Ashes from the Past

Parah (3:1) | Yisrael Bankier | 15 days ago

The Mishnah (3:1) teaches that seven days prior to the slaughter and burning of the para adumah, they would separate the kohen nominated with that task, to live in a special chamber in the Beit Hamikdah. According to the Chachamim and R' Chanina segan ha'kohanim, during the seven days, they would sprinkle the mei chatat (hazaya) prepared from the ashes from all the previous parot adumot. The Bartenura explains that some of the ashes from the previous parot were stored in the Beit Hamikdash reserved for this purpose. Exactly what occurred however is the subject of debate.

The Bartenura notes that the hazaya was not performed every one of the seven days. Firstly, hazaya is not permitted on Shabbat. Secondly, according to the Chachamim, the reason why hazaya is performed every day is because performing the hazaya at the first possible moment is a mitzvah. To explain, one only needs to perform hazaya on the third and seventh day from the day a person became tameh met. The reason hazaya is performed every day is because we are unsure whether the kohen became tameh met. It is therefore performed on the first, second and third day, since the kohen could have become tameh on one of the days prior to separation. The fifth, sixth and seventh days would be the second hazaya that pair with the hazayot performed on the first, second and third. We find therefore that there was no need to perform the hazaya on the fourth day.

The Bartunera also explains that on each of those days, the ashes from one of previous parot were used; a different one on each day.

The Tifferet Yisrael (Baoz 3:1) however notes that the Rash and Rosh understand that all the previous ashes were used every day. The Gevurat Ari (Yoma 4a) explains that the ashes were mixed together to prepare one collection of mei chatat. The Tifferet Yisrael maintains that this position makes more sense considering the later Mishnah (3:5) that debates how many parot were burnt in history. In that Mishnah, everyone agrees that there were at least seven. Considering that the hazaya was only performed on five or six days, then there were more parot than days. If only the ashes from one of the past cows were used each day, then not "all" the past ashes would have been used as the Mishnah suggests.

The Tifferet Yisrael adds a further question. He explains that the reason why the ashes from all the past parot were used was a stringency, out of concern that perhaps one or more of them was invalid. Recall that the mei chatat was sprinkled on the individual twice. If different ashes were used every day, then ashes from the same cow would not have been used twice. How then would the stringency help to ensure that the purification was valid?

Perhaps we can answer this question based on a different explanation of why the past ashes were used. The Tifferet Yisrael assumed that the reason all the past ashes were used was out of concern that perhaps one of them was invalid. The Ri Mi'Lunil however explains that the reason why all were used was a gesture of honour and respect to the kohanim in the past who had prepared the ashes. That being the case, it is not necessary, that any of the ashes be used on more than one day.

The Gra (Chidushei HaGra) also posed Tifferet Yisrael's question on the Bartenura's position. He adds that the Mishnah cites R' Yossi who argues that the hazaya was only performed on the third and seventh day. The timing is the only point that is debated. According to the Bartenura, it would seem that R' Yossi also argues about using all the past ashes. Nevertheless, the Mishnah does not suggest that that point is also the subject to debate.

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