“They shall take for the defiled person some ashes from the burning of the [red cow] …. A pure person … shall sprinkle on the defiled person.” (Bamidbar 19:17-19)
Let us travel forward in time, to the (hopefully) near future…
“It’s almost Pesach,” Mr. Gross told his family. “We need to purify ourselves so that we can offer the korban Pesach and eat it in Yerushalayim!”
“How do we purify ourselves?” asked his son Levi.
“Everyone must go to the mikveh on the 13th or 14th of Nissan,” Mr. Gross answered. “Whoever came in contact with a corpse or was in a cemetery must also be sprinkled on twice beforehand with water that has ashes of the parah adumah, the red cow, mixed in.”
“Where do we do that?” asked Levi.
“Our neighbor, Mr. Cohen, has ashes,” said Mr. Gross. “He announced in shul last week that he received a shipment of parah adumah ashes from the Beis HaMidkash management and that people can come to him to be sprinkled on.”
“It’s good business for him,” commented Levi. “He must earn a pretty penny!
“I suppose so,” replied Mr. Gross. “First of all, the parah adumah is very expensive. In addition, Mr. Cohen has a monopoly here. He can charge whatever he wants, since without the parha adumah sprinkling, many people cannot participate in the korban Pesach.”
The following day, Mr. Gross met Mr. Cohen. “We were wondering how much the sprinkling costs,” he said.
“There is only a small fee for the shipping and handling of the ashes from Yerushalayim and for procuring stream water,” said Mr. Cohen. “The cost of the parah adumah is covered by the machatzis hashekel donations. I also received firm instructions not to charge for the service of sprinkling unless I need to take off time from work to do so.”
“Why is that?” asked Mr. Gross.
“I’m not sure,” said Mr. Cohen, “but Rabbi Dayan is standing over there, so let’s ask him.”
“The Mishnah (Bechoros 29a) teaches that the pure person may not charge for mixing the ashes in the water or sprinkling on the defiled person,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “If he does, the sages penalized him and disqualified his water and ashes, and the defiled person is not purified. However, the pure person can charge for drawing the water or bringing the ashes.”
“The Gemara learns this from the requirement to teach Torah without compensation,” continued Rabbi Dayan. “This is derived from Moshe, who taught Am Yisrael Torah without compensation, just as G-d taught him Torah without compensation. So, too, the mitzvah of sprinkling. Similarly, the Mishnah teaches that if a dayan or witness charges, his verdict or testimony is invalid. This is also because of the mitzvah to judge or testify, which requires doing so without payment. ” (C.M. 9:5, 34:18)
“Why is it permissible, though, to charge for the shipping?” asked Mr. Cohen.
“Filling the water and bringing the ashes are preparatory steps that are not part of the mitzvah,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Therefore, the pure person can charge wages for these efforts, like any other work.”
“Why is this different from other mitzvos, such as paying a sofer or shochet?” asked Mr. Gross.
“Rav S.R. Hirsch [Bamidbar 19:17] suggests that teaching, sprinkling, judging, and testifying are mitzvahs that can only be done for each person by another,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Therefore, the other person cannot charge for a mitzvah that is incumbent upon him, unlike writing tefillin or slaughtering that each person can do himself. Therefore, if someone asked another person to do it for him, instead, that person can ask for payment.”
“Nonetheless, the community is required to provide for the dayanim,” continued Rabbi Dayan. “Furthermore, the dayan or witness is permitted to charge compensation if he loses work time, and similarly the pure person who sprinkles.” (C.M. 9:3)
May we be zocheh…