Rebbe Nachman explains how, just as the cleanliness of one’s clothing indicates his/her level of dignity, one’s speech is indicative of one’s inner cleanliness. Speech serves as the “garment” of the mind. When our speech is filled with wickedness, we are reflecting an inner world that is unclean, hence terms like: “dirty words,” or “filthy mouth.” Just as stains on clothing suggest deficiency in cleanliness, so does stained speech. Rebbe Nachman does not suggest that one is more important that the other. His point is that cleanliness plays an integral role in the totality of how one presents him/herself.
One need not search to long to find such themes all throughout TaNaKh and the Ketuvim Sh’lichim (Apostolic Writings). Rebbe Nachman’s insight is unique because he draws a very important parallel between the mind and body that can be helpful for a fully orbed mussar work. To work on n’kiut (cleanliness) is not only to tackle spring-cleaning or guard one’s thoughts against impurity…both are necessary. Rebbe Nachman is teaching that just as we attempt to keep our clothes clean so should our speech be cleansed of slander and wickedness. The words we speak and the clothes we wear are so integral to our presentation to the world. That presentation ought to reflect the holiness that we claim as children of God.
I pray that we will all take Rebbe Nachman’s observation to heart and guard our tongues and clothing from blemish so that the people we present ourselves to be will bear ever-closer resemblance to the Holy One.