In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the Red Heifer, a young, female cow that has never had a calf herself, that holds within her incredible powers to purify and wash away all that is dangerous to humanity. Put simply, the Red Heifer was ancient Israel’s version of Purell.
According to the Torah, in order to unleash the Red Heifer’s purifying powers, she had to be sacrificed according to ritual law. After the sacrifice, her ashes were collected for they contained the true power of the Red Heifer: the ability to purify those who came in contact with a dead body. Death remains something that frightens us. Our ancestors took comfort in the fact that the Red Heifer could cleanse them from the taboo of death should they come in direct contact with it. They did not want to be tainted by the sickness or negative energy of an accident that led to another’s passing. It was the Red Heifer that kept them safe.
As I read this week’s Torah portion, I couldn’t help but think, given the threats we face, how much we’d all appreciate a Red Heifer today – minus the sacrificing part, of course.
There are those in our global Jewish community who, for religious reasons, are on the hunt for a Red Heifer. This is a challenging hunt. A Red Heifer is not simply a young, red female cow. She should be in her third year of life and never given birth to a calf or mated with a bull. She has to be completely red. Even if her coat contains two hairs of a different color that are found next to each other or three hairs of a different color that are far apart, she is not considered to be a Red Heifer. Any physical blemish on her would disqualify her from carrying the title of Red Heifer. In order for her to carry the powers to purify, a true Red Heifer will never be used to work. By work, our tradition teaches us, this includes a person leaning on her or placing a garment on her. If a yoke has ever been placed on a Red Heifer, she loses her title and, thus, her powers.
So, finding a Red Heifer is not easy – not impossible, but certainly not easy.
Tradition teaches us that throughout Jewish history, there have only been nine Red Heifers that have been found and utilized to purify. Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish scholar teaches us that:
Nine Red Heifers were used from the time the Jews were given this tradition described in this week’s Torah portion until the destruction of the Second Temple. The first Red Heifer was sacrificed by Moses. The second one by Ezra. And there were another seven Red Heifers sacrificed from Ezra until the destruction of the Temple in the year 70CE.
Maimonides also lets us in on a secret: there is a 10th Red Heifer out there waiting to cleanse the world. He explains that it will be used by the Jewish Messiah (Moshiach) to purify the world as the Messiah recreates paradise here on earth. This 10th Red Heifer will get rid of all the mayhem, all the mess, all the madness.
I am sure you are like me –  tired of living the way we are right about now. I’m not one who usually talks about the arrival of the Moshiach and the end of days, but I sure could use a little paradise right about now.  While I am not a fan of animal sacrifice, I wouldn’t mind some ancient purification ritual that could truly eliminate the threat of this pandemic that is wreaking havoc across the globe. 
As we read about the Red Heifer’s powers this week, our tradition teaches us that this 10th heifer is within our reach. It’s an arms-length away. Just over there is the trick that will make all that is broken whole. Sounds too be good to be true, but our tradition isn’t wrong.
Danny Siegel writes:
If you always assume the one sitting next to you is the Messiah waiting for some simple human kindness, you will soon come to weigh your words and watch your hands. And if the Messiah chooses not to be revealed in your time, it will not matter.
Judaism teaches us that we can bring about the arrival of the Messiah, or, as I like to call it, the Messianic Age, a time of great peace, well-being and joy, a paradise on earth. We can hasten the arrival of this paradise by assuming that all the people we come in contact with, the person on the other side of the screen on a Zoom call, the person standing 6’ away from us when we venture out to Publix, all the Black, Brown, Asian and White people who make up our lives, one of them might very well be the Messiah and, thus, they must all be treated with kindness, with love and respect. This is what Judaism teaches us moves the Messiah to respond. This is what I believe will bring about better days – especially if we all act kindly and with love and respect directed at everyone. Goodness knows there is so much hate, anger and disagreement out there. Our homes, our communities, our country, the world needs to be elevated by goodness that I know can bring about better days.
And, as we discussed, when these better days arrive, so does that 10th Red Heifer, that ancient, much needed dose of Purell.
One of the kindest things we can do right now is protect our own health and the health of those around us. The person next to you might very well be the Messiah, waiting to heal the world. You wouldn’t want to be the one to give the Messiah COVID-19. We need that 10th Red Heifer. Wear a mask. Socially distance. Focus on and respect the desire described in this week’s Torah portion, a desire that our ancestors had to be free from negative energy that could harm them – a desire we can certainly relate to during this pandemic and during the current fight for racial equality.
If we do these things, we will ensure that if the Messiah is next to us, we will keep her safe and healthy, enabling her to begin building paradise, a paradise where all are treated equally and the Red Heifer can run free and spread her much needed healing and cleansing powers everywhere she goes.

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