January 19, 2022

Moed Katan 7

The Mishna (Moed Katan 1:5) and the subsequent discussion in today’s daf (Moed Katan 7a), contains what I believe to be an important insight in terms of practical Jewish living and halachic decision-making.
As we know, the Torah informs us that: ‘when a person has a swelling, a rash, or a bright patch on their skin, and it develops on their skin into what seems to be Tzora’at, they shall be brought to the Kohen – to Aharon or to one of his sons. The Kohen shall examine the affliction on their skin. And if the hair in the afflicted part has turned white and the affliction appears to be deeper than the skin, then it is the affliction of Tzora’at. When the Kohen sees this, he shall declare the person impure’ (Vayikra 13:2-4).
Significantly, two things should be noted from the laws of Tzora’at. Firstly, upon being confirmed as someone with Tzora’at, an individual is isolated from the community. And secondly, only the Kohen has the authority to determine whether someone has Tzora’at. Having explained these facts, our Mishna discusses what should be the proper action of a kohen in terms of examining someone on Chol HaMoed who is suspected of having Tzora’at? (And similarly, as mentioned by the Gemara and stated in Mishna Negaim 3:2, what should be the proper action of a kohen in terms of examining someone who has just married and who is the midst of their Sheva Brachot celebrations?).
According to Rabbi Meir, a Kohen may examine such a person on Chol HaMoed, and if they discover that the individual does not have Tzora’at, they may let the individual know and thereby relieve them of the worry of having Tzora’at. However, Rabbi Meir then adds that if the Kohen discovers that the individual does have Tzora’at, he should not inform the person so as not to diminish their festive joy.
Contrasting this position, the Sages assert that once a kohen has examined an individual, they cannot self-silence themselves. This is because their task is ‘to determine whether it is pure or impure’ (Vayikra 13:59). Consequently, the Sages rule that kohanim should refrain from examining anyone who is suspected of having Tzora’at on Chol HaMoed given the fact that were they to discover that someone does have Tzora’at, they would be obliged to inform them.
Significantly, we rule in accordance with the Sages (see Rambam, Hilchot Shevitat Yom Tov 7:16), which means that while we cannot un-see what we have seen, or un-know what we know, we can be wise in considering whether to see or know a particular sight or fact. Significantly, there are various areas of practical halacha – such as the laws of Taharat HaMishpacha – where this approach is put into practice, while there are also other areas of halacha where delicate information is handled judiciously, as per the position of the Sages in our Mishna, to avoid negative outcomes.
What we learn from here is that great care must be shown when making halachic decisions that affect – and especially that negatively affect – others. And that while halacha promotes ‘truth’ as a virtue, it supersedes truth with ‘peace’, such that there are occasions when – for the sake of inner peace, peace in the home, or peace in the wider community – we temporarily avoid confronting the truth for the sake of pursuing peace.
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