The Mishnah (5:3) records a debate whether sear pekuda qualifies as the two white hairs that would render a person a metzorah muchlat.^^Akavya ben Mahalal’el argues it does, while the Chachamim disagree. The definition of a sear pekuda is also the subject of debate.
The first explanation brought is that it refers to white hairs that developed in a baheret. The hair’s growth followed the baheret and was machlit the metzorah. The baheret then disappeared with the white hairs remaining. A baheret then developed in the place of the original one. The position the Chachamim is understood. The Bartenura explains that it is consistent with the requirement as detailed in the Torah - “ve’hi hafcha” – that for the white hairs to be a distinguishing mark, they must follow the appearance of the baheret in question. In other words, the baheret must have turned the hairs white. In this case however, since the original baheret had disappeared, it is as if a different baheret turned the hairs white and not the one in question.
The Melechet Shlomo understands that according to Akavya ben Mahalal’el, the only requirement is that the white hairs developed inside a nega and not specifically the one in questions. Since the hairs appeared inside a nega, the hairs qualify as simanim and the nega is tameh.
The Raavad however understands that R’ Akavya ben Mahalal’el agrees that we disregard the hairs if they developed inside another nega. Instead he explains that the reason why Akavya ben Mahalal’el renders the nega tameh is since the two hairs remained, it is an indication that the original nega never fully healed. Consequently, the beheret is not new and instead the original one. He therefore maintains that the nega appeared prior to the development of the two white hairs.
The Mishnah continues with the opinion of R’ Akiva who explains that in the above case he agrees with the Chachamim. However, if the original nega shrunk to below the minimum size leaving the hairs inside what remained of the nega and then spread once again, he argues that the nega would be tameh. The Chachamim however maintain that the ruling does not change.
The Tifferet Yisrael explains that according to the Chachamim, since the nega has reduced below the minimum size it is as if has disappeared. Consequently, it is no different to the first case and the hairs are considered as pre-existing and disregarded.
How do we understand the position of R’ Akiva? The Mishnah Achrona explains R’ Akiva based on the Raavad’s explanation above. It is true that R’ Akiva is unsatisfied with the two hairs as indicating that the original nega never really healed. However the original hairs in combination with some of the original nega(albeit too small) is a good indication.
The Rashash understands that the debate between R’ Akiva and the Chachamim here is part of their broader debate we have seen earlier (according to the understanding of the Eliyahu Raba). Recall that in the previous perek(4:8-10) there were a number of cases regarding a nega that moved or fluctuated in size and it was debated how to treat the resulting nega. At the core of the debate was how to treat the original nega if it reduced below the minimum size (but spread in another direction). Chachamim disregarded it, while the R’ Akiva considered it as when assessing the nega if it spread. Consequently, here too since the nega has not completely disappeared R’ Akiva still considers it.
The Rashash however adds that in this Mishnah, we learn that if the entire nega disappears leaving nothing, R’ Akiva agrees with the Chachamim that what appears after that is new (despite the remaining hairs). In the previous Mishnah(4:10) where R’ Akiva considered the spreading as an extension of the first even if the original nega disappeared, that was when it began to spread first, prior to the original nega receding.
1 The Shoshanim Le’David notes that the Mishnah repeats the fact that R’ Akavya ben Mahalal’el is metameh while the Chachamim are metahar. The restating of the positions appears unnecessary. Shoshanim Le’David explains that this is because there were of a number of positions that R’ Akavya ben Mahalal’el held in the minority. The Mishnah(Eduyot 5:6-7) explains that he was offered the position of av beit din if he would abandon his position and adopt instead the mainstream view. He declined stating, “better to be called a fool all my life than be called a rasha for one moment before Hashem – for they would say I retracted in order to take office”. The repetition in our Mishnah hints to his never retracting (5:7) by repeating his position.
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