The Mystery of the



Red Heifer



Rodger Dusatko

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.  What 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 future?

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.

For 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 heifers 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 nine perfectly red heifers were sacrificed according to this statute.

The whole nation of Israel was aware of the need for an unblemeshed 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 ashes?

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.

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 northeastern gate.

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 sacrificed?

  1. 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.

  2. 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.


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.