Monday, June 22, 2015


Numbers 19:1−22:1

By Rabbi Ellen Dannin for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities

The Red Heifer

Nehama Leibowitz says this is one of the most mystifying parts of the Torah, "one of the matters which even the wisdom of the wisest of men failed to fathom." Certainly, you can spend a lot of time just trying to sort out how it works and then even more on what its purpose is. Uncleanliness accompanies the making of the red heifer, its administration and the purpose for its administration, but this uncleanliness is obviously more in the nature of uncanniness -- a sense of confrontation with divine and fundamental mysteries. They system seems almost like a game of tag but with touchbacks allowed. Left unchecked everyone would become unclean -- and today with no red heifer we are all unclean with no chance of ever achieving ritual cleanliness.

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