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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Tazria (71)

Leviticus 13:4

And if it is a white spot in the skin of his flesh and its appearance is not deeper than the skin and the hair did not turn white, the priest shall confine [ the person with] the affliction for seven days.


in its appearance is not deeper than the skin: Rashi: I do not know its meaning.


What is so difficult for Rashi here?

Hint: see Rashi on the previous verse.

Your Answer:


An Answer: Rashi had said on the previous verse (on the words "deeper than the skin") that all white appears deeper, as the sun ('s light) looks deeper than the shadow.

So with that generalization as a basic assumption, Rashi is stumped here. Our verse says it is white BUT it's appearance is not deeper. Rashi has no explanation.

Can you think of one?

Hint: Read the whole verse and compare it with our verse.

Your answer:


An Answer: The Ramban offers an explanation to the question: Why even though the affliction is white it nevertheless is not deeper in its appearance. He says that the fact that the hairs in the spot had not turned white (as the verse says), this weakened the white's glare and therefore it did not appear deeper. See the previous verse which does say the hairs turned white and therefore the whole area of the affliction was white, so it appeared deeper.

This certainly seems reasonable (as the Raman usually is!). So why did Rashi not think of this?

This has bothered the commentators on Rashi. Several answers are offered.

The Mizrachi says two hairs (the minimum necessary to according to the Talmud) could not make that much difference in the overall appearance. Hairs are thin, as we know, "just a hair's breath"! So that too sounds reasonable!

The Maskil L'Dovid takes a different path altogether. He says Rashi did not mean that Rashi himself did not understand the verse. He says that Rashi's words mean that the Torah is saying that in such a case - where the spot is white but the hairs have not turned white - then the priest cannot know if the is an impure affliction or not! So the priest does not its meaning!

A clever interpretation, but it doesn't ring true.

Why not?

Your Answer:


An Answer: Rashi says "I don't know"; it seems that Rashi, not the priest, doesn't know its interpretation. Also the word, in Hebrew, "perusho" means "interpretation" which fits for Torah interpretation; if it were expressing the priest's dilemma it would be more appropriate to say 'he did not if it was pure (Hebrew: tahor).

There certainly is nothing wrong with thinking that what Rashi did not understand, the Ramban did understand. Rashi was a very modest teacher; I would assume that were he to hear the Ramban's answer, if he thought was correct, he would gladly thank him.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at all Judaica bookstores.

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