Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

My Photo
Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Parshat Chukkat

How Red was the Red Heifer?
This week’s Sedra Short is dedicated to my brother in law, Daniel Turnberg,
who perished in a tragic accident last weekend. Daniel was the kindest
person you could ever meet. He saw the beauty and richness in life and was
highly motivating and inspiring. Yehi Zichro Baruch.

The main ingredient of purification ritual for someone who has been in contact with a corpse is a “perfectly red unblemished cow” (Bemidbar 19:2). The Mishna(Para) explains that the cow must be perfectly red. As little as two black hairs would be enough to invalidate it. There were also other strict regulations which meant that it is virtually impossible to actually have one.

Indeed, the Temple institute in Jerusalem has tried to genetically create a para aduma, and has twice come close. However, even with the cutting edge technology that the modern world offers, we have failed to witness a one since the fall of Jerusalem just under 2,000 years ago.

In fact the Talmud states that there were only nine throughout history. Their ashes were peserved so that they could be continuously used.

Some have suggested that this fact proves that we are as yet unready for redemption and
hat God will provide us with the necessary animal when H is ready for us to rebuild the Temple. Nevertheless, all this makes the Para Aduma a halachik anomaly, a highly unlikely possibility.

Modern scholars have suggested that the Toraho was referring to a brown cow not a red cow. They make two points. First of all, red is one of the three primary colors. Brown is a derivation of red. Furthermore, the Bible contains no word for Hebrew for the color brown.

Since, ancient Hebrew lacked the appropriate for brown, they suggest that the next closest alternative, i.e. red, was used.

I am someone who is color blind. Playing snooker was always frustrating for me as the table is covered with 15 red balls and one brown. It was very difficult for me to distinguish the brown from among them. They were practically identical in my eyes.

This explanation therefore, resonates with me and gives us food for thought.

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat Chukat, entitled: "The Red Heifer and Sefer Bemidbar" appears at


Post a Comment

<< Home