by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues
Parashios Tazria-Metzora(69)This week's sedras deal with laws of spiritual purity - Teharah. Beginning with the laws of the woman after she gives birth and continuing with laws of negaim - blemishes.
In the discussion of blemishes ('negaim') we find the following verse:
If it is a 'snow-white' spot in the skin of the flesh and it does not appear deeper than the skin and the hair did not turn white, then the priest shall confine the blemish for seven days.
it does not appear deeper : Rashi: I do not know its interpretation.
Here Rashi openly expresses his puzzlement. What is puzzling him?
Hint: See Rashi on the previous verse, beginning with "Deeper than the skin of his flesh."
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: Rashi had said above that "every white appearance looks deeper [than its surroundings], like the sun shine looks deeper than the shade." If this rule of optical illusions is true than why in our verse does the Torah say that the white spot does not look deeper than the skin?
That is Rashi's problem.
Can you think of an answer to his difficulty?
Hint: Look closely at our verse and compare it with the previous verse.
UNDERSTANDING WHAT RASHI DID NOT UNDERTSTAND (!)
An Answer: Following is the answer the Ramban offers to Rashi's question.
Let us look at the two verses and compare them.
14:3 "And the priest shall look at the blemish on the skin of his flesh. If hair in the blemish has changed to white, and the blemish's appearance is deeper than the skin of the flesh, it is t'zaraas blemish. The priest shall look at it and declare him impure."
Compare this with our verse:
14:4 "And if it is a white 'baheress' on the skin of the flesh, and its appearance is not deeper than the skin and its hair has not turned to white, then the priest shall quarantine the blemish for seven days."
Do you see an important difference?
An Answer: In the second verse the hair did not turn white, which means it remained black. Here the Ramban points out, is the difference. The appearance of white is deeper than black, but if there are some black hairs in a white blemish these could weaken the whiteness of the blemish's appearance, and make it no longer appear deeper than its surroundings. This why in this second verse even though, the blemish is still described as white but since there are black hairs in it, the appearance is no longer deeper than the skin.
This is the Ramban's answer.
Can you think of a defense for Rashi not thinking of this answer?
The commentaries on Rashi suggest that one or two hairs (which are enough for the law) might not be enough to change the appearance.
I would suggest this Answer: The question is whether a few black hairs in the blemish make the significant difference in its appearance? The Ramban says: Yes it would; Rashi is not sure it would make the difference.
I would suggest that the order of the wording in our verse weakens Ramban's answer. The verse says: "if it is a white 'baheress' on the skin of the flesh and its appearance is not deeper than the skin and its hair has not turned to white…"
If the hairs that did not turn white were a significant factor in its weaker appearance of depth, then I would expect it to be placed before the words " and its appearance is not deeper than the skin" instead of afterwards. If it had said: "… if it is a white 'baheress' on the skin of the flesh, and its hair has not turned to white and its appearance is not deeper than the skin…" then I could see that the hairs made a difference in the fact of the blemish's appearance. But the Torah's order is: "… if it is a white 'baheress' on the skin of the flesh, and its appearance is not deeper than the skin and its hair has not turned to white. " This seems like the hairs are not causally connected to its appearance. Or so it seems to me.
Perhaps this word order is what puzzled Rashi.
What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
For information on subscriptions, archives, and