The mitzva the nations mocked

The Red Heifer's meaning is not known, ’It is a decree from Hashem, and we do not question it.’ So how does it atone for the golden calf?

Danny Ginsbourg ,

Danny Ginsbourg
Danny Ginsbourg
INN:DG

We read in the coming Parasha of the wondrous Mitzvah of פרה אדומה: the red cow, whose ashes, when mixed with water, are sprinkled on those who have become impure through contact with the dead, and who are purified, by following the procedure laid down there in the Parasha.

Our Sages expound:’Why are all the other קרבנות from both male and female animals, and this one a female? Said Rabbi Aibu: משל: an allegory: To what is this likened to? To the son of a maid-servant that dirtied the palace of the king. Said the king: Let the mother come, and clean up the excrement of her son. So, too, said Hashem: let the mother come לכפר: and atone for the deed of the golden calf’.

Comments the Alshich Hakadosh:’This saying is difficult, for, if the cow was to atone for the sin of the golden calf, then the allegory would be apt; but that is not the case! The cow only purifies the טומאה arising from contact with the dead.

‘Rather, the impurity which had brought death to mankind, ceased at Matan Torah, and we were freed from death; however, as a result of the sin of the golden calf, death returned, and we again became subject to מלאך המות: the Angel of Death, and to the impurity arising from contact with the dead.

THIS is what the Sages meant, that ‘the son’- the golden calf- ‘dirtiedthe palace of the king’-‘the palace’ being man who serves the King, by bringing back this impurity from contact with the dead.

As there was an ‘opening’ for people to say that Aaron was the cause of this, as he ‘made’ the golden calf, when giving the Mitzvah of the red cow, through which this impurity could now be ‘cleansed’, it was Elazar Hakohen- Aaron’s son, and not Aaron- who was to carry out the purification’.

Rabenu Bahya ben Asher offers the following midrashic commentary, as to how the ‘mother’ cow atones for the golden calf:

’The command ‘They shall take to you a completely red cow’: from them, as for the sin of the golden calf, they willingly contributed the jewelry that adorned them, so, too, for their atonement, they shall bring ‘from theirs’, a cow, משל: an allegory to the son of a maid-servant that soiled the palace of the king, who said: Let the mother come, and clean the son’s excrement- so shall the cow atone for the deed of the golden calf; ‘Red’: because sin is called ‘red’; Without blemish’: because Bnei Israel were unblemished, and the golden calf made them בעלי מום: blemished- so let the mother come and atone for the son, by purifying Israel from the blemish of impurity, so that he should return to be unblemished;

‘Upon which a yoke has not come’: an allusion to the golden calf, when they cast off the yoke of Heaven; ‘Give it to Elazar the Kohen’: To atone for crowding around Aaron to make the golden calf; ‘And he burned the cow’: Just as the golden calf was burned;

‘A cedar wood, hyssop and crimson thread’: Three items as against the three thousand that died in the sin of the golden calf; ‘It shall remain as a safekeeping’: Just as the sin of the golden calf is ‘kept’, to afflict Bnei Israel though-out the ages; Just as the golden calf rendered all engaged in its making, impure, so too, the cow rendered all engaged in it, impure; And just as those engaged in the golden calf, were purified by its ashes- the golden calf being ground down and cast on water- so too, they took for the impure, from the ashes of the burnt cow, and sprinkled on it water from a vessel’.

The Ktav Sofer offers the following insight, into our allegory:’Bnei Israel were misled, in the sin of the golden calf, by the ערב רב: the mixed multitude, which had left Egypt with them, who said:’These are your gods O Israel.

‘In the Mitzvah of the red cow, as Rashi comments, the nations of the world mocked Bnei Israel, saying: ‘What reason can there be for this Mitzvah?!’, to cast doubt in their minds, to dissuade them from performing the Mitzvah.

‘By performing the Mitzvah unquestioningly, and not listening to the mockers, they were answering them that:’It is a decree from Hashem, and we do not question it’, they were atoning for listening to the words of their seducers, in the sin of the golden calf.

‘This is why the ‘reason’ for this Mitzvah was kept from even the wisest of men, Shlomo Hamelech- for, had the ‘reason’ been known, it would not have been atonement to Bnei Israel, for the golden calf’.

Finally, the exposition of Rav Yehoshua Zelig from Raznai:’The Kuzari explains that, in making the golden calf, Bnei Israel did not intend to enage in idol-worship. They thought that they should make an object, modeled on the Heavenly Chariot, which could serve, in the absence of Moshe Rabenu, as an intermediary, to bring on them Heavenly השפעה, and guidance.

‘Their sin was in relying on their שכל: their intellect, to do something which Hashem had not commanded.

‘The red cow was an atonement for this, because it required them to perform it, with all of its ‘inexplicable’ internal contradictions, and despite it being in complete negation of their intellect- the very opposite of their actions in making the golden calf’.

לרפואת נועם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.



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