Parshas Metzora-Likkutei Torah-What is Tzaraas

This article is an excerpt from the above Sefer

Parshas Metzora

Adam Ki Yihyeh Beor Besaro” and “Zos Tihyeh Toras Hametzora…”

[Likkutei Torah p. 43 and 48]

The Parshiyos of Tazria-Metzora deal with the famous skin ailment known as Tzaraas. Tzaraas is commonly mistranslated as “leprosy”, which is a fatal flesh-eating bacterial disease that causes the loss of limbs and eventual death. In truth, however, there is no evidence from Scripture or its commentaries that the Tzaraas disease has any connection with leprosy. On the contrary, from the simple understanding of the sources, Tzaraas is a harmless skin ailment that appears on the person without any relation to a medical disease.[1] This rare skin disease came as a result of sin, as a sign from Heaven for the sinner to repent and return to G-d. Specifically, Tzaraas came as a result of the sin of Lashon Hara, speaking evil against another Jew, as we find in the Torah that Moshe received Tzaraas for slandering the Jewish people before Hashem, and Miriam received Tzaraas for slandering Moshe.[2] The Parsha of Tazria deals with the impure colors of the Tzaraas, while the Parsha of Metzora deals with the purification process of one who has contracted an impure form of Tzaraas, otherwise known as the Metzora. The Torah prescribes for the Metzora a process of purification that commences with a visit to a Kohen, who diagnoses his Tzaraas. The ailment of Tzaraas is no longer common today, and it has been extinct for thousands of years. Many questions arise regarding this cryptic skin lesion. Why was it diagnosed specifically by a Kohen; why not by a Rabbi or a Doctor? Why did the Tzaraas not become impure until a Kohen examined it and determined it to be impure? If Tzaraas comes as a result of sin, why has it been extinct for so many generations despite our more than required “merit” of sin to deserve the ailment? In this Mamar, the Alter Rebbe changes the entire perspective on this illness and explains how in truth Tzaraas is a holy skin disease that only comes to people of high spiritual stature. It represents a final level of refinement that these holy people must undertake to remove the last bits of evil from their souls. In relation to this, the Alter Rebbe explains why the Tzaraas can only be brought to a Kohen for diagnosis and eventual purification, and what spiritual influx he gives to the Metzora to bring about his cure.


Explorations of the Mamar:

1.      What is the meaning of Tzaraas?

2.      What type of person receives Tzaraas?

3.      Why is Tzaraas not around today?

4.      Why did the Metzora specifically need to visit a Kohen?

The type of people that receive Tzaraas:

The verse states: “Adam/Man, when he has on his skin a lesion.” There are four terms used in Scripture to describe man; Adam; Ish; Gever; Enosh. Each name represents a different aspect of man. The highest name, which incorporates all aspects and human advantages, is the name Adam. Accordingly, it remains to be understood as to why the Torah describes the person who has committed a terrible sin and is thus deserving of being stricken with Tzaraas, as an Adam, the highest-level name? To understand this, we must first introduce the meaning behind the term Adam.

An Adam is one who has complete control of his self:

The term Adam represents a person who is on a very high spiritual level and has gained perfection in all of his qualities and abilities, having complete control of his senses and emotions. He has control over his aspects of Chesed, Gevurah, and mercy, and he is able to use them as he sees fit. People that have not reached the stage of Adam are only in control of one attribute or characteristic, such as Chesed or Gevurah. Alternatively, they are in control of both aspects of Chesed and Gevurah, but are not in control of their other aspects. The Adam is in control of all of his aspects and personality traits. Even Moshe Rabbeinu was called an Ish and not an Adam, as the verse states, “Moshe Ish HaElokim.” Although the level of Moshe is very high, the level of Adam is even higher. The Adam is able to soar from level to level and the entire world is dependent on him. 

The cause of Tzaraas on the Adam:

Even when one has reached the level of Adam, it is possible that there remains some external aspect that he has not yet refined from evil and waste. It is thus in the area of his skin, which is external in comparison to the remainder of the body, where this Adam grows a miraculous skin lesion. The skin lesion of Tzaraas is not a typical rash or skin disease, but is a supernatural ailment that Hashem brings to the Adam as a sign of his high level that only requires an external fixing. A normal rash usually contains some moisture. This rash is completely dry and appears lower than the rest of the skin. The Tzaraas was no less than a medical miracle taking place on the skin of the person who reached the level called Adam. [We should note that Tzaraas would come as a result of Lashon Hara, which in itself is considered an external sin that occurs using one’s speech, which is also external. Likewise, there are forms of Lashon Hara that are very refined.]

Lack of Chochmah/Bittul: In Kabbalah, it is explained that the cause for Tzaraas is the removal of the light of Chochmah from the person. The level of Chochmah is the level in which the infinite Divine light resides, and represents a total nullification towards Hashem. Even after one has completely refined himself in the service of G-d and is in a constant state of ecstatic love for Hashem, thinking of nothing but Him, there can still remain an aspect of evil that requires refinement, and this refers to his level of Yeishus/ego. Even love for Hashem retains the ego of the person, as one can love Hashem to such a point that his only desire is to leave the world and join Him. This level of Divine service is called Ratzo, which stands for running towards Hashem. This, however, is opposed to the true intention of Hashem for his creation, which is that one is meant to remain below and serve Hashem in making the world a dwelling place for Him. This level of Divine service is called Shuv, which stands for returning to the world. The Metzora lacks this level of Bittul/Shuv in his Divine service. This is the meaning behind the statement that Tzaraas comes as a result of the light of Chochmah having left the person, as even when one has reached a very high level in Divine service, he may lack the proper Bittul to Hashem. This causes the Tzaraas to grow on his skin.


Tzaraas represents high Divine lights:

Not only is the skin lesion of Tzaraas only found on the skin of a very high-level person, but the Tzaraas itself represents a very high and sublime spiritual revelation of G-dliness. Usually, one who contracts impurity is considered impure at that very moment. With Tzaraas, however, one is not deemed impure until the Kohen looks at his ailment and pronounces it as Tzaraas. This is because the Tzaraas retains its very high spiritual level until the Kohen gives it its impure status. It, however, is not on a regular level of Holiness prior to being seen by the Kohen, but is considered to be on the level of harsh severities of Holiness. Although this level is holy, it eventually can allow the Kelipos to nurture from it.

The holy severities found in the love of Ratzo: The above is similar to a person who has achieved a high level of Divine service called Ratzo, and maintains a passionate Dveikus with Hashem. However, this love itself can in turn lead to severities, as one who is aroused with such fiery love during prayer can then after prayer use this emotion to get angry or have a strong lust for worldly pleasures. This is because the love of Ratzo does not have the proper direction of Shuv/Bittul

Why the Metzora is brought to the Kohen:

The Tzaraas is shown to the Kohen, being that the Kohen has the power to elevate these holy severities and sweeten them. A Kohen comes from the level of Chesed Ilaah and has the ability to sweeten the Tzaraas and make it actually pure through saying that it is pure. However, the Kohen cannot elevate and purify certain forms of Tzaraas and hence the person must go into seclusion until further developments.

The Kohen draws down Chochmah: Earlier, it was explained that Tzaraas comes as a result of the removal of the light of Chochmah from the person who has reached the state of love of Ratzo. Only the Kohen, which is rooted in Chesed, has the ability to draw down the light of Chochmah to the person. This is also why the verse states upon describing the purification process of the Metzora, “Zos Toras Hametzorah” and not “Zos Taharas Hametzora”, as Torah represents Chochmah, and it is precisely through learning Torah with Bittul that the over-passionate love of Ratzo is balanced with Bittul and Shuv.

Why there is no Tzaraas in today’s times:

Based on the above, one can understand why there is no longer Tzaraas found amongst people. Ideally, since Tzaraas comes as the result of evil, and in the later generations we are on lower spiritual levels than in previous generations, there should therefore be even more Tzaraas amongst people today. Why is it then that people no longer have Tzaraas? The reason is because the Tzaraas can only come onto a person who has completely refined his inner soul from evil, and thus Tzaraas appears on his skin as a sign that there remains an external aspect that still requires refinement. However, in today’s times such people are not found, as even the Tzaddik has some evil mixed with his good. 



Lessons of the Mamar:

·         At times, we see someone in pain or suffering, and we are quick to judge that certainly the person is deserving of it due to his sins, and we are not as sinful as they. From the Mitzvah of Tzaraas we see that only very high spiritual people were deserving of such ailments, and hence at times specifically the righteous receive the pain and suffering in order to complete their refinement in this world.

·         Only the Kohen, who is rooted in Chesed, was allowed to judge the Metzora and deem the Tzaraas as impure. Furthermore, after the Kohen passed his judgment, he was required to give a process of healing for the Metzora. When judging the faults of another, one must first possess the attribute of Chesed prior to passing judgment. Furthermore, in the event that the person is found wanting, don’t leave him in his present state. Give him a path of recovery. Don’t pass unnecessary judgment if you are unable to be of help to him.



[1] See Ralbag; Abarbanel and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch on Parshas Tazria

[2] Rambam, Tumas Tzaraas 16/10

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