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In The Garden Of The Torah
Insights of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Shlita
on the weekly Torah Readings


Tazria-Metzora - 5754

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Publisher's Foreword

The two parshiyos read this week focus on the subject of tzaraas, a bodily affliction related to leprosy. And as highlighted in the second essay, this malady is associated with Mashiach, to the extent that the Talmud calls him "the leper of the House of Rebbi."

The concept of Mashiach suffering is difficult for many of us to understand. We like to conceive of Mashiach as a spiritual superman, who is invulnerable to all afflictions. This is more than a dream; there's a measure of logic to it. For if Mashiach will suffer like we do, how is he better or different?

And yet, as explained in the present essay, our Sages speak about Mashiach's suffering; this is also part of the picture of the emergence of the Redemption. It is not a part that we enjoy thinking about, but seeing it should not cause us to turn away from the concept of Mashiach as whole.

Plainly put, seeing the suffering of Mashiach should not make the message of redemption any less real for us.

On the contrary, the message of redemption is a message, like all messages shared with us by the Rebbe Shlita, that is based on reality.

When the Rebbe said, "The time for your Redemption has arrived," he was not expressing a prayer or a blessing. He was sharing insight into the truth of our existence. And that truth is just as real today as it was a month ago, or 30 months ago.

Seeing the suffering is not pleasant, but it is only a temporary phase.

The essay cited also communicates the message given by the Rebbe to make the temporary nature of the suffering even more fleeting: study about Mashiach and Redemption.

For doing so:

  1. makes Redemption a part of one's life, allowing one to see all the elements of the picture of Redemption, not merely the painful ones, and

  2. on a spiritual level, draws the Redemption into this world, making vessels for its light to be positively expressed.

The Geula - redemption - is associated with renewal.

May the study of the Rebbe Shlita's teachings generate blessings of healing and renewal for all Jews, and in particular for the Rebbe Shlita himself. And may he lead us to the actual Redemption in the immediate future.

2 Iyar, 5754


Conceiving New Life

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos:
Vol. I, p. 236ff; Vol. VII, p. 78-79;
Vol. XII, p. 70ff; Vol. XXII, p. 70ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5749, p. 379ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5751, p. 490ff

The Deepest Intimacy

One of the analogies used to describe the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people is the bonds of love between a man and a woman. [1]

On the human level, this relationship is multidimensional, including the deepest levels of intimacy.

Similarly, with regard to the spiritual counterpart, the love between the Jews and G-d is not languid in nature, but rather a dynamic union. "The Holy One, Blessed be He, and Israel are one" [2] - joined in an ardent bond, for which the prophet [3] finds appropriate the simile, "Your Maker is your mate."

Moreover, on the mortal plane, physical intimacy is more than a connection between the man and the woman; new life is conceived. [4]

Similarly with regard to the bond between G-d and the Jewish people, the relationship is not self-contained; it propagates vitality.

Planting Seeds

The opening verse of our Torah reading alludes to this concept, stating: "When a woman conceives and gives birth." The "woman" refers to the Jewish people who bring new life into the world at large.

More particularly, tazria, the term translated as "conceives" means "gives seed."

This term also is of metaphoric significance.

For a seed is planted in the earth; there its shell must decompose entirely. Only then is it possible for it to become a medium to express the infinite growth potential contained within the earth.

This motif applies for our people as a whole, and for every individual.

Our lives are also earthy; they center around material entities.

Even with regard to our Divine service, it is the actual observance of the mitzvos, not the meditation or feelings they arouse, which is of primary importance.

Yes, "G-d desires the heart." [5] But if one would meditate on the Shema all morning with love and fear and not actually recite the words, or one would be inspired with heartfelt compassion for a poor person, but would fail to actually give him charity, one's Divine service would be tellingly inadequate. For "deed is what is most essential." [6]

And thus mitzvos are referred to as "seeds," as it is written, [7] "Sow for yourselves for charity." [8]

For every mitzvah is an infusion of Divine-energy into our material world, which when cultivated will blossom and bear fruit.

In an ultimate sense, the fruit of the seeds will be the Redemption, the era when the G-dliness invested in the world through the Divine service of the Jewish people for thousands of years will flourish in overt revelation. [9]

This will remake the nature of our existence, allowing us to appreciate the inner Divine core within all being.

Since the world itself will become conscious of its G-dly nature, this redemption will never be followed by exile. For G-dliness will never become concealed again.

The Wonder of Conception

Our Sages [10] interpret the expression "When a woman conceives" as implying that it is she who initiates the intensification of the love relationship.

Similarly, in the analogue, the implication is that man does not merely respond to G-d. Instead, he penetrates to the core of his being and summons up the inner energy to heighten his connection with G-d.

On this basis, we can understand why the verse highlights the importance of conception.

Although, at birth, new life is brought into the world, the fetus already exists. It is at conception when that life is brought into existence, this being the closest example in our lives to creation something from nothing. [11]

Chassidic thought [12] explains that the potential to create something from nothing lies in G-d's essence alone.

Since He is not, Heaven forbid, dependent on any other cause, He has it within His potential to create something - material existence - out of absolute naught, without this something having any cause preceding it.

G-d has imparted His essence to man, and thus the core of every soul is "an actual part of G-d." [13]

As such, man also has the power of creation, but in reverse.

He lives in this material world, and makes "nothing from something," revealing the G-dly potential that exists within Himself and his environment.

This is the power of conception possessed by "the woman," mankind.

Through the expression of this potential, we become G-d's "partner in creation," [14] fashioning the world into a dwelling for Him. [15]

Life and Death

Tazria which underscores the theme of conception is the name of the entire Torah reading and thus is connected not only to the opening passages, but to the reading in its entirety.

This presents a difficulty, for although the beginning passages speak about birth, the main body of the Torah reading concerns itself with tzaraas, a bodily affliction identified with leprosy.

Tzaraas is the very opposite of new life.

Indeed, our Sages state [16] that a person afflicted with tzaraas is considered as if he is dead. What place does such a subject have in a Torah reading associated with new life?

This difficulty can be resolved on the basis of two concepts:

Firstly, tzaraas is not merely a physical malady, it is, to quote the Rambam: [17] "beyond the natural pattern of the world... a Divine sign and a wonder [18] for the Jewish people to warn them against speaking Lashon Hora (gossip and slander)."

Secondly, all the punishments prescribed by the Torah, are not for the sake of retribution, but rather to absolve a person's sin and enable him to correct his inner faults. [19]

Tzaraas clearly expresses this principle.

Because a person created strife and friction between others, he becomes afflicted with tzaraas, and as a result, is required to stay alone, outside his ordinary habitat. [20]

Only when he has cleansed the influence of friction from himself it is possible for his body to be become purified from its malady and for him to rejoin society.

Thus tzaraas is not a negative factor, but rather a Divine instrument intended to prod an individual to personal refinement and to encourage the spread of peace and love within our world.

As such, it is an extension of the theme of Tazria which focuses on our efforts to improve ourselves and our environment.

Tzaraas is employed as an analogy [21] to describe the status of our people in the present age, for we are in exile - "alone, with our dwelling outside of the camp." [22]

As explained above, our Divine service centers on Tazria, sowing seeds of G-dly influence through our observance of the mitzvos.

And soon, we will reap the harvests of these efforts with the coming of Mashiach. May this be in the immediate future.

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) See the commentaries to the Song of Songs.

  2. (Back to text) Zohar III, 73a.

  3. (Back to text) Isaiah 54:5. Note the connection between this verse and the opening of our Torah reading in the commentary of the Or HaChayim.

  4. (Back to text) See the commentary of the Or HaChayim mentioned previously which states that all marital relations create new souls.

    If a couple are found worthy, the creation of a soul is also associated with the conception of new life in the material realm.

  5. (Back to text) Cf. Sanhedrin 106b. Note Rashi's commentary. See also the association of this verse with the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.

  6. (Back to text) Cf. Avos 1:17.

  7. (Back to text) Hoshea 10:12. Note the reference to this verse in the commentary of the Or HaChayim cited previously.

  8. (Back to text) Here too, there is a connection with the analogy of birth for our Sages say (Rashi beginning of Parshas Noach): "The progeny of the righteous are good deeds."

  9. (Back to text) See also the commentary of the Or HaChayim mentioned previously.

  10. (Back to text) Niddah 31a, cited in the commentary of the Or HaChayim mentioned previously.

  11. (Back to text) See the series of maamarim entitled Sameach Tisamach, 5657.

  12. (Back to text) See Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 20.

  13. (Back to text) Tanya, ch. 2.

  14. (Back to text) Shabbos 119b.

  15. (Back to text) Cf. Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Behaalos'cha, sec. 3.

  16. (Back to text) Nedarim 64b. See the commentary of the Maharsha in his Chiddushei Aggados.

  17. (Back to text) Mishneh Torah, the conclusion of Hilchos Tzaraas.

  18. (Back to text) Therefore, in the present age, when the spiritual level of the Jewish people has descended, they are not fit for such Divine wonders to be openly revealed in their flesh. Hence, the phenomenon of tzaraas is no longer present (Likkutei Torah, Vayikra 22b).

  19. (Back to text) See Berachos 5a. Note also Kuzari, Discourse II, ch. 44.

  20. (Back to text) Erchin 16b, Rashi, commenting on Leviticus 13:46.

  21. (Back to text) Vayikra Rabbah, the conclusion of sec. 17.

  22. (Back to text) Leviticus 13:46.


Mashiach's Name

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VII, p. 100ff;
Vol. XXII, p. 77ff; Parshas Tazria, 5751;
Sefer HaSichos 5751, p. 491ff

Consummate Perfection and Superficial Flaws

Our Sages ask: [1] "What is Mashiach's name?" and reply "The leper of the House of Rebbi." [2]

This is very difficult to understand.

Mashiach will initiate the Redemption, and he is associated with the ultimate of life and vitality. Why then should his name be linked with leprosy (tzaraas) which, by contrast, is identified with death, [3] and exile? [4]

This difficulty can be resolved based on the statements of Likkutei Torah which explain that a person to be affected by leprosy will be: A man of great stature, of consummate perfection.... [5]

Although such a person's conduct is desirable, and he has corrected everything,... it is still possible that on the flesh of his skin, there will be lower levels on which evil has not been refined.

This will result in physical signs on his flesh, in a way which transcends the natural order.... [6]

Since the filth on the periphery of his garments has not been refined, therefore [blemishes] appear on his skin....

Moreover, these blemishes reflect very high levels as indicated by the fact that they are not considered impure until they have been designated as such by a priest.

The passage implies that there are sublime spiritual influences, that because of the lack of appropriate vessels, as evidenced by the "filth on the periphery," can produce negative effects.

For when powerful energy is released without being harnessed for positive purposes, it will create injurious effects. This is the reason for the tzaraas with which Mashiach is afflicted.

Mashiach's Burden

The Jewish people as a whole are described by the analogy of the human body.

This applies within every generation and also to the entire collective of our people as they have existed throughout history. [7] All Jews - those of the past, present, and future - are part of a single organic whole.

Since good is eternal, while evil is only temporary, [8] our people's spiritual level has been constantly advancing.

For there is a vast reservoir of good that has been filling up over the centuries. And thus when considering the entire scope of our national history, the Jewish people as they exist in ikvesa diMeshicha, the age when Mashiach's approaching footsteps can be heard, have attained the level of consummate perfection mentioned in Likkutei Torah.

Nevertheless, there are still blotches of evil on the periphery, for the world is still scarred by injustice and strife. And thus when the light of redemption cannot yet become manifest within the world, it is reflected in leprous blemishes which are visited on Mashiach itself.

For as the prophet states: [9] "He has borne our sicknesses and endured our pain... with blemishes, smitten of G-d, and afflicted."

Mashiach endures suffering, not for his own sake, but for the Jewish people as a whole.

Positive Import

There is still a difficulty.

Although the above resolution explains why Mashiach must endure suffering, it does not resolve why that suffering is identified with Mashiach.

Mashiach's name - who he is - should be positive.

Why is it connected with leprosy?

This difficulty can also be resolved on the basis of the passage from Likkutei Torah cited previously.

For that passage explains that leprous blemishes reflect "very high levels," their source being transcendent spiritual light. [10]

Nevertheless, for this light to be expressed in a positive manner, it requires appropriate vessels.

Mashiach's suffering brings about refinement in the world at large, making it a fit vessel for the revelation of this transcendent potential.

This - the revelation of transcendent G-dliness - is the heart of the Era of the Redemption, and therefore, it is associated with Mashiach's name.

The Name of the Torah Reading

The above concepts also clarify a difficulty with regard to the name of our Torah reading, Parshas Metzora.

Metzora means "leper."

One might think that the name of a Torah reading would be associated with a word(s) of more positive import.

This question is reinforced by the fact that in the works of the early Rabbinic sages: Rav Saadia Gaon, [11] Rashi, [12] and the Rambam, [13] a different name was in fact employed.

All of these authorities refer to the Torah reading with the name Zos Tihiyeh ("This shall be").

It is only in the later generations that the name Metzora became prevalent.

The explanation is that in these later generations, cracks and openings have appeared in the wall of exile, and through them, the light of Mashiach shines. And when the light of Mashiach shines, Metzora is not a negative factor, but, as explained above, an expression of transcendent G-dliness.

Through the Medium of Study

The Torah reading begins with the description of the purification process to be undergone by a person afflicted with tzaraas, saying "These are the laws of (Toras) the metzora."

By focusing on Toras hametzora (the laws of the metzora), not taharas hametzora, "the purification of the metzora," an allusion is made to a fundamental concept.

Torah study develops vessels that allow light - all lights, even the most highest - to be accepted and to be internalized in our world.

Through Torah study, the transcendent influence of tzaraas can be channeled into a positive force.

Similarly, with regard to Mashiach: it is studying the teachings of Mashiach which anticipate and precipitate his revelation, drawing down his influence into our world.

With New Life

Often, Parshas Metzora is read in connection with Parshas Tazria which is associated with the concepts of sowing seeds and conception of new life. [14]

Implied is that the seeds of our Divine service will not wait endlessly to be blossom in the Redemption, but that Metzora, the Redemption, will come immediately after the seeds have been sown. Conversely, the fusion of the two readings implies that Metzora, the Redemption, has already been conceived and the birth will be soon.

For the suffering Mashiach endures is the final step of preparation before his revelation. May it take place in the immediate future.

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) Sanhedrin 98b.

  2. (Back to text) See also Rashi, Sanhedrin 98a, who states that Mashiach will be afflicted by tzaraas and will sit among others who share this affliction. See the comments of the Maharal in his Chiddushei Aggados (Sanhedrin, loc. cit.:a,b) which state that just as a leper must be separate from all other people, so too, a king - and how much more so Mashiach - is on a unique level, removed from that of the nation as a whole.

  3. (Back to text) Nedarim 64b. See the commentary of the Maharsha in his Chiddushei Aggados.

  4. (Back to text) Vayikra Rabbah, the conclusion of ch. 15.

  5. (Back to text) See Zohar, Vol. III, p. 48a.

  6. (Back to text) See the Mishneh Torah, conclusion of Hilchos Tzaraas, where the Rambam states that tzaraas is not a physical disease, but a Divine sign above the natural order.

  7. (Back to text) See Tanya, ch. 2, Iggeres HaKodesh 7, based on Zohar, Vol. II, p. 141b and other sources.

  8. (Back to text) See Tanya, ch. 25.

  9. (Back to text) Isaiah 53:4.

  10. (Back to text) This is reflected in the fact that the Hebrew word for leprous blemish "nega" shares the same letters as the Hebrew word "oneg" meaning "pleasure."

    As explained by the Kabbalah (see Tanya, Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah, ch. 1), the letters which make up a word reflect its inner life-force. The inner life-force of "oneg" is the expression of Divine pleasure.

  11. (Back to text) In his Siddur, with regard to the laws of the reading of the Torah.

  12. (Back to text) In his commentary to Leviticus 13:8.

  13. (Back to text) In his Seder Tefillos at the conclusion of Sefer HaAhavah.

  14. (Back to text) Note the previous essay in this series, entitled "Conceiving New Life."


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