Tzaraat of Miraim

Negaim (3:1) | Yisrael Bankier | 8 years ago

If someone develops a white mark and suspects it might be tzaraat he must present himself to the kohen for assessment.1 Despite there being other people with significant knowledge of negaim, it is only a kohen that can declare whether the mark is indeed a tzaraat. If the kohen is not qualified, he can consult a non-kohen that has sufficient knowledge. Nevertheless the declaration with legal significance can only be made by the kohen (3:1).

Despite the ruling being in the hand of the kohen, he may not rule regarding his own negaim (3:1). R’ Meir adds that the kohen is also not be able to rule regarding the negaim of his relatives. The Bartenura explains that since the pasuk connects negaim to dinim (regular judgments) the kohen is limited in passing judgement much like a regular judge.

With the above in mind, a question is raised regarding this week’s parasha (Behaalotcha). Miriam makes a comment to Aharon about Moshe. Hashem rebukes them; she is struck with tzaraat (as a result of speaking lashon harah) and is sent out of the camp for seven days. Having been treated as such, presumably Miriam was a metzorah musgar. The Gemara (Zevachim 101b) cites a Beraita that asks, who declared that she was a metzorah musgar? Moshe was not a kohen and Aharon is disqualified since he was a relative.2 The Beraita concludes that at that moment Hashem showed her great respect and declared that since He is a kohen, He would render her musgar, muchlat and tahor.

Based on the above Gemara, the Michat Chinnuch (172:12) understands that when our Mishnah disqualifies a kohen with a respect to his relative’s nega, it is only regarding his declaration and not assessment. Were it the other way around, a non-kohen could have assessed Miraim’s nega and instructed Aharon what to declare. He continues that a kohen could even assess his own nega provided that the final declaration was made by another kohen.

The Tosfot (“ani”) cites the Sifri that says that Aharon had initially lamented the fact that he was unable to render her musgar, muchlat and tahor. They ask however, that if no one could render her a metzorah then she would have certainly remained tahor. What then was his concern?

The Moshav Zekeinim (Bamidbar 12:12) addresses this question. They note that one might suggest that in the absence of a kohen we treat the situation stringently and render her tameh; we are subsequently unable to render her tahor without a kohen. That however does not make sense with Aharon’s reaction in turning to Moshe to pray that she heal. If the ultimate tahara is also in the hands of the kohen then without him, the physical healing is irrelevant.

They suggest two answers, the first is that despite not being able render her a metzorah she still had all the physical characteristics. She will be distanced by those around her and be embarrassed in that state. With the standard methods of “recovery” for a metzorah unavailable, Aharon lamented her being in that state indefinitely.

The second answer suggests that when Aharon turned towards her he already called her tameh. According to this answer, it would appear that even though the kohen is not allowed to pass judgement on a metzorah, if he does so, it is effective. Aharon was therefore upset that she was tameh and he was unable to remove her from that state.4

1 This is aside for the two exceptions (3:2).

2 The Beraita presumably rules like R’ Meir.

3 See the Rosh (3:1)

4 One would need to explain that the praying to Hashem was to find another solution, which was ultimately provided by Hashem taking the role of the kohen.


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