A dead sheretz is a source (av) of tumah and can cause both people and utensils to become tameh. Recall that an earthenware utensil is unique in that it cannot attract tumah if the source of tumah makes contact with its outer side. With these two points in mind, it is not surprising when the Mishnah teaches that if an earthenware kalal (flagon) containing mei chatat comes into contact with a sheretz, the contents would remain tahor (10:3). However when the Chachamim rule that if the kalal is placed on top of the sheretz the contents are tameh, it is a cause for pause. A priori, one would feel more comfortable with the position of R’ Eliezer that in this case as well the contents are tahor.
The Mefarshim explain that the argument is based on the following pasuk: “And the tahor man shall gather the ash of the cow and place it outside the camp in a pure place…” (Bamidbar 19:9).72 Both R’ Eliezer and the Chachamim agree that there appears to be a requirement that the kalal be placed in a tahor location. However R’ Eliezer maintains in our case that since the contents would remain tahor, this satisfies the requirement. The Chachamim however argue that since the spot on which the kalal stands is tameh, it is does not satisfy the requirement of being in a “tahor place”.
An interesting corollary of this explanation is presented by the Rash who cites the Sifri. If the kalal was placed on the sheretz it is not considered a tahor place. If however the sheretz was placed on top of the kalal then the contents would remain tahor. The reason is that the spot on which the kalal is resting is tahor, thereby meeting the above stated requirements.
While pesukim have been brought in the above explanation, the Rosh explains that the rule is a rabbinic one. The pesukim are therefore not the source of the law but utilised as an association to the rabbinic decree. We therefore find another instance where mei chatat is treated stricter than anything else. Why?
The Mishnah Achrona asks this question in more detail. The Mishnah (10:1) had ruled that tahor items that were not kept tahor for the purpose of mei chatat would cause the person that is to engage in its preparation to be tameh. This is the case even if that item was kept tahor for the purpose of kodesh (korbanot, etc). Why should mei chatat be treated in a stricter manner than kodesh? Since the Torah refers to it as a “chatat” (sin offering) it can be granted as equal, but not harsher. True, there are halachot that apply to mei chatat that do not apply to kodesh (e.g. the psul of melacha). Nonetheless these cease after the mei chatat is prepared.
The Mishnah Achrona explains that the function of mei chatat is to purify people and items that are tameh. Consequently the purity of everything, including trumah and kodesh, depends on it. Consequently the severity and safeguards that are placed around mei chatat should really be no surprise.
72 The Kesef Mishnah (Para 14:1) cites the Sifri as the source
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