In the ten-rung ladder of spiritual growth outlined by Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair, three consecutive rungs are: “Cleanliness brings one to purity, purity brings one to chastity (i.e., abstinence from overindulging in physical pleasures).”
These three attributes correspond to the three “garments” of the soul: thought, speech, and action (but not in that order), as well as to the three pilgrimage festivals, the regalim .
Cleanliness is primarily an attribute of speech. Maimonides explains that one of the unique properties of Hebrew, “the holy tongue,” is that it is an essentially “clean” language” – no dirty words. As we saw in a previous post, it is Pesach that is the holiday of speech – freedom of speech. To speak freely does not mean to speak as you like, to use whatever words you like, whether clean or dirty. As we explained, to speak freely means to be able to give verbal expression to the innermost emotions of your heart. Such deep and authentic self-expression comes out (the secret of the Exodus) “clean.”
The holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates the Giving of the Torah, corresponds to the attribute of purity – more precisely, the purity of thought. For seven weeks the bride (the collective soul of Israel) purifies herself to marry her groom (God) on Shavuot. All her thoughts concentrate solely on her groom.
The holiday of Sukot corresponds to the attribute of chastity – chastity in deed. We leave our house and its physical comforts to dwell outside for seven days in a booth (Sukah). We identify with our ancestors who sojourned through the wilderness for forty years (on their way to the Promised Land) without home and other physical facilities.
The initials of the three attributes (נקיות טהרה פרישות) spell “balsam” (נטף), the first of the ingredients of the incense offered in the Temple service. A soul that possesses these three attributes is a fragrant soul, a soul capable of sweetening life’s severities, bringing healing to the plights of the mankind.
The gematria of the three words, 1781 = 13 times 137 or “love” (אהבה) times Kabbalah (קבלה). In addition, 1781 is the gematria of the three primary sefirot (Divine emanations) down the middle line of the Tree of Life: keter (כתר, 620, “crown,” the super-conscious), the source of cleanliness (i.e., God forgiving us and thereby cleaning us of all our iniquities), tiferet (תפארת, 1081, “beauty” and “compassion,” the secret of the Torah given us at Sinai), called a “pure heart,” and yesod (יסוד, 80, “foundation,” the “sign of the covenant”), which embodies the property of chastity.