The Red Heifer

Numbers 19:1-22

The Torah describes the mysterious laws of the Red Heifer, a rite which purifies those who have come in contact, directly or indirectly, with the dead. A completely red calf which has never been used for work must be taken outside the camp, slaughtered and burned. A sprig of hyssop, cedar wood, and a strand of scarlet are added to the fire. The ashes are gathered by a pure individual and kept for the purpose of purification. The priests involved in the preparation and collection of the ashes become contaminated until the evening and must immerse themselves in water to be purified.


Those who come in contact with the dead must undergo a sprinkling of water mixed with ashes from the red heifer on the third and seventh days of their impurity. If they do not, they will be cut off from the nation. The priest who does the sprinkling becomes temporarily contaminated as above.


The Israel Bible discusses one of the many unusual details about the red heifer — the fact that the ritual takes place outside the camp, as far from the Tabernacle as possible. At the time of death, the soul, which is a spark of Godliness, departs the body, leaving it Godless. One who comes in contact with the absence of God cannot bring that into the Tabernacle, the place where God’s presence on Earth is concentrated. Only once he is purified can he again encounter God’s presence.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

What do you think we can learn from the fact that the priests who prepare the red heifer, a rite of purification, become impure themselves in the process?


Comments ( 16 )

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  • I think this is a great example of Isa 55:8-9 ( My thoughts and ways are above man's thoughts and ways (paraphrase)). What may not make sense to us, makes complete sense to HIM. Why take an unclean mollusks to color the blue threads on the tzitzit? Or in Rev 21:21 where the pearl gates, the pearl comes from unclean clams ( or again mollusks). He keeps showing us He can take unclean things and make them clean. The almighty G-d lowered Himself to the form of man (thru a virgin woman no less), left His deity behind to walk and live as man (knowing our hardships) to become defiled with my sins just so I could become clean. His ways and thoughts are way higher than mine!! Intellectually, it doesn't make sense, but that is why 1 Co 1:27 says He has chosen the foolish things to confound the wise. You can't come to HIM with our knowledge as we just don't have the capacity to understand His thoughts. It has to be by faith. His ways just don't make sense to our limited knowledge.

  • Solomon Tadesse

    well, we can read about the true and living God of Israel who according to the promises given to the fathers in Israel have manifested Himself in the flesh. the main purpose of which is to establish the basic foundation of heavenly sacrifice-the blood of JESUS. Moses, Jesus and His messengers told us that Jesus was the manifestation of the invisible God of Israel. on the epistle of Hebrew it was written …"For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.

    Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.
    Jesus in the gospel of Luk 24:44…And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.
    Jesus fulfilled all the laws and their resulting penalties. He redeemed all the humanity through His holy blood.
    stay Blessed

  • Lydia Fredrick D'Souza

    Thank you for sharing your valuable thoughts above….I am blessed learning about the commands and rites the High Priest in the Old Testament had to adhere to. In the New Testament our sins and repentance represent the Red Heifer…… The HOLY SPIRIT is represented by the water sprinkled with Hyssop. The High Priest is our LORD JESUS CHRIST who became sin for us and cleansed our sins and empowered us with our Mighty Counselor and Friend The HOLY SPIRIT…… I understand this is just scratching the tip…… more revelations as you bask in HIS Presence. Hallelu YAH!

  • Charli Byrd

    I am a Christian who believes that all of the Jewish feasts, laws, etc. are also still in effect, including for Christians, because Jesus is Jewish, but I am continuing to learn and grow in my faith. In some publications over the past few years, some have also associated the unblemished Red Heifer (which they say is rare) to the End Times and coming Messiah but I do not see anything about that here. Is this wrong? I believe and put all of my faith and trust in the One and Only G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, am learning Hebrew because I believe all souls speak Hebrew in Heaven, that it is the language of G-d and our precious coming Messiah. I am enjoying read the posts here. May G-d bless each of you always!

  • The command of the red heifer belongs to the chuqim, the commands that come straight from HaShem's heart. For us most is unclear but yet they demand an obeying . the kohen who performed this rite became unclean himself, but had the great joy of cooperating on the purification of others by the purification water. The story is situated in the same Parsha where Moshe & Aharon had to hear their punishment after having lead a lifetime their people through the desert. Even e leader makes mistakes sometimes but HaShem will be merciful to them. Moshe got "the water from the rock" and Aharon remained Kohen Gadol his lifetime. So: prepare to fall and to be cleansed.

  • I agree with you all, sacrifice for the greater good is the lesson here.

  • therefore, the priest in becoming unclean shows that as night progresses to day (darkness to light) so is mankind's journey from the darkness of separation from Heavenly Father to the light of Heavenly Father's love as given in Torah

  • simply the reason is the priest in the instance of the red heifer is symbolically taking on the unclean, as Job said, how can that what is unclean become clean – Job 14:4

  • Diana Brown

    In my elementary understanding of Commands, there are three general categories…Eidot….commands to help you remember and give honor to the Lord, like Shabbat and the Feasts, Mishpatim…relational commands, the Ten Utterances/Words/Commands and Chukkim…commands you fulfill because the Lord God asked you to.
    Since the Red Heiffer is in the last category of commands, I suppose that Bnei Israel knew the redemptive commands were Mishpatim so if they perform Chukkat which also include Kashrut and Family Purity Laws, they were drawing nearer to the Lord and becoming defiled to lift up others so they could draw near. Love is obedience and sacrifice in the eyes of a Holy God I believe. Would that be correct?

    • I truly believe you are correct. This was not only a sacrifice but also a humbling experience for the Priest.

  • Alexander

    For the sake of the continued purification of the people the priests make sure of their own purity at all times.

    • Tsivya Fox


  • Jesse

    The priest who prepares this sacrifice is aware that he will be made unclean for a short duration. But he knows that this is a small thing compared to the thousands of others who will be made clean because of the ashes of the red heifer mixed with water. So the priest is willing to separate himself from God and his dwelling place temporarily in order to bring others close to God and his dwelling place. This is the heart of sacrifice.

    • Diana Brown

      I agree. To be a light unto the Nations is a marvelous call and a heavy burden.

      • Diana Brown

        This portion of the red heifer always stumped Solomon who was very wise. I don’t think this stumped Samuel, Nathan or King David though.

    • Tsivya Fox

      Well said. In the name of Rav Shlomo Carlebach, “Sometimes you have to get down into the muck to lift someone up.”

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