Discussion of Tzara’at Moshe Kollmar


This week’s double Parashah deals mainly with the unique spiritual affliction of Tzara'at. The Pesukim bring the case of a garment with the affliction (13:47-59). If a leather, wool, or linen, garment and it gets deep green or deep red blotches, it may be Tzara’at, and must be quarantined by a Kohen. If after a week of quarantine, the blotches have spread, the Kohen declares the garment has Tzara’at Mam'eret, and must be burned. If the blotches did not spread, the garment is washed and quarantined for another week. If it still has not spread nor changed color, it is a Pachetet, and must be burned. If it lightened, the Kohen should rip off the blotches. If the blotches appear on the rest of the garment after he tears it, the garment is a Porachat, and must be burned. If the blotches went away completely, the garment is washed again and becomes Tahor again.

What is going on here? What are Tzara’at Mam’eret, Pachetet, and Porachat? If the blotches change color from red to green or vice versa (from one color of Tzara’at to the other), is that considered a change of color? When the person must washes the garment, is that in a Mikvah or to physically clean it?

Rashi and Rashbam explain that the word Mam’eret comes from the word Mieirah, meaning curse, because the person gets no benefit from the garment because it is burned. They both offer a second explanation, that it is related to Mameer, from the phrase in Yechezkel “Silon Mameer” (28:24), piercing thorn, because it causes pain to its owner when it is burned. The Sefer Hazikaron, Torah Temimah, and Ibn Ezra also offer this explanation. According to Rashi, a Pachetet is an affliction that has sunken deep into the cloth, and a Porachat as a returning growth of Tzara’at. According to Rashbam, a Pachetet is the same as Tzara’at Mam’eret, and comes from Pocheit, lessen, because when it is burned, the person loses money.

There is a Machloket within the Midrash what the Halacha is if it changes from red to green or vice versa. One opinion says that because it is still a color of Tzara’at, it is not considered a change, while another says that the new color is a separate affliction, and the original quarantine must be repeated.

For the second washing, the Be’eir Yitzchak points out that a washing to clean the garment would be pointless after the blotches disappear, so it must mean a Mikvah. Onkelos translates the two cleanings differently. The first is laundering, for cleaning, and the second is immersing, in a Mikvah.

The final Pasuk of this section says “Zot Torat Nega Tzara’at Babeged.” The Meforshim explain that the word Torah is next to Tzara’at because learning Torah helps prevent Tzara’at. When the Beit Hamikdash is rebuilt, and Tzara’at will appear once more, may our merits from learning Torah prevent us from ever getting Tzara’at.

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