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Mesillat Yesharim
( Path of the Just )

CHAPTER X

CONCERNING THE TRAIT OF CLEANLINESS

THE IDEA behind the trait of Cleanliness is that a person be completely clean of bad traits and of sins, not only those which are recognized as such, but also those which are rationalized, which, when we look into them honestly, we find to be sanctioned only because of the heart's being still partially afflicted by lust and not entirely free of it, so as to incline us towards a relaxation of standards. The man who is entirely free of this affliction and clean of any trace of evil which lust leaves behind it will come to possess perfectly clean vision and pure discrimination, and will not be swayed in any direction by desire, but will recognize as evil, and withdraw from every sin that he had committed, though it were the slightest of the slight. Accordingly, our Sages of blessed memory referred to those individuals who so purified their deeds as to leave in them not even a stirring of evil as "the clean-minded men of Jerusalem" (Sanhedrin 23a).

You will now note the distinction between the Watchful and the Clean man (although they are closely related). The first is Watchful of his deeds and sees to it that he does not sin in relation to what he knows, and what is universally acknowledged to be sinful; however, he is still not so much master of himself as to keep his heart from being pulled along by natural lust and inclining him to rationalize in relation to things whose evil is not thus acknowledged. For even though he exerts himself to conquer his evil inclination and to subdue his desires, he will not, because of this, change his nature; he will not remove bodily lust from his heart. All he will be able to do is overcome it and be governed, not by it, but by reason. The darkness of earthiness, however, will still persist in its work of persuasion and deception. But when a person habituates himself to Watchfulness to the point where he completely cleanses himself of the acknowledged sins, and accustoms himself to zealous Divine service so that love and yearning for his Creator grow strong within him, then the force of this habituation will draw him farther from the realm of earthiness and direct his mind towards spiritual perfection. Eventually he will attain to perfect Cleanliness, a state in which physical desire is extinguished from his heart through the strengthening within him of the longing for God. His vision will then possess the purity and clarity that I spoke of above. He will not be deceived, he will not be reached by the darkness of earthiness, and his deeds will be absolutely Clean.

David rejoiced in the possession of this trait and said (Psalms 26:6), "I will wash my hands in Cleanliness and I will go around Your altar, O God." In truth, it befits only him who is entirely clean of any stirring of sin or transgression to behold God, the King; for lacking such cleanliness one should only be ashamed and disgraced before Him. As Ezra the Scribe said (Ezra 9:6), "My God, I am ashamed and disgraced to lift, my God, my face to You." Unquestionably the attainment of perfection in this trait entails great labor; for the recognized and well-known sins are easy to avoid since their evil is apparent, but the analysis which Cleanliness requires is of the most difficult kind, because the sin, involved, as I have written above, is hidden by rationalization. As our Sages of blessed memory have said Zarah 18a), "The sins which a man treads underfoot surround him at the time of judgment." And it was in this connection that they said (Bava Bathra 165a), "The majority succumb to the sin of theft, a minority to that of illicit relations and all of them to the "dust' of slander." The last, because of the extreme subtleness of its nature and its concomitant insusceptibility to recognition causes everyone to succumb to it. Our Sages of blessed memory tell us (Introduction to Eichah Rabbathi 30) that David was Watchful and Cleansed himself completely and that because of this he went to war with great confidence, asking (Psalms 18:38), "Let me pursue my foes and overtake them; and let me not return until I have destroyed them," something which Yehoshafat, . Asa and Hezekiah, because they 1 ad not attained to such Cleanliness, did not ask. As David himself indicates within his statement (Ibid. 21), "Reward me, O God, according to my righteousness; according to the Cleanliness of my hands repay me." And he says again (Ibid. 25), "God rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the Cleanliness of my hands before His eyes." David speaks here of the same kind of purity and Cleanliness that we have spoken of before. And he continues (Ibid. 30), "For with You will I run upon a troop." "I will pursue my foes and overtake them" (Ibid. 38). And he himself says again (Ibid. 24:3), "Who will ascend the mountain of God, and who will stand in the place of His holiness? The Clean of hand and pure of heart."

This trait is certainly difficult to acquire, for a man's nature is weak. His heart is easily won over, and he permits certain things to himself by utilizing the opportunities for selfdeception which they present. One who has attained to the trait of Cleanliness has unquestionably reached a very high level of achievement, for he has stood up in the face of a raging battle and emerged victorious.

We shall now discuss the various particulars of this trait.

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