Nu? News July 2009 – Holy Cow!
By Rabbi Barney Kasdan
A few years ago, a rather strange headline hit Israel. I am referring to the mysterious and controversial “Parah Adumah” (red cow) that was reportedly born on an Orthodox kibbutz, Kfar Hassidim, near Haifa. Why all the excitement from both the Jewish and Christian communities? We must turn back to the Torah, Numbers 19:1-22, to see the uniqueness of this sacrifice as stipulated by G-d himself:
“Then the L-rd spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, This is the statute of the law which the L-rd has commanded, saying ‘Speak to the sons of Israel that they bring you an unblemished red heifer in which is no defect, and on which a yoke has never been placed. And you shall give it to Eleazar the priest, and it shall be brought outside the camp and be slaughtered in his presence…Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight” v.1-5.
Among the unusual characteristics of this sacrifice, we find that this is the only one that must be a particular color. Likewise, of all the sacrifices of the Torah, this is the only one that had to be performed outside the camp instead of on the altar. These things alone would be enough to grab our attention, yet there is more.
“Now a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place, and the congregation of the sons of Israel shall keep it as water to remove impurity; it is purification from sin” v.9.
Oddly enough, this is the only sacrifice where G-d commands that the ashes of the burnt animal be kept. And this was for a unique purpose as the parah adumah was the key sacrifice for purifying the priesthood and their sacred utensils from sin and uncleanliness. As the Passover lamb was essential to bring our people into covenant relationship with our Heavenly Father, the red heifer was that which kept us cleansed in our service to HaShem. Rabbis and scholars have been somewhat mystified by this unique sacrifice throughout the ages. One statement in the rabbinic commentaries states that even “Solomon was wiser than all men, but when he came to the section of the Parah Adumah he admitted, “I said, I will get wisdom, but it was far from me” (Kohelet Raba 7:23). Rashi, one of the greatest commentators ever, admitted that is was something he could never understand. Yet, the importance of the red heifer is emphasized not only in the Torah but in 12 chapters of the Mishna (an entire tratate called Parah) which are devoted to this strange ritual! No wonder there is considerable excitement over the birth of this new red heifer from time to time in Israel. Some of the Orthodox see it as the vital link to start up the Temple sacrifices and the priesthood once again. Every Israel trip that we take, we try to visit the Temple Institute where most of the instruments and clothing for the priests have already been produced according to the mandate of the Torah and the Talmud. Many of the Orthodox have stated that these things cannot be used until the Temple is rebuilt and the ashes of a perfect parah adumah are found to cleanse the utensils.
Besides the focus on the kibbutz red heifer, there have been other recent developments related to this event. One of the rabbis of the Temple Institute, Haim Richman, has teamed up with a Pentecostal preacher from Mississippi (who is also an experienced cattle rancher) to establish a red angus herd of cows in Israel. Their vision is not only to revive the lagging cattle business in the Land, but in process to develop many kosher heifers for the Temple service in the future.
Before we all get too carried away in the excitement, we should note some glitches that arose. The red heifer of the kibbutz soon came into question as to its kosher status. You see, they discovered at least three white hairs on its tail which would disqualify it. There were also many people who feared this animal will be a ticking time bomb for Israel as some fanatics might try to seize the Temple Mount in order to build the Temple. If nothing else, all this reminds us that life is never dull in Israel, even when it comes to the cows!
While many seem to be caught up in the recent commotion, a question is posed to those of us who believe in Yeshua as the Messiah. What does all this mean to us? On the one hand, I am sure many believers are also excited that things keep moving closer to the end of the present age. As we see some of these events of the Scriptures come into focus, we realize anew that Mashiach is coming! Yet, I believe we miss an important point if we feel the need for a red heifer in order to be cleansed before G-d. In fact, such excitement about the parah adumah seems to imply that Yeshua is not the Messiah and that we must have the cleansing of our sins through the sacrifices of the rebuilt Temple. The New Covenant scriptures remind us of the opposite truth; namely, that Yeshua himself fulfilled the ministry of the parah adumah in his first coming to Jerusalem. Significantly, it is the letter written to the Jewish believers of the first century that states:
For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to G-d, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living G-d? (Hebrews 9:13-14)
Indeed, the death of Yeshua as our Messiah is a beautiful fulfillment of the symbolism associated with the parah adumah. He was without defect (sin). Like the red heifer, Yeshua’s death took place outside the camp. The ongoing effect of his sacrifice, similar to the ashes of the heifer, cleanses his people for priestly service. As interesting as all the recent events are, it seems Messianic believers have even a better reason to be excited. Instead of getting caught up in the “holy cow”, I hope we are more caught up in the “holy Messiah”! Are you ready for His return? Are you fulfilling your calling as a priest cleansed to serve the Living
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