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When the meshiach (Jewish messiah) arrives, he’ll have a name. He will be a human being, a direct descendent of King David, and he’ll be on an exceedingly high spiritual level, never before attained by man. Yet, he’ll be a soul in a body, and that’s why he’ll need a name. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 98) suggests that he’ll be called chivra, which means “the white one.” Rashi explains that he’ll be white because he’ll be a leper, whose skin turns white. Why a leper? Because “he bore our illnesses and endured our troubles, and yet we considered him stricken by G-d and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4). We know that the meshiach, as indeed every tzaddik (righteous person) suffers for our mis-deeds and transgressions. But, why exactly would his afflictions come in the form of the white plague that is similar to leprosy (in Hebrew, tzara’at), as opposed to any other illness?

In Chassidic literature (Likutei Torah, parshat Tazria, p.22B), the Ba’al HaTanya (founder of Chabad chassidus) describes the white plague of tzara’at as an affliction which affects only people of lofty spiritual status. After they have succeeded in refining and elevating all of their inner attributes, and all that is left is to polish and refine their external character, G-d may afflict their externalities (such as skin, or clothes) with tzara’at in order to draw their attention to the fact that this is what is necessary for them to work on. That’s why the verse speaking of tzara’at (Lev. 13:2) says, “When adam will have [tzara’at] on the skin of his fleshŔ The word adam here refers to the highest kind of man, he who has actualized himself spiritually and intellectually. Nevertheless, even he must undergo purification and elevation of his external manifestations. Perhaps this is the reason that the meshiach will be called chivra, or the white one – because he will make an appearance only when the Jews have so elevated themselves that all that’s left to refine is their external, superficial façade.

If so, the meshiach will arrive after thousands of years of Jewish exile, during which the collective Jewish nation purified and elevated itself through all of its suffering and pain. Just as we went through the “iron furnace of Egypt,” emerging strengthened and tempered, so have we endured thousands of years of the exile of Edom, in order to emerge refined enough to accept the meshiach. Perhaps that’s the reason that the meshiach will be called chivra – the one who is plagued – because his task will be to elevate and perfect the remaining Jews and prepare them for a new spiritual era.

The only problem with this explanation is that it focuses on the negative aspect of the arrival of meshiach – the final purification and elevation of whatever transgressions and mis-deeds might be left to rectify. However, it’s known that the main effect of the meshiach on the world will be positive; his arrival will usher in a new era of spiritual opportunity and expression, not to mention peace and physical abundance. Therefore, his name should reflect this positive development, and not only the minor spiritual work that will be left to do. The name of meshiach should express the positive effect that he will have upon the world, and not only the rectification that will remain to achieve.

For that reason, we have to find something positive in the name chivra itself. There must be something positive about tzara’at that justifies it being used as the name of meshiach. And that as well we find in the Chassidic literature – the Ba’al HaTanya says that tzara’at originates from orot elyonim, or high spiritual illuminations. The only problem is that this illumination comes from such high spiritual level that it has no adequate expression down here in the physical world - now. We, as souls in bodies, cannot adequately express the greatness and goodness of this level, and for that reason these high illuminations come down to us garbed in the negative manifestation of a plague. The extreme spiritual elevation of orot elyonim expresses itself in this world as tzara’at. In terms of avodat HaShem (service of G-d), the Ba’al HaTanya explains that tzara’at is a result of ratzoh (intense cleaving to G-d) without shuv (return to the physical world in order to draw down G-dliness). When a person only wants to go up (spiritually) but not to come down and express holiness in this mundane physical world, he may be struck with a visitation of tzara’at (G-d forbid). Such a person thinks that the only thing that’s really important is the inner life of the soul, which only wants to be attached to G-d. He hasn’t yet come to terms with his outer, external life, that’s expressed in speech, action, and in his way of dressing and living. That’s why tzara’at can appear on a person’s skin, or his clothes or on the walls of his house. It’s G-d’s way of telling him that he needs to pay attention to and perfect the outer aspects of his existence, as well.

(From this point of view, it’s interesting that the commandments regarding tzara’at appear in our parsha, Tazria, following the story of the sons of Aharon the high priest. In the previous parsha – Shmini – it is narrated that two of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu – offered up a ‘strange fire’ to G-d. It is explained that with their offering, they only wanted to cleave to G-d and not to deal with the physical world. In so doing, they lost their lives – they remained cleaving to G-d but their souls left their bodies).

Now, we can understand the true reason that meshiach may be named chivra – the white one (other names are suggested in the Talmud, including Yinun, Menachem, etc). When the meshiach arrives, we will not be subject to any spiritual boundaries. The highest spiritual levels –those that cannot be expressed adequately in any physical vessel – will be accessible and attainable. The orot elyonim (lofty illuminations) that are the spiritual origin of tzara’at will no longer be expressed as a plague. They will find expression in the meshiach and in his generation as they are Above – the true goodness and kindness of G-d. And then the name of meshiach – chivra – will come to mean not tzara’at and plague, but orot elyonim – lofty lights of spiritual illumination, even down here in the physical world.

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, ztz’l, vol. 37, pp. 33-36 Rabbi David Sterne, Jerusalem Connection in the old city of Jerusalem