Chukat

Red heifer ashes
Used for purification
That’s something special

But ash gatherers
Remain unclean ’til evening
That’s not so special

 

After the procedure for sacrificing the red heifer (Numbers 19:1-8) comes the command in verse 9 that, “A ritually clean person shall gather up the cow’s ashes, and place them outside the camp in a clean place. They shall be a keepsake for the Israelite community to be used for the sprinkling water, as a means of purification.” These purification rituals are described later in the parsha.

But in the very next verse (Num 19:10) we’re told that, “The one who gathers up the cow’s ashes must immerse [his body and] his clothing, and remain unclean until evening.” Similar descriptions of the priests becoming unclean as a result of the ritual to sacrifice the heifer are included in the first 8 verses.

It’s strange … the heifer is used to create purification water. But those who are involved in burning the cow or gathering the ashes become unclean for a period of time. Last year on his blog, Rabbi Brant Rosen explored one way of resolving this distinction.

 

 

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