Chukat: Ritual Detergent

Have you ever had a really tough stain that requires immediate attention? Local pharmacies often keep stain sticks, wipes and other forms of remover right near the checkout lines. In Parashat Chukat, we read about what the bible scholar Jacob Milgrom refers to as a “ritual detergent,” namely the ashes of the Parah Adumah, or red heifer. The Torah treats human contact with a corpse as requiring immediate attention through ritual purification. The ashes of the red heifer mixed with water create a potion that serves to counteract the ritual impurity that is incurred by someone who comes into contact with a corpse.

  • Why do you think the Torah requires that the ashes of an entirely red heifer be used to purify someone who has come into contact with death?
  • In what way does the concept of this ritual relate to us in the modern world?
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