Adapted by Rabbi Yossi Marcus
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.
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).
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.)
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.”
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).
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 Oneg—ayin, nun, gimmel.]
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].
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.
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).]
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.)
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
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
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
(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), 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.]
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
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.
by Rabbi Yosef Marcus. See also Derech Mitzvosecha “Tumaas Hametzora.”]
From a discourse of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, "the
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