This article deals with the following questions:
- Why does the purification ritual require a heifer?
- Why should it be red?
- Why is the red heifer burned outside the camp, though it is forbidden to make sacrifices outside the Temple?
- Why do people who are involved in the red heifer offering become ritually impure?
- Why are ashes and water involved in the ritual?
Before moving to the Kabbalah of Information's point of view, I would like to review opinions on the above-stated matters.
Both kabbalists and Torah commentators extensively discussed the commandment of the red heifer. Zohar, Rabbi Isaac Luria's works (Etz Chayim, Gate of Reincarnations), Midrash, Talmud and other sources introduce various interpretations.
Here is a brief review of the existing opinions.
1. The cow in the purification ritual is directly related to the sin of the Golden Calf.
In Likkutei Sichot, the Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote that the sin of the Golden Calf brought back death to the world that had disappeared when the Torah was introduced. It is for that reason that people who contacted a dead body needed a cow to purify themselves.
2. In Midrash Tanhuma, we read: “A young woman's child once dirtied the royal palace. The king said: "Let his mother come and clean up her child’s mess." By the same token, G-d says: "Let the heifer atone for the deed of the calf.”
3. The Prophet Ezekiel had a vision of four cherubims with four faces, one of the faces was a face of an ox was on the left side, which symbolises the Judgment quality.
4. Ancient Hebrew manuscripts did not leave space between the words. There were five final forms (sofit) to represent letters at the end of a word. These characters were different from those representing letters in the middle of a word. The gematria of the five letters coincides with the one of the word "cow" ("parah" in Hebrew). Final forms (sofit) symbolised the quality of Judgment (Gevurah).
5. The final letter 'Hey' in the word 'cow' ("Parah" in Hebrew) corresponds to the Sefirah Bina, which is the source of the quality of Judgment (Gevurah).
6. In Kabbalah, the colour red is associated with the quality of Judgment (Gevurah). That is why the heifer is red.
The explanation of the Red Heifer commandment given by Rabbi Bachya Ben Asher in his commentary on the Chukat chapter is worthy of careful attention.
Here are some excerpts from the commentary by Rabbi Bachya:
- The cow is red because sins are generally associated with this colour (blood guilt).
- The ritual was performed by the Deputy High Priest, since Aaron, the High priest, was involved in the sin of the Golden Calf.
- The purification by sprinkling ashes and water of the red heifer resembles the cleansing procedure Moses did after the sin of the Golden Calf.
- The red heifer is an allusion to the Oral Torah, the attribute of Justice in its most severe form.
- The author believes that this opinion is the most crucial: Some Kabbalists thought that the procedure involving the red heifer was carried out completely outside the confines of the Temple meant that it represented a higher degree of sanctity than that which pervaded the Sanctuary. Thus, the Red Heifer was holier than other animals sacrificed at the Altar in the Temple.
Some Kabbalists note that the reason it inflicted impurity on its handlers was that any pure person on earth would automatically become impure through contact with extraterrestrial purity i.e. celestial purity [or sanctity]. This concept is reflected in the Torah phrase 'anyone touching the Altar will become holy' (Ex. 29:37) i.e. will be burnt [as had happened to the two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu]. Total terrestrial sanctity is relegated when it confronts celestial sanctity. What applies to relative sanctity, i.e. terrestrial sanctity versus celestial sanctity, also applies to terrestrial purity as opposed to celestial purity.
6. The root cause of living creatures contracting spiritual impurity dates back to the original cause of death, the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
Can a camel go through the eye of a needle?
Below are opinions and answers to the questions posed at the beginning of the previous chapter from the perspective of the Kabbalah of Information.
The above-stated opinions on the role of the cow in the purification ritual claimed that it is directly related to the sin of the Golden Calf.
The chapter Vayikra on offerings substantiates this point.
1. Laws for Burnt Offerings (Vayikra 1:1–9):
And he shall slaughter the young bull before the Lord. And Aaron's descendants, the kohanim, shall bring the blood, and dash the blood upon the Altar, around [the Altar] which is at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. And he shall skin the burnt offering and cut it into its [prescribed] sections. And the descendants of Aaron the kohen shall place fire on the Altar and arrange wood on the fire. And Aaron's descendants, the kohanim, shall then arrange the pieces, the head and the fat, on top of the wood which is on the fire that is on the Altar. And its innards and its legs, he shall wash with water.
2. Laws for Sin Offerings (Vayikra 4:1-31):
We should note that laws for sin offerings vary depending on who has sinned, namely, a kohen, the community of Israel, a leader [of Israel], one person of the people of the land.
2.1. A young bull (Ben Bakar) is offered if a kohen or the community of Israel committed a sin. The bull is slaughtered at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the kohen takes its blood and brings it into the Tent. The kohen shall dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle some of the blood seven times before the Lord, before the dividing curtain of the Sanctuary. And the kohen shall place some of the blood on the horns of the incense Altar which is in the Tent of Meeting, before the Lord, and he shall pour all the blood of the bull onto the base of the Altar [used] for burnt offerings, which is at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. And all the fat of the sin offering bull he shall separate from it: the fat covering the innards, and all the fat that is on the innards, and the two kidneys [along] with the fat that is on them, which is on the flanks; and the diaphragm with the liver, along with the kidneys, he shall remove it, just as was separated from the bull [sacrificed as] a peace offering, the kohen shall then cause them to [go up in] smoke on the Altar [used] for burnt offerings. [He shall then take] the bull's skin and all of its flesh, along with its head and along with its legs, its innards and its waste matter. He shall take out the entire bull to a clean place outside the camp, [namely,] to the ash depository, and he shall burn it in fire on wood. Thus, it shall be burnt in the ash depository.
2.2. If the entire community of Israel Sins, the Sin offering procedure is the same as when a kohen Sins.
2.3. However, if a leader [of Israel] Sins or one person of the people of the land commits a Sin, the Sin offering ritual is different.
The leader shall bring his offering: an unblemished male goat; the rest of the ritual takes place on the Altar at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.
2.4. The person of the people of the land shall bring his sacrifice: an unblemished female goat. The rest of the ritual takes place on the Altar at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.
Overall, it is clear that the Sin offering by the kohen or the entire community of Israel is fundamentally different from the one made by a leader or a person of the people.
When a kohen or the entire community of Israel Sins, the ritual partly takes place inside the Tent of Meeting. The sacrifice is a young bull ("Ben Bakar" in Hebrew), but in Shemini, when Moses talks to Aaron about the Sin offering, he says 'calf' ("Egel" in Hebrew) (Shemini 9:2). Thus, we can assume that the calf is sacrificed. Given that the Torah cites the only Sin committed by the kohen and the entire community of Israel — the Sin of the Golden Calf — we can conclude that the sacrifice for the Sin committed by a kohen or the community is directly related to the Sin of the Golden Calf.
The calf sacrifice atones for the Sins of a kohen or the community of Israel. However, it cannot atone for the Sin associated with the Golden Calf itself, the return of the death to the world, and, in particular, contact with a dead body.
Following the principle that evil should be fought at its root, purification from contact with a dead body comes from 'the root of the calf', i.e., its mother, the cow.
The statement by Rabbi Isaac Luria (Arizal) confirms this conclusion: the final letter 'Hey' in the word 'cow' ("Parah" in Hebrew) corresponds to the Sefirah Bina, which in Kabbalistic terminology is described by the word 'mother' ("Ima" in Hebrew) and is the source of the quality of Judgment (Gevurah), which, in turn, corresponds to the face of an ox in the vision of the prophet Ezekiel.
The above mentioned laws of sacrifice show an important pattern:
- Ritual of the burnt offerings (which can be a young bull) is performed on the Altar at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.
- The ritual for the atonement of Sins committed by a kohen or the community of Israel requires offering a young bull, i.e., a calf. The ritual is partly performed inside the Tent of Meeting, partly on the Altar at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, and partly outside the camp (burning the carcass and calf skin).
- The ritual for the atonement of Sins committed by a leader or a person of the people takes place on the Altar at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.
- The red heifer ritual is performed strictly outside the camp.
According to the Kabbalah of Information, Creation is an information space consisting of concepts and divided into zones—worlds which differ in the number of dimensions, the complexity of concepts, and their distance from each other. Note that in information space, the distance between concepts depends on the similarity of their information content.
The world of Atzilut and worlds of creation were preceded by the world of Tohu (the world of points). In the world of Tohu the Sefirot were represented by the single complex concepts (points in the informational space).
The distance between the concepts in the information space was huge, and therefore, there was no interaction between them.
In Torah Or, the Alter Rebbe writes: “In the world of Tohu, the Sefirot did not interact with each other, for instance, Sefirot Chesed and Gevurah. Each Sefirah transmitted Light with great force, and therefore, it could not interact with its opposite.”
Thus, the world of Tohu was an information space with a large number of dimensions (a great complexity of concepts), and at the same time, with a low population density of information space. Therefore, the world of Tohu represented the concept of Self in Creation.
Rabbi Isaac Luria explained the emergence of the concept of Self in Creation. In Kabbalah, it is called 'The Shattering of the Vessels.’ Briefly, the vessels of Tohu were too fragile for Divine Light and broke into numerous pieces, each containing sparks of the Divine Light. The shells descended into the worlds of Creation and formed Kelipot.
Alter Rebbe (Torah Or) points out that without the 'shattering of the vessels,’ the existence of creatures with an awareness of their own 'Self' would not be possible. He writes: “What does the shattering of the vessels and them falling as sparks of holiness mean? Nothing but splitting up into smaller pieces. For example, the word "baruch" (blessed) serves as a vessel that conveys a certain idea, namely the idea of blessing. But this is true only when its letters form a single combination. If it splits into separate letters, those letters no longer convey the idea. Likewise, when the Tohu vessels were shattered into many small pieces, they lost the Light they used to keep. As a result, the Tohu vessels descended into the Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah worlds to form new ones inhabited by numerous diverse creations.”
Kabbalah of Information explains these statements as follows:
- The Law of Dimensionality is one of the basic laws of the Kabbalah of Information. It says that the dimensionality of an information structure (number of symbols) cannot exceed the dimensionality of the corresponding part of the information space (world). Accordingly, the concepts of the world of Tohu cannot be located in the world of Atzilut and the worlds of Creation.
- To allow the existence of the creations with their own selves, the concepts of Tohu were divided into smaller parts, with each concept in the worlds of Creation having a projection onto the dimension of 'G-d—Self'. Kelipot are zones in the information space in the dimension 'G-d—Self' that either coincide or are at a small distance from the concept of Self. They are the main reason that causes man to do evil.
The author believes that the main reason for Adam's conscious violation of the commandment was his movement along the dimension 'G-d—Self' into the 'Self' zone—this is called the Kelipa of Adam.
Adam sinned, and the concept of death went from potentiality to actuality.
Thus, the concept of death has its origin in the world of Tohu.
Since Evil should be fought at its root, purification after contacting the dead body should come from the information space of the world of Tohu.
Let us briefly recall the stages of the red heifer purification ritual. First, the cow was burnt outside the camp. Then its ashes were dissolved in water, and the resulting mixture was used to spray and thereby purify the person who had touched a dead body.
'Red' in Hebrew is 'adom;’ it begins with the letter Alef; 'water' is 'mayim’, it begins with the letter Mem; ‘fire’ is ‘ash’, it is represented by the letter Shin. Thus, we have three letters—Alef, Mem, Shin—EMESH (literally in Hebrew, “last night”).
In Kabbalah, the letters Alef, Mem and Shin are called Mothers and play a huge role in the informational structure of Creation.
Sefer Yetzirah (1:13) tells us:
He chose three letters
From among the Elementals
(in the mystery of the three Mothers)
Alef, Mem, Shin
He set them in His great Name
According to Kabbalah, the letter Mem represents water, Shin—fire, Alef—ether or air. In the world of Atzilut Sefira Chokhma, associated with water, is represented by the letter Yud. Sefira Bina, associated with fire, is represented by the letter Hey. The six Sefirot (Middot)—Chesed, Gevura, Tiferet, Netzach, Hod and Yesod—are represented by the letter Vav, which also signifies the six directions. Thus, the letters Alef, Mem and Shin are the roots of the letters Yud, Hey and Vav, which compose the four-lettered Name of G-d (Tetragrammaton), corresponding to the world of Atzilut. Considering that the world of Tohu preceded the world of Atzilut, we can assume that the letters Alef, Mem and Shin, EMESH, are the Name of G-d, corresponding to the world of Tohu.
Sefer Yetzirah (3:2) tells us:
Alef, Mem, Shin,
A great, mystical secret...
And from them emanated
Air, water and fire'.
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, in his commentary on left a commentary on Sefer Yetzirah wrote: 'The letters Alef, Mem, Shin are the roots of the letters that make up Tetragrammaton: Yud, Hey, Vav. Kabbalists teach that the letters of Tetragrammaton refer to the world of Atzilut, in the world of Tohu, the Name of G-d consists of the letters Alef, Mem and Shin. The three Mothers make up the Hebrew word "Emesh". It also means deep, impenetrable darkness. This is the darkness of the world of Tohu (last night?), which preceded the creation of the world of Atzilut'.
Aryeh Kaplan provides the following example from the Torah (Bereshit 31:29): 'Laban says to Jacob: "The G-d of your father’s said to me last night (Emesh)". This can also be read as 'The G-d of your fathers EMESH said to me'.
Jacob said (Bereshit 31:43): "and gave judgment on last night", which can be read as "EMESH gave judgement'.
The following arguments support Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's opinion:
Laban was the epitome of a supervillain. The concept of 'supervillain' is defined by the commitment to Evil, strong will and intelligence. The animal soul of the supervillains comes from Tohu (the absolute Self, the will, the intellect). Torah Or tells us: “Early in the morning Laban arose.” Here we are talking about the concept of Laban, which belongs to the realm of holiness. It is also called 'the supernal whiteness.’ It speaks of the essence of the light of the Infinite’.
Besides Laban, the supervillains included Pharaoh, Esau and Balaam. The only way to stop a villain like Laban was to influence the source of his animal soul, hence the name of the G-d Emesh of the world of Tohu.
There are other examples in the Torah. Shemot (10:21) tells us: Then the Lord said to Moses, extend your arm toward the sky that there will be darkness (chosheh in Hebrew) upon the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be touched.” (veyamesh chosheh)
The author believes that 'veyamesh' refers to the darkness of the world of Tohu, EMESH, which paralysed the Egyptians.
There are analogies between the red heifer ritual and the events which took place after this sin of Golden Calf.
In the Torah we read (Shemot, 32:20): “He [Moses] took the calf, that they had made, and burned it; he ground into powder and strewed it upon the face of water and made the Israelites drink it.” The words 'upon the face of water' are translated in Hebrew as 'Al Pnei Hamayim.’
We can find the same words at the beginning of the Book of Bereshit (1:2): “Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep and the spirit of G-d was hovering over the face of the water.” ('Al Pnei Hamayim').
According to the Kabbalah of Rabbi Isaac Luria, the gematria of the word 'hovering' (Merahefet in Hebrew) determines the number of fragments from the 'shattered vessels' of the world of Tohu (288 fragments.) The darkness on the face also describes the state of Tohu.
Thus, we can establish that the red heifer purification ritual belonged to the world of Tohu. We can confirm Rabbi Bachya Ben Asher's idea of 'relative sanctity' and answer the questions of why the red heifer ritual was performed outside the camp and why the people involved became impure.
In my articles ‘The Address of G-d’ and ‘Golden Beauty” I showed, by analysing the dimensions of the Ark of the Covenant, of the Altar and other parameters, that the Ark of the Covenant was a projection of Sefira Malchut of the world of Atzilut. The Altar was also related to the Sefira Malchut of Atzilut in some informational dimensions.
The complexity of the concepts of the world of Tohu and its dimensionality are much greater than those of the world of Atzilut world. Thus, performing the red heifer purification ritual within the confines of the Temple, could be considered as an attempt to 'push a camel through the eye of a needle' and would result in a disturbance in the functioning of Creation.
For the same reason, people participating in the red heifer purification ritual acquired the holiness of the world of Tohu and became ritually impure relative to Sefira Malchut of Atzilut, a projection of which was the Ark of the Covenant.
To purchase Eduard Shyfrin’s book ‘From Infinity to Man: The Fundamental Ideas of Kabbalah Within the Framework of Information Theory and Quantum Physics’ please click here. To purchase Eduard Shyfrin’s book ‘Travels with Sushi in the Land of the Mind’ please click here.