SALT - Monday, 25 Adar Bet 5776 - April 4, 2016

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  • Rav David Silverberg

            Yesterday, we noted the debate between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yossi discussed by the Gemara in Masekhet Mo’ed Katan (7a-b) regarding the protocols relevant to inspecting a suspected tzara’at skin infection.  As Rava explains, Rabbi Yossi maintained that after a kohen inspects the discoloration, he must issue a ruling; he may not remain silent and delay his ruling.  Rabbi Meir, by contrast, allows a kohen to remain silent after inspecting the suspicious infection.  This debate affects the question of whether an inspection may be made on one of the regalim (Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot).  According to Rabbi Yossi, an inspection should not be made, because if the kohen determines that the individual is a metzora, he must issue this ruling immediately, and this would disrupt his Yom Tov celebration.  Rabbi Meir, however, rules that an inspection may be made, because if the discoloration indeed constitutes tzara’at, the kohen can simply remain silent, and the individual’s Yom Tov celebration will not be disrupted.

            As we saw, Rava explained that Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yossi argue about only one specific circumstance (when the individual’s second “hesger” period concludes during a festival).  These Tanna’im were not addressing the question of making an initial examination on Yom Tov.  That is to say, if a person first notices a suspicious discoloration during one of the regalim, according to all opinions – even according to Rabbi Meir – no inspection is made. 

            Rav Moshe Mordechai Karp, in his Va-yavinu Ba-mikra, advances a surprising theory to explain why Rabbi Meir agrees to Rabbi Yossi with respect to an initial inspection on the regalim.  In Parashat Metzora (14:36), in discussing the phenomenon of tzara’at ha-bayit (tzara’at on the walls of one’s home), the Torah writes that everything must be removed from the home before the kohen comes to inspect the discoloration.  The reason, as the verse proceeds to explain, is because all the utensils in the home become tamei once the kohen declares a “hesger” waiting period to determine if the discoloration will spread.  In order to prevent the loss that one would endure by all his utensils suddenly becoming impure, the Torah required removing the home’s contents before the kohen’s inspection.  Rashi writes that once the kohen sees the discoloration, “nizkak le-hesger” – he will be compelled to declare a “hesger” period.  Significantly, the Torah does not allow the kohen the option of simply remaining silent after inspecting the house and delaying his ruling until after the house of emptied of its contents.  Instead, the contents must be removed before the kohen’s inspection.  Rav Karp asserts that this applies both according to Rabbi Yossi and according to Rabbi Meir.  Although Rabbi Meir allows a kohen to avoid issuing a definitive ruling after inspecting a tzara’at infection, nevertheless, the infection is subject to “hesger” during the delay.  According to Rabbi Meir, if the kohen chooses not to issue a ruling, then the individual – or his home, in the case of tzara’at ha-bayit – by default enters into a state of “hesger.”  Therefore, a house with a suspected tzara’at infection must be emptied before the kohen’s inspection, because even if he remains silent after inspecting the walls, the house will fall into a state of “hesger” which results in the impurity of its utensils.

            If so, Rav Karp writes, then we can easily understand Rabbi Meir’s position regarding an initial inspection on Yom Tov.  Although Rabbi Meir allows a kohen the option of remaining silent, this option will result in a default condition of “hesger.”  Therefore, he allows inspecting a tzara’at infection at the end of the second “hesger” period, because if the kohen sees that the infection had spread, such that the individual must be declared an outright metzora, he can simply delay his ruling, and the individual will remain in his state of “hesger” until after the holiday.  The worst that can happen, then, is that the individual remains in the state in which he had begun the holiday.  In the case of an initial inspection, however, if the discoloration indeed constitutes tzara’at, the best the kohen can do is remain silent, in which case the individual will fall into a default state of “hesger.”  As we do not wish for this to occur during a festival, Rabbi Meir ruled that an initial inspection should not be made on the festivals.