In Temple times the concept of tumah [ritual defilement] and taharah [ritual purity] was a daily concern, affecting people, utensils, and food. It was given special attention at this time of year as people began preparing to ascend to the Temple for the Festival of Pesach and needed to be tahor in order to do so. Tumah comes in many forms and its severity depends upon the source of the contamination. The most severe form of tumah is that which derives from contact with, or being under the same roof as, a human corpse. According to Jewish law the only way to become purified from corpse tumah is to be sprinkled with spring water which has been mixed with the ashes of a parah adumah [red cow]. Check out a new podcast that analyzes a poetic description of the parah adumah procedure.
Rabbi Dovid Katz authors the podcast Jewish History with Rabbi Dr. Dovid Katz (and, among his many talents, was a high school teacher of mine). In one of his recent episodes he discusses the piyut [liturgical poem] written by Kaliri on the topic of the parah adumah procedure. Even those who do not recite piyutim will find Rabbi Katz's line-by-line translation and explanation of the prose fascinating and informative. For more information on how the procedure was carried out in the Temple, see these earlier posts.