This shiur is dedicated to the refua sheleima of our alumnus
Rabbi Daniel ben Miriam Chaya Rut Beller.
The Torah in Parashat Tazria outlines the procedure to be followed when a possible tzara’at infection appears on a person’s skin. We read that under certain circumstances, the kohen declares a “hesger” waiting period to determine whether the discoloration will spread. The Torah establishes that if the kohen sees after the “hesger” period that the discoloration has begun to fade, then “the kohen shall declare him pure…and he [the individual] shall clean his clothing and then become pure” (13:6).
The clear implication of this verse, as noted by Rashi, is that the “hesger” waiting period itself casts a status of impurity upon the individual. Although he does not require the lengthy and elaborate purification process required of a person declared as an outright metzora (a “muchlat”), nevertheless, a person who is consigned to a period of “hesger” is regarded as tamei, thus necessitating immersion and laundering his garments. Indeed, the Mishna and Gemara in Masekhet Megilla (8b) establish that a person in a state of “hesger” is subject to most of the laws that apply to a person declared an outright metzora.
The question arises as to the reason underlying this status of impurity assigned to a musgar (the term used in reference to a person in a state of “hesger”). If the kohen determines that the discoloration does not, in fact, qualify as a tzara’at infection, then why is the individual considered tamei?
Chizkuni (13:6), surprisingly, writes that indeed, the condition of “hesger” does not, in and of itself, render a person tamei. Rather, given his state of uncertainty, he is not as careful to avoid tum’a as people normally would be. Chizkuni writes that a person in a state of possible impurity is not likely to bother to take the necessary precautions to maintain a state of purity, since he might already be tamei in any event. For this reason, Chizkuni writes, a person in a state of “hesger” is considered tamei – not because of the status itself, but rather because of the likelihood that he became tamei during this period.
Symbolically, we might suggest a different approach. Perhaps, the tum’a associated with the “hesger” period signifies the ugliness of even suspected “impurity,” the fact that even something resembling tum’a is a cause of revulsion. Even when an accusation is dropped, the fact that it was made and deemed credible enough to warrant a thorough inquiry casts a lingering shadow of suspicion upon the individual. And so once a discoloration is similar enough to a tzara’at infection that it requires “hesger,” the individual is already considered “impure,” symbolizing the unseemly effects of suspicion and accusation, regardless of the outcome.
This possibility becomes particularly significant in light of the well-known association drawn by Chazal between tzara’at and lashon ha-ra – negative and slanderous speech about other people. Spreading negative information about people causes damage to their reputation that is often irreparable, even if the charges are ultimately disproven. Such information causes a certain “impurity”; it generates an aura of suspicion and distrust surrounding that individual that remains even if the accusations are ignored or dismissed. For this reason, perhaps, the experience of “hesger” results in impurity even if the discoloration ultimately does not qualify as tzara’at – because even the possibility of tzara’at, a suspicion of “impurity,” creates an aura of negativity and suspicion that does not easily dissipate.