Allah said, `O Children of Israel! Remember how I blessed you with miracle of the cow that was the means for discovering the identity of the murderer, when the murdered man was brought back to life.'
Ibn Abi Hatim recorded `Ubaydah As-Salmani saying, "There was a man from among the Children of Israel who was impotent. He had substantial wealth, and only a nephew who would inherit from him. So his nephew killed him and moved his body at night, placing it at the doorstep of a certain man. The next morning, the nephew cried out for revenge, and the people took up their weapons and almost fought each other. The wise men among them said, `Why would you kill each other, while the Messenger of Allah is still among you' So they went to Musa and mentioned the matter to him and Musa said,
("Verily, Allah commands you that you slaughter a cow.'' They said, "Do you make fun of us'' He said, "I take Allah's refuge from being among Al-Jahilin (the ignorant or the foolish)).'' "Had they not disputed, it would have been sufficient for them to slaughter any cow. However, they disputed, and the matter was made more difficult for them, until they ended up looking for the specific cow that they were later ordered to slaughter. They found the designated cow with a man, only who owned that cow. He said, `By Allah! I will only sell it for its skin's fill of gold.' So they paid the cow's fill of its skin in gold, slaughtered it and touched the dead man with a part of it. He stood up, and they asked him, `Who killed you' He said, `That man,' and pointed to his nephew. He died again, and his nephew was not allowed to inherit him. Thereafter, whoever committed murder for the purpose of gaining inheritance was not allowed to inherit.'' Ibn Jarir reported something similar to that. Allah knows best.
(68. They said, "Call upon your Lord for us that He may make plain to us what it is!'' He said, "He says, `Verily, it is a cow neither too old nor too young, but (it is) between the two conditions', so do what you are commanded.'') (69. They said, "Call upon your Lord for us to make plain to us its colour.'' He said, "He says, `It is a yellow cow, bright in its colour, pleasing the beholders.' '') (70. They said, "Call upon your Lord for us to make plain to us what it is. Verily, to us all cows are alike. And surely, if Allah wills, we will be guided.'') (71. He (Musa) said, "He says, `It is a cow neither trained to till the soil nor water the fields, sound, having no blemish in it.' '' They said, "Now you have brought the truth.'' So they slaughtered it though they were near to not doing it.)
Allah mentioned the stubbornness of the Children of Israel and the many unnecessary questions they asked their Messengers. This is why when they were stubborn, Allah made the decisions difficult for them. Had they slaughtered a cow, any cow, it would have been sufficient for them, as Ibn `Abbas and `Ubaydah have said. Instead, they made the matter difficult, and this is why Allah made it even more difficult for them. They said,
(Call upon your Lord for us that He may make plain to us what it is!), meaning, "What is this cow and what is its description'' Musa said,
(He says, `Verily, it is a cow neither too old nor too young'), meaning, that it is neither old nor below the age of breeding. This is the opinion of Abu Al-`Aliyah, As-Suddi, Mujahid, `Ikrimah, `Atiyah Al-`Awfi, `Ata', Al-Khurasani, Wahb bin Munabbih, Ad-Dahhak, Al-Hasan, Qatadah and Ibn `Abbas. Ad-Dahhak reported that Ibn `Abbas said that,
(But (it is) between the two conditions) means, "Neither old nor young. Rather, she was at the age when the cow is strongest and fittest.'' In his Tafsir Al-`Awfi reported from Ibn `Abbas that,
(bright in its colour) "A deep yellowish white.''
(pleasing the beholder) meaning, that it pleases those who see it. This is also the opinion of Abu Al-`Aliyah, Qatadah and Ar-Rabi` bin Anas. Furthermore, Wahb bin Munabbih said, "If you look at the cow's skin, you will think that the sun's rays radiate through its skin.'' The modern version of the Tawrah mentions that the cow in the Ayah was red, but this is an error. Or, it might be that the cow was so yellow that it appeared blackish or reddish in color. Allah's knows best.
(Verily, to us all cows are alike) this means, that since cows are plentiful, then describe this cow for us further,
(And surely, if Allah wills) and if you further describe it to us,
(we will be guided.)
(He says, `It is a cow neither trained to till the soil nor water the fields') meaning, it is not used in farming, or for watering purposes. Rather, it is honorable and fair looking. `Abdur-Razzaq said that Ma`mar said that Qatadah said that,
(sound) means, "The cow does not suffer from any defects.'' This is also the opinion of Abu Al-`Aliyah and Ar-Rabi`. Mujahid also said that the Ayah means the cow is free from defects. Further, `Ata' Al-Khurasani said that the Ayah means that its legs and body are free of physical defects.
Also, Ad-Dahhak said that Ibn `Abbas said that the Ayah,
(So they slaughtered it though they were near to not doing it) means, "They did not want to slaughter it.''
This means that even after all the questions and answers about the cow's description, the Jews were still reluctant to slaughter the cow. This part of the Qur'an criticized the Jews for their behavior, because their only goal was to be stubborn, and this is why they nearly did not slaughter the cow. Also, `Ubaydah, Mujahid, Wahb bin Munabbih, Abu Al-`Aliyah and `Abdur-Rahman bin Zayd bin Aslam said, "The Jews bought the cow with a large amount of money.'' There is a difference of opinion over this.
(72. And (remember) when you killed a man and disagreed among yourselves as to the crime. But Allah brought forth that which you were Taktumun.) (73. So We said: "Strike him (the dead man) with a piece of it (the cow).'' Thus Allah brings the dead to life and shows you His Ayat (proofs, evidences, etc.) so that you may understand.)
Al-Bukhari said that,
(And disagreed among yourselves as to the crime) means, "Disputed.''
This is also the Tafsir of Mujahid. `Ata' Al-Khurasani and Ad-Dahhak said, "Disputed about this matter.'' Also, Ibn Jurayj said that,
(And (remember) when you killed a man and disagreed among yourselves as to the crime) means, some of them said, "You killed him,'' while the others said, "No you killed him.'' This is also the Tafsir of `Abdur-Rahman bin Zayd bin Aslam. Mujahid said that,
(But Allah brought forth that which you were Taktumun) means, "what you were hiding.''
(So We said: "Strike him (the dead man) with a piece of it (the cow)'') meaning, "any part of the cow will produce the miracle (if they struck the dead man with it).'' We were not told which part of the cow they used, as this matter does not benefit us either in matters of life or religion. Otherwise, Allah would have made it clear for us. Instead, Allah made this matter vague, so this is why we should leave it vague. Allah's statement,
(Thus Allah brings the dead to life) means, "They struck him with it, and he came back to life.'' This Ayah demonstrates Allah's ability in bringing the dead back to life. Allah made this incident proof against the Jews that the Resurrection shall occur, and ended their disputing and stubbornness over the dead person.
Allah mentioned His bringing the dead back to life in five instances in Surat Al-Baqarah. First Allah said,
(Then We raised you up after your death). He then mentioned the story about the cow. Allah also mentioned the story of those who escaped death in their land, while they were numbering in the thousands. He also mentioned the story of the Prophet who passed by a village that was destroyed, the story of Abraham and the four birds, and the land that comes back to life after it has died. All these incidents and stories alert us to the fact that bodies shall again become whole, after they were rotten. The proof of Resurrection is also reiterated in Allah's statement,
(And a sign for them is the dead land. We give it life, and We bring forth from it grains, so that they eat thereof. And We have made therein gardens of date palms and grapes, and We have caused springs of water to gush forth therein. So that they may eat of the fruit thereof ـ and their hands made it not. Will they not then give thanks) (36:33-35).
(74. Then after that your hearts were hardened and became as stones or even worse in hardness. And indeed, there are stones out of which rivers gush forth, and indeed, there are of them (stones) which split asunder so that water flows from them, and indeed, there are of them (stones) which fall down for fear of Allah. And Allah is not unaware of what you do.)
Allah criticized the Children of Israel because they witnessed the tremendous signs and the Ayat of Allah, including bringing the dead back to life, yet,
(Then after that your hearts were hardened).
So their hearts were like stones that never become soft. This is why Allah forbade the believers from imitating the Jews when He said,
(Has not the time come for the hearts of those who believe (in the Oneness of Allah ـ Islamic Monotheism) to be affected by Allah's Reminder (this Qur'an), and that which has been revealed of the truth, lest they become as those who received the Scripture (the Tawrah) and the Injil (Gospel)) before (i.e. Jews and Christians), and the term was prolonged for them and so their hearts were hardened And many of them were Fasiqun (the rebellious, the disobedient to Allah)) (57:16). In his Tafsir, Al-`Awfi said that Ibn `Abbas said, "When the dead man was struck with a part of the cow, he stood up and became more alive than he ever was. He was asked, `Who killed you' He said, `My nephews killed me.' He then died again. His nephews said, after Allah took his life away, `By Allah! We did not kill him' and denied the truth while they knew it. Allah said,
(And became as stones or even worse in hardness). ''
And by the passage of time, the hearts of the Children of Israel were unlikely to accept any admonishment, even after the miracles and signs they witnessed. Their hearts became harder than stones, with no hope of ever softening. Sometimes, springs and rivers burst out of stones, some stones split and water comes out of them, even if there are no springs or rivers around them, sometimes stones fall down from mountaintops out of their fear of Allah. Muhammad bin Ishaq narrated that Ibn `Abbas said that,
(And indeed, there are stones out of which rivers gush forth, and indeed, there are of them (stones) which split asunder so that water flows from them, and indeed, there are of them (stones) which fall down for fear of Allah), means, "Some stones are softer than your hearts, they acknowledge the truth that you are being called to,
(And Allah is not unaware of what you do).''
Some claimed that the Ayat mentioned the stones being humble as a metaphor. However, Ar-Razi, Al-Qurtubi and other Imams said that there is no need for this explanation, because Allah creates this characteristic - humbleness - in stones. For instance, Allah said,
(Truly, We did offer Al-Amanah (the trust) to the heavens and the earth, and the mountains, but they declined to bear it and were afraid of it (i.e. afraid of Allah's torment)) (33:72),
(The seven heavens and the earth and all that is therein, glorify Him) (17:44),
(And the stars and the trees both prostrate themselves (to Allah)) (55:6),
(Have they not observed things that Allah has created: (how) their shadows incline) (16:48),
(They both said: "We come willingly.'') (41:11),
(Had We sent down this Qur'an on a mountain) (59:21), and,
(And they will say to their skins, "Why do you testify against us'' They will say: "Allah has caused us to speak.'') (41:21).
It is recorded in the Sahih that the Prophet said,
(This (Mount Uhud) is a mount that loves us and that we love.)
Similarly, the compassion of the stump of the palm tree for the Prophet as confirmed in authentic narrations. In Sahih Muslim it is recorded that the Prophet said,
(I know a stone in Makkah that used to greet me with the Salam before I was sent. I recognize this stone now.)
He said about the Black Stone that,
(On the Day of Resurrection it will testify for those who kiss it.)
There are several other texts with this meaning. The scholars of the Arabic language disagreed over the meaning of Allah's statement,
(And became as stones or even worse in hardness) after agreeing that `or' here is not being used to reflect doubt. Some scholars said that `or' here means, `and'. So the meaning becomes, "As hard as stones, and harder.'' For instance, Allah said,
(And obey not a sinner or a disbeliever among them) (76:24), and,
(To cut off all excuses or to warn) (77:6).
Some other scholars said that `or' here means, `rather'. Hence, the meaning becomes, `As hard as stones. Rather, harder.' For instance, Allah said,
(A section of them fear men as they fear Allah or even more) (4:77),
(And We sent him to a hundred thousand (people) or even more) (37:147), and,
(And was at a distance of two bows' length or (even) nearer) (53:9).
Some other scholars said that this Ayah means their hearts are only of two types, as hard as stone or harder than stone. Further, Ibn Jarir commented that this Tafsir means that some of their hearts are as hard as stone and some hearts are harder than stone. Ibn Jarir said that he favored this last Tafsir, although the others are plausible. I - Ibn Kathir - say that the last Tafsir is similar to Allah's statement,
(Their likeness is as the likeness of one who kindled a fire) (2:17), and then His statement,
(Or like a rainstorm from the sky) (2:19).
It is also similar to Allah's statement,
(As for those who disbelieved, their deeds are like a mirage in a desert) (24:39), and then His statement,
(Or (the state of a disbeliever) is like the darkness in a vast deep sea) (24:40).
This then means that some of them are like the first example, and some others are like the second example. Allah knows best.
(75. Do you (faithful believers) covet that they will believe in your religion in spite of the fact that a party of them (Jewish rabbis) used to hear the Word of Allah (the Tawrah), then they used to change it knowingly after they understood it) (76. And when they (Jews) meet those who believe (Muslims), they say, "We believe,'' but when they meet one another in private, they say, "Shall you (Jews) tell them (Muslims) what Allah has revealed to you that they (Muslims) may argue with you (Jews) about it before your Lord'' Have you (Jews) then no understanding) (77. Know they (Jews) not that Allah knows what they conceal and what they reveal)