Cleanliness is the rung of immediate interest. Many of us are aware of the well-known phrase, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” For as cleanliness leads to holiness, or separation, holiness thus brings us to a higher level in Hashem through saintliness. This gives us good reason to practice cleanliness on a higher level.
But when we speak of cleanliness, what are we referring to? Is it merely the physical spotless nature of our bodies, clothes, possessions, or mind? The answer would be yes and no. It is indeed all of these things together and more - we must also include the spiritual. As we begin to pursue a deeper level of physical purity, we begin to notice that inevitably this behavior begins to trickle over into the spiritual.
As the rungs of the ladder in the above passage indicate, we begin with the physical - the Torah itself. Moshe Rabbeinu brought the Torah from Mount Sinai down to the Children of Israel - to ground level. Through studying and reading it, we begin to observe many physical commandments, as well as spiritual. However, without beginning with the physical, we could not ascend to the spiritual. We are earthly creatures; we must start out at the ground level and begin to ascend. As we continue on the ladder, the Torah causes teaches watchfulness, which in turn causes us to have zeal. Because of this zeal, we are brought to a level of cleanliness.
From this point of the physical, the transformation further up the ladder is higher and higher into the spiritual realm. Through every day acts of physical purity, from personal hygiene to keeping our possessions free from shmutz, we begin to climb higher and higher into deeper spirituality and holiness. Truly, cleanliness is next to Godliness. May the rungs we climb bring us to higher places where we can experience that purity and closeness to Hashem. And how? Start on the ground. Dust off your Torah and get busy...