In this week's Torah reading, we are given the laws of the various skin diseases [types of tzara'at, usually and incorrectly translated as "leprosy"] that can render a person spiritually impure. These specific diseases do not render an individual impure because of their physical contagiousness, but rather because their presence reflects some spiritual fault or contamination.

The first verse of these laws is:

"And G‑d spoke to Moses, saying, "A man on whose skin there is a raised-disease or an excess-disease or a bright-disease, and it turns into the plague of tzara'at on his flesh, he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons, the priests." (Lev. 13:1-2)

Regarding the appearances of the plagues, [we are taught that] they are two that subdivide into four. (Nega'im 1:1)

A man's spouse mirrors his own level of refinement….

The principle appearances are the bright-spot and the raised-spot; the "excess-spot" mentioned in the verse is interpreted to mean that there are two ancillary colors of spots for each of these, giving four colors (actually "shades" or degrees of white) that signal the onset of tzara'at. Also regarding them, it is written:

"[The Chaldean nation] is awesome and terrible; its judgment and its raised-disease come out of it." (Habakkuk 1:7)

From this verse we see that the occurrence of the raised-sign is caused by a manifestation of divine judgment.

Let us [first] note that the word for "my raised-disease" [in Hebrew, "se'eiti"] may be permuted to spell the word for "my wife" ["ishti"]. [This indicates that] if a person merits, [his wife is good to him; if not, she is like a plague to him].

"Se'eiti" is spelled: sin-alef-tav-yud; ishti: alef-shin-tav-yud.

On the verse: "It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helpmate opposite him" (Gen. 2:18; Rashi ad loc ), the Sages comment, "if he merits, she is his helpmate; if not, she becomes his opponent." In Chasidut this statement is interpreted to mean, "if he is refined, she [reflects this and] acts as his helpmate; if he is not, she [reflects this, too, and] becomes his opponent." A man's spouse mirrors his own level of refinement, particularly his sexual refinement.

Know that the four appearances [of the plagues] are [manifestations of the two wives of] 'Satan' and his two maidservants, Sagrir— and Tzar--, who attach themselves [parasitically] to Eve. He introduced pollution into Eve.

'Satan' is the name of the demon (i.e. an angel whose task is to promote wickedness) who is the general personification of evil. He appears in history first as the Primordial Snake, who raped Eve and thereby introduced the seminal evil of self-consciousness and self-orientation into humanity.

Elsewhere (Likutei Torah, Tazria), the two principle wives of 'Satan' are given as Na'am— and Lil--, and his secondary wives are their maidservants Garir— and Tzar--. These four represent the perversions of sexuality that lurk around a person's spouse, tempting him to defile his holy marital intercourse by making it a means for selfish gratification, mere base, sensual fulfillment, egotistic manipulation, etc., instead of selfless, divine love.

These four [she-demons] are opposite the four mothers that Jacob married, thereby imitating Adam. They are alluded to in the verse [describing King Og of Bashan]: "Behold, his bed is a bed of iron" (Deut. 3:11), for Og alludes to 'Satan'.

Jacob married two principle wives, Rachel and Leah, and their maidservants, Bilhah and Zilpah. The initials of their four names spell the Hebrew word for "iron", "barzel".

Og was the king who attempted to prevent the Jewish people from entering the land of Israel. Entering the Land of Israel is another analog of sexual intercourse, the Jewish people being the husband and the land the wife that they enter and fertilize both physically and spiritually, in order to produce physical and spiritual yield. Og, in seeking to prevent this holy entering, assumes the role of 'Satan', who, together with his wives, seeks to derail the holy intercourse between husband and wife.

It is apparent from this also that anyone who is not a member of the Jewish nation and lives in and thereby "husbands" the land of Israel is committing spiritual adultery. The Torah therefore forbids non-Jews to live in the Land of Israel. (Ibid. 7:2; Rashi ad loc.)

Jacob rectified the sin of Adam; he is therefore considered himself to be a rectified version of Adam, the consummate human being.

This relates to the 130 years during which Adam consorted with Lil--'s and spirits derived from 'Satan', whose name has the numerical value of 130 [plus the kolel].

Adam separated from Eve after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden and did not return to her until 130 years later, when they together had their third son, Seth. During this hiatus, he did not succeed in remaining celibate, but rather his sexual energies were spent succumbing to the fantasies offered him by 'Satan''s wives, and he thus sired legions of demons who propagated the energy of selfish sensual fulfillment ("evil") throughout reality.

'Satan' is spelled: samech-mem-alef-lamed: 60 + 40 + 1 + 30 + 131.

The reason the Torah uses the word "adam" for "man" in the phrase "a man on whose skin…" instead of [the more usual] word "ish" is because the sin [that causes tzara'at to appear on the skin is committed] because the individual is [in a sense reliving the life] Adam.

I.e. he is succumbing to sexual temptation, as we have seen that Adam did.

The only name used to describe someone in the fullest state [of divine consciousness] is "Israel". Before [Jacob was given this name], 'Satan' was attached to his thigh, and he was limping because [he was struck with regard to] the other rib that Adam had previously [lost], as it is written, "And He took one of his ribs." (Gen. 2:21) This [rib] was [made into] Eve, and not the other wife, Lil--.

As mentioned above, Jacob rectified the sin of Adam and in so doing became the perfected version of Adam (who had blemished himself spiritually by committing the primordial sin).

The purpose of Jacob's stay with Laban was to work on rectifying Adam's sin. As he later told Esau, Jacob "dwelt with Laban", the word "dwelt" alluding numerically to the 613 commandments he kept in order to perfect reality. (Ibid. 32:5, Rashi ad loc.) Having done this, Jacob prepared to return to the Land of Israel. Inasmuch as the Land of Israel is an analog to the Garden of Eden, his return there was to be the spiritual equivalent of Adam's return to the Garden, the restitution of reality to its pristine divine state.

But when Jacob returned to the Land of Israel (which, as we have seen, is a metaphor for marital relations) after his stay with Laban, he had to first prepare to confront Esau (another personification of 'Satan'). The night before their encounter, he wrestled with Esau's angel (i.e. 'Satan'), and although he overcame him, he was left limping because "he struck his hip-socket, so Jacob's hip-socket was dislocated." (Ibid. 32:26. See also v. 32)

When Jacob was healed of this limp, it indicated that he had overcome this temptation….

At the conclusion of this encounter, Esau's angel blessed Jacob and informed him that his name would become "Israel", but G‑d did not actually give Jacob this second name until later (after Jacob met Esau, the incident with Dinah occurred, and Jacob built an altar at Bethel). (Ibid. 35:10) In other words, there was some lapse of time between Jacob's struggle with Esau's angel and his completion of the rectification of Adam's sin, signaled by his being renamed "Israel". (See Rashi, (33:18) that Jacob was healed of his limp before he arrived in Shechem.)

In other words, as Jacob was about to enter the Land of Israel (an analog for marital relations) and complete the rectification of Adam's sin, 'Satan' came and attempted to derail him from achieving his goal. He did this by tempting him with sexual perversion, just as he had done at the dawn of history with Adam and he does whenever holy, loving marital relations are about to occur. In other words, he "struck" him with regards to his relationship with his spouse. Since Eve had been constructed out of Adam's rib, this is tantamount to saying that 'Satan' struck Jacob's rib, trying to subvert the true marriage, Adam-to-Eve, with a spurious one, Adam-to-Lil--.

When Jacob was healed of this limp, it indicated that he had overcome this temptation and had earned the name "Israel".

This is the meaning of the verse "Therefore she shall be called 'woman' [in Hebrew, 'isha'] for this one was taken from man [ish]." (Gen. 2:23)

The emphasized words indicate that Eve is here being contrasted with someone else, namely, Lil--.

The divine name Y-ah is [the difference] between them, and without it, they are both fire [in Hebrew, "eish"].

The Hebrew words for "man" ["ish", spelled alef-yud-shin] and "woman" ["isha", spelled alef-shin-hei] are very similar. Each is composed of three letters, two of which are the same as in the other word. The two common letters [alef-shin] spell the word for "fire", and the two different letters [yud in "ish" and hei in "isha"] spell the Divine Name Y-ah [spelled yud-hei].

As the sages of the Talmud point out (Sotah 17a), this means that the union of husband and wife should include the divine presence, and when it does not, they are not really a true man and woman but just two fires, two opposing passions.

This is why demons fly about in the air, for they are composed of the elements of fire and air.

Demons are produced by sexuality devoid of the presence of G‑d….

As we know, demons are produced by sexuality devoid of the presence of G‑d, i.e. the simple fire of sensual passion expressing selfish pleasure-seeking, etc.

After this digression regarding the essence of sexual perversion, the Arizal now explains why sexual perversion causes tzara'at.

As to why [the skin disease] is called "tzara'at", it is because [it comes from] Lil--, who was jealous [in Hebrew, "tzarat ayin"].

The term used for "jealous" here ("tzarat ayin", literally, "troubled of eye") is spelled tzadik-reish-tav ayin-yud-nun. The latter three letters can be considered simply the spelling out of the name of the letter ayin, so that the whole locution becomes tzadik-reish-tav-ayin. These are the same letters used to spell "tzara'at", tzadik-reish-ayin-tav.

She therefore kills the children of Eve, as it is written, "her rival provoked her repeatedly…." (Samuel I 1:6)

The word for a rival wife is "tzara", literally, a "troublemaker", since in a polygamous setting it is assumed each wife will consider the other a troublemaker. Lil— considered Eve such a troublemaker, usurping her perceived husband. In her angry jealously of Eve, she seeks to destroy Eve's children through infant mortality, crib death, etc. (G‑d forbid).

She cannot rule over someone who sanctifies himself during marital relations….

But she cannot rule over someone who sanctifies himself during marital relations, for such a person elicits a flow of seed from a supernal source, i.e. the river of the Garden of Eden. This becomes for [the married couple] a delight [in Hebrew, "oneg"], rather than a plague ["nega"]. This is alluded to in the verse "Happy are you who sow upon all the waters" (Isaiah 32:20) - the waters of life, referring to someone who sanctifies himself [during marital intercourse].

If marital relations are conducted in a spirit of selflessness, love, and holiness, the children produced are immune to Lil--'s machinations. The couple's delight in each other does not degenerate into a plague.

The words for "plague", "nega", and "delight", "oneg", are composed of the same letters:

"Nega" is spelled: nun-gimel-ayin.

"Oneg" is spelled: ayin-nun-gimel.

Proper intentions during marital intercourse ensure that these letters will be ordered properly.

In contrast, for someone who does not sanctify himself [during marital relations, his experience] becomes that of the plague. He elicits a flow of seed from the place of murky waters, the "waters of bitterness that bring curses", as alluded to in the laws of the suspected adulteress [sotah]. (par. Num. 5:22-23) This is why [the punishment of the suspected adulteress, when found guilty, is that] her belly swells and her leg falls off, (Num. 5:21, 27) because she was disloyal to her husband [by accepting] the impurity of the Snake.

By committing adultery, a person elicits unholy seed. This flow of seed becomes manifest as the water given to the suspected adulteress to drink; if she is guilty, it destroys her sexual organs and kills her.

And therefore also, if she is proven innocent, she "sows seed" from the supernal source. (Ibid. 5:28)

If she was innocent, the water given to her to drink is rooted in the same source as that of seed elicited during holy intercourse. According to the Sages, if the woman was infertile, the water makes her fertile; if she hitherto produced ugly children, she will henceforth produce beautiful children, and so on. (Rashi on this verse)

For Eve, [the impurity of the Primordial Snake] turned into the blood of menstruation, which causes tzara'at, and her delight [oneg] turned into plague [nega]. [The process of] Eden-river-garden [became the plague].

One cause of tzara'at is intercourse with a menstruating woman. (Zohar III:33b; Shaar HaGilgulim, introduction 38; Shaar HaPesukim, Iyov) During menstruation, a woman is acutely conscious of herself and her physical feelings and therefore not capable of focusing on marital relations in a selfless, loving way. Marital relations are therefore forbidden during this time, and someone who engages in them will be affected by the woman's self-orientation, leading to tzara'at.

"And a river came forth from Eden to water the garden." (Gen. 2:10) The same letters that spell both "delight" [oneg] and "plague" [nega] are the initials of the three words for "Eden", "river" ["nahar"], and "garden" ["gan"].

The hei of the name "Abraham" diminished itself.

The whole world was created in the merit of Abraham….

G‑d changed Abram's name to "Abraham" by adding the letter hei. In this context, He said, "Your name shall no longer be called 'Abram', but your name shall be 'Abraham', for I have made you a father of a multitude of nations." (Ibid. 17:5) This would be ample cause for haughtiness, but Abraham remained humble. This is alluded to by the following. In the verse "These are the generations of heaven and earth when they were created (Ibid. 2:4), the word for "when they were created" ("behibaram") can be permuted to spell "Abraham" (Avraham), indicating that the whole world was created in the merit of Abraham. (Bereishit Rabba 12:9) But in this very word, the hei - the letter that made "Abram" into "Abraham", the person on whose merit the whole world rests - is written small.

And therefore, these four appearances of tzara'at come upon the haughty, the sexually perverse, and the boastful. (See Arachin 16a) This is alluded to in the verse "…because the daughters of Zion have been haughty…" (Isaiah 3:16). The disease is called a "raised-disease" because [it comes from] haughtiness, and an "excess disease" because [it comes from] sexual perverseness, and a "bright-disease" because [it comes from having relations with a woman before she has purified herself from] the blood of menstruation. Therefore tzara'at comes from these [three sins].

"Excess" alludes to how a person seeks sexual fulfillment in ways other than with his spouse. "Bright" is the opposite of the darkness of blood.

This is also why it is written, "He shall be brought to the priest" - in order that he quarantine him, for during his isolation he will repent, inasmuch as when he is quarantined he cannot do evil or any of the things that cause tzara'at. If he did not repent, the priest would declare him [impure] and he would have to "dwell outside the camp, and announce [as he walked], "impure, impure!"(Lev. 13:45) [so that others would know to stay away from him].

Similarly, the souls above are quarantined by the angel Michael, the supernal priest, or by some other lesser angel, this being the meaning of the phrase "or to one of his sons, the priests".

But if [such a soul] is declared to suffer from tzara'at, woe to him, for "he must dwell alone outside the camp". The numerical value of the word for "alone" [in Hebrew, "badad"] is 10, meaning outside the realm of the ten sefirot, in the realm of evil.

Badad: beit-dalet-dalet = 2 + 4 + 4 =10.

"And he will call, 'impure, impure,'" meaning that he is given over to those who "wreck havoc in the field" (Songs 2:15), each of whom is called "a man of the field", for they are happy to be of the portion of "the man who knows how to hunt, the man of the field" (Gen. 25:27), this being the domain of Esau, may G‑d preserve us.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.