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he quality of cleanness consists in being free from evil traits as well as from sin. That applies not only to sin which is flagrant, but also to such as we are inclined to condone. If we were to look for the true reason why we condone certain sins, we should find that it is because the human heart is plagued, as it were, with lust, of which it is with difficulty ever thoroughly cleansed. Therefore are we inclined to be indulgent. Only the man who is entirely free from that plague, and who is undefiled by any trace of the evil which lust leaves behind it, will see clearly and judge truly. Desire cannot mislead him; he looks upon the most trifling sin as an evil to be shunned. Our Sages designated the perfect men, those whose standard of purity was so high that there was not the least trace of evil in them, as “The cleanminded men of Jerusalem” (San. 23a). You may know the difference between one who is merely self-watchful and one who is clean, although the two resemble each other in certain respects. The former is merely watchful of his conduct and takes care not to commit any flagrant sin. But he has not yet achieved such mastery of himself as to ignore the voice of inclination when it tries to prove to him that he may commit certain acts, the evil character of which is not manifestly flagrant. Although it is true that he endeavors to subdue his evil Yezer, and to subject his desires to control, he does not thereby alter his nature, nor is he enabled to dismiss the gross inclinations from his heart. He only succeeds in overcoming them, and in following wisdom instead of his inclination. With all that, the innate evil of his physical nature keeps on doing its work, and seeks to seduce him and lead him astray. Once a man has so trained himself in being watchful of his conduct that he has taken the first step toward being free from flagrant sin, once he has acquired the habit of zealously performing his religious duties and has developed a love and longing for his Creator, he will, by force of such training, learn to keep aloof from all worldly strivings and fix his mind on spiritual perfection, until he is altogether clean. The fire of physical passion will die out in his heart, and a longing for the divine will awaken in him. Then will his vision become so clear and so Chapter 10 h The Trait of Cleanliness 106 T 107 pure that nothing will mislead him. He will be beyond the sinister power of his physical being, and his conduct will be free from all possible taint. This chapter describes the level of spiritual attainment possible when one has mastered both the traits of watchfulness and zeal together. The result is nikiut, translated as “cleanliness,” in the sense of being “free from blemish.” Note, however, that one who achieves the level of nikiut is still far from having completed his or her progress along the path of uprightness. But one who reaches this level has begun work on the second major spiritual division described in Mesillat Yesharim, the level of saintliness. The first division, which comprises watchfulness and zeal, we may now call the level of the tzadik. The division that follows saintliness will be kedushah, or holiness. What then is nikiut? It represents the attainment of the level of tzadik that begins the work toward saintliness. Nikiut describes the state of human consciousness where one not only resists desire or appetite but also recognizes and resists the rationalizations employed by the yetzer ha-ra to justify appetite or desire in the name of necessary self-interest. Keeping in mind that the yetzer ha-ra is sometimes a legitimate choice, one must learn not only to de-center the self to make room for the other, but also to become awake to the false fears employed by the yetzer ha-ra to justify its acts of self-protection. Understanding nikiut clearly requires the previous analysis of pachad, which in turn required a discussion of watchfulness, to finally clear the space for zeal. Cleanliness is attained when, beyond watchfulness and zeal, the individual is unmoved by the false appetites presented as necessary for survival by the yetzer ha-ra. Both watchfulness and zeal operate primarily within the realm of kibbush, that is, they depend on...


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