According to the Torah, the red heifer can be used for ritual purification for an impurity (‘tumah’) contracted by touching, or being under the same roof as, a corpse. The laws of the red heifer are described at the very beginning of the Torah portion of “Chukat”:
“This is the statute of the Torah which the Lord commanded, saying: “Speak to the children of Israel and have them take for you a perfectly red unblemished cow, upon which no yoke was laid” (Chuckat, 19:2).
This cow would be slaughtered and burned on a pyre, along with a cedar branch, hyssop sprig and crimson wool. (The ceremony took place on the Mount of Olives, opposite the Temple Mount).
The ashes of the red heifer would then be mixed with the water drawn from the Shiloach spring. Those who needed purification would be sprinkled with this mixture on the third and seventh days after coming in contact with the dead. On the seventh day, they would immerse in a mikvah, and that night they would revert to their original status of “tahara” – purity.
The Rebbe reveals:
– The service of the Red Heifer involves two movements, ‘ratzo’ and ‘shov’. The burning of the heifer alludes to the service of ‘ratzo’ – the yearning of the Jewish soul to be united with G‑d. And the placement of water in a vessel refers to the service of ‘shov’, our efforts to draw G‑dliness into the world, and make the world a dwelling for Him.
‘Ratzo’ reflects the desire to rise above the limitations of our world. Thus, it relates to the level of ‘ten’ – the number which, according to the Kabbalah, reflects a level of perfection that transcends the natural limits.
In contrast, ‘shov’ involves service within the world. Thus, it corresponds to the number ‘seven’ which is associated with perfection within nature (the seven days of Creation).
The ultimate level of service reflects a fusion of both these movements: One’s yearning to transcend the limits of the body and the world must be combined with the consciousness of G‑d’s desire for a dwelling to be created for Him on this plane. Conversely, one’s service of drawing G‑dliness into this world must be carried out with an awareness that “By force, you live” (see “Pirkey Avot”), that the soul’s natural yearning is to rise above the body, and it is only for the sake of the fulfillment of G‑d’s will that one remains on this material plane…