As a native New Yorker, profanity is my first language. In New York, profane language is not considered sin or evil, but is simply a way of exclamating your comments. It lets people know you feel strongly about something.
The third haftarah of admonition comes from Isaiah 1:1─27. In this portion Isaiah brings charges against the people from God, calling them to remove the stains of bloodshed and oppression.
"And the Lord said to Moses, Go to the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes, and be ready by the third day; for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai." (Ex. 19:10–11)
As we continue to learn mussar through the days of sefirat ha-omer (counting the omer), we can see some helpful parallels between the two topics. Mussar is all about spiritual preparation and progress, and so is sefirat ha-omer, if we understand it properly. One tradition views this period—the transition from Passover, season of our freedom, to Shavuot, season of the giving of our Torah—as providing time for the newly-freed Hebrew slaves to rise up from their condition of bondage and become ready for the revelation of Torah. Some rabbinic sources speak of 49 levels of impurity that they needed to transcend. But even apart from that specific interpretation, it makes sense that it would take time to shed the slave mentality enough to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. The cleansing of garments that the Lord commanded at the end of this process culminated seven weeks of cleansing that led up to it.
In the 29th lesson of Likutei MoHaRaN, Rebbe Nachman speaks of the importance of clean “garments.” On the one hand, he is referring specifically to one’s clothing, while on the other hand he is referring to one’s speech.
“This is the concept of white garments. In other words, speech…corresponds to white garments. For it is necessary to take care of one’s clothing; not to abuse the clothing, but to care for them properly so that no spot or stain gets on them.” --Likutey Moharan, p. 209
Whenever we would visit my grandparents, everything in their Bronx apartment was in perfect order. Nothing was out-of-place, and there was no clutter lying around. The minute they were done with any paper, my grandfather would take it down the hall to the incinerator, and it was gone. Nothing was ever dusty, and all the glass was sparkling. My grandmother liked things to be clean. When she would visit our home, the first thing my grandmother did was to take for the vacuum and give our carpets the once over. At first my mom got offended, but in the end, she let grandma do her thing.
in the little shtetl of vaysechvoos
All were astir; the Gaon of Vilna was coming to Vaysechvoos! He would be staying in their modest village for one night on his way to Minsk.
One of the first activities incumbent upon Jews as preparation for morning prayer and meals is the act of ritual hand washing. One of the more interesting features of this mitzvah is the language of the blessing one recites upon performance:
In a world where spirituality is characterized as being an inner reality, it is easy to fall into a state of disconnect with the externality of spiritual life. We can lose the sense of value of how we present ourselves to one another and God on a physical level. We mustn’t forget that there are many times when the externalities of life are used as metaphors for things that encompass all dimensions of existence. Cleanliness is particularly connected to holiness in TaNaKh and in the apostolic Writings.
It’s strange to say, but unfortunately the spiritual disease of tzara’at does not exist today. Life might be a little easier if we had a physical barometer of how well our soul is connected to others and to the Divine. Once we see the physical signs we could get some help, repair, restore, and reconnect. Today our purity of soul is much more difficult to measure so we must be proactive in it’s care.