The Mystery of the
1. A Mystery that even
the Prophets could not Comprehend.
What sacrifice has
stirred the curiosity of so many Israelites as the
mystery of the red heifer?
Ever since the LORD
spoke this statute to Moses and Aaron, even the most spiritual prophets just
shake their heads in bewilderment. And yet the most incomprehensible sacrifice
is also the most important one! No unclean person may enter the sanctuary who
has not been purified by the water mixed with these ashes! And whoever is
unclean, yet refuses to be sprinkled, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD and
must be cut off from the congregation.
Contemplating how the most holy sacrifice causes all who
have anything to do with it to become unclean,
Solomon himself must admit, All these things I probed in wisdom. I said, 'I will
acquire wisdom'; but it was beyond me.
is this mystery concerning the Red Heifer?
And what great importance
does it have for both the Church and the Jewish nation both now and in the
The Search for a Perfectly Red Unblemished Heifer.
This is the statute of the law which the LORD has commanded, saying, Speak
to the children of Israel, that they take to you a perfectly red heifer, in
which is no blemish, and upon which a yoke was never laid.
corpse-uncleanness there is only one way of ever becoming clean again, and that
requires the ashes of a perfectly red heifer.
The pillar of cloud overshadowed the tent and the unique voice of the LORD could
be heard, coming forth from above the ark cover requiring the children of Israel
to search for a perfectly red unblemished heifer.
This sacrifice required a heifer
which was extremely difficult to find. How many
are perfectly red without hairs of any other color
? In many of the
generations of the children of Israel this red heifer would have been sought,
but not found. In the complete history of the nation of Israel only
perfectly red heifers were sacrificed
according to this statute.
The whole nation of Israel was aware of the need for an
red heifer, and when one would be found, they would certainly
not lay a yoke upon it, whereby it would be disqualified for this special
sacrifice. Nor would they allow it to have intercourse, thereby risking that it
be disqualified by having a calf and no longer remaining a heifer. When the most
sought of all offerings would be found, even from birth, the priests would be
called to carefully examine the newly born red heifer, and if all requirements
were fulfilled, she would be carefully watched and preserved until the day of
sacrifice in its third year.
Every Israelite was also aware of the various requirements necessary for a red
heifer to be valid. If there was any deformity whatsoever, or a blemish of any
kind, or even a single non-red hair in two follicles adjacent to one another, it
was invalid. If a small wen might be found upon the heifer, it would be cut off.
If red hairs did not grow in its place it was invalid.
Through the divine intervention of God a perfectly red heifer would then be
born. Its owner would be excited and tell his friends, 'I have a red heifer.
Come and examine it with me'. With great interest every hair of the red heifer
would be carefully examined. In great amazement they would begin telling others,
'We have found a red heifer'. Quickly news of the newly born red heifer would
spread. Word of its birth would then reach the chief priests, causing excitement
throughout the temple. The priests would then send a group of people to go and
verify its validity.
How carefully would this red heifer be watched until it reached its third year.
After generations of hoping for this most important heifer, it had finally
arrived! Was not the cleansing of the whole nation of Israel dependent on its
Once the red heifer was in its third year and the children of Israel could
verify that it had never carried a yoke, they would bring it to the temple.
Certainly the High Priest would have been closely following the history of the
red heifer over these years too, for such a rarity would have not escaped his
attention. Not only would his eyes be continually directed towards the red
heifer, but he would also be involved with the necessary preparation work.
The site of the red heifer on the Mount of Olives was built together with the
Second Temple. Did not the actual design of the temple construction reflect the
importance of this sacrifice?
To assure that the Second Temple was free from corpse-uncleanness, it was built
upon a hollow to protect from graves in the depth. And for the sake of the
priest who was to sprinkle the blood, the eastern wall of the Temple Mount and
the eastern wall of the Temple Court were both built lower than the other walls.
A stone chamber was built in the northeastern corner of the Temple Court where
the deputy High Priest was consecrated for seven days before the sacrifice,
eating and drinking only from stone vessels. This chamber was built at the door
of the Temple Court, as required by the Torah. And since everything concerning
the red heifer was northeast, it was built in the northeastern corner at the
The building the sacrificial site for the red heifer was also accomplished in
the days of Ezra. This site includes the clean place where the red heifer itself
was sacrificed and the clean places for each of the red heifers which were
sacrificed here. The sacrificial place for the red heifer was built in a place
where the priest who sprinkles the blood could see the door of the temple. Its
pit on which the woodpile is placed and the red heifer is burnt was also made of
stone and had a hollow underneath it. Because of the required sanctity, all of
the clean places were hewn into stone.
At the base of the Mount of Olives, directly before ascending to the clean
places, are the two stone tubes where the jars with the ashes were stored for
the priests who mixed. Almost always there were priests here acting as watchmen,
to assure the sanctity of the ashes was preserved and the many rules concerning
these ashes carefully followed. Next to these two stone tubes was the house
where the jars were filled with the ritually clean water. The priests watched
those entering and exiting this house, carefully considering even the smallest
details of their actions, assuring that the mixing was valid.
The Israelites came here to prepare the sin offering water used for sprinkling.
Also at the base of the Mount of Olives was the House of Immersion. This is
where the immersions in connection with the sacrifice of the red heifer were
performed. And again, to preserve the sanctity of the ashes, this house was
built upon a hollow.
In the city of Jerusalem courtyards were built where the boys who gather the
ashes were raised. In order to make these courtyards clean they were built on
stone having a hollow beneath them. Stone tubes were built directly in the
rampart at the entrance to the Court of Women. There were also many stone tubes
built in all the clean places at the site of the red heifer.
And then again in the Temple Court there were stone tubes made, to be used by
the twenty-four courses of priests. Were not the jars containing the ashes of
the red heifer stored also in stone tubes?
What additional building tasks must be performed before the red heifer may be
- For each red heifer to be sacrificed a separate clean place on the Mount of
Olives was hewn into stone. For just a few days following the sacrifice the jars
containing the ashes were stored in stone tubes built into the newly hewn clean
place. The clean place resembled a newly hewn tomb.
- A bridge of stone having two levels was built from the Temple Mount to the House
of Immersion on the Mount of Olives, approximately a kilometer long. The first
level had arches built upon the ground (arches forming the necessary height of a
hollow to protect from a possible grave in the depth). The second level was also
built with arches, where each arch was placed upon the arch of the first level.
Having accomplished these tasks a day could be appointed for the sacrifice of
the red heifer. It would have to be a day in which the elders of Israel were in
Jerusalem. Would not this day be chosen during one of the pilgrim festivals,
when all males are required to come to Jerusalem?
Seven days before the
appointed day the deputy High Priest moves into the stone chamber, eating and
drinking from stone vessels and utensils. During each of these seven days he was
sprinkled with a mixture of the sin-offering water containing ashes from each of
the previously sacrificed red heifers.
The night before the appointed day the
earthenware jars would then be burnt. Was it not important that the jars to
contain the ashes be new and burnt in a furnace? On the appointed day everyone
involved with the sacrifice is sprinkled with the water mixed with the ashes of
all of the previously sacrificed red heifers . And at the end of the day
all who participate in the sacrifice of the Red Heifer are rendered unclean.
Purchasing the Red Heifer.
Because of its rarity, the red heifer was expensive and brought a high price.
The Talmud mentions it once being purchased at 600000 dinars from a non
Israelite named Dama from Ashkelon.
But [still] might we not say, then, that the Rabbis differ from R. Eliezer only
in the case of the [red] heifer which commands a high price Avodah Zarah 23a
The complete nation of Israel was continually in search of a red heifer. What a
great honor for the one to whom the LORD would grant this divine miracle. In
what way could the LORD express his pleasure to a generation of Israelites
better than granting them this most rare sacrifice? Was not the sanctity of the
temple and of its priests fully dependent upon these ashes?
The LORD commanded Moses and Aaron that they speak to the children of Israel to
bring them a red heifer. The red heifer was not to be purchased from a heathen,
but from an Israelite.
[It is the scriptural words,] Speak unto the Children of
Israel that they bring unto thee, [which imply that] Israelites shall bring, but
it should not be brought by heathens.’ Avodah Zarah 23a
According to this, Speak unto the Children of Israel that they take for me an
offering should also mean that Israelites should take and that it should not be
taken of idolaters! Avodah Zarah 23a
Once a qualified red heifer had been identified and was in its third year it
would be purchased using money from the temple treasury, more specific; from the
appropriation of the chamber.
THE RED COW AND THE SCAPEGOAT AND THE STRIP OF SCARLET CAME
OUT OF THE APPROPRIATION OF THE CHAMBER. Shekalim 4,2
This same appropriation paid for the viaduct(causeway or bridge) by which the
red heifer and all those involved in its preparation are escorted to the Mount
of Olives. Before purchasing this very rare red heifer the ruling Priests would
carefully examine it. Did it fulfill all requirements concerning the statute of
the red heifer? Was it perfectly red, faultless, having no blemish and had never
born a yoke. Had it been watched ever since its birth? For the verification that
it never bore a yoke it would be necessary to thoroughly question all who were
involved with it as it was raised.
The whole nation of Israel would be informed once the red heifer had been
purchased and the day of its sacrifice had been fixed.
Building the Sacrificial Site for the Red Heifer.
The second temple, completed and consecrated in the sixth year of Darius (516
BCE), was re-consecrated as Ezra came a year later. At this time he also
consecrated a special district on the lower part of the Mount of Olives. This
place includes a lower meadow near its base, above which was built the area
concerning the red heifer sacrifice.