Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Ruste Taurus

Ruste Taurus (Parah Adumah)
Two expressions commonly used in the Torah are “Tumei” and “Tahor” (as adjectives, and “Tumah”, and “Taharah,” correspondingly, as nouns). They are typically understood to mean ritually “defiled” and “pure,” respectively. While the terms have been applied to various articles (including Kosher and non-Kosher animals and people who have been sexually defiled, etc…), the main application of these terms apply to ritual impurity. An impure person is banned from entering the Holy Temple[1], from eating any Korban (Sacrifice in the temple), especially the Paschal Offering/Korban Pesach[2] , and, if he is a Kohen, is not allowed to eat the Terumah (tithes) that he received[3]. There are three methods for one to purify one’s self, all of which use water: Washing one’s hands in water, immersing one’s entirety into certain waters (natural springs non-stagnant or rainwater), having certain waters (mixed with other ingredients) sprinkled upon or toward one’s self. The hand washing only rids one of a rabbinic tumah. The immersion into a Mikveh causes a person to become a tevol yom, and he or she must wait until nightfall to achieve optimum taharah, although until such time, he is quasi-tahor[4]. Immediately after one is sprinkled with the mixture of water and parah adumah ashes, known collectively as Mei Niddah (“The Waters of Separation”), one becomes entirely pure, yet the sprinkler becomes impure.

The Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern of Kotzk, 1787-1859), a Hassidic Kabbalist, taught that the source of ritual impurity is a lack of life; therefore, as the Torah elaborates, various anti-life elements render people and vessels impure. The prime example is a Jewish corpse, which is called the “Father of Fathers” (Avi Avos) of Tumah due to a human carcass being the principal antithesis to life. When life or the potential for life leave one’s body (such as a man during nocturnal emissions, a woman during childbirth, or any person experiencing a Gonorrheal-type emission of semen or vaginal blood, see Leviticus 15), the person from whom it left is deemed tamei, and the various degrees depend on the extent of the life or potential. Thus, when a girl is born, since a girl contains more potential for life than a boy does, the mother of a girl is ritually impure for 66 days. While a boy’s mother would only be impure for 33 days thereafter[5] Similarly, semen and the blood of a menstruating woman, which represent the unused potential for life, are also themselves sources of Tuma.[6]

Water is the source of purification because it is the source of life. Not only is water the means of purification in Judaism, but even gentile religions, like Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Shinto all recognize the purifying powers of water. Historically, water has always been counted as a strong element or factor in the world. Almost all major cities and inhabited countries owe their great success to their close proximity to water (i.e. New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Ancient Egypt, and the entire Fertile Crescent). Water is the source of life because without it, living beings would cease to exist. The base-10 reduced numerical value of the Hebrew word for water, mayim, is eighteen, equivalent to the value of the word chai, meaning life; the atomic mass of dihydrogen oxide (H2O i.e., water) also measures eighteen. Water serves to remind one that he is lacks complete independence. Just as he physically needs the help of water for life, he also requires the help of HaShem—who grants him water among other things— to live. The Talmud equates[7] water with Torah, for Torah is an absolute necessity for life. In fact, when King David was thirsty and desired water, and so requested water from a besieged well[8], the Rabbis assumed[9] that his request was for a clarification of a certain Halacha in Torah, because water and Torah are equivalent. However, despite all the importance attached to water in rabbinic literature, the water itself never really purifies a person; HaShem is the One who purifies (see below).

A Jew washes his hands with water in various different ceremonies. Negel vasser, Yiddish for "Nail water", is the act of a person washing his hands immediately upon awakening from sleep to purify himself from demons that rested on his fingers during his slumber. Netilas yadayim (Hebrew literally, "Raising the hands [after washing] ") is a water ritual performed without a Bracha (benediction) after one touches an animal, his or her covered body parts, scalp, or shoes; flatulates or uses the lavatory; returns from a cemetery; or has improper thoughts (specifically before prayers). It is also done with a beracha immediately before one eats bread. After finishing a meal with bread, one washes mayim achronim (literally, "After waters") as a prelude to the grace after meals. Less commonly, on Pesach (Passover) the custom is to wash one’s hands before eating marror (the bitter herb), and a Kohen is required wash before eating Terumah (a practice which is no longer relevant in present times). Tuma that rests only upon one’s hands is only Rabbinic in origin and is discussed in the Tractate Yadaim; therefore, one can rid himself of such tuma by mere ablution. However, other types of Tumah, which are Biblical in origin, do not suffice with a mere rinsing in water.

The two Biblical types of purification through water are mikveh and parah adumah. Mikvah literally means gathering. The two common explanations are that a mikva must be a gathering of fit water and that a mikva is a gathering place for people coming to purify themselves from defilement. People polluted with lower degrees of tumah, who were not exposed to a dead corpse, must immerse themselves into a Mikvah in order to achieve purification. The Chasam Sofer (Rav Moshe Ben Shmuel Schreiber, 1762-1839) writes[10] that since waters inside a proper Mikve cannot itself become impure, then it has the powers to purify that which is impure. By this reasoning, the waters of an improper Mikvah become contaminated themselves when an impure individual immerses himself into it. The Chasam Sofer himself says that he does not remember the source of this reasoning, but some recent scholars[11] have attributed it to the Ralbag/Gersonides (Rabbi Levi Ben Gershon, 1288-1344) in his commentary to Leviticus 11:36.

When a man is exposed to a human corpse, he requires a different means of purification. He is to be sprinkled with the compound formed from a mixture of ashes of the para aduma, cedar wood, hyssop, and a thread dyed red. The parah aduma is a wholly (pun intended) red cow, or more specifically, a never-worked red heifer (that is, a young female cow which has yet to give birth to a calf). After the mixture is sprinkled on the impure person for the prescribed amount of days (the third and seventh day), the man becomes tahor. In order for one to take part in the Korban Pesach, one must be tahor. Therefore, the passage in the Torah detailing the laws of the parah adumah[12] are read on a Shabbos close to the Pesach-season to remind those who are impure to get themselves purified, for the Paschal Offering is the only positive commandment (besides circumcision) for which one receives Kares[13]. Numbers 9:13 prescribes Kares to one who withheld himself without excuse from offering the yearly sacrifice.

The opening Mishnah in the tractate Parah tells that Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus ruled that the red heifer must be at least in her second year of life to work as a ritual purifier of those of have come into contact with a human corpse. The Midrash[14] tells that when Moses went up to Heaven, he heard HaShem saying this law in the name of "Eliezer, My son." Upon hearing this law, Moses asked of G-d that this Eliezer should be a descendent of himself. The Midrash tells that HaShem granted this request to Moses, which explains why the Torah calls Moses' son "the one named Eliezer.[15]" Indeed, the Rabbi Eliezer who said this law was a Levite[16], and very likely was a descendant of Moses[17].

The Torah adds a mysterious rule in the end of its description of the red heifer process: while the man upon whom the mixture was sprinkled becomes pure, the man who actually carried out the process –the sprinkler himself—becomes impure. This mystery is the secret of the parah adumah. The Midrash[18] says that only two people were able to understand its deep reasoning, namely, Moses and Solomon. The Minchas Chinuch[19] claims to have had some idea as to its deep mystical meaning, but he was admittedly too scared to write it. There are two philosophical schools of thought regarding why the man who caused another to become ritually pure himself becomes impure. The Sforno, Rabbi Ovadiah ben Yaakov Sforno (1475-1550) writes that impurity and purity are akin to bad and good character traits. For one to rid oneself of a bad characteristic, the Rambam writes[20] that he must sway to the extreme opposite of that attribute for forty days to find a proper balance. Just as for one to perfect himself, he must go from one extreme to the totally opposite extreme, so too for one to purify himself, he must go from one extreme to the total opposite. Therefore, the ashes of the red heifer have the power to make an impure man pure and a pure man impure. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) explains that just as medicine can cure the sick, yet can have drastic consequences on a perfectly healthy man, so too the parah adumah has the same effect. Consequently, he explains, the red heifer can have the power to make an impure man pure while it makes a pure man impure.

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchok, 1040-1105) explains that the rules about a red heifer are called by the Torah a “chok”[21] and therefore cannot possibly be explained and must be accepted how they are without further understanding behind the commandments concerning it. However, elsewhere, Rashi himself quotes[22] Rabbi Moshe HaDarshan’s explanation of the themes of the red heifer, and his explanation assumes that the reasoning behind the red calf is to be an atonement for the Jews’ sin of the Golden Calf[23]. Rabbi Yaakov from Lublin answers this apparent contradiction in Rashi. He explains that the Jews received the commandment of the Red Heifer in Marah–before their sin in Horeb—so upon their initial receiving of the commandment, the reason of being an atonement for the Golden Calf was as-of-yet incomprehensible to them (because the sin of the Golden Calf had not yet occurred). Therefore, the Red Heifer is considered a chok because its reason was not known at the time of its commandment. However, the actual reasoning, he says (like Rashi), is because the Red Heifer is a way of atoning for the Golden Calf, for just as they committed a sin with a calf, they are obligated to fulfill a commandment through such a cow.

The Gemara deduces[24] hermeneutically that a tevol yom (one immersed himself in a mikva and awaits nightfall) can perform the sprinkling ceremony of the parah adumah on an impure person. This Halacha was strenuously opposed by the Sadducees who believed only a completely tahor person can sprinkle the Mei Niddah. Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev (1740-1810) explains[25] that the Sadducees did not believe that Jews were above time constraint and so they felt a person whose time for purification did not yet pass is still impure and cannot perform the red heifer service. In order downplay the opinion of the Tzedukim, the Rabbis decreed that before the burning of the red heifer at Mount Olives the functioning Kohen should purposefully publicly make himself impure (usually done by touching a dead insect) and then immerse into the mikva and become a tevol yom[26]. This is after the functioning Kohen has been secluded for seven days to distance him from tumah[27]. Rabbi Yehoshua Falk ben Alexander HaKohen Katz (1555 - 1614) writes[28] that when the Sadducees created false stringencies in halacha, the Rabbis worked harder to dissolve their rules from the world because people might needlessly act too strict which can eventually lead to deviation from the proper path. Thus, when the Sadducees created the stringency that even a tevol yom cannot perform the service of the parah adumah, the Rabbis made it so that all such services were performed by a tevol yom to publicize the Sadduceean error.

The Kabbalist Rabbi Yehuda Fatiyah (1859-1942) offers[29] a simple answer to the famous question as to why he upon whom the waters of the Red Heifer are sprinkled becomes pure, while the one who sprinkles the water becomes impure. The degree of impurity of the sprinkler is such that he is merely required to immerse into the Mikveh and wait for nightfall to become cleansed of his ritual impurity. According to the Talmud[30], one who was ritually impure by coming in contact with a dead corpse, must be sprinkled twice over the span of a week with the water and ashes of the ruste Taurus, in order to become pure. After that week of sprinklings, he need only immerse in the Mikvah in order to achieve purity. Thus, the sprinkler and the sprinkled upon have the same degree of ritual impurity at the end of the ceremony. The explanation is that the ashes and water of the red heifer have a supernatural ability to transform anyone from whatever status of impurity he is currently in to the status of a person who requires immersion in the mikveh and nightfall (like the status of any Ba'al Keri who experiences a seminal emission). Therefore, one who was so impure that he had a seven-day impurity called Tamei Meis, lowers his level of impurity and becomes a normal Tevol Yom, who only requires immersion and nightfall. On the other hand, one who is pure raises his level of impurity to become like a normal Tevol Yom, who requires immersion and nightfall. The ashes of the red heifer are like a balance to equalize the equation between the pure and the impure. Rabbi Fatiyah compares this idea to certain medicines, which if ingested by someone healthy can sicken the person, but if ingested by the ill can heal them.

Although dipping into water or having certain mixed waters sprayed toward oneself can purify him, in reality, it is neither the water nor the ashes that actually purify a person; HaShem makes a person tahor. The Yalkut Shimoni[31] records an exchange between Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakai (leader of the Jewish nation in the era of the destruction of the Second Holy Temple in Jerusalem) and a non-Jew[32]. The non-Jew claimed that the procedure of the para aduma looks like witchcraft. The Nasi pushed him off with an obviously bogus answer. Afterwards, his students asked for the actual answer to why para adumah is not, god forbid, akin to idol worship. He answered that during the services of the red cow the cow’s ashes do not actually make a person tahor, rather, it is G-d who does so through the cow. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (a contemporary Jewish leader in Jerusalem) said[33] that when Rabbi Akiva said[34] that HaShem is the One who purifies the Jews and proceeded to bring proofs from two verses, each verse is a proof to a different type of water-based taharah. The verse which states “And I shall throw upon you pure waters and you shall become purified”[35] refers to the sprinkled waters of the parah adumah. The second verse, “The hope [Mikveh] of Israel is HaShem”[36] refers to bodily immersion into the cistern of a mikveh. Just as a Mikva purifies the impure, HaShem purifies Israel.

While there were Mikvaos all over Israel and even outside of the Holy Land for thousands of years already, the Red Cow is a less common phenomenon[37]. Historically, there were only nine red cows ever used for the parah adumah services. Moses burned the first red-haired female cow while leading the Jews in the desert, while the second one was burned a millennium later by Ezra the Scribe. After Ezrah, Simon the Just and Yochanan the Kohen Gadol each burnt two red heifers. Then, of subsequent Kohanim Gedolim (high priests), Elyoeni ben Hekef, Hanamel the Egyptian, Ishmael Ben Piaby, each burned one red heifer. According to Rabbi Meir in the Mishna[38], two of those cows in the era after Ezra were deemed unfit for the service. Rabbi Yehuda Roseannes (1657-1727) of Costa, Turkey writes[39] that even the Amoraim (circa. 200-500 C.E.) had access to the ashes of the parah adumah. The Chida, Rabbi Chaim Yosef Dovid ben Yitzchok Zerachia Azulai (1724- 1807), also attests to this fact; the Maharitz Chayos (Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Chayos, 1805-1855) discusses this issue at length in his glosses to Chagigah 25a and says that the ashes were used until the Gaonic Period. Rabbi Elazar Azkari (1533-1600) writes[40] that the ashes of the nine red heifers were in use only until the times of Rava and Abaye[41]. The tenth red cow, says the Rambam[42], will be burnt by the King Moshiach may he speedily come to redeem us. Amen.

[1] Numbers 19:13

[2] Leviticus 22:6

[3] Leviticus 22:6-7

[4] See Berachos 2a-b

[5] See Leviticus, Chapter 12

[6] Granted, this understanding of ritual impurity does not explain the ramifications of Tzara’as (Leviticus Chapters 13 and 14), which is a different type of tumah because it is a result of sin.

[7] Avodah Zarah 5b, Bava Kamma 17a

[8] Samuel 2, Chapter 23

[9] Bava Kamma 60b

[10] Responsa Chatam Sofer, Yoreh Deah §213

[11] That is Yad Avrohom, introduction to Meseches Mikvos (Published by Artscroll/Mesorah Publications Ltd.)

[12] Numbers Chapter 19. (Kares is the punishment of being “cut off” either has his life shortened, lengthened to see his offspring’s demise, or his soul is not allowed into the World to Come, heaven forbid.)

[13] Kerisos 2a

[14] Tanchuma, Chukas §8 and Numbers Rabbah 19:&

[15] Exodus 18:4

[16] See Jerusalem Sotah 3:4

[17] For more information about Rabbi Eliezer, see Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer 1:1

[18] Midrash Tanchuma Chukas §6 and§8

[19] §397

[20] Mada, D’eos 1:1

[21] Numbers 19:2

[22] Ibid. verse 22

[23] Exodus 32

[24] Yevamos 73a

[25] Kedushas Levi to Psalms 34:10

[26] Maimonides, Laws of the Red Heifer 1:14

[27] Ibid. 2:2ff

[28] Pnei Yehoshua to Yoma 2a

[29] Minchas Yehudah to Parshas Chukas

[30] Tractate Yoma

[31] Torah §559

[32] Or convert according to the version quoted in Midrash Tanchuma, Chukas §8

[33] See Divrei Aggadah¸ written by Rabbi Elyashiv’s son in his name, Parshas Chukas

[34] Yoma 8:9

[35] Ezekiel 36:25

[36] Jeremiah 17:13

[37] see Rashi to Shevuos 11b

[38] Parah 3:5

[39] Mishneh L'Melech, Laws of mourning 1:3

[40] Sefer HaChareidim to Yerushalmi Talmud, end of Brachos 1:1

[41] See also Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel (1250-1328) on Yoma, Rosh, chapter Yom HaKippurim §24.

[42] Maimonides, Laws of the Red Heifer 12

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