Red Heifer, or Just Plain
July 2001 by Asher Intrater
In recent years there has been much interest in the "red heifer." The matter of the red heifer is taken from Numbers 19 and has to do with the preparation of a purifying water to enable those who have become ritually unclean to enter the Temple.
In a typical Mosaic sacrifice a red heifer is to be slaughtered, and its remains burned. Afterwards its ashes are to be mixed in water. Then if someone has become ritually defiled (particularly by sudden contact with a dead body), he becomes ritually clean through a ceremonial process lasting one week. One of the key elements of the ritual cleansing is for him to be sprinkled with this water.
The word for red heifer in Hebrew is parah adumah, which simply means a red cow (female). In addition this parah adumah must be t'mimah, meaning without defect. The idea of the sacrificial animal being without defect (t'mimah) goes back to Exodus 12 in which the Passover lamb was required to be without defect as well (Exodus 12:5).
When the Bible says that the sacrificial animal is to be without defect, it does not mean that the animal is to be morally perfect, nor does it mean that the animal has to be physically perfect. It means that the animal should be whole, healthy and not deformed. It should not be missing an eye, have a broken leg, or be suffering from disease.
In the plain meaning of the Mosaic Law, a person would not want to offer a sacrifice to God that is deformed or second class. In our understanding from the New Covenant, we realize that the physical wholeness of the sacrificial animal is symbolic of the spiritual perfection of Yeshua the Messiah.
Yeshua is our righteousness. From Him we receive moral perfection. The sacrifices are symbolic of Him. We are not seeking for redemptive perfection in the animal itself.
So what's the problem? Some Jewish and Christian teachers have wrongly interpreted the passage to say that the perfection of the red heifer refers to the redness of its fur, and that the perfection does not mean being undeformed, but rather that the hairs must be so perfectly red that there is not any non-red hair.
This wrong interpretation creates an artificial crisis. The crisis is the following: Final redemption of the world must be preceded by the building of another Temple. In order for the Temple to function there must be purifying water from ritual uncleanness. Without the red heifer there can be no purifying water. Unless a red heifer can be found with perfect red fur, the world is doomed and will never come to final redemption.
To my understanding the redness of the heifer, like the scarlet thread, is another symbolic reminder of the atoning blood of the sacrifice of the Messiah. The purifying water is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. The ashes are symbolic of the remembrance of the atoning death of the Messiah. We are purified in our hearts not only by our repentance but also by the washing of the Holy Spirit, combined with the blood of the Messiah and His death. The passage of the red heifer and all the other sacrifices in the Law of Moses point us toward the forgiveness and purity in the death and resurrection of Yeshua.
Looking for a supernatural redemptive power in the physical and ritual perfection of the Temple ceremonies is incorrect. It leads to an almost pagan or magical interpretation of the Mosaic symbolism. No red hair, no matter how perfectly red, is going to purify you. No little cow, no matter how saintly, will be able to make you right before God. No sprinkling water, no matter how holy, will be able to sanctify you before God.
These symbols have great value and are to be welcomed when they are used as instructional tools to point us toward the redeeming sacrifice of the Messiah. To the extent that the symbolic objects become holy in and of themselves, they are being misused.
I have been shocked to find out that many born again, Spirit filled believers in Yeshua (Jesus) have been duped into donating hundreds of thousands of dollars toward quack projects to groom a perfectly red haired little cow. Redemption will come to Israel through sharing the gospel of Yeshua, not through donations to groom a red heifer.
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