"This is the statute of the law that the Lord has commanded: Tell the people of Israel to bring you a red heifer without defect, in which there is no blemish, and on which a yoke has never come."
Numbers 19:2 (The Israel Bible™)
"I've grown up with the stories, so I know how rare and valuable the red heifer is," Rabbi Benny "Bentsion" Hershcovich told Breaking Israel News. "I've never seen a red heifer, and I never expected to see one. My heart literally jumped when I saw it."
Where did he see it?
Hershcovich is a rabbi in Baja, Mexico.
He says he went to a remote area of the coastal peninsula to buy milk on a dairy farm, but was shocked to see a perfect specimen and vital element of purification of the Third Temple right in front of his eyes – a red heifer calmly chewing its cud under the Baja sun.
The red heifer, one of the most mystifying Torah commandments, is a necessary element for purifying Jews to enable them to do the service in the Temple.
Numbers 19:9 states: "And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up without the camp in a clean place, and it shall be kept for the congregation of B'nei Yisrael for a water of sprinkling; it is a purification from sin."
Over the course of the approximately 1,000 years the First and Second Temple stood, only nine red heifers were used in preparing the waters used to purify Jews. According to Jewish tradition, the 10th one will be used by the Messiah.
Though familiar with the concept of the red heifer – or para adumah in Hebrew – Hershcovich felt unqualified to determine for certain whether this particular cow fulfilled the Torah requirements. The laws pertaining to the red heifer are complex and a tiny blemish or a hair of the wrong color can render the cow unfit.
"Regardless of its status, just seeing something that was an integral part of the Temple and Jewish history was really magnificent," the rabbi said. "I was mesmerized by this simple cow."
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A very few candidates for the red heifer have been found. Most have been disqualified due to blemishes or pregnancies. In an effort to reinstate the mitzvah (Torah commandment) of purifying with the red heifer's ashes, the Temple Institute in Jerusalem last year imported embryos of red Angus, a distinctly red breed of cow, and implanted them in Israeli cows at a farm in the Negev.
"It's part of who we are and represents an important part of our future," explained Hershcovich. "Seeing it shows that our hope can be realized. We always wonder if something we read in the news is the thing that will bring Moshiach. Seeing this red heifer in front of my eyes shows that it can indeed happen at any moment, in any location."