Cleaning Out the House

Negaim (12:5) | Yisrael Bankier | 6 years ago

This week we began learning about the final category of negaimtzaraat affecting houses. The Mishnah (12:5) describes how the kohen would inspect the house. The Mishnah does so by commenting on the instructions laid out in the Torah (Vayikra 14:35-36). After the kohen was approached by the homeowner (see Volume 6 Issue 35), the kohen would instruct him to clear out the house. The pasuk explains that this was so that contents of the house would not become tameh, if the ultimately kohen declared that the house was tameh. R’ Yehuda comments that he would even remove bundle of wood and straw despite the fact that these things are not susceptible to tumah. R’ Shimon interjects, “he is to be engaged in clearing out [the house]”. R’ Meir finally questions what is becoming tameh. In the process he notes that most of the possessions can be purified. He concludes that the Torah appears to be concerned about the cheap earthenware utensils that cannot be purified. That being the case, by way of inference from minor to major (kal ve’chomer) he stresses Hashem’s concern from all property, to his concern for even the wicked people and ultimately to the righteous. How do we understand this debate above?

The Eliyahu Raba explains that R’ Yehuda requires the straw and sticks to be removed since even though they ordinarily are not susceptible to tumah, when it comes to tumat negaim, they can become tameh. This should not be surprising because houses themselves are not susceptible to tumah, yet in the context of negaim they become tameh. R’ Shimon however agrees that they need to be removed, not because they become tameh, but simply because the Torah commanded that everything be removed. Finally, R’ Meir argues that that those items that are not susceptible to tumah need not be removed. Even items that are, but can be purified, may remain in the house. The Torah was only concerned with those cheap earthenware keilim that cannot be purified.

The Rash and Rosh however understand that R’ Shimon is not presenting and independent opinion. His statement in the Mishnah is to be understood as a question. In other words, “Does the Torah really require the homeowner to occupy himself with vacating his house for no purpose?” Ultimately R’ Shimon therefore agrees with R’ Meir.

The Imrei Yehuda asks that according to R’ Meir, since the potential damage is irreparable it appears the Torah is simply providing good advice. Why then is it necessary for the Kohen to “command” the person to clear out his house?

Recall that we have learnt the even if the homeowner is very learned and knows with certainty that the house has a nega, when approaching the Kohen he is not be allowed to use definite wording. Instead he must say “I have seen something like a nega on my house.” We have discussed previously (Volume 6 Issue 35) the various reasons why this is necessary. The Imrei Yehuda explains that if the homeowner would begin clearing out his home prior to being told to do so, it would demonstrate the he knows there is a nega in the house. Doing so would therefore be tantamount to telling the Kohen that there is a nega in his house. Consequently, the Torah is really teaching not the the Kohen must command the homeowner to clear out his house, but rather the homeowner must not do so himself prior to the Kohen instructing him to do so.

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