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The Holy Leper

Adapted by Rabbi Yossi Marcus[1]

[Note: The Torah’s “tzaraas” is not leprosy or any other physical disease. It is a miraculous physical manifestation of a spiritual ailment that appears as a white spot on the skin (or clothing, or walls of a home). See Rambam, end of his laws of Tzaraas.]

The Torah begins its discussion of the symptoms and laws of the metzora (“leper”) with the words, “If an adam (a person) will have in his skin a white spot…”

The Torah’s use of the word adam in reference to the metzora is an indication that this individual is on a sublime spiritual level.

The Adam person is a complete person. As the Zohar says, “shlimu d’kula”—“the perfection of everything.” He is made up of all attributes: Chessed, Gevurah, Rachamim (Kindness, Severity, Mercy), and all of the characteristics and behaviors of one who is a ruler in the world. By contrast, one who is attached to only one or two specific attributes is not called an adam. Rather, like Moshe, he is called ish. Although Moshe is on a sublime level, nevertheless, the level of adam is beyond him, as it is written in the Zohar (Tazria 48a).

For adam is one who contains all attributes and is therefore capable of ascending above in his matters and deeds. He is also able to lower himself below. Indeed the entire world is dependent upon him. (See also Zohar Mishpatim 94b.)

[Man has four titles in the Torah. They are the following (in descending order): Adam; Ish; Gever; and Enosh.]

Now this adam, who has perfected all of his deeds and “fixed all the matters and levels above,” can nevertheless contain some “waste” that is in need of refinement. But this “waste” is only in the skin of his flesh, i.e., the lowest and most external aspect of his self.

His spiritual blemish miraculously causes a physical reaction in the form of tzaraas. Thus nowadays we do not experience these symptoms, since they are  only relevant to one who is almost entirely purified and maintains only a slight  trace of unrefined “waste” at the “end of his garments.”

In fact, the spots themselves are of a sublime source. Thus they are not objects of impurity until the kohein pronounces them as such. Until then, they are not impure—to the contrary: they are manifestations of sublime lights, albeit of the harsh judgments of the realm of holiness, as it is written in Etz Chaim (Shaar Leah v’Rachel 7).

[Rabbi Moshe Cordovero writes in his Pardes (see also Zohar 1:26, beginning of side b, et al):

Negah [“ailment” literally; the word used by the Torah to describe the tzaraas spots] is the opposite of Oneg [“delight”; a sublime spiritual state associated with the highest level: the inner dimension of Kesser, Crown. The Hebrew letters of the word negah: nun, gimmel, ayin, when rearranged, form the word Onegayin, nun, gimmel.]

Of this it is said: “There is nothing beyond Oneg and nothing beneath Negah.” For also in this G-d created one to counter the other. [I.e., everything holy has its corollary in impurity so as to provide challenge and freedom of choice. The impure corollary presumably is the devolved form of its holy counterpart].

 The metzora is therefore brought to Aharon the kohein—the embodiment of supernal Chessed (Kindness)—who is able to elevate these lights and sweeten the judgments by pronouncing the tzaraas pure.

[There are actually two types of symptoms. One type is pronounced immediately by the kohein to be pure. In this case, the kohein serves to “sweeten” this tzaraas, which although an embodiment of judgment, is still in the realm of holiness and purity.

The second type is one that the kohein pronounces as impure. These are lights that originate as lofty embodiments of supernal judgment but which ultimately devolved to a state of impurity (Likutei Sichos 37:35).]

Thus they do not appear nowadays, since they are a symptom of a virtually complete refinement of the evil from the inside of the body and soul. Today no such person exists, since even one who is righteous and good still possesses a small amount of evil inside. This shall suffice for he who understands. (See Tanya chapter 10.)

—Likutei Torah


In general, Gevurah (severity, holding back beneficence, judgment) in its root is actually the opposite of holding back. Indeed Gevurah also has the connotation of intensity, as in gevurot geshamim, “intense (i.e., abundant) rains” (Mishnah beginning of Taanis). It is, in its root, an influx of extraordinary intensity that is more than the recipient can handle. It therefore gives birth, ultimately, to Gevurah in the sense of holding back beneficence. 

Similarly, in its original form, tzaraas is the embodiment of an intensity of holiness. From this intensity is born the harsh judgments as they exist in the realm of holiness, which can ultimately give birth to the impure symptoms.

In man’s Divine service, the concept of tzaraas is an intensity of holiness that transcends all limits and escapes all confinement. It is ratzo without shov (see Ezekiel 1:14)—a yearning and escape toward spiritual ecstasy that is not followed with a return to the physical world and the fulfillment of the mandate to make the physical world a dwelling place for the Divine (see Tanchuma, Nasso).

(For example, if after intense and fervent prayer the worshipper fails to engage in Torah study, this fervor can give rise to “severities” in the form of anger, which in turn creates ego and arrogance. Torah study, which is Tiferes (harmony; beauty),[2] forms the balance between Chessed and Gevurah—ratzo and shov (Sefer Hasichos 5751 citing Likutei Torah). 

The great kabbalist Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson points out that the word hamitzora (“the metzora”) is numerically equivalent to “Tohu,” the world of Chaos, where the sefiros are fierce and intemperate. 

Tzaraas and the Messianic Age

Thus the Talmud calls Moshiach a metzora (Sanhedrin 98b, citing Isaiah 53:4). For in the Messianic era the world of Tohu will be refined [through the elevation of its shattered sparks that were scattered throughout the physical realm] and intensity and Gevurah will reign supreme.

[The ultimate goal of creation is the integration Tohu and Tikkun, where the intense and lights of Tohu are contained in the structured vessels of Tikkun. So while we currently conduct ourselves in the manner of Tikkun, we will follow the rules of Tohu in the Messianic era.

For example, Jewish law currently follows the opinion of the Mishnaic sage Hillel, whose root is Chessed, kindness (Tikkun). In the Messianic age, Jewish law will follow Shammai, whose root is Gevurah (Tohu).

Similarly, intellect must precede and rule emotions in the pre-messianic world. This is because emotion is intemperate and must be controlled by the intellect. In the Messianic era, however, when the intensity of emotion will only lead to good things, emotion will reign supreme because of its greater intensity.

Thus we find that Yaakov and Esav differed in their arrangement of men and women. In Yaakov’s camp the men preceded the women; in Esav’s camp, women preceded the men. For Yaakov and Esav are Tikkun and Tohu respectively. In Tikkun, the current world, men (“intellect”) must precede women (“emotion”). In the Messianic era, the world of Tohu, women will precede men. See our essay on Vayishlach.]  

In the redemption we will experience the exodus from all boundaries and limits, a revelation of Divinity that transcends all constraints.

The Maharal similarly states that Moshiach is called a metzora because just as tzaraas is an otherworldly phenomenon so too Moshiach and the Messianic reality transcends nature and temporal conditions. And just as the metzora is “separated” from the camp, so is Moshiach “separated” from the mundane reality.

(The kabbalist Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar in his Ohr Hachaim also points to a connection between metzora and the Messianic era stating that the two birds that the metzora uses in his purification process correspond to the two Moshiachs: Moshiach son of Yosef and Moshiach son of David.)

May we indeed merit the fulfillment of the prophecy that “your Master will no longer be cloaked and your eyes will see your Master” (Isaiah 30:20) through the true and complete redemption.

—Likutei Sichos 37:33ff.

[Adapted by Rabbi Yosef Marcus. See also Derech Mitzvosecha “Tumaas Hametzora.”]

[1] From a discourse of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, "the Alter Rebbe."

[2] Berachos 58a (end): “Tiferes—this is the giving of the Torah.”

Rabbi Yossi Marcus is director of Chabad outreach activities in S. Mateo, California. He is also the editor of the Q&A database at AskMoses.com and is one of the translators at Kehot Publication Society.



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