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Torah Commentary Blog

Parashat Chukat (June 15, 2013)
by Robyn Weinstein Cimbol

SPRINKLED THROUGHOUT THE TORAH are mysterious, primitive rituals that seem pagan and out of place for our protagonists — the Israelites. In this week’s portion, Chukat, we examine one of the strangest and most incomprehensible: the laws of ritual purification involving the red heifer. The red heifer (parah adumah) refers to the cow whose ashes were used in the purification rites for one contaminated through contact with a corpse. This is an elaborate ceremony in which the cow first is slaughtered and the blood sprinkled seven times. The cow then is burned together with cedar, hyssop and crimson. Finally, these ashes are mixed with water. Performing this rite is a sacred obligation that will spiritually purify the contaminated individual.

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