"If the tzara’at [skin disease symptoms] has covered all his flesh..." (Lev. 13:13)

One of the signs given by the Sages that the Messiah’s arrival is imminent is when "all governments become heretical, with none to rebuke them". (Sanhedrin 97a) This notion, they say, is alluded to in the law that if tzara’at covers the entire body, the person is undefiled.

There are two ways of understanding this sign given by the Sages:

...the Messiah is the world’s only hope...
  • Negatively, i.e. that heresy will infect all the world’s governments. None of them will acknowledge G‑d as Master of the world and its lawgiver, promoting instead licentiousness and barbaric behavior. In this entrenched, depraved condition, the Messiah is the world’s only hope; it is therefore a sign of his imminent arrival. But since the world will not be worthy of redemption, G‑d will redeem it "by force"—for His own sake, as it were, fulfilling the verse, "For My own sake, for My own sake I will do this, for how can I let My Name be profaned?" (Isaiah 48:11; see Sanhedrin 98a)
  • Positively, i.e. that the truth of the Torah will become so self-evident that it will be universally acknowledged that any government that does not submit to the Torah’s rules is "heretical," i.e., based on the delusion that it is possible to create a just and moral society any other way. Accordingly, the Jewish people will be esteemed as the preservers of the Torah’s message of true monotheism. In this enlightened condition, the Messiah’s imminent arrival will be a natural outgrowth of the world’s desire for moral perfection. G‑d will not have to "impose" the redemption on the world

Inasmuch as the Sages cite the law given in this verse as support for their sign, it follows that the two ways of understanding their sign parallel the two ways of understanding this law, namely:

    • Negatively: The spread of tzara’at over the entire body does not intrinsically indicate that the person is undefiled; the fact that it does so is simply another one of the Torah’s rules that are not grounded in logic or reason, just like the rest of the laws governing tzara’at. The Torah here "imposes" its will on reality, irrespective of natural causes or processes.

This, indeed, is the position adopted by Jewish legal exegesis, which therefore limits this rule to the case stated specifically in this verse: when tzara’at spreads out from a lesion that had been pronounced defiled or suspected of being so. In contrast, when tzara’at spreads over the entire body from the outset or from a lesion that was pronounced undefiled, the person must be declared defiled. (Mishneh Torah, Tumat Tzara’at, ch. 7.)

    • Positively: The spread of tzara’at over the entire body indicates that it is the natural condition of the person’s skin; this is why it does not render the person defiled. This is the position that Rashi adopts as the contextual understanding of this passage, according to which it makes no difference under what circumstances the spread occurs—in all cases it indicates that the person is undefiled.
The Torah ...promises that prior to the Redemption, the Jewish people will indeed repent...

Clearly, it is preferable that redemption occur the second way, obviating the need for universal moral degeneration and the forceful imposition of G‑d’s will on an antagonistic world. The Torah therefore promises that prior to the Redemption, the Jewish people will indeed repent fully, of their own accord, and on their own initiative, thereby ushering in the Redemption.(Deut. 30:2)

This repentance need not be evinced by a wholesale return to full Jewish observance, for that revival will be one of the Messiah’s first accomplishments. (Mishneh Torah, Melachim 11:4) Rather, this repentance consists of the sincere dissatisfaction with the present state of reality — accompanied by the resolution to change it — that we have all experienced numerous times throughout our lives.

It is therefore imperative that the Jewish people encourage the nations of the world to fulfill the commandments that the Torah obligates them to observe. By acknowledging the Torah as the sole possible basis for true ethical behavior and moral justice, the non-Jewish world will appreciate the Jewish people as the vanguards of world justice, morality, and peace. This will pave the way for the ultimate, messianic Redemption.

Adapted from Sefer HaSichot 5751, vol. 1, p 232, vol. 2, p. 692; ibid. 5752, vol. 2, p. 451; Likutei Sichot, vol. 32, pp. 77-83
© 2001 Chabad of California/www.LAchumash.org