The Original Ashes
"Speak to the Children of Israel, and have them bring you a red heifer... "
These words teach us that G-d told Moshe, "even if all the heifers throughout history are lost, that your will remain forever." For there is a tradition that all the heifers are sanctified through Moshe's original heifer, and a portion of those ashes were put away for the future sanctification of Israel.
Why are the earlier ashes needed?
Earlier it was mentioned that in the days of the Holy Temple, the priest who was to burn a new heifer was sprinkled during his week of separation with ashes that had been made previously, back through the generations. This was done as one of the extra measures of purity associated with the ceremony of the red heifer, even though he was known to be clean, and there had been no opportunity for him to become otherwise while he was in the Temple.
Some opinions maintain that the newer ashes were always mixed together with a combination of the previous ashes. One way of understanding this, is to the view this mixture of old and new ashes as being yet another precautionary measure... actually, as a kind of insurance policy.
The ordinance of the purification has an almost unparalleled status for Israel; after all, the purity of the entire congregation is dependent on it. But every man has his limitations, being only human. What would happen if the entire process had been carried through according to the letter of the law, but some detail which could render the procedure invalid, had gone undetected? One scenario might be that a perfect red heifer had been chosen and found to be blemish - free, and all of the other steps had been followed, exactly as we have discussed in these pages. But unknown to those officiating, in reality the heifer had a blemish which disqualified it. If such a thing could happen, how can Israel's purity be vouchsafed?
One way would be to simply depend on the ashes prepared by the leaders of an earlier generation, since those great men were more scrupulous than we. There is a general principle taught by the sages that as the generations progress in time, they become weaker spiritually. The previous generations were on a far more exalted and powerful level than those who follow. This notion may appear strange at first; after all, what of all our technological advancements, our discoveries and achievements?
This is an interesting point to ponder. The last 100 years has seen more scientific discoveries and advancements than the last 1,000. However, if we are more advanced scientifically than our predecessors, that does not mean we are more advanced spiritually. The opposite is true; the spiritual power of the sages who lived in the era of the Second Temple was so great that every one of them had the ability to resurrect the dead. Those giants did not have the machines and technology that we have today because they did not need them! However, as the generations dwindle and draw closer, in these waning end - days, to the coming of the messiah, we are truly impoverished spiritually. We need all of these advancements in order to serve G-d; when used properly, our discoveries can be tools for spiritual fulfillment as well. The Creator has granted bursts of inspiration and illumination in recent years so that man, whose own perceptual capacities are diminishing, will be better equipped to seek the meaning behind it all... G-d, who directs the universe towards His purpose.
So too, the "insurance policy" with regard to the ashes prepared by those men who were closer to the Sinai Revelation than we. The chances that something has gone wrong now are not that likely. However, even if such a mishap has transpired, if we combine these ashes with a previous solution, we can rely on the majority portion of the mixture, which is certainly error - free beyond any doubt.
A Deeper Insight
Additionally, mixing in the newer ashes we have produced now with those from olden times is a way of connecting through time with the original heifer that was slaughtered and prepared by Moshe. As such, in a sense, it is a way of connecting with the level of Moshe himself.
We have seen that Moshe has a special, personal association with the concept of the red heifer. "... Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without defect;" G-d decreed that it was to be called after his name for all time. One reason that Moshe alone was able to comprehend the great paradox of this precept, is because Moshe reached a spiritual level of understanding that no man, before or after, can ever hope to imitate.
On that exalted level, Moshe achieved a closeness to G-d which was also without equal:
"And He said, hear now my words. If there be a prophet among you, I HaShem make Myself known to him in a vision, and speak to him in a dream. But not so when it comes to My servant Moshe; he is the trusted one in all My house. With him I speak face to face, directly, and not in dark speeches; and the likeness of HaShem he does behold. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moshe?" (Numbers 12:7). And: "And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like Moshe, whom HaShem knew face to face." (Deut. 34:10)
Moshe understood the truest nature of one of the most important aspects of the heifer's purifying quality: repentance. He was a master of repentance. Moreover, Israel's collective forgiveness was so important to him that he was willing to negate himself completely for their sake ("And now, if You will forgive their sin - and if not, I pray, blot me out of the book You have written" - Ex. 32:32). Moshe's act was imbued with these qualities, and they were present in the ashes of that first heifer, made as a response to the incident of the golden calf... "let the mother come and clean her child's filth."
All of Israel strives to repent, to attain the level of Moshe, the man called "the man of G-d" by the Holy One Himself (Deut. 33:1; Psalms 90:1). Even though such understanding is far from us, as King Solomon declared regarding the precept of the red heifer... by mixing the waters of sanctification together with ashes prepared by Moshe himself, it is as if we have some connection, beyond our own limitations, with the true and absolute understanding of the red heifer which Moshe attained. As we are sprinkled by the ashes, our hope is that we shall merit to some infinitesimal degree of the true repentance, and the fear and love of G-d, which Moshe had, so that we may indeed be cleansed and purified.
Can We Proceed Without the Original Ashes?
An oft - asked question with regard to preparations for a new red heifer in our own time is: Even if a new red heifer could somehow be obtained, slaughtered and burned, how can ritual purity be reinstated without the kelal, the container of original ashes dating back from the time of Moshe?
Indeed, many people seem to be under the impression that without those original ashes, it would be impossible to rebuild the Temple - since they would have to mixed in with the new ones, as was done in the past, whenever a red heifer was prepared.
Raiders of the Lost Ashes?
To this end, many people are aware that in recent years, certain individuals and groups have embarked upon numerous expeditions, most of them centered around a particular location in Israel, where it is believed that the ashes of the red heifer may have been hidden. Most of the evidence for this belief comes from a particular interpretation of passages in the Copper Scroll, one of the well - known and most cryptic Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in one of the Qumran caves in 1952. These scrolls were found in a series of caves in and around the desert area of Qumran. Presumably, they were authored by members of the Essene community at the close of the Second Temple period.
Background: About the Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient documents which have great historical and scholarly value. The first scrolls were discovered in 1947; more were discovered later in caves above the Northwest end of the Dead Sea. According to the findings of archaeologists, the scrolls stored in jars in the first cave at Qumran were written or copied between the 1st cent. B.C.E. and the first half of the 1st cent. C.E.
One of the most important finds among the scrolls are two copies of the Book of Isaiah, almost 1,000 years older than any Hebrew biblical manuscript previously known. Another important scroll was the so - called Manual of Discipline for an ascetic community, which has been identified with both the ruins at nearby Qumran and the Essenes, a Jewish religious sect living an ascetic communal agricultural life in that region between the 2nd cent. B.C.E. and 2d cent. C.E. On the basis of parallels between the Qumran scrolls and the New Testament, some scholars have suggested a tie between the Essenes and the early Christians. However, recent work by other archaeologists and biblical scholars has questioned the association of the scrolls with the Qumran ruins and the Essenes.
Evidence from the Copper Scroll
Some have claimed to have discovered "linguistic" evidence that proves Qumran is the site described in this scroll, known as Wadi HaKippah, and that "Cave #4" is the "Cave of the Column" whose entrance is described in the Copper Scroll. It is believed that this scroll was hidden along with items from the Holy Temple just before the destruction by the Roman legions in the year 70 A.D. The scroll relates that vessels and treasures, as well as a container of ashes of the red heifer, were taken from the Holy Temple before the destruction and hidden in this area.
Among those who have led expeditions in search of the ashes are those who claim to have "used seismic, electromagnetic and infrared ground penetrating radar and Molecular Frequency Analysis (such as Nasa uses from satellites) at the Qumran site." This particular ministry solicits funding to continue operating archaeological digs in the area, and claims to be aware of many more as yet undiscovered scrolls. They advertise that their equipment has shown that "there are readings of anomalies which indicate underground caverns. One of these anomalies is an underground cavern almost 50 feet below ground level and not visible from the surface. The readings indicate that they contain, as yet, undiscovered scrolls."
In these advertisements, it goes on to state that "the MFA analysis shows other details that are just as intriguing. One reading, from Qumran, of a vessel with ashes in it is of great interest. Could this be a hidden portion of the Ashes of the red heifer, necessary for purification of the Temple, which has been the focus of extensive searching by a number of archaeologists?"
The following is a quotation which appears the internet site of one of these organizations:
"There are differing attitudes towards the need of the red heifer's ashes. A small percentage of Jewish people (and a few Gentiles), believe a new red heifer can be offered and its ashes used for the purification. To accomplish this, two herds of red cattle have been started in Israel in order to raise an unblemished red heifer born in the land of Israel. There are two problems with this. First, a new future heifer would have to be offered on the Miphkad Altar (currently in the hands of the Muslims) located on the Mount of Olives. Second, in order to have a new offering of the red heifer, ashes of the heifer that could be traced back to Numbers 19 would have to be used to cleanse the Miphkad Altar to have the required "clean place." This leads to the obvious conclusion that, even if a newly born, unblemished red heifer were to be offered today, ashes that can be traced back to the first offering of the heifer (Numbers 19) would still have to be found for the continuity of the "perpetual and forever," as prescribed in this passage."
An Authoritative Response
Because of the importance of the red heifer for all of Israel, there is a great need for this issue to be addressed. Since we have examined the significance of the original ashes from the heifer that Moshe prepared, it should be obvious to the reader that obtaining those ashes would truly be a most fortunate turn of events.
Our intention here is not to discredit anyone or cast aspersions on the motivations of any of these groups or individuals. However, there are a number of points which must be remembered. Firstly, it is inconceivable that incorrect or inaccurate information should be passed off as truth. Whatever their true intentions may be, the statement quoted above is a gross distortion of the issue, and has no basis in the reality of Toeah law or Jewish practice. All of the information in this statement is false. More importantly, how does one who is not an authority on Jewish law come to an "obvious conclusion" that a red heifer cannot be made without the earlier ashes - unless he is driven by another motivation?
It is also important to state that even if one concedes to the historical significance and value of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and accords them the honor due all ancient documents, the fact remains that the Copper Scroll is literally a closed book. Its passages can be deciphered in any one of several contradictory directions; its authorship is unclear; it lacks the conviction of an authoritative source.
These are some of the questions which should be asked:
Is it correct to assume that a red heifer cannot be prepared without the original ashes?
Is it correct to assume that the Copper Scroll provides the location of the ashes?
Is it correct to assume that the exact location described in that scroll has been identified?
Assuming that some substance was found, and assuming that it could even be proven scientifically to be organic and possibly from an animal - how could it be proven that these are the original ashes, from the time of Moshe?
How could it be proven that they were not rendered impure?
If a portion of those ashes were indeed set aside for the future sanctification of Israel, then perhaps they shall be found. Or, perhaps they will only be revealed through Divine intervention; perhaps when the Messiah arrives he will identify their location. It would certainly be desirable for all of Israel if the original ashes could be located and proven to be authentic beyond any doubt.
But in the meantime, let the truth be known: there is nothing to stop the people of Israel from raising a new red heifer, from birth, and preparing it in the manner we have described in these pages, and raising children in purity to carry out the procedure - even without the original ashes. On the contrary: we may be in doubt as to the true nature of any discovery that is unearthed whose authenticity cannot be completely verified. But a perfect heifer, born and raised under a controlled environment, would be fit to be used for the Temple. And that is precisely what is being done today.