The Red Heifer: Honoring the Purity of Shem and the Holy Land
[Background of Red Heifer]
In this week’s Torah Portion of “Chukas”, the Para Adumah is the most perplexing topic in the entire Torah. Since the Torah was given, there has been one question that has stumped the minds of every scholar, even the great wisdom of King Solomon: what is the meaning [even on any level] of the mysterious command imposed upon the Jewish People – The Para Adumah [Red Heifer]? Even as there may be success in answering this enigma, the ultimate answer evades the most diligent scholar each time; for every door that we go through, the outcome will be a fresh set of doors to investigate and once again ponder the appropriate path that will grant adequate understanding of the challenge known as the Para Adumah.
[Noahides and their hidden interest of the Red Heifer]
When we gaze at the terrain of Torah students of today, we interestingly find that it is not only “one” nation who is enthralled with the anticipation of returning to a state of Holiness that can only be achieved with the return of the Para Adumah in a fully functioning Torah state of affairs, for there is yet another – The Noahide Nations all over the World equally anticipate and yearn for this return to Holiness. We see this very clearly today, as there are tremendous efforts underway to reclaim the merit of possessing the Para Adumah and existing in this state of purity, in the Land of Israel; The Noahides are one of the main idealists furthering along the attempt to locate the elusive [purity of] The Red Heifer. [Purity and Holiness are two separate concepts; holiness is he who is separate, i.e. the Noahide from the rest of the World, whereas purity is the concept to remedy impurity, a reality and affliction (not only by sin, but by contact with the dead) that is imposed on the holy, i.e. Jews and in this case, Noahides] This may seem as a simple observation that does not warrant any further investigation, but one must ask, “where does this precedent come from,” for Gentiles to have a vested interest in something that would seem to garner no interest, namely the Para Adumah. If one were to invest thought and research [within Torah] perhaps the Torah does make this quite [unclearly] clear! Not only does the Torah allude to this eternal secret as being in relation to the Noahide, but there is absolute reason to consider that it is the very Noahides themselves that make the mystery of the Para Adumah!
[Red Heifer and the enigmatic text description in text of Torah; explaining “Ger”]
When we look into the Torah Verses of the Para Adumah, along with the basic instructions, details, and background of the sacred Mitzvah [commandment], there comes a strange detail that ends the Torah’s account of what will be the resting place of the ashes of the Para Adumah. If one looks to “Bamidbar” 19:10 – “…and it should be to The Children of Israel and to the “Ger” that dwells amongst you, an eternal [mysterious] decree” [והיתה לבני ישראל ולגר הגר בתוכם לחקת עולם] as we have learned with Jethro, who was also called a “Ger” along with the precedent to identify Noahides as “Gerim”, here too one not only can, but should make the same distinction. A Ger loosely means a convert [to Judaism], but in Devarim 14:21 in reference to the forbidden act of mixing milk and meat, the Torah identifies the Ger [literally dweller] to be a Noahide in particular. Let us not forget Aravnah the Noahide who sold the Temple Mount [expressing his direct connection to the heart of the Land of Israel] to King David as well, of which the Metzudas David commentary lists Aravnah as a “Ger Tzedek” [the righteous Ger] which is usually in reference to a Righteous Jewish Convert, yet the commentators have made it quite clear that this reference when spoken of Aravnah is a sure reference to his being a Noahide. [Thus the righteous Ger is the righteous Noahide when deviating from the other connotation of convert] Now that we have an absolute Torah principle that “Gerim” [plural for Ger] can [and often] refer to a Noahide, the Para Adumah scenario begins to make more sense [and ultimately leads to a greater path of confusion, as the Para Adumah never makes absolute sense, yet we have now pushed the envelope even further, with breaking through and making sense in the text, more questions are sure to follow!] when we identify “the Ger who dwells amongst you” as a Noahide.
[Torah commentary of text of Red Heifer]
Before we get into the particulars of how this works we need a basis, and that basis comes in the form of the Commentator “The Even Ezra.” The Even Ezra states in conjunction with the text in our verse [Bamidbar 19:10]:” [and for the Ger who dwells amongst you…] ‘So that it should be A Land of Israel of Holiness, for the [Glory is there/ Honor is there/ Honor of Shem (ben Noah); all 3 connotations are valid as the word for Glory/Honor “כבוד” has 2 meanings and the word for there and Shem “שם” has 2 meanings.]
[Why the Noahide is the “Ger” of the text]
If we take this Even Ezra literally and in context, while thinking into the text of the Torah in this same way, [that we are referring to a Convert to Judaism and not a Noahide] the explanation becomes rather difficult! [Thus forcing the conclusion that we do in fact speak of the Noahide] Why would the Torah need to state the Convert “living amongst you?” If this is an eternal decree, and therefore in context of a time when there will be a Third and final Temple, it should be obvious since the Convert lives amongst you. In this frame of thought, he should simply be considered as a Jew without being singled out as a Convert, as in this area there is no distinctive difference in sanctity. [There are levels of holiness of the Jewish People: Priest – Levi – Yisrael; the Yisrael and the Convert weigh the same, and thus there is not a sub-Jew standard on any level] And in this way, the Even Ezra does not make sense as being spoken of the Convert since obviously the Land would never suffer from the Convert; additionally the Convert does not convert for the sake of inheriting Land – even allegorically. Thus the logical conclusion is that the verse is in reference to the Noahide.
[Noahides and Israel via commentary of “Shem”]
Once we identify the Noahide in this verse, we can open up the doors of perception that baffle the mind when contemplating the Para Adumah. The first and most literal yet abstract reason this is a Noahide reference to the Para Adumah[as per the Even Ezra] is the usage of the word “שם” / Shem in the commentary. To put it simply: Noahides will one day be intrigued to live in the same Land as their Great forefather Shem. The Torah allows for this when it speaks of the “Ger Toshav” – “The Gentile who lives in the Land” and is a fervent follower of the 7 Laws of Noah as the Torah demands [belief in the system told over to Moses].
[Question: why then the Noahide and his affiliation of the Red Heifer]
The other way of understanding the Noahide here, is to simply take it literally because the extreme literal path makes no sense and leaves us without understanding, as shown before. On this level, the Torah makes an observation that the Noahide has already realized from his own life experience: he is connected to the Jewish People. From that moment on, even living in the Land of Israel [as Shem did and since the Land is the True Glory] is a possibility. The fact that the Para Adumah is a mystery [which we have solved now on some level – which proves to be consistent with study of the Para Adumah since it led to an even bigger question, one based on understanding!] does not contradict the fact that we have introduced a new facet to the never ending discovery of the Para Adumah. What we have done is shown a new question in Torah, one that sheds light on the nature of the Para Adumah: what is the connection of the Noahide and the Jew? The answer is simple: they unite under the umbrella of purity within the waters of the Para Adumah.
[Practicality of the Noahide and the Red Heifer]
It would seem that the Torah’s mystery in the Para Adumah is the secret of the Noahide, and that he is connected to the Jewish People in a way that maybe can’t be simply answered, to the point that the Torah says “you can’t figure it out totally!” One attempt to answer is that the Land must remain Holy, and the unification in the Land is this Purity of the Para Adumah. The constant purity amongst Jews and Noahides eradicates any schism of any potential separation, for the connection of the two people in the Land [a Land of the One-ness of God] must be a perfect seal, after all, the Light is going out to the Nations as One. [Not to be confused: One; as Genesis states the concept: “Like One”] This would in fact be the basis of why we learn Mikveh / ritual bathing from Jethro in relation to Noahides as a proactive practice. With a precedent of bathing in waters of the Para Adumah for a level of the highest degree of Purity [even if the association to the Para Adumah coupled with the need of purity and affiliation with Israel is a mystery], then all the more so any type of ritual bath [even not on the sanctity of the Para Adumah] would be a meritorious and practical custom, one that could acclimate the Noahide to the Para Adumah, withholding the mitzvah as a foreign object before coming to the Land if he indeed does decide to dwell amongst Israel. [It could also serve as a Torah imposed fence so that if one happens upon the Land in haste he will be accustomed to ritual bath and not subject the Land to something alien and inappropriate]
[The gentile vs. the Noahide – “Adam”; Noahide and his Learning Torah]
In the Talmud Yevamos 61a the question arises about the nature of a “gentile” and his status of being impure after his death and upon burial. The decision is left as a bit of a question, yet there is one offshoot that the Talmud investigates: The Noahide who learns the Torah is compared to a High Priest, in that they share the name “Adam.” [(High level) Man] King David also told over that, “The ‘Land’ is given to Bnei Adam.” Here the Bnei Adam would signal those who repaired Adam through Torah as opposed to the Bnei Adam who perpetuate his sin. [It should be noted the expression “repair of Adam has the same gematria as Torah, 611] It would then seem that the Talmud is issuing a secret of the Para Adumah text, proving that a Noahide does indeed merit the purification of the Red Heifer, and that the Noahide has a distinct connection to Israel. After all, Abraham is called “the Hebrew” and Shem is called the “Father of all Hebrews.” Perhaps by being knowingly connected to Shem invokes the Para Adumah as a need of one’s soul. [Every non-Jew called “Adam” has a direct relationship to Shem, even the original Adam, as Shem and Noah are the repair of the sin of Adam, as all were brought out by him.] It should be noted that Para Adumah is spelled in Hebrew, “פרה אדמה” – notice that “Adumah” is really “The Adam” when we unscramble the letters. It is now clearly understood why the Noahides today have vested interest in the sacred Para Adumah: They are directly involved with its qualities for deep, personal, and mysterious reasons.
[The Noahide and his root back to Shem: a connection to Red Heifer]
The text will always remain a mystery in the absolute sense, but at least at this juncture we find an answer to many of Torah’s perplexing questions as to what is the reality of the Noahide on many levels. One thing remains perfectly clear, in that the rationale is traced directly back to Shem, as the Noahide who awakens his soul on its root level identifies with Shem and the existence of the Supernal Adam. [Adam in reference to learning Torah] The entire passage in the Torah would remain a bit unclear if it were not for a simple support in the name of Shem, as we mentioned amidst the commentaries. Once the Even Ezra explained the Torah’s Simple Meaning to go along with a difficult passage of Torah by the inclusion of a rogue “Shem” quotation, the door of many possibilities was once again opened in the one place in Torah that we would expect no less, the Para Adumah. What seems like a locked door in the face of many may just be a challenge to find a key called Shem. The key may not unlock every door, but at least it allowed the Noahide to enter where he is destined to be: alongside the Jewish people [in the sanctity of Torah study and way of life], and if that place is the Land of Israel, it is easy to conclude that Shem foresaw that too, as his yeshiva is in Israel. If Shem made Israel possible after the Ark [and through his righteousness he still teaches through the Living Torah, as we saw with the Even Ezra], then the dream comes true when not only Jews, but Noahides as well, unite through the holy waters of the Para Adumah. It is only fitting that this key to understanding the Para Adumah, should come from the merit of an equally massive Torah concept: The Torah that comes through the hand of Shem ben Noah.
Rabbi David P. Katz