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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