- Question: [Monday, 8th Tamuz 5783]
I heard mentioned in a Shiur on this week’s Parsha that the ash of the red heifer was placed on top of the water that was in the bucket. I was puzzled by this and showed the Rabbi that the verse explicitly states that the water was placed on top of the ash. He was not sure of what to answer me but he said he’s pretty sure that that is the final ruling. Can you please clarify the subject?
The Halacha is that the water is to be first placed into the bucket and only then the ash placed on top of the water, otherwise it is invalid.
Although the verse in Scripture explicitly implies that the water was poured on top of the ash, practically, in the oral tradition we learned that this is not to be taken literally and that in truth the water is to be first placed into the bucket and only then the ash placed on top of the water. The reinterpretation of the verse according to the oral tradition is that it is coming to say that after the ash is placed on the water, then one is to mix it into the water, hence considering it as if the water was placed on top of the ash. In the Mishneh, we find a debate amongst the Tanaim as to the validity of the ashes and water if this order of the oral tradition was not followed and one placed the ash into the bucket and then placed the water inside as implied by Scripture. The sages of the opinion that the mixture is invalid for use even Bedieved [although there was discussion in the Achronim as to whether this refers to the water or the ashes or both], while Rashbi is of the opinion that it is valid Bedieved, and practically we rule like the sages that it is invalid.
Sources: See Bamidbar 19:17; Sotah 16b and Mishneh Temura 12b [for dispute of Chachamim and Rebbe Shimon]; Rashi and Tosafus Sota ibid [that initially must first place water even according to Rebbe Shimon]; Rashi Yuma 43a [like scripture]; Rambam Hilchos Para Aduma 9:1 [rules like Chachamim]; Meiri Sotah ibid Igeres Hakodesh of Admur p. 148 [who writes like scripture to first place the ash]; Toras Menachem 5748 Vol. 4:194 [for explanation according to Penimiyus Hatorah for why the water must be placed first]; Encyclopedia Talmudit Erech Meiy Chatas, published in Volume 45 pp. 679-680