For some people, the fact that certain rituals appear to overlap can be a reason for skepticism, but it need not be. This ancient question was actually captured by the sages in a fascinating Midrash:
“An idolater asked Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai: ‘These rites that you perform look like a kind of witchcraft. You bring a heifer, burn it, pound it, and take its ashes. If one of you is defiled by a dead body you sprinkle upon him two or three drops and you say to him: You are clean!’ Rabbi Yochanan asked him: ‘...Have you ever seen a man possessed by this demon of madness?...And what do you do in such a case?’ ‘We bring roots and make them smoke under him, then we sprinkle water upon the demon and it flees.’ Said Rabbi Yochanan: ‘Let your ears hear what you utter with your mouth! Precisely so is this spirit a spirit of uncleanness...Water of purification is sprinkled upon the unclean and the spirit flees.’
When the idolater had gone, Rabbi Yochanan's disciples said to their master: ‘Master! You put off this man with a mere makeshift, but what explanation will you give to us?’ Said he to them: ‘By your life! It is not the dead that defiles, nor the water that purifies! The Holy One, blessed be He, merely says: I have laid down a statute, I have issued a decree. You are not allowed to transgress My decree; as it is written (Numbers 19:2), This is the statute of the law’” (Numbers Rabbah 18:20).
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