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Monday, April 04, 2011

Metzora, Vayikra 14:35. Saying It's So Makes It So. Schrödinger's Cat's Mange

Earlier Posts:
A Unique List of Abbreviations, including the obvious, the obscure, the obtuse, and the obfuscating.

Doing Teshuva for Humility

Making Things Disappear by Wearing Them

When a homeowner sees what might be Tzaraas on the walls of his house, he is required to ask a Kohen to inspect it and decide whether it is tzaraas.  When he speaks to the Kohen, the formal phrase he must use is "כנגע נראה לי בבית," "(Something that looks to me) like a (tzaraas) blight has appeared in the house."  The Mishna in Nega’im 12:5, brought by Rashi, says that even if he is a talmid chacham, and he knows with absolute certainly that the affliction has all the characteristics of Tzaraas and will be declared Tamei, he should say ‘ke'nega,’ not ‘nega’- "like a blight," not "a blight."  Only the declaration of a Kohen creates the status of Tumas Tzaraas.  The wisest non-kohen can say what he wants, but the status of Tumah is dependent on the declaration of a Kohen.  The house is not Tamei unless the Kohen makes that declaration., and the Tumah is not retroactive.
Rav Rudderman (Sichos Levi,)  brings the Tosfos Yomtov in Nega’im that discusses this legally required ambivalence.   The Tosfos Yomtov brings several explanations:
  • The Mizrachi here quotes his teachers as saying that the reason for the noncommittal  expression is  since he cannot make a legal determination, he should fall back to the general rule of למד לשונך לומר איני יודע "teach your tongue to say "I don't know."  
  • The Mizrachi himself says that this is because the Torah stresses respect for the Kohen, so one should not make a determination that is the Kohen's to make.  
  • Or, he says, possibly because it might influence the Kohen to rush to a decision, and it should be, lechatchila, solely the Kohen's decision.  
  • The Gur Aryeh says the reason is that until the Kohen's declaration, it is not Tzaraas, and to say it is a nega is a lie.  
  • The Korban Aharon argues with the Gur Aryeh, and says that just because you need a Kohen's declaration to create a Tumah status of Tzaraas doesn't mean that it's not a Nega until the Kohen says it is.  It is a nega whether the Kohen talks or not, but it's only Tamei if the Kohen calls it Tzaraas.  
  • This complaint of the Korban Aharon on the Gur Aryeh might sound like he's just picking on the Maharal for nothing., as the Tosfos Yomtov points out.  (The Tosfos Yomtov, by the way, was a talmid of the Maharal.)  Obviously, the Gur Aryeh holds that the word Nega means Nega Tzaraas, and it's not a Nega Tzaraas until the Kohen says so.  Yes, you could argue and say "No, "nega" is a description of an objective  physical fact irrespective of whether it acquires Tuma or not,"  but you've got to admit it could go either way.   We will discuss this later.
  • The Tosfos Yomtov himself says that the requirement is because of אל תפתח פה לשטן, don't say something that gives an entrée to the Satan, as the Gemorah Brachos 19 says about תנא משמיה דר' יוסי לעולם אל יפתח אדם פיו לשטן אמר רב יוסף מאי קראה דכתיב (ישעיהו א) כמעט כסדום היינו לעמורה דמינו מאי אהדר להו נביא שמעו דבר יי' קציני סדום.  Pshat is that under normal circumstances the bright red or green Nega mark might have faded by the time the Cohen came, and the man's statement "Nega" might have a bad influence that strengthens the Nega, resulting in its remaining unfaded and declared Tamei.  (By the way, Tajikistan's national flag is the color of Tzaraas- red, green, yellow and white.)

The Gemora in Moed Kotton 18a illustrates the idea of speech influencing reality with the story of Pinchas, Shmuel’s brother, whose infelicitous comment contributed to Shmuel becoming an aveil, and Reb Yochanan’s pshat that since Avrahom Avinu said “nishtachaveh venashuvah” they did both come back from the akeida.  The Gemora says this is based on the passuk “bris krusa lisfasayim.”
פנחס אחוה דמר שמואל איתרע ביה מילתא על שמואל למישאל טעמא מיניה חזנהו לטופרי דהוו נפישן אמר ליה אמאי לא שקלת להו אמר ליה אי בדידיה הוה מי מזלזלת ביה כולי האי הואי (קוהלת י) כשגגה שיוצא מלפני השליט ואיתרע ביה מילתא בשמואל על פנחס אחוה למישאל טעמא מיניה שקלינהו לטופריה חבטינהו לאפיה אמר ליה לית לך ברית כרותה לשפתים דאמר ר' יוחנן מנין שברית כרותה לשפתים שנאמר (בראשית כב) ויאמר אברהם אל נעריו שבו לכם פה עם החמור ואני והנער נלכה עד כה ונשתחוה ונשובה אליכם ואיסתייעא מלתא דהדור תרוייהו 

Rav Rudderman says pshat, that since in Breishis it says “vayipach be’apav nishmas chayim vayehi ha’adam lenefesh chaya,” and Onkelos says “vehavas ba’adom leruach memalela,” this shows that it is the cheilek Eloka mima’al that expresses itself in our power of speech, and this is why speech has the power to influence reality.

Rav Rudderman brings the Ri Migash in the Shita in Kesuvos (I don't know where and would appreciate a mareh makom) that says pshat in the Gemara in Shabbos 127b (that one who is dan chaveiro lekaf zechus “danin oso lizchus”) that it means the following:  Reuven says that Shimon is a good man.  In Shamayim, they will judge Shimon in a better light, they will be dan Shimon lezchus, since here on Earth someone- Reuven- was dan him lezechus.  (This is a very novel way to learn Danin Oso, which, as in the She'iltos in Shmos and in the Tana d'bei Eliahu Zuta 16 is applied to Reuven  on the basis of Tov Ayin Hu Yevorach, because of Midah ke'neged Midah.)

He explains that based on this Ri Migash, the converse must also be true; if Reuven speaks lashon hara, against Shimon, his words incite a kateiguria in shamayim against Shimon, the target of his slander.  This is why a ba’al lashon hara gets tzara’as.  He is shown that Dibbur creates consequences, dibbur is like a hammer.  He is taught a lesson:  The words of the Kohen will create a condition of  Tzaraas, just as Reuven, the baal lashon hara, caused  terrible damage with his dibbur.  His ultimate Tahara, too, will be only by means of the Kohen's dibbur.  People don’t realize how dangerous dibbur can be; they don’t realize that their dibbur can have terrible effects both upon the target of their words and upon themselves.  So in this parshah, the Torah teaches that it is the pronouncement. the mere dibbur, of the Kohen that creates, and eventually  ends,  a condition of tuma.  It also teaches here the idea of “ahl tiftach peh lasattan,” also a din of dibbur affecting the tangible world.

This is why the lesson of “kenega” is taught in this parsha.  Someone who sees what looks like tzara’as in his house should immediately realize that he has caused damage to others with his words, and so he should become extremely careful with his speech, starting with the lesson of saying ‘kenega,’ and not ‘nega.’

All this was from Rav Rudderman.  The remainder is only his to the extent that he is responsible for his talmid.

We noted above that the Korban Aharon's dispute with the Gur Aryeh seems trivial.  The Gur Aryeh meant that it's not a Nega until the Kohen says so, in the sense that Nega means Tzaraas that is tamei.  Evidently the Korban Aharon held that it is physically identical Nega with or without a Kohen, and the fact that it's not Tamei until the Kohen makes the declaration just means that the dibbur of the Kohen makes it into a Nega that is Tamei.  

The opinion of the Korban Aharon reminds us of the rule of Tumas Hatehom.  The Gemara in Nazir says that if a man brought his Korban Pesach, and later an excavation revealed that he had, a few days before Pesach, walked over a dead body, a body that nobody in the world knew was there, then he is absolutely tamei, BUT he does not have to redo his Korban Pesach.  This is a pure Halacha l'Moshe MiSinai.  But the bottom line is that only human awareness of the Tuma results in consequences regarding the Korban Pesach.

Nobody would say that the dead body was not tamei.  Nobody would say that the man who walked over the body is not tamei.  BUT we do NOT say "Obviously this man was Tamei when he brought the korban, and a tamei who brings a korban does not fulfill his obligation."

So in that case, human knowledge has an effect of consequence, but does not affect actual tumah.  It's as if it were tamei, but the Torah says that such Tumah has no legal relevance in a certain context.  Here, too, the Korban Aharon is saying that undeclared Tzaraas is 100% Tzaraas, but it is a Tzaraas with zero legal consequences.

To this, I say, "Who told you that?"  Maybe the Tzaraas does not exist until the Kohen declares it, as the Gur Aryeh says?  The Gur Aryeh and Rav Ruddernam, hold that the Nega undergoes a physical change pursuant to the Kohen's declaration.  It is physically, albeit invisibly, altered when the Kohen says "Tamei."

In any case, this idea is more common than you might think.  Often, a legal status depends on a non-physical event.  One might categorize this type of rule as follows:

1.  Designation.  ייחוד   Designation for an unusual purpose, by a person who has the ability to act upon the designation, can change the legal character of an object.  Examples of this sort of "setting aside" are Hekdesh/Truma, Kiddushin, Nezirus, Yichud of klaf for STA'M, Shmura Matza, Beis Hakisei.  I think one could include Pigul in this category.

2.  Declaration. פסק  An official declaration of a status can effect that status. Examples: Tzaraas, here, and see Nega'im 12:5. Mishna in Rosh Hashanna about when the month begins, Rebbi Yehoshua, Rabban Gamliel, and Rebbi Akiva

3.  Approval.  ניחותא  Examples:  Nichusa of Ki Yutan/Yitein by hechsher, that the mashke is not a machshir unless it's nicha lei.  Nichusa by Kilayim.

4.  Awareness. ידיעה  Awareness comes in two flavors: a, where all that matters is that some human being is aware of a condition, and b, where being personally unaware removes all legal liability, even when knowledge would have been easily attained.
a. The fact that a human being is aware of a condition gives that condition legal standing.  If there is no such person in the world, the condition has no legal standing.  Examples: Tumas Hatehom, which has a diminished effect for Nezirus and Pesach where nobody knows or ever knew that the body is there, not could anyone easily see it.    Zevachim 104a by treifus found in a korban after zerika and after hefshet.  Rosh in Chulin 7:37 about bittul b'rov.  Tshuvos Harashba I:730.  However, the Chazon Ish Bechoros 23:2 says it's impossible to say that a hidden treifus that you now know of is not retroactive.  Whether you apply the din Kavu'a, depends on when the safek became relevant or known.
b. The fact that this person is not fully aware of a condition means it has no legal relevance to that person.  Example:  Orla in Chutz La'aretz (Kiddushin 39).

5.  Davar She'Eino Shelo. בעלות Of course, you can't asser someone else's object by declaring it an idol and bowing to it.  The surprise is the Shittas HaRaavad in his chidushim to Bava Kamma 67b where he says that the din of Tumas Medras by a Zav only applies to a Medras that belongs to him.  This is not based on "amod ve'anaaseh melachteinu" because Beis Din will take it away from him.  According to the Raavad, it's based on 15:5, Mishkavo, and the Gemara there in Bava Kamma says "velo hagazul."

This is not relevant to the Rambam 's shitta in Safek de'oraysa.  That is only relevant to culpability, not status.
The difference is that in the Rambam's case of safek, you would be called Annus.  in the cases we're discussing, you're not even annus, the issur doesn't exist at all.

This list is far too comprehensive to be useful, because it mixes many ideas.  The Designation group is not a chiddush.  It's perfectly reasonable that a person can be makdish something, and it will have special dinim.  Declaration of Rosh Chodesh is a function of Beis Din, as Rebbi Akiva told Reb Yehoshua.  The din of Tumas Hatehom is not that the body wasn't tamei.  It was tamei, and the man who walked over it is and was tamei, but there are limited kulos regarding the consequence of his tumah.  Awareness by Orlas Chutz apparently means that it is only assur if you know beyond any doubt that it's assur.

The real puzzles are the cases of Tumas Tzaraas and Kilayim and Tumas Medras by a Zav.  By Kilayim, it ought to be a fact, a reality.  Would anyone say that Basar and Chalav or Shatnez depends on Nichusa?  By Tzaraas, it's either Tzaraas or it's not.  Who cares that a Kohen didn't declare it?  And when he does declare it, why doesn't it go le'mafrei'a?  And by Mishkav/Medras of a Zav, it's a mattress.  He did lie on it.  Who cares if it's his?

To understand the approach of the Gur Aryeh and Rav Rudderman, based on grunk's comment, let's try this to explain the din of Tzaraas:

If the whole point of the Parsha of Tzaraas is to illustrate the power of speech, to show how this man's lashon hara injured others through the power of his speech, then, as Rav Rudderman says, the best way to show this is by making Tzaraas dependent on the Kohen's decision.  But what is the logic of such a thing?

The logic, and the point of the parsha, is that sometimes, reality is affected by human thought, similar to the case of Schrödinger's cat.  (Please see this for a nice explanation of this idea.)  In the case of Tzaraas, there is some sub-empirical characteristic that is indeterminate until the moment of the Kohen's decision.  The decision creates awareness, and the awareness generates the determinate state.  You might say that the effect generates the cause.

Let me try again, by using Yeshiva language. Theoretical physics avers that reality is sometimes undetermined until it a determination has to be made.  In yeshivish, we would put it this way:  Even in the world of reality, there can be many hava aminas until a hachra’a.  The universe tolerates many equally true hava aminas.  But a hachra’a is absolute, and no two hachra’os can exist at the same time.   We find the idea of multiple truths expressed in Eilu Ve'eilu, Lo Bashamayim hee, and by the kapara for diminishing the Moon, as thoroughly discussed in the introduction of the Ketzos Hachoshen and Reb Moshe's Igros.  Until the Hachra'a, all the hava aminos are equally valid and true.  The hachra’a, the decision,  is sometimes a result of human observation.  Schrödinger's cat is a thought experiment that accentuates this counter-intuitive rule.  Until the Kohen makes a decision, the Nega remains in an indeterminate state.  The decision of the Kohen determines the reality of the Nega and tips it towards a physical condition that results in Tumah.    This is the opinion of the Maharal and Rav Rudderman.  Although the Tosfos Yomtov said that the effect of othe dibbur was that if not for his words, the mark might have faded, Rav Rudderman and the Gur Aryeh take it further and says that it is not Tzaraas until the Kohen says it is.


1.  I don't like it when people with a Yeshiva education use Latin when there are Hebrew, English, or Aramaic equivalents.  Sometimes, there aren't any equivalents, and this is one of those times.  This post is an example of Ignotum per ignotius, “explaining” something incomprehensible with something even more incomprehensible.  This strategy works well in drush, but not in logic.  However, like it or not, this is a well known phenomenon, as beautifully illustrated here:

2. Even to the extremely limited extent I understand Tzara’as, I still don't understand Kilayim or Medras Hazav. 


Daniel said...

-Tumat Ha'Tehom applies when there was "no POSSIBILITY" for human awareness, not where the possibility existed but that no one actually ever knew. I think...

-you might want to add the mei sotah only checking her if there is no eid tumah in the world according to the shita of R'Yosef?? in Sota (somewhere in first 2 perakim i think)
also egla arufa only works if ולא נודע מי הכהו I think.. or maybe that's only the opinion of a particular rishon...don't remember

-I think you're mixing and matching alot of different concepts here. Particularly in areas of Taharot and Kodshim you're going to find different degrees of sensitivity to דעת וחכמה (consciousness, thought, and ratzon) more so than other areas like הזמנה and the like.

great unknown said...

This is a concept which is manifested in the physical world as the measurement effect in quantum mechanics. As in Schroedinger's cat.

If a tree falls in a forest and there is nobody there to hear it, not only does it not make a sound: it didn't fall until the fallen tree is observed.

b said...

Daniel, I changed the post to isolate the odder cases I want to focus on.

grunk, I incorporated the cat.