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The Tenth Red Heifer

 

From Moses to the Second Temple: Only Nine Red Heifers

The Mishna teaches that up until the destruction of the Second Temple, ashes had been prepared from a total of only nine red heifers. The very first red heifer was processed by Moses himself - as the verse states, "... have them bring you a red heifer." The second was done by the prophet Ezra in the days of the First Temple, and during the entire era of the Second Temple only seven more heifers were used for ashes. This was enough to provide for the nation's needs for purification throughout all those years.

The names of all the High Priests who prepared those seven heifers during Second Temple times are recorded by the Mishna: Simon the Just and Yochanan each made two; El'yhoeini ben Hakof, Chanamel HaMitzri and Yishmael ben Pi'avi processed one heifer each. Thus, from the time that Moses received the commandment of the red heifer from the Holy One, blessed be He, until the destruction of the Second Temple, purifying ashes had been produced by the hands of these great leaders from a total of nine red heifers.

The Tenth Red Heifer Will be Prepared by the Messiah

In recounting this historical record in his commentary to the Mishna, the great Maimonides ends with the enigmatic statement: "... and the tenth red heifer will be accomplished by the king, the Messiah; may he be revealed speedily, Amen, May it be God's will."

With this amazing statement, Maimonides recounts an ancient tradition - that the tenth red heifer is associated with the Messianic era. Does this perhaps mean that the appearance of a red heifer in these waning end times is an indication, a forerunner of the appearance of the Messiah himself, who will officiate at its preparation?

If there has been no red heifer for the past 2,000 years, perhaps it is because the time was not right; Israel was far from being ready. But now... what could it mean for the times we live in, to have the means for purification so close at hand? With the words of Maimonides in mind, we cannot help but wonder and pray: If there are now red heifers... is ours the era that will need them?

On this note, it is fitting that we pay particular attention to a Midrashic teaching:

Each day in the Holy Temple, the Levites sang a special daily song. The order of the daily songs have a deep significance, and there is a mystical connection which each song had for the particular day it was sung. The Oral Tradition has preserved the listing of the Levitical songs that were sung each day in the Holy Temple, and various commentators and sages have explained some of the connections which can be seen between these songs and the days of the week..

According to tradition, the Second Temple, like the First, was destroyed at the conclusion of Shabbat - on a Saturday night. Both Josephus and the Midrashic writings describe how even though the flames of destruction raged all around, and the blood of the slain flowed through the Temple, the priests nevertheless continued to serve atop the altar, and the levites did not cease to sing, right up until the very end.

Yet despite the fact that the actual destruction of the Holy Temple took place on a Saturday night, the Midrash records that at those moments the Levites sang the song for Wednesday - "O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongs; O God, to whom vengeance belongs, shine forth!" Why did they not sing the song for that day of the week, which was Saturday?

Perhaps the levites were addressing their song to the destruction itself, and consoling Israel by reminding her that God has sworn vengeance against His enemies. In this context perhaps their song was even meant to "remind" God to keep His word, and to "shine forth" at the proper time, to manifest Himself in the garb of Divine vengeance.

But we know that there is a close relationship between each day of the week and its respective song. We have seen something of the great insight and understanding which the sages of Israel possess. It is possible that in our own generation, we can shed new light on this perplexing question... based on our own contemporary knowledge, and the wisdom and experience that we have acquired from hindsight in our own times. For although the sages of yore were great and inspired, we in our own generation, are privy to new understanding to which those great men had no access; in short, we have new evidence.

For on that fateful evening of destruction, it is true that the priests and levites consoled each other and all of Israel with the knowledge that God will avenge His honor; perhaps their song summarized the entire epoch. It is certainly possible that they chose to remind the Holy One of his own vow, as well.

But while all of these explanations are acceptable, it is also quite possible that as the Levites stood atop the platform in that place of sublime inspiration and holiness for the last time, all of a moment they received the most profound flash of prophetic revelation...

And they prophesied, they saw with perfect clarity of vision, that although the terrible destruction now loomed all around them on this Saturday evening, the continuation of their service would most certainly come about as well. The day would come when the Holy Temple would be rebuilt. Though it may be far off in the distance, it would certainly transpire, for it is a Divine promise...

At that moment they could see that it would truly come to be. The rebuilding would happen, even if it happens very slowly, and in stages, one step at a time. For like the morning dawn, "such is the way of Israel's redemption. In the beginning, it progresses very slowly... but as it continues, it grows brighter and brighter."

So too, the Levites perceived that the long process of Israel's redemption, hinging on the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, would begin again on a Wednesday... thus they sang the song of Wednesday, for they sang not of destruction, or revenge, but of promise continuation, renewal and rebirth:

The Levites saw that Jerusalem and the Temple Mount would stand desolate for nearly two milenia... but they would be regathered by Israel once again on a Wednesday: Wednesday, June 7th, 1967 was the day they saw. This day could be considered the first step towards the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. For this day marked a turning point in Jewish history, and began a new era, which progresses in our own time, and moves towards the great destiny of the Jewish people, to be a light to the nations and a people who walk with God in their midst.

The Original Ashes       Back to Introduction

 

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