December 09, 2002 Copyright © by United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
- The LORD said to Moses and Aaron:
- "This is the regulation which the law of the LORD prescribes. Tell the Israelites to procure for you a red heifer that is free from every blemish and defect and on which no yoke has ever been laid.
- 1 This is to be given to Eleazar the priest, to be led outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence.
- 2 Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the meeting tent.
- Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight, with its hide and flesh, its blood and offal;
- and the priest shall take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet yarn and throw them into the fire in which the heifer is being burned.
- The priest shall then wash his garments and bathe his body in water. He remains unclean until the evening, and only afterward may he return to the camp.
- Likewise, he who burned the heifer shall wash his garments, bathe his body in water, and be unclean until evening.
- Finally, a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them in a clean place outside the camp. There they are to be kept for preparing lustral water for the Israelite community. The heifer is a sin offering.
- He who has gathered up the ashes of the heifer shall also wash his garments and be unclean until evening. This is a perpetual ordinance, both for the Israelites and for the aliens residing among them.
- "Whoever touches the dead body of any human being shall be unclean for seven days;
- he shall purify himself with the water on the third and on the seventh day, and then he will be clean again. But if he fails to purify himself on the third and on the seventh day, he will not become clean.
- Everyone who fails to purify himself after touching the body of any deceased person, defiles the Dwelling of the LORD and shall be cut off from Israel. Since the lustral water has not been splashed over him, he remains unclean: his uncleanness still clings to him.
- "This is the law: When a man dies in a tent, everyone who enters the tent, as well as everyone already in it, shall be unclean for seven days;
- likewise, every vessel that is open, or with its lid unfastened, shall be unclean.
- Moreover, everyone who in the open country touches a dead person, whether he was slain by the sword or died naturally, or who touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean for seven days.
- 3 For anyone who is thus unclean, ashes from the sin offering shall be put in a vessel, and spring water shall be poured on them.
- Then a man who is clean shall take some hyssop, dip it in this water, and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the vessels and persons that were in it, or on him who touched a bone, a slain person or other dead body, or a grave.
- The clean man shall sprinkle the unclean on the third and on the seventh day; thus purified on the seventh day, he shall wash his garments and bathe his body in water, and in the evening he will be clean again.
- 4 Any unclean man who fails to have himself purified shall be cut off from the community, because he defiles the sanctuary of the LORD. As long as the lustral water has not been splashed over him, he remains unclean.
- This shall be a perpetual ordinance for you. "One who sprinkles the lustral water shall wash his garments, and anyone who comes in contact with this water shall be unclean until evening.
- Moreover, whatever the unclean person touches becomes unclean itself, and anyone who touches it becomes unclean until evening."
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1  Outside the camp: several Fathers of the Church saw in this a prefiguring of the sacrificial death of Christ outside the walls of Jerusalem; cf John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12; in the purifying water, into which the ashes of the red heifer were put, they saw a type of the water of Baptism.
2  Toward the front of the meeting tent: since the tabernacle faced the east (Exodus 26:15-30), the killing of the heifer took place east of the camp; in later times it was done on the Mount of Olives, east of the Temple.
3 [17-19] "If . . . the sprinkled ashes of a heifer sanctify the unclean unto the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ . . . cleanse your conscience from dead works?" (Hebrews 9:13-14).
4  Ritual uncleanness is, as it were, contagious, so also sacredness; see note on Numbers 17:3.
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