I will put My Torah in the mind of them and I will inscribe it on their heart" [Jeremiah 31:33], He then says, "And their wickedness and their sin I will remember no more" [Jeremiah 31:34].”

Man’s failure to understand the truth does not make it untrue. If we truly study and understand the Biblical Judaism - and not the Rabbinical Judaism - we find that Yeshua is the answer. He fulfilled the requirement of purification of the Red Heifer as well as of all other sacrifices of the Temple system and that it is why the Temple became absolute, therefore, God allowed it to be destroyed. Yeshua's sacrifice is the only one than can remove the condemnation of sin once and for all. The Red Heifer ritual was performed outside the camp, on the Mount of Olives. Yeshua too was put to death outside the walls of the Temple. The people who handled the red heifer were unclean till evening after they washed their clothes, so, too, the ones who crucified Yeshua were unclean until they believed and were made clean by the washing with His shed blood. Also, please note that the commandment of the Torah implies that the worshiper, based on his or her own desire to be cleansed, handles the ashes himself or herself as a purification offering - there is no intermediary. Just as today, one must first desire to be cleansed from sin and then come on his or her own to Yeshua, without an intermediary (such as a rabbi or a priest), and just as the ones who were unclean could not enter the physical Temple so, too, one must be cleansed in order to be part of the new spiritual Temple, the body of believers, the Ekklesia.

And God, as to give us another clue of the mystery, continues in the Parashah by describing another incident in which that which is humanly viewed as unclean can make one clean. Bamidbar 21:6-9: “And Yehovah sent venomous serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moshe, and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against Yehovah, and against you; pray to Yehovah, that He take away the serpents from us.’ And Moshe prayed for the people. And Yehovah said to Moshe, ‘Make a venomous serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks upon it, shall live.’ And Moshe made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked at the serpent of bronze, he lived.”

Throughout the Diaspora experience the Jewish people have received a distorted image of their Messiah. In this Torah passage Israelis are confronted by God to look to that which was an object of hatred and receive healing from the very thing they had despised. Verse 4 says that ancient Israelis, which had been so miraculously and powerfully redeemed from Egyptian bondage, had become weary or impatient on their journey toward the Promised Land. In verse 5 we read that they had become miserable and ungrateful. They equated God with an abandoning Father — implying that He was unreliable, distant, and expected too much of them. When God heard their distorted view flowing from their hearts, He decided that the nation needed to have their viewpoint corrected. Verse 6 tells us that He sent fiery serpents among them which bit many of them so that many died.

When we look back over these last two millennia of dispersion, we see that Jewish people were slain by the thousands by some of those who named the name of Christ - these too were fiery serpents. Consequently, the Jewish people came to despise the very Messiah that loved them so much, that He was lifted upon a pole and died of a horrible death for the forgiveness of their sins. In a wonderfully explicit depiction of what would happen to Israel in the future we see what instruction Moshe received. He was told to take the very thing Israelis hated and to lift it up on a pole, as verse 8 relates, so that whoever is bitten may look to it and live. Just as today, the people of Israel are told to look to the one in whose name they were bitten and to receive healing.

In a fulfillment to take place in the future, Isaiah 49:7 writes: “Thus says Yehovah, the Redeemer of Israel, His Holy One, to Him whom man despises, to Him whom the nation loathes, to a servant of rulers, Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall prostrate themselves, because of Yehovah who is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” The Redeemer of Israel speaks to "the despised One, the One abhorred by the nation" (in Hebrew this word 'nation' is 'goi' - in its singular form, in this context, it is the nation of Israel), and He promises in verse 8 that this One despised by the nation of Israel is the very One that God gives to the Jewish nation as a covenant, “to restore the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritage.” At this time in which we see what the situation in Israel is, we realize all the more that it is not until Israel looks to the One they have despised and abhorred, who seemed a serpent bringing death because of those who misrepresented Him and used their twisted theology to destroy them, that it is not until they look to Yeshua of Nazareth as their Messiah, that they, as a people, and the land will come into the fullness of life that God has promised them ages past.

May God give us wisdom and courage to present Yeshua, the One who is viewed as the One who contaminates and who is abhorred, to our Jewish friends as the only One who can give them cleansing, freedom and Shalom from the condemnation of sin; the One whose love knows no depths in spite of how much He is abhorred and despised.

Shabbat joy, peace, and blessings! Shabbat Shalom!

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