The name of this parashah, Metzora, means “a person afflicted with tzara’at.”

Tzara’at, as we saw in the previous parashah, Tazria, is a condition that imparts ritual impurity, thereby denying the afflicted person entrance to the Temple and involvement in any of its rituals, and even in the social life of the community. Thus separated from the Temple—the locus of life and Godliness (which is the source of life)—and the life of the community, the metzora is, in the sages’ words, a walking metaphor for death.

Although the word metzora is indeed one of the first words in the parashah, the actual subject of the first third of the parashah is the process by which the metzora becomes cured of tzara’at, i.e., the negation of the condition of being a metzora. The subject of the next third of the parashah is tzara’at that afflicts a house and how an afflicted house is purified of this defilement. The subject of the final third of the parashah is two additional but unrelated forms of defilement and the process of purification from them.

Given the debilitating nature of tzara’at, it seems odd indeed that a parashah devoted to curing an individual of this condition should be named after the one afflicted by it. But the explanation we gave of the name of the previous parashah, Tazria, can serve to explain the choice of the name of this parashah, as well. Parashat Tazria is named after the act of “sowing”—the act of optimistically embarking on a process leading to new life and new growth—even though the bulk of the parashah is focused on the particulars of the life-negating disease of tzara’at, because tzara’at is not intended as a punishment but as a new beginning, an impetus to reaffirm life. As such, it can and should indeed be seen as “sowing” the seeds of a new, higher level of living.

Similarly, parashat Metzora is named after the person afflicted with this malady—despite the fact that the bulk of the parashah is focused on how to extricate the sufferer from it—because the purification process is nothing more than a continuation of the condition itself, that is, the next step in the rehabilitative process that began with the original contraction of the condition.


One of the idioms the prophets use to describe the redemptive process—and even the Messiah himself—is that of “sprouting”:

§ “For as the earth sends forth its growth, and as a garden sprouts its seedlings, so will God cause righteousness and praise to sprout in the presence of all the nations.”1

§ “Behold, the days are coming, says God, when I will raise up a righteous sprout from David; a king will reign and prosper, and he will administer justice and righteousness in the land.”2

In addition, the sages of the Talmud say that the Messiah’s epithet is “the Metzora of the House of Rabbi Yehudah the Prince,” citing the verse,3 “In truth, it was our illnesses that he bore and our pains that he carried, but we regarded him as a metzora, smitten by God and afflicted.”4

The Talmud even records an episode in which the Messiah was seen in the guise of a metzora:

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi met Elijah the prophet standing at the entrance to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s cave. He asked Elijah, “When will the Messiah come?”

He replied, “Go and ask him himself.”

“Where is he sitting?”

“At the entrance to the city.”

“And by what sign will I be able recognize him?”

“He is sitting among the destitute people afflicted with tzara’at. But whereas the others first loosen all their bandages and then [after treating all their sores] retie them all, he unties and reties his [bandages] one at a time, thinking, ‘Perhaps I will be summoned [at any moment to reveal myself as the Messiah, and if so,] I must not be delayed [by having to re-bandage many sores].’@”5

We have seen6 why the Messiah, of all possible manifestations, assumes the garb of a metzora. But in this context, it is possible to interpret the names of the two parashiot that discuss tzara’at as referring to the process of redemption: Tazria, meaning “sow,” refers to the work we do to cause redemption to “sprout”; Metzora refers to the Messiah himself. Thus, the phrase Tazria-Metzora allegorically means “Sow the seeds of the messianic redemption.”

In most years, the two parashiot of Tazria and Metzora are combined in the public reading of the Torah in the synagogue. In the allegorical context just mentioned, this teaches us that we must view our efforts to refine the world through studying the Torah and fulfilling its commandments not only as ends unto themselves—which they most certainly are, inasmuch as we are instructed to fulfill God’s commandments out of devoted obedience—but also as the means by which we hasten the advent of the Messiah. We must not dissociate our Tazria—our sowing—from Metzora—its messianic goal.

Moreover, we should ideally envision our efforts and their goal—living our lives according to the Torah’s dictates and the messianic Redemption—not as two separate entities, but as one continuum. Living the Torah life leads organically into the Redemption, and the Redemption is simply the fullest flowering of the Torah and its commandments that we knew during our exile. The Torah of the messianic future will be the same Torah we now possess, the only difference being that its innermost dimensions will finally be fully revealed to us. Similarly, in the messianic future we will continue to observe the Torah’s commandments, only in their fullest scope—both quantitatively, as those commandments that can be performed only when the Temple stands and only when the entire Jewish people are settled in their homeland become once again practicable; and qualitatively, as reality sheds the gross materialism that presently conceals most of the Divine revelations that result from observing God’s commandments—including the innate materialistic orientation of our own consciousness, which will be replaced by heightened Divine consciousness.

In reading about the odyssey of the metzora and the process of his or her redemption from social ostracism—“exiled” from society—we are at the same time reading about both our own personal odysseys of spiritual crisis and redemption as well as our collective, national odyssey through our exile, as we work toward our final Redemption.7