In the Name of HASHEM, G-d Eternal
In the Name of HASHEM, G-d Eternal

Revealing the Secret of the ‘Parah Adumah’ and the Mountain Over Our Heads

It is called the “Hoq” of the Torah—the ‘unexplainable’ decree that puzzled even Shelomo ha-melekh (King Solomon), the wisest of men: 


The only way to become purified from ‘`tum’ath meth’ (death defilement—coming in contact with a dead body or grave, or with someone who has), is by getting sprinkled with water mixed with the ashes of a ‘parah adumah’–a red cow–that never bore a yoke  (see Numbers 19:1-13).   While the sprinkled individual becomes ‘`tahor’ (ritually pure), the kohen-priest who actually did the sprinkling becomes ‘`tame’ (ritually unclean) in the process!  In fact, the kohen-priests involved in the preparation of the mixture become’`tame’ in the process, too—from the one who slaughtered and burned the cow, to the kohen-priest who merely carries the vessel of ash-water.  


Why did HaShem create this system of purification?  What is the meaning?  And if I’m correct as to the meaning, why has this only been revealed now? 


The unblemished cow that never bore a yoke is a representation of the “`eghel ha-zahav”, the Golden Calf the Bene Yisra’el made in the desert.  This time, it is not an `eghel (calf), but an older, full-grown parah (cow).  This represents the same treacherous, idolatrous impulses that existed in the nation at its youth, standing at Sinai, persisting in later generations, when the nation should have reached maturity.  And that is why, I believe, Shelomo ha-melekh was not granted this understanding, since he built temples to idolatry in Jerusalem to please his wives.


Moshe smashed and pulverized the idol, poured its dust into the nearby stream, and made the Israelites drink from the water–like the punishment of an adulteress (since the Jewish People had committed harlotry with a false god.  See Numbers 5:17-27).  When the kohen-priest, a descendent of Aharon (who actually made the Golden Calf in the first place) reduces the cow to ash and the mixes the ash in water, he imitates the bold actions of Moshe Rabbenu, memorializing them.  This is why the cow is adumah—earth-red: It reminds us of the waters mixed with earth from the altar, for the adulteress to drink.  


When he reduces the cow to ash, the descendant of Aharon symbolically reduces our own evil impulses to ash.  He then mixes the ash with water, and sprinkles it, purifying those who are impure.  The act that recalls the disgrace of Aharon, which brought death to so many Israelites at the time (Exodus 32:26-29), brings purity from death-defilement for all of Israel.  This is why the kohen-priest  who does the sprinkling, even one who merely carries the vessel of ash-water, becomes impure in the process: they are ‘carrying’ [bearing] the guilt of Aharon, their ancestor.  By taking responsibility for their ancestor’s sin, the priests become the vessel of purification for the entire people.  Notably, the Golden Calf episode was the tribe of Levi’s first act to purify the nation.  The fierce vengeance of G-d that the tribe of Levi enacted on the sinners—in which even they did not even spare their own family members—brought about their initiation as Israel’s new priesthood, to replace the firstborn. 


It is generally understood by the Sages that the `eghel ha-zahav was to be a replacement for Moshe, not for G-d.  The people did not realize that by giving up and turning their back on Moshe, they were doing the same to HaShem (Exodus 16:7-8).  Similarly, the nation in Samuel’s generation ‘merely’ wanted a king like the gentile nations: they didn’t understand how such a request was a rebellion against HaShem himself. 


Consider the parallel in our own times–the authority Israel lives under instead of the Divine system set in place by Moshe:  In a position not far off from that of the Rebbe of Satmar, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, the rabbi remembered as the founder of the national religious camp, warned in his writings:  If the nation’s government will not eventually be based on Torah, the very same men who conquered the Land from the Arabs will eventually return it to them.  (Orot?)


I believe that this simple insight into ‘parah adumah’ being revealed at this time is meaningful:  Jerusalem recently celebrated 40 years of “reunification” since the Six Day War.  Yet now, with the new aggressive American administration, Jerusalem’s future as a united city seems more uncertain than ever.   In the book of Judges, there is a recurring them of the land resting from war for 40 years.  How much longer will it be before we are held accountable, G-d forbid, for remaining complacent under a G-dless leadership–a modern Golden calf–instead of uniting under the Torah of Moshe?   In a way resembling the purification from actual `tum’ath meth, let our ‘priests’—our Torah community—lead the way in accepting responsibility for their role in the ‘Golden Calf’ they keep rebuilding, and be willing to reduce the old, corrupt ways, the ‘galuth’ (exile) mentality to ashes.  Eloquent words and easy to say.  But practically speaking, what does that mean?  For a start, it means returning to authentic Torah, and restoring the Sanhedrin.


There is a Torah for us all to accept as one, like never before.  It is the only path in Torah in which every holy `edah (ethnic community) and every valid Torah school of thought can find a firm foundation without sacrificing its integrity: the Mishneh Torah of RaMBaM.  It is the only Code of Law ever written to be a complete constitution for our People.  Moreover, it is the only such code written specifically to be the Guide to the restoration of the nation and its Divine laws in the latter days.  Unlike the `Arukh haShulHan (the only work comparable in scope and style), it is perfectly loyal to the full breadth of authoritative Talmudic literature, without the heavy influence of local custom.  Clearly a modern Sanhedrin, once restored according to halakhah, will adapt the Law according to the needs of the times, and in light of other opinions that exist.  However, as I personally witnessed during my own trying experience with the problem-plagued ‘nascent Sanhedrin’ project (which I left years ago), without a disciplined dedication to the Mishneh Torah as the base of halakhah, the Sages of Israel cannot possibly find the basic common ground required to fulfill the Sanhedrin’s essential role.  As I wrote in principle 13 of The 14 Principles of Our Torah Tradition:


The greatest challenge to be faced by a restored Sanhedrin in our day, is consensus: Effective judicial leadership of the nation requires general agreement among 71 Torah sages on literally hundreds of basic, critical legal issues from the outset, before they can even approach the enormous backlog of issues and challenges of the modern age. Over the centuries of exile, the range of rabbinical opinion has grown too broad, and the ideological rifts that divide the Torah world too deep for meaningful consensus to be reached over any practical span of time.

Besides being the common legal base of all rival sects and communities in the modern Torah world, Mishneh Torah is the most authoritative Code of Law written, covering whole areas of Law that become applicable for the nation under a Sanhedrin. Only by accepting Mishneh Torah as the initial baseline of the Halakhah, the general foundation and framework of Jewish Law, can the future Sanhedrin hope to fulfill an otherwise insurmountable task: unifying the Torah world and restoring Israel’s national observance of Torah after 1600 years of exile.

As the temperature rises for Jews around the world, it is clear that our time to get our house in order is limited.  We can once again perceive the mountain being held above our heads…


Few people understand what on earth that means, and how that legend preserves a vivid national memory of a historical event 3,320 years ago.  The following may reveal another forgotten secret:


We are all aware of the pre-school picture that children are given of Mount Sinai—a lowly hill full of flowers.  Midrash Rabbah teaches that this mountain was Chosen over the other much loftier peaks mentioned in the Torah (such as Har Nevo, for example) to be the site of the Giving of the Torah, because it was a humble and lowly mount.  The problem with this is that the generation of scholars who wrote the Midrash Rabbah, or at least the rabbis who had just preceded them, not only knew the exact location of Har Sinai, but knew fully well that it was the highest peak in the entire region.


Josephus, a learned kohen-priest who actually served in the Beith haMiqdash and was well-versed in the authentic traditions of his day, writes (The Antiquities of the Jews I,12:1[265]): “Now this [Sinai] is the highest of all the mountains thereabout…”  This also fits in well with Jebel El Lawz being Har Sinai, for which compelling evidence is brought in my name in Riddle of the Exodus (James D. Long, 2006)  How can both be true? 


We can easily invoke RaMBaM’s take on midrash, that one who believes every midrash literally is a fool.  We can also rationalize and say that it comes to teach us that Torah is only acquired through humility (hilkhoth Talmud Torah 3:8 [9]).  However, I believe the real answer is something truly awe-inspiring:


In his earth-shaking work, Worlds In Collision (1950, Buccaneer Books), the late Jewish scientist and Torah scholar Immanuel Velikovsky (despite a couple apostate opinions he expresses, which are unnecessary, and do not add to or diminish from the strength of his arguments) pieces together a likely scenario for the historical, global Sinai event.  Showing the harmony between dozens of traditional sources from every literate culture on earth—from Aztec traditions to the records of the Chinese—that all recall the same time in history, he proves something that would have been difficult for the great rational Sefaradi sages of the Middle Ages to take literally:  When the Yalquth Shim`oni teaches that when the Red Sea split, so did every water body on earth, and when our sages taught that every nation on earth heard the Ten Statements, they were passing down a memory that is shared by all mankind.   According to our tradition (Bereshith Rabbah), the Sinai event was no less than the end of the sixth world age, and the beginning of the seventh. 


The mal’akh, the agent, seems to have been a planet that swept dangerously close to the earth.  According to Midrash Shir haShirim (brought down by Rashi), the meaning of Exodus 10:10, is that Par’o was warning the Bene Yisra’el not to leave Egypt, because they would meet the bloody star Ra`.  In masekheth Shabboth 146a, we learn that “although the ancestors of the later converts [to Judaism] were not present at Mount Sinai, their star was there close by.”  (Worlds In Collision p.95)


By means of this agent, HaShem raised tides in which ocean water was held sky high in frozen animation, only to come crashing down, flooding the valleys and plains.  It is a vivid memory preserved in the traditions of the Finns, the Chinese, early Mexicans and the Native Americans of British Columbia. 


However, a body of such magnitude would not only raise water sky high, it would create earth wrenching, cataclysmic tides in the boiling mantle underneath the earth’s crust.  This is beautifully described in Hallel, Psalms 114:  “When Israel went out of Egypt… the sea saw and fled… the mountains skipped like rams and the hills like lambs… Tremble, you earth, at the Presence of HaShem.”  This topography-changing event would include instant mountaining. The manuscripts of Avila and Molina, who collected the traditions of the Indians of the New World, recall this vividly:  


…it is related that the sun did not appear for five days; a cosmic collision of stars preceded the cataclysm; people and animals tried to escape to mountain caves.  “Scarcely had they reached there when the sea, breaking out of bounds following a terrifying shock, began to rise on the Pacific coast.  But as the sea rose, filling the valleys and the plains around, the mountain of Ancasmarca rose, too, like a ship on the waves.  During the five days that this cataclysm lasted, the sun did not show its face and the earth remained in darkness.”  (Worlds In Collision, p.61)


This is really a drop in the bucket of all the sources he cites that legitimize minute details of the Oral Tradition on the written Torah.  It provides a way for the both the midrash and the geographical knowledge of the sages as recorded by Josephus, to both be true: 


At first, Har Sinai was a lower, humble peak, which is why, according to midrash, it was Chosen by HaShem.  We indeed get that sense that it was a low mount in the beginning of parashath Yithro, as Moshe agilely descends and ascends numerous times to relay HaShem’s communication to the people.  But, then at the height of the ‘theophany’ (Giving of the Torah), amidst the terrifying quaking, the mountain was lifted higher and higher.  From the perspective of those at its base, it felt as though the mountain were being held over their heads—threatening to bury them, should they not accept the Torah.  Verily, we suddenly have a different picture of Har Sinai when Moshe ascends for 40 days and nights:  He is now so far away, that Yehoshua` bin Nun, who spends the time partway up the mountain, is at once far away from his master (who remained in the cloud of HaShem’s Presence), yet still far enough away from the camp that he knows nothing about their lewd frivolity around the Golden Calf… clearly the topography had changed—Har Sinai had become a massive peak.


In conclusion, let us not be like generations of the past who all but a few were blind to HaShem’s rebuke, until they were at the brink of utter destruction.  We are so Blessed, and Loved with a compassion that is beyond human comprehension.  May we choose to receive authentic Torah personally and collectively, in awe and in love, and merit a speedy Redemption.



Michael Shelomo Bar-Ron, Beth Midrash Ohel Moshe

Adapted from the original article in the Ohel Moshe series, O’M 24, “Special Issue for Shavu`oth” 5767.   



One Response to “Revealing the Secret of the ‘Parah Adumah’ and the Mountain Over Our Heads”

  1. Andy Says:

    What a teaching! ““When Israel went out of Egypt… the sea saw and fled… the mountains skipped like rams and the hills like lambs… Tremble, you earth, at the Presence of HaShem.”

    Please correct me if my Hebrew is off:

    Mah El zeh!

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