Sunday, July 03, 2011

Parshat Chukat, take 2

Take 1 is here.

Who's on first?

The statute of the Red Heifer (Numbers, chapter 19) is weird enough, but the manner in which it's presented makes the parties involved unclear. On the one hand, El'azar the Priest is not going to live forever, so why does the text specify that the Red Heifer is to be killed in his presence, if this is supposed to be an eternal statute? On the other hand, who's the priest who's supposed to do the actual burning? As far as I know, the only priests in existence at that time were Aharon/Aaron and his (surviving) sons, El'azar and Itamar. And who's the "ish tahor," a man who is ritually clean, who's supposed to gather the ashes and take them out of the camp? Could this ritual task be done by any "clean" man, or was this task restricted to Kohanim/Priests, and, if it was restricted, why doesn't the text say so? And what about the "clean person" who was to sprinkle the water/ash combination? Again, was this act restricted to Kohanim, and, if so, why doesn't the text say so?

On an unrelated note, if this ritual were to be reinstituted, it would wreak havoc with the laws of shivah as currently observed, since the mourner would be forced to leave his/her home on the third day to be sprinkled with the water-mixed ashes of the Red Heifer.

The "teflon" priest is finally punished--for someone else's sin?
The text does not make clear exactly who said "Hear now, you rebels . . .," (see Numbers, chapter, verses 1-13, especially verses 10-12) but it does make clear that Moshe/Moses, not Aharon, struck the rock. So why does Aharon, the same guy who was never punished for building the Egel HaZahav/Golden Calf or for joining Miriam in criticizing Moshe for having "married out," suddenly get condemned to death for this?


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