The Red Heifer

In addition to the regular Parshah, this week’s reading is supplemented with the section of Parah (Numbers 19), in which G‑d commands to Moses the law of the red heifer.

(Parah is read in preparation for the upcoming festival of Passover. Three times a year, on Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, all Jews were obligated to come to to the Holy Temple and offer korbanot; on Passover, the korban pesach (paschal lamb) was also brought. To enter the Holy Temple and to eat the meat of the offerings, one had to be in a state of taharah, ritual purity. Parah instructs how a person rendered ritually impure by contact with a dead body is purified.)

G‑d spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying: This is the decree (“chok”) of the Torah which G‑d has commanded.

Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring to you a red heiferwithout defect, in which there is no blemish, and upon which there never was a yoke.

You shall give her to Elazar the priest; he shall bring her outside the camp, and she shall be slaughtered before him. Elazar the priest shall then take of her blood with his finger, and sprinkle of her blood towards the front of the Tent of Meeting seven times.

The heifer shall be burnt in his sight: her skin, her flesh, her blood, even her dung, shall be burnt. The priest shall take cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet wool, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer.

Then the priest . . . and he that burns [the heifer] . . . and he that gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the evening . . .

This is the law: when a man dies in a tent, all that come into the tent, and all that is in the tent, shall be unclean seven days. And every open vessel, which has no covering bound upon it, is unclean. And whoever touches one who is killed with a sword in the open field, a dead body, a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.

They shall take for the unclean person some of the ashes of the burnt purification offering, and living water shall be put upon it in a vessel. A clean person shall take hyssop, dip it in the water and sprinkle it upon [him].

The clean person shall sprinkle upon the unclean person on the third day and on the seventh day; and on the seventh day [the unclean person] shall purify himself, wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and shall be clean at evening. . . . [But] he who sprinkles the water of sprinkling . . . and he who touches the water of sprinkling shall be unclean until the evening . . .