The Tenth Red Heifer
From Moshe to the Second Temple: Only Nine Red Heifers
The Mishna teaches that up until the destruction of the Second Temple, ashes had been prepared from a total of only nine red heifers. The very first red heifer was processed by Moshe himself - as the verse states, "... have them bring you a red heifer." The second was done by the prophet Ezra in the days of the First Temple, and during the entire era of the Second Temple only seven more heifers were used for ashes. This was enough to provide for the nation's needs for purification throughout all those years.
The names of all the High Priests who prepared those seven heifers during Second Temple times are recorded by the Mishna: Shimon the Just and Yochanan each made two; El'yhoeini ben Hakof, Chanamel HaMitzri and Yishmael ben Pi'avi processed one heifer each. Thus, from the time that Moshe received the commandment of the red heifer from the Holy One, blessed be He, until the destruction of the Second Temple, purifying ashes had been produced by the hands of these great leaders from a total of nine red heifers.
The Tenth Red Heifer Will be Prepared by the Messiah
In recounting this historical record in his commentary to the Mishna, the great Maimonides ends with the enigmatic statement: "... and the tenth red heifer will be accomplished by the king, the Messiah; may he be revealed speedily, Amen, May it be G-d's will."
With this amazing statement, Maimonides recounts an ancient tradition - that the tenth red heifer is associated with the Messianic era. Does this perhaps mean that the appearance of a red heifer in these waning end times is an indication, a forerunner of the appearance of the Messiah himself, who will officiate at its preparation?
If there has been no red heifer for the past 2,000 years, perhaps it is because the time was not right; Israel was far from being ready. But now... what could it mean for the times we live in, to have the means for purification so close at hand? With the words of Maimonides in mind, we cannot help but wonder and pray: If there are now red heifers... is ours the era that will need them?
On this note, it is fitting that we pay particular attention to a Midrashic teaching: