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June 29, 1984 - Image 28

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Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-06-29

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I f

28

Friday, June 29, 1984

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

INSIGHT

Parashat Hukat:

The ashes of the Red Heifer

BY HOWARD SCHWARTZ
Special to The Jewish News

In addition to describing
the deaths of Aaron and
Miriam, Parashat Hukat
(Numbers 19:1-22:1) in-
cludes two enigmatic
episodes, one concerning
the ritual of using the ashes
of a red heifer to purify a
person who has become
ritually unclean, and the
incident in which Moses
struck the rock in the desert
with his rod rather than
speak to it, as the Lord had
commanded.
Let us consider the more
obscure of the two, that con-
cerning the red heifer.
The portion opens by de-
scribing in great detail how
the red heifer was to be
selected and burned. The
preparation was to be done
by the assistant to the High
Priest and the ashes were to
be mixed with water taken
directly from a well (nayim
hayim) and sprinkled on the
third and seventh day on
anyone who had come into
contact with a dead person.
For in doing so that person
had become ritually unc-
lean (tame) and could not
enter the Temple until the
ritual of sprinkling the mix-
ture of the ashes and water
had been performed. Only
this ritual could make them
tahor, ritually pure.
There is an interesting
paradox associated with the
potent ability of this ritual
to turn the unclean clean.
For if a ritually pure person
should accidentally or
otherwise come in contact
with the ashes of the red
heifer they would be ren-
dered impure. It is this
paradox that has remained
a mystery over the cen-
turies, causing the ritual of
the ashes of the red heifer to
be considered so enigmatic
that only Moses was said to
understand its true mean-
ing.
King Solomon said that
this was the only mystery
he could not penetrate.
Therefore, assumptions
about the meaning of this
paradox must remain
speculative, but it was on
such. unresolved problems
that rabbinic commentary
thrived. Such rabbinic
commentaries are found in
the Talmud, the Tosefta,
and midrashic collections
such as Pesikta de-Rab
Kahana, which devotes an
entire chapter to this ques-
tion.
Judaism has always rec-
ognized the need for and
importance of rituals of
purification. The mikvah is
one primary means and
fasting is another, as well as
reciting the Psalms. Rab-

binic and Chasidic tales are
filled with inventive
methods proposed by the
sages to attain purification
for one particular sin or an-
other.
Using the ashes of the red
heifer was the most power-
ful of these methods, be-
cause of the almost magical
powers associated with the
ashes. But the mitzvah of
using this 'ritual, which is
one of the 613 command-
ments, is no longer ob-
served, for a cow perfect
enough to serve for it —
which may not have as
many as three hairs that are
not red — has not been
found for many centuries.
Therefore, we are all
ritually impure, since vir-
tually everyone has come
into contact with a dead
person at one time or an- .
other — even to be in the
same house is enough to re-
nder one impure in this
sense — and that is why
Jews are not permitted to go
on to the Temple Mount at
the site of the Temple in
Jerusalem.
Thus, this mitzvah is in
the category of those corn-
mandments it is impossible
to fulfill, such as those
which had to be performed
in the Temple, or that con-
cerning the use of tekhelet,
the special blue dye that is
required to dye the middle
thread of the fringes of the
tallit, but cannot be used
because the secret of how to
make it has been lost.

The dual ability of the
ashes of the red heifer to re-
nder the impure pure and
the pure impure may be
seen to suggest the essential
nature of a polar structure,
such as the soul, which is
subject to the influence of
both the Yetzer Hara, the
Evil Inclination, and the
Yetzer Toy, the Good Incli-
nation. This notion suggests
that a soul under the sway
of the Yetzer Hara may re-
store itself to purity by some
kind of purification ritual.
Yet at the same time, a pure
soul that comes into contact
with evil will itself be ren-
dered impure, and require
some kind of tikkun, resto-
ration, in order to reachieve
the state of purity.
In any case, this ritual
has meaning only in this
world, while in the World to
Come it is God who will
purify Israel: And I will
sprinkle clean water upon
you, and ye shall be clean;
from all your uncleannesses,
and from all your idols, will
I cleanse you (Ezekiel
36:25).

And when will the prac-
tice of using the ashes of the
red heifer be taken up
again? The Midrash tells us
that nine red heifers were
furnished by the Holy One,
beginning with that of
Moses, and that the tenth
will be furnished by the
Messiah.

Copyright 1984,
National Hawirah Committee

Council eyes tension over
Zionists and non-Zionists

Jerusalem (JTA) — The
A decision to evaluate the
uneasy alliance between merger was taken at a meet-
Zionists and non-Zionist ing in Caesarea three years
supporters of Israel — the ago and became known as
"fund-raisers" from abroad the Caesarea process. The
— was the focus of intense Zionists reportedly feel they
debate at the annual session are losing power to the
of the Zionist General non-Zionists.
Council which met here last
Criticism to that effect
week.
was expressed by Alleck Re-
The council, the govern- snick, president of the
ing body of the world Zionist Zionist Organization of
movement between Zionist America, and former ZOA
congresses, is awaiting the President Ivan Novick.
report and recom- Novick said he was con-
mendations of its gover- cerned with the motives of
nance committee on the is- the non-Zionists and ques-
sue. The council's resolu- tioned whether they were
tions were brought up be- equipped to deal with the
fore the Jewish Agency As- basic problems of Zionism.
sembly which convened in
But Avraham Shenker,
Jerusalem this week.
At the heart of the matter chairman of the governance
is the struggle for-political committee disagreed. He
power and managerial maintained that both
authority. It dates back to groups are of a single mind
1970 when the Jewish on 90 percent of the issues
Agency was reconstituted to and was confident that the
incorporate non-Zionist others would be resolved.
Howard Schwartz teaches at the Jews from overseas, espe-
Accqrding to Shenker
University of Missouri, St. cially the United States,
Zionists have not lost
LAW
5
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