The Cow and the Calf

June 27, 2017 at 3:22 AM , , ,

“…They shall take to you a perfectly red heifer…” – Bamidbar 19:2

וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה – במדבר יט, ב

The ashes of the Parah Adumah were used for the ritual purification of people or articles that contracted impurity from a dead corpse. In order to remove this impurity, the Parah Adumah must also undo to some degree the cause of the impurity—death itself.

This idea is reflected in the teaching of the Midrash (Tanchuma, Chukas 8) that the offering of the Parah Adumah atones for the sin of the Golden Calf; in the words of the Midrash, “let the cow come and atone for the calf.” The commentaries explain that Bnei Yisrael at the Giving of the Torah were “freed from the clutches of the Angel of Death,” but their immortality was taken from them when they worshipped the Golden Calf (see Shemos Rabbah 32:1). Accordingly, by atoning for the sin that caused death, the Parah Adumah also undoes the impurity that death imparts (see Kli Yakar, Alshich on Bamidbar 19:2).

The Cow and the Calf

This explains why in the Laws of Parah Adumah (3:4), the Rambam records the number of red heifers brought in history, emphasizing that the one prepared by Moshiach will be the tenth.

The number ten in Jewish thought symbolizes completeness and perfection (see Ibn Ezra to Shemos 3:15). The Rambam’s thus hints that the completeness of this mitzvah will only be achieved in the era of Moshiach, when the sin of the Golden Calf will be entirely forgiven, and consequently, “death will be swallowed up forever” (Yeshayahu 25:8). Thus, the tenth and final Parah Adumah will purify us not only from the effects of death, but from death itself.

—Likutei Sichos, vol. 33, pp. 127-128


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