Parashat Chukat opens with the very cryptic and inexplicable law of the Red Heifer. This completely unblemished red calf, with no more than two non-red hairs, and that had never been worked or been mounted, was used to purify men and women who had become spiritually defiled by coming in contact with a human corpse.

Maimonides (Laws of the Red Heifer, 3:4) writes that nine heifers have been processed, from the time of the initial command in our parashah, until the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. “Moses performed the ritual on the first one, and Ezra the Scribe burned and prepared the second one. An additional seven were used until the end of the Second Commonwealth. The tenth will be facilitated by King Messiah, may his identity be speedily revealed.” The sages in the Mishnah (Parah 3:5) claim that the seven latter heifers were prepared by the following: two by Shimon HaTzaddik; two by Yochanan the Kohen Gadol; one by Elihoenai the son of Ha-Kof; one by Chanamel the Egyptian; and the ninth by Yishmael son of Piebi.

Throughout history, Jews’ hope has been aroused when word of a newborn pure red heifer is heard. Perhaps, people reason, this is a harbinger of the Messianic age. Red heifers have come and gone, each one being invalidated in one way or the other.

However, enter the Temple Institute, located in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Rabbi Chaim Richmond, the Institute’s director, is trying to prepare, in advance, as much as possible for the building of the Third Temple and raising awareness. The Institute has begun crafting the Temple vessels, sewing clothes for the priests, and training modern day priests in the laws pertaining to ritual purity and the Temple. It should come as no surprise that a component of their lofty agenda is to identify the tenth Red Heifer.

As a consequence, the Institute is working with an unidentified cattle ranch in Israel’s Golan region to produce a kosher Red Heifer. The rancher primarily raises Simmental cattle, a popular breed in Israel, but a few years ago, the Temple Institute contacted him about raising red angus cattle as well. Red Angus are known to be obedient cattle, producing delicious meat. After researching the breed in the U.S., the rabbis at the Temple Institute believe it could be the source for the tenth Red Heifer. Since importing cattle into Israel is forbidden, the Institute succeeded in importing frozen red angus embryos into Israel, which have already been implanted into domestic species. All are hoping for a fully red female heifer to be born, and cared for, preparing it for its critical mission.

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