In the beginning of the fifth perek we learnt that “all” cases of doubt involving negaim are treated as tahor. In the fourth Mishnah, the above rule is restricted to only when the kohen has not yet ruled that the person is a metzorah muchlat (“confirmed metzorah”). The following example is brought to illustrate:
...Two people that came to the kohen, one had a baheret the size of a gris and the other the size of a sela. At the end of the week [of quarantine], one had [a nega] the size of a sela and the other the size of a sela, and it is not know whose nega [was the one] that spread; whether [the above two negaim] were found on one person or two [different people], [the people in] both [cases] are tahor. R’ Akiva rules that if they were found on one person, he is tameh [muchlat]; if [the case involved] two people, they are tahor.
One must note that the case in the Mishnah involves both people being musgar. Initially, both were quarantined and both tameh. Even though one of the two is now a metzorah muchlat and the other a metzorah musgar, since the kohen is not sure who, both are tahor. According to the Chachamim, this is even if the doubt involves two negaim on one person, where clearly one baheret has spread on his skin. The Bartenura explains that the pasuk states, “And if [the baheret] spreads on him, and the kohen makes it (אותו) tameh” (Vayikra 13:22). From here, the Chachamim understand that the kohen must know with certainty which baheret spread, so that it can be deemed tahor.
The above explains why, in the case of the individual, he cannot be made a metzorah muchlat. Why however, does the individual not remain a metzorah musgar? One of the two negaim did not spread, so why does he not remain in quarantine? Where did the tumah go?
The Mishnah Achrona initially suggests that the entire purpose of hesger is in order to clarify whether the person will become muchlat. In a situation where the person cannot be made a muchlat, the hesger is automatically undone. In this case there is a doubt. According to the Rosh, even if in the case that involves two people, both negaim spread to more than a sela, the Chachamim would still rule that they are both be tahor. This is because the Chachamim require certainty with respect to the actual nega itself. Consequently since they can never be deemed as a muchlat, the hesger is annulled.
The Mishnah Achrona rejects this suggestion, as we find R’ Akiva’s problem of doubt in the Mishnah is not with the nega, but with the person. Recall, that he rules that a person is tameh muchlat if the doubt is regarding two negaim on one person. Nonetheless, regarding a case where the doubt is regarding two negaim on two people, even though if both spread he would rule that both are tameh muchlat, he rules that both are tahor. Consequently the explanation that the hesger disappears since neither can reach hechlet does not apply.
The Mishnah Achrona therefore provides another explanation. After the week of quarantine, since one of the subject’s nega has spread, the kohen needs to rule again for both. The rulings now are not a continuation of the previous ones; rather they are new and the first ones are complete. Since the kohen cannot rule on either, they both are tahor.
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Kuntrus on Masechet Kinim (Updated: 2014/5774)