Today we begin Numbers Chapter Nineteen.
For the Complete Jewish Bible, click here.
For the King James version, click here.
I can imagine that when Numbers Chapter 19 is first read, it causes a helluva a lot of eye-rolling.
We’re presented with a list of rituals that smack of sorcery and seem so downright primitive.
For most folks, their first reaction is that rituals like this must have originated with some ancient tribe located in a remote jungle separated far from civilization.
The truth is we modern folks don’t really like ritual.
In our day of science and logic, we mock the superstitious and don’t see any value in such practices.
However, the reason HASHEM gave us these rituals is because they are a visible picture reflecting how the unseen or hidden world operates.
And you know what?
Long before there ever was a Christian church, the Rabbis themselves when questioned, had difficulty coming up with satisfactory answers as to why God commanded certain rituals to be performed and what was really taking place during such practices.
The ancient Hebrews struggled with many of the same questions we struggle with such as…
Did the sacrificial animals used in the ritual suddenly take on supernatural qualities?
If done in the right way and order, did these sacred procedures really ward off demons?
How are we to really know our souls have been cleansed after performing such rituals?
The number of questions that must have arisen after the Lord commanded these rituals must have been countless.
In fact, there is an interesting 2-way dialogue between a gentile and a famous Rabbi highlighting this very matter that can be found in the Talmud as follows:
GENTILE: The things you Jews do appear to be a kind of sorcery. A cow is brought, it is burned, it is pounded into ash, and its ash is gathered up. Then, when one of you gets defiled by contact with a corpse, two or three drops of the ash mixed with water are sprinkled upon him, and he is told, ‘You are cleansed.’
RABBI: Has the spirit of madness ever possessed you?
RABBI: Have you ever seen a man whom the spirit of madness possessed?
RABBI: And what do you do for such a man?
GENTILE: Roots are brought, the smoke of their burning is made to rise about him, and the water is sprinkled upon him until the spirit of madness flees.
RABBI: Do not your ears hear what your mouth is saying? It is the same with a man who is defiled by contact with a corpse; he, too, is possessed by a spirit, the spirit of uncleanness, and Scripture says, ‘I will make false prophets as well as the unclean spirit vanish from the land.’
(The gentile leaves)
RABBI’S DISCIPLES: Our master, you put off that gentile with a mere reed of an answer, but what answer will you give to us?
RABBI: By your lives, I swear…..the corpse does NOT have the power by itself to defile, nor does the mixture of ash and water have the power by itself to cleanse. The truth is that the purifying power of the red cow is a decree from the Holy One. The Holy One said: ‘I have set it down as a statute, I have issued it a decree. You are not permitted to transgress My decree. This is the ritual law.
I can glean two important points from this dialogue.
First, the Rabbi points out that the gentile and his community themselves also have their own customs and superstitions that appear weird as hell to outsiders.
Heck, go to a Catholic Church and you’ll see exactly what I mean with all of their statue idols and their teaching that the communion wine literally turns into the blood of Christ.
Second, the Rabbi is basically admitting he has no idea how the rituals work.
He also admits that from an outside perspective, all of these rituals probably seem like a bunch of primitive and superstitious nonsense.
Does the red cow have magical power in and of itself?
Or in what way does a dead body cause defilement?
The Rabbi admits he doesn’t have the answers to these questions but and this is big “but“, in the end, he says, we do these procedures because HASHEM commanded us to do them.
End of story.