By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
בחלל חרב יט:טז From these words, Chazal derive that cherev harei hu k’chalal, that the sword is like the corpse. In other words, the same way that a corpse is an avi avos ha’tumah and makes someone into an av ha’tumah, so too is the sword that touched the corpse an avi avos ha’tumah and makes someone into an av ha’tumah. Not only that, but even if the sword touched a person who touched a corpse, the sword assumes the same level of tumah as the person that it touched, namely it becomes an av ha’tumah. Generally, the way tumahworks is that each time it gets transferred from one person/item to the next, it goes down one level. So, something that contacts an avi avos becomes an av, the next thing becomes a rishon, and so on. Cherev harei hu k’chalal is an exception to this. The sword assumes the same status of that which conferred tumah upon it.
Cherev, of course, is just the example used by the Torah, but there are three shitos regarding what other types of keilim are included in this halachah. According to Rashi and Tosafos (and other Rishonim as well), all metal keilim are included. The Rambam (Hilchos Tumas Meis 5:3) holds that all klei shetef – keilim that can be purified in a mikveh – are included, which basically means that all keilim, including clothing, are subject to thehalacha of cherev harei hu k’chalal, with the exception of klei cheres (earthenware) which cannot be purified once they become tamei.
The third shitah is brought by Rabbeinu Bachayei and Rabbeinu Chananel as a shitah of some of theGeonim, that only the kli that was actually used to kill a person has this halacha of cherev harei hu k’chalal.
One could have understandably been inclined to think that, according to this third shitah, the reason the Torah gave a boosted degree of tumah to a kli that was used to kill someone is to show how severely the Torah regards murder. However, from the fact that the halacha is that such a kli assumes the same level of tumah as what it touched even if what it touched was only a person who touched a corpse, we see that it doesn’t have anything to do with how severely murder is regarded.
In Maseches Nazir 54b, Tosafos brings that Rabbeinu Chaim Kohen sent a letter to Rabbeinu Tam with the poetic expression, eizeh bayis asher tivneh li. Since practically every house in the world has some kli inside of it that was in an ohel ha’meis, how can kohanim go into any house? Why aren’t they prohibited from doing so because of cherev harei hu k’chalal? Rabbeinu Tam answered him that, although the rest of the halachos are the same, and someone who touches a “cherev harei hu k’chalal” must have hazaas shlishi v’shvii, this is not so when it comes to the prohibition on kohanim from becoming tamei meis. The rule of cherev harei hu k’chalaldoes not extend that far.
The Ramban, though, says that cherev harei hu k’chalal does not at all have the same halachos as an actual corpse, and someone who touches a “cherev harei hu k’chalal”, although he is indeed an av ha’tumah(and can make what he touches into a rishon), in fact does not need hazaas shlishi v’shvii. In a similar vein, it is not the same as a corpse even regarding how it makes someone tamei. A corpse can make someone tameithrough maga (touching), masa (carrying), and ohel (being under the same covering), whereas cherev harei hu k’chalal, says the Ramban, can only make someone tamei through maga and masa but not through ohel. According to the Rambam, even masa is excluded and it is only through maga that a “cherev harei hu k’chalal” can make someone tamei. So, of course, continues the Ramban, cherev harei hu k’chalal does not extend to the prohibition on kohanim to not become tamei meis. (Audio recording)
Quotables “The efficacy of davening for ruchaniyus is like the ease of flipping on a switch.”
Vignettes “Crazy stories and fantastic claims were flying around. People were saying that Rav Kaduri had revealed that Mashiach’s arrival was imminent, and detailed the signs involved. Confused, I asked Rav Twersky for guidance. ‘What am I supposed to make of these stories?’ I asked. ‘I mean, if Mashiach really is coming so soon, I’ll ramp up my efforts in avodas Hashem. I should conduct myself as if it were Elul, no?’ Rav Twersky answered me as follows: ‘To tell you the truth, whenever I hear such stories, I don’t believe them at all. I just don’t. Of course, Mashiach can come at any moment. Any moment! But to think that these stories are ‘it’, I just don’t believe it. However, that doesn’t mean that hearing them can’t be an opportunity for you. Someone upon whom these stories have no effect, okay, fine. But if you find yourself experiencing a certain spiritual awakening, then don’t lose the opportunity! Why not utilize it? Make the most of it. To conduct yourself as though it were Elul, that’s a bit much. But to take advantage of the opportunity to make some chizuk in your avodah, for sure! The fact that you intellectually realize that you shouldn’t invest these stories with too much credence doesn’t mean you can’t harness the emotional effect it had on you to strengthen your avodas Hashem. Whenever you have a sense of spiritual awakening, don’t let it pass you by!” (A talmid, excerpt from A Malach in Our Midst)