Ask the rabbi

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Sefer Bamidbar

red cow


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Tammuz 14, 5779
Shavua Tov! what symbol of the red cow and its commandment? Why Shlomo did not get the deepest meaning about Red Cow but Moshe did? Is there relation between red cow and golden calf?
The symbolism of the “Red Cow” mitzvah is especially hidden, for it not only isn’t easily understood, but contrarily, seems to contradict itself, where the impure person (who had come in contact with human death), is purified by the process, as opposed to the kohen who didn’t come in contact with a human death, he contrarily is suddenly deemed impure!. Like all “chukim” [= mitzvot especially difficult to understand], it’s correct to say that one who delves deeply, can understand (like said regarding Moshe) only a small part of the benefit, but definitely not close to understanding the entire picture (as said regarding Shlomo). According to kabbalistic sources, the female cow (relatively rare in the Temple worship, which usually called for male bulls) symbolizes “life”, for females conceive, carry and nurse life. Similarly the color red symbolizes vibrant and activity (like the stereotype of redheads!), again, the opposite of death. But this sign of life is killed, her body burnt until ashes, symbolizing the epitome of death. But those ashes are then mixed with living, running spring water, symbolizing the epitome of life. This mixture and interaction of life and death, and then return to life, teaches the basic principal in Judaism that life, the Godly soul, is really eternal, and even what seems to us as death, is really just the beginning of life in the world-to-come [just like “death” to the womb-life, is really birth to this world). Similarly, he who contacted death, can easily return to purity [=life], and the kohen, who you thought was connected only to purity (not allowed to contact death), is now temporarily considered impure [=death], but again, that’s only illusionary, and temporary. The Jewish nation is eternal, as is the soul of the individual Jew, despite the fact that over history, it sometimes seemed like we were “on our way out” (at the end of the 18th century, there were only about 1,000,000 Jews in the world, and as some also feared after the Holocaust!). Our belief that national and individual death is just an illusion in this world [since the sin of Adam and Eve], is not only true (as clearly seen in Jewish history, and as seen in many documented cases of clinical death, who testified that individuals also have life after life), but is actually beneficial, in terms of comforting the bereaved, and dealing with the perennial fear of death, which really isn’t death at all.
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