In the beginning of the eighth perek we learn about negaim that spread and take over the entire body. The law differs whether the nega was originally tameh or tahor. According to the Bartenura, a tameh nega is one that has one of the characteristics that renders it muchlat, e.g. two white hairs. The Tosfot Yom Tov however adds that the Mishnah could even refer to a nega that was musgar – it was the required shade of white and larger than the minimum size but lacked one of the other marks.
The Mishnah teaches that if a tameh nega spread over the entire body, the person would be tahor. The Mishnah continues that if one of the roshei eivarim (e.g. finger tips) became exposed then the person is tameh. Even if the nega continues to recede the person would be tameh until it was smaller than a gris (the minimum size of a nega).
The Bartenura explains that when the nega begins to recede, the person is not yet tameh until the exposed area is the size of an adasha (lentil). He explains that this is based on the pasuk, “On the day healthy flesh appears, it shall be contaminated” (Vayikra 13:14). The Mishnah Achrona understands that the Bartenura is explaining according to the opinion of R’ Yossi. In other words, he understands that the pasuk teaches that once it begins to recede, the exposed skin is considered a michya (one of simanim). Even though ordinarily the roshei eivarim cannot be considered a michya this case is different. Regarding a regular michya the pasuk status, “and the kohen saw it” from which we learn that the kohen must be able to see the entire nega that contains the michya, which is not possible if the michya is on the roshei eivarim. In this case however the pasuk simply states, “healthy flesh appears” which no longer disqualifies roshei eivrim. Nevertheless the minimum size of an adasha is still required.
The Mishnah however continues that if it spread from a tahor nega, even if it covered the entire body, the person would be tameh. If it began to recede, the person would continue to be tameh until it returned to its original size. The Bartenura explains that this tahor nega could either be a nega that was musgar and did not change over the two week period or a nega that was muchlat and the siman (e.g. two white hairs) disappeared1.
One question worth asking is why in the case of a tameh nega that then covered one’s body and began to recede is the person tameh until it is smaller than a gris while with a tahor nega it is only until it returns to the original size?
The Eliyahu Raba explains that when it spreads from a tameh nega and covered the body, the person becomes tahor. From that point onwards, the sign of tumah is the exposed skin. Consequently the more that is exposed simply confirms that the nega is tameh. The nega must therefore reduce below the size of gris – it must legally no longer exist - for it to be tahor. When it spreads however from a nega tahor, spreading itself is the sign of tumah. Consequently, once it returns to its original size, even if that is larger than a gris, the nega is tahor.
1 See the Mishnah Achrona the comments that this point is also debate in the Rishonim.
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