So often, when I discuss the prospect of Moshiach with people they tell me "Not in my lifetime!" I don't really blame them, considering how unspiritual our world appears these days. Ironically, a world with a confused moral compass is no obstacle to Moshiach.
Whatever picture you have of Moshiach in your mind, I doubt it's of a man ravaged by skin disease.
Yet, the Talmud indicates he will be a "tzara'as" sufferer. Tzara'as is a Biblical/spiritual disease- often mistranslated as "leprosy"- that manifested as an unusual skin rash that could only infect very spiritual people (hence, no tzara'as today). You got it if you lapsed in your connection to G-d.
When they're positing on what Moshiach's name might be, the Talmudic sages suggest "the leper of the yeshivah" as an option. Who'd have thought that to be a complimentary title to include in the list with "redeemer" or "comforter"?
The plot thickens. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi enjoyed regular study sessions with the prophet Elijah (just think of it as a very advanced Skype session). One day, he asked Elijah when we could expect Moshiach (Elijah's job is to announce Moshiach) and the prophet responded that he should ask Moshiach in person.
Well, that must have surprised the venerable sage and he asked Elijah where he could expect to find Moshiach. After all, most people imagine he's waiting in Heaven to be dispatched down to save Earth.
Actually, Elijah directs Rabbi Yehoshua to the gates of Rome, where he can expect to find the Moshiach sitting among the lepers- or, more accurately, among those suffering from the spiritual "tzara'as" affliction.
Again, Moshiach is described as suffering from tzara'as. You would think that the man tasked with bringing the world to perfection would be pretty perfect himself, not someone battling with his own defects.
Or perhaps there's much more to the tzara'as story.
Chabad spiritual teachings reveal a whole different perspective on tzara'as. It is a skin disease that mirrors a skin-deep spiritual issue. In fact, the Torah says it afflicts the "skin of the flesh" an uncharacteristic tautology that's there to show you just how superficial the disease is. A rash can be horribly unsightly and extremely irritating, but it is hardly ever life-threatening. An eczema sufferer may well have a robust heart and perfect liver.
Which may offer us a clue as to why Moshiach suffers from a (spiritually-initiated) skin condition.
G-d put us and the Torah into the world to partner in refining and redefining it. We are here to create a healthy spiritual environment within which peace, morality and yearning for higher purpose will flourish.
History is mostly a timeline of killing and plundering, which indicates that the world is not naturally aligned with its Divine purpose. For most of history, people distrusted each other, the majority remained (or were deliberately kept) uneducated, second-class and disenfranchised. Our world was unhealthy.
Today, Russians and Americans work together on the International Space Station, world economies are largely interconnected and people link across language and cultural barriers to protect the environment or human rights and to promote peace. Technology has become a central nervous system that links all humanity. The world's internal organs are healthier than ever.
But, on the surface, our world still looks ugly. Life is too expensive, the wrong people are in power, the bad guys get away with their crimes and the average citizen entertains himself by ogling at others' pain or shame. Respect for authority, morals and elders is "last season" and so success is often defined as sacrificing family for fortune. The filthy underbelly of society is consistently coughed up on city billboards, the Internet and in the sanctuaries of politics and religion.
Watch the news (actually, I believe "don't watch the news") and you'll be convinced that Moshiach coming into this environment is a pipe-dream. Right?
Don't be fooled: Moshiach is a tzara'as sufferer. He has an ailment that looks terrible, but is really quite superficial. By describing Moshiach as a metzorah, the Talmud hints to the world being a tzara'as-place just before he gets here. It will look horrible just before he comes, but it will be a world that has put its fundamental principles (like collaborative governance and economies or fighting poverty, illness and discrimination) in place.
Don't write our world off because of how bad it looks; it's actually a textbook pre-Moshiach environment.