The Commentators have offered many explanations in order to rationalize this perplexing halacha. Indeed, if the white plague area covers as much as ninety-nine percent of the body, the individual is deemed tameh, contaminated. The moment the affliction reaches its climax of one hundred percent coverage of the body, the person becomes tahor, clean. One would venture to say that this law is simply inconsistent with reality. Does one become tahor as soon as he is completely tameh ?
Horav Shimon Schwab, z.l., cites the Talmud’s exposition on this pasuk and offers a profound explanation. In Sanhedrin 97a Chazal comment that Moshiach will arrive only after the governments of the world become totally heretical. Apostasy filling the world is the cue for Moshiach’s advent. This pasuk is cited as basis for the statement. Just as total tumah brings about taharah, so, too, will total iconoclasm effect the coming of Moshiach.
Horav Schwab lends the following insight into Chazal’s mystifying statement: Tumah, impurity, receives its sustaining power from taharah, purity. If no source of purity exists, not even a miniscule amount, tumah can not be nurtured. The rationale behind this concept is simple: evil in a pure form cannot exist. It is only able to “survive” if it thrives on good. We find a similar idea regarding sheker, falsehood. We are taught that ohkdr uk iht rea, “falsehood has no legs/foundation.” Deception cannot endure unless it is nourished on some form of truth. We find an example of this in the story of the meraglim, Jewish spies, who returned from Eretz Yisrael. They first lauded Eretz Yisrael as a “land flowing with milk and honey,” before they proceeded to misrepresent the facts. They “coated” their disparaging comments about the Holy Land with some truth. Otherwise, their flagrant deception would have been too conspicuous.
This same idea applies to the advent of Moshiach. Once the entire government surrenders totally to heresy, it must disintegrate, since there is no source of taharah from which it can be sustained. A malchus rishah, evil kingdom, that becomes consummately evil, will vanish as smoke dissipates. This is derived from the halacha of tzaraas. Once the plague manifests itself over the entire body, the metzora becomes clean, since this tumah has reached its climax.
Horav Eli Munk, z.l., offers a practical explanation of Chazal’s statement. Hashem’s salvation is closest to man when man’s ordeal reaches its greatest intensity. The turning point in man’s destiny comes when his affliction reaches its apex. This may be noted from geulas Mitzrayim, the redemption from Egypt. Klal Yisrael’s sinking to the lowest level of tumah precipitated the immediate geulah. Once the tumah has spread over the metzora’s entire body the ultimate climax of his affliction has been attained. The time has arrived for his purification process to begin.