Kelim, Chapter Fourteen, Mishnah Seven
Metal vessels can be purified by having hatat waters (the water that contains the ashes of the red heifer) sprinkled on them on the third and seventh days from their impurity. Metal vessels also can become clean by being broken.
Our mishnah deals with how these two ways of becoming pure work (or don’t work) together.
1) Metal vessels remain unclean and become clean even when broken, the words of Rabbi Eliezer.
a) Rabbi Joshua says: they can be made clean only when they are whole.
2) How so? If they were sprinkled upon and on the same day they were broken and then they were recast and sprinkled upon on the same day, they are clean, the words of Rabbi Eliezer.
a) Rabbi Joshua says: there can be no effective sprinkling earlier than on the third and the seventh day.
Section one: Rabbi Eliezer basically says that just as a whole metal vessel found in a tent with a dead body is unclean and can be purified by the sprinkling of the hatat waters, so too broken metal vessels can become impure and clean in such a manner.
Rabbi Joshua disagrees and holds that metal vessels can be made impure and then made clean only when they are whole. If they are broken they can’t be made clean and if they are made unclean when whole and then broken they cannot be purified until they are repaired. Note that this doesn’t mean that they are impure. It means that if he repairs them, they are still impure until the water is sprinkled upon the.
Section two: The words “How so?” usually imply that section two is an illustration of section one. However, Albeck and some other traditional commentators, claim that in this mishnah section two is an independent debate between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua and that the words “How so?” should not be there. We will explain accordingly.
According to Rabbi Eliezer, once the metal vessel was broken and then repaired, there is no need to wait for the seventh day for the second sprinkling. Since their breaking also purifies them, they do not need to wait for a full period.
Rabbi Joshua is consistent with his opinion in section one. Once the process of purification has begun, it must be completed on a whole vessel. The sprinkling is only effective if done on the third and seventh days.