This week's Torah reading opens with the commandment of the red heifer. The ashes of the red heifer are used to purify a person from the impurity of death. "Death" is spiritually a falling from one state of divine consciousness to a lower one (or lack of one). Thus, the commandment of the red heifer contains within it the mystical explanation of evil and the purification from defilement of evil/death, i.e. loss of divine consciousness.

"This is the statute of the Torah, which G‑d spoke, saying, 'Speak to the children of Israel, that they take for you a pure, unblemished red heifer which has never worn a yoke and give it to Elazar the priest. He will take it outside the camp, and someone will slaughter it before him. Elazar the priest will take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it toward the opening of the tent of meeting seven times. Someone will burn the heifer in front of him; he will burn its hide, its flesh, its blood, and its innards'…." (Num. 19:1-5)

This excerpt from the teachings of the Arizal follows the previous installment, The 5 Strengths of the Red Cow.

Regarding the essence of the [rite of the] red heifer, King Solomon, of blessed memory, said, "I said, 'I will become wise,' but it was far from me" (Ecclesiastes 7:23), as our sages explained. (Bamidbar Rabba 19:3)

The heifer must be red, to signify the state of severe judgment….

King Solomon was the wisest of all men, but even he could not understand how, as happens in the rite of the red heifer, the individual administering the purification rite himself becomes defiled by doing so.

Know that [this is because] the basis of the [rite of the] red heifer is [that it expresses] how malchut receives from the back of the Holy Names, and not from their front.

Since the rite of the red heifer exemplifies a state of reality in which the Divine Name is not showing its "face", but rather its "back", we sense ourselves in this context as being removed, or "far" from G‑d's presence. This is why King Solomon described his inability to fathom the workings of the red heifer rite as feeling "far" from wisdom.

Therefore the heifer must be red, to signify the state of severe judgment [to which malchut is subject].

Red is the color of gevura, severity. Someone who has been defiled by means of contact with death is in a state of extreme, severely limited divine consciousness. The stark confrontation with the reality of death carries with it the seeds of abject depression born of a nihilistic, fatalistic, pagan, or absurd attitude toward life. The individual must therefore "purify" himself from this defilement.

Click here for continuation, Of Cows and Divine Names - Part 3.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim and Likutei Torah; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.