What is one of the names of the Messiah?

Our Sages asked, “What is Mashiach’s name?”

Consummate Perfection and Superficial Flaws

Presented with permission from Sichos in English, adapted from the essay posted at www.sie.org/templates/sie/article_cdo/aid/2348132/jewish/In-the-Garden-of-the-Torah-Metzora.htm

From the talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VII, p. 100ff; Vol. XXII, p. 77ff; Parshas Tazria, 5751; Sefer HaSichos 5751, p. 491ff.

Our Sages ask:1 “What is Mashiach’s name?” and reply “The metzora [a person afflicted with the unique skin blemishes called tzaraas; see Leviticus ch. 13] of the House of Rebbi.”2 This is very difficult to understand. Mashiach will initiate the Redemption, and is associated with the pinnacle of life and vitality. How can his name be linked with tzaraas …?

This difficulty can be resolved based on the statements of Likkutei Torah [Chassidic discourses by the Alter Rebbe], which explain that a person affected by tzaraas will be:

A man of great stature, of consummate perfection … 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 …3

Since the filth on the periphery of his [spiritual] garments has not been refined, therefore [blemishes] appear on his skin … Moreover, these blemishes reflect very high [spiritual] levels, as indicated by the fact that they are not considered [spiritually] impure until they have been designated as such by a [Jewish] priest [kohen].

The passage implies that there are sublime spiritual influences which, because of the lack of appropriate [spiritual] vessels (as evidenced by the “filth on the periphery”), can produce negative effects. For when powerful energy is released without being harnessed, it can cause injury. This is the reason for the tzaraas with which Mashiach is afflicted.

Mashiach’s Burden

The Jewish people as a whole are compared to a human body. This applies within every generation, and also to the entire nation throughout history. 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, [the Jewish] people’s spiritual level has been constantly advancing. A vast reservoir of good has been filling up over the centuries. The Jewish people as they exist in ikvesa diMeshicha, the [present] age when Mashiach’s approaching footsteps can be heard, have attained the level of [inner] 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 the light of redemption cannot yet become manifest; this is reflected in the tzaraas blemishes which are visited on Mashiach himself. For as the prophet states:4 “He has borne our sicknesses and endured our pain… with blemishes, smitten of G‑d, and afflicted.” [In every generation, the righteous Jewish man who is the potential] 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 passage explains why Mashiach must endure suffering, it does not show why that suffering is identified with Mashiach. Mashiach’s name – who he is – should be positive.

This difficulty can also be resolved on the basis of the passage from Likkutei Torah cited previously. For that passage explains that tzaraas blemishes reflect “very high [spiritual] levels,” their source being transcendent spiritual light,5 that are associated with Mashiach. Nevertheless, for this light to be expressed in a positive manner, suitable vessels are required.

Mashiach’s suffering will bring about a final refinement in the world at large, making it a fit vessel for the revelation of its transcendent potential. Since this revelation lies at the heart of the Era of the Redemption, the catalyst necessary to bring it about is therefore associated with Mashiach’s name.

The Name of the Torah Reading

The above concepts also clarify a difficulty with regard to the name of the Torah reading [which describes the spiritual purification process of a Jewish metzora], Parshas Metzora [Leviticus chs. 14-15]. Metzora means [a person with tzaraas blemishes]. One might think that the name of a reading in the holy Torah would be associated with a word of more positive import. This question is reinforced by the fact that in the works of the early Rabbinic sages, … a different name was employed for this reading. All of these authorities refer to the reading by the name Zos Tihiyeh (“This shall be” [the first words of Leviticus 14:2]). It is only in the later generations that the name Metzora [the main word in the verse Leviticus 14:2] became prevalent.

The explanation is that in these later generations, cracks have appeared in the wall of [the world's spiritual] exile, and through them the light of Mashiach shines. In the light of Mashiach, Metzora is not a negative factor but, as explained above, an expression of transcendent G‑dliness.

Through the Medium of Study

The Torah reading [Parshas Metzora, Leviticus chs. 14-15] begins with a description of the [spiritual] purification process to be undergone by a [Jewish] person afflicted with tzaraas, saying “These are the laws of the metzora.” By focusing on Toras hametzora (the laws of the metzora), not taharas hametzora, “the [spiritual] purification of the metzora,” an allusion is made to a fundamental concept.

Torah study develops human [spiritual] vessels that allow [spiritual] light – all light, even the most sublime – to be accepted by and internalized in our world. Through Torah study, the transcendent influence of tzaraas can be channeled into a positive force.

Similarly, with regard to Mashiach: studying the teachings about Mashiach precipitate his revelation, drawing his influence into our world.

With New Life

Often, Parshas Metzora is read in connection [together] with Parshas Tazria, which is associated with the sowing of seeds and the conception of life [the subject of its opening verses, Leviticus ch. 12]. This implies that the seeds of our Divine service will not wait endlessly in the dark ground of exile, but that Metzora, the Redemption, will blossom immediately after the last seeds have been sown.

Conversely, the fusion of the two readings implies that Metzora, the Redemption, has already been conceived; we are only waiting for the birth. For the suffering which Mashiach endures is the final step before his revelation. May it take place in the immediate future.

 

Footnotes
1. Tractate Sanhedrin 98b. Possible given names for Mashiach are also discussed, for example, Tzemach (“the flourishing one”), and “Menachem” (the comforter).
2. ["Rebbi" refers to the leading sage Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi (Judah the Prince), author of the Mishnah, a descendant in the dynasty of King David. He was afflicted with physical ailments. With these qualifications, he was recognized as the potential Mashiach in his generation.] See also Rashi, Sanhedrin 98a, who states that [before he is instructed by G-d to bring the Messianic redemption,] Mashiach will [on a spiritual level] be afflicted by tzaraas and will sit among others who share this affliction. See the comments of Maharal, which state that just as a [Jewish declared] metzora must be separate from all other people, so too, a king – and how much more so Mashiach – is distinguished from others.
3. In Mishneh Torah, conclusion of Hilchos Tzaraas, Rambam states that tzaraas is not a physical disease, but a Divine sign above the natural order.
4. Isaiah 53:4.
5. This is reflected in the fact that the Hebrew word for tzaraas blemish, negah, has 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 negah is the expression of Divine pleasure.

 

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