In the Torah, the skin condition tzaraat (commonly translated as leprosy) was actually a supra-natural affliction for one who gossiped. One who was afflicted with the malady was considered impure and had to undergo a purification process. Moses’ sister, Miriam, was punished with the condition after she spoke disparagingly about her brother.

And yet, when the Talmud discusses the names of the Moshiach, it calls him chivara devei Rebbi, “the leper of the house of Rebbi,”1 citing proof from Isaiah 53:4: “Indeed our illnesses he did bear and our pains he endured; yet we did esteem him injured, stricken by G‑d, and afflicted.”

How could this most righteous person be associated with this terrible malady, the result of sin?


Examining the verse cited in the Talmud, some commentaries explain that Moshiach will not actually be a leper. Rather, he will be afflicted with great suffering and illness, and in his merit G‑d will forgive us and heal us.2

The question, however, remains: Why did the Talmud specifically associate his suffering with tzaraat? Couldn’t he just have been described as “one who suffers”?

To understand this, we first need to understand why people don’t suffer from tzaraat nowadays.

Why No Tzaraat Nowadays?

In discussing the laws of tzaraat, the Torah starts with the words “If a person [adam] will have in his skin a white spot . . .”3 The usage of the Hebrew word adam seems rather strange in this context.

Scripture generally uses four names to refer to man: adam, ish, gever and enosh. Each of these terms describes a specific aspect of humanity.

Adam refers to a complete person, one who has attained wisdom and understanding; ish is descriptive of moral, emotive attributes; enosh signifies deficiency in either intellect or emotions; gever denotes strength and mastery over obstacles.4

So why did the Torah use the name adam, the loftiest of epithets, to describe one who was struck with tzaraat?

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi5 points out that tzaraat was an ailment that only affected the skin, but nothing internally. Thus, it was precisely the adam, the person who had (almost) perfected himself, who was struck with tzaraat. For even one on such a lofty level can at times need refinement. However, the blemish was only “skin deep,” for internally he already perfected himself.

It is for this reason that nowadays no one is afflicted with tzaraat. In our current lowly spiritual state, even the righteous have internal refining that they need to do.

Moshiach Refining the Externalities

This may help explain why Moshiach is described as being afflicted with tzaraat. For the spiritual deficiencies that will be healed due to his merit are merely externalities that have yet to be refined.

In other words, throughout this long and bitter exile, we have been involved in refining and healing the world. At the end of the process, only the external spiritual maladies will remain. Moshiach will endeavor to refine these final external failings.6

But Why the Name?

As beautiful and uplifting as the above explanation may be, it does not explain why the Talmud tells us that the actual name of Moshiach is “the leper of the house of Rebbi.”

Although Moshiach may very well refine the last vestiges of external impurities, that is merely a single aspect of a multifaceted leader who will usher in the era of Redemption, gather in the exiles and rebuild the Holy Temple. So why call him with a name attesting to his dealings with the negative instead of one that attests to his main, positive purpose?

Too High

One of the many unique aspects of tzaraat is that even after one appeared to have tzaraat, he was not considered impure until the kohen saw it and verbally declared the person impure. Thus, for example, if a newlywed appeared to have become afflicted during the first week of marriage, he or she would not be brought to the kohen to be declared impure until the festivities ended.

The Kabbalists explain that tzaraat itself actually comes from a very lofty and sublime source. It wasn’t the tzaraat itself that made the person impure; it was the declaration that did it. Until the declaration, not only was he not impure, he was a manifestation of sublime lights, albeit the harsh aspects of holiness, known as gevurot.7

Thus, he was brought to the kohen, the embodiment of supernal chesed (kindness). The polar opposite of the gevurot, the kohen was (eventually) able to “elevate” these lights and sweeten the judgments by declaring the person pure.

But the process was not always the same. At times, the ailment was such that the kohen was able to declare the person pure immediately, “sweetening the judgment” right away. Others, however, were to be initially declared impure. These were lights that originated as lofty embodiments of supernal judgment but which, ultimately, as is prone to happen with too much of the attribute of severity and judgment, devolved to a state of impurity and needed to go through a purifying process.

In other words, just like the attribute of gevurah, tzaraat at its source is an influx of extraordinary intensity that is more than the recipient can handle. 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.

The Rebbe explains that this is why Moshiach is called a metzora, one who has tzaraat. For the objective of the Moshiach is to reveal the extraordinary and intense spiritual energy that up until that point the world was unable to handle.8

For more on this, see The Holy Leper.

May we merit the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days!