Rav Yisrael Salanter’s 13 Midos- #7

Cleanliness: Attain purity and cleanliness of body and dress

It seems a little weird writing about bodily cleanliness during the nine days, when one’s emphasis isn’t on our outward appearance. It’s much easier for me to focus on my neshama, instead of my guf. But the guf does house my neshama.
I can only guess that Rav Salanter, who was known for listening to medical advice, is referring to general hygiene and appearance. Now, health issues were rather serious back in the late 1800, as evident by the famous “cholera epidemic” on Yom Kippur in Vilna. This midah is about much more than just brushing your teeth. It’s about how the outside world views me.

My outer appearance needs to reflect my inner appearance. I try to reflect Torah values when I’m in my home and outside as well. Cleanliness of dress is an extension of what Rav Yisrael was trying to do with the Mussar movement. It was part of the refinement of character. Everyday Jews and yeshiva students alike could reach a higher level of self-worth. Teaching Jews to maintain a clean appearance and dress respectfully helped to counter the allure of the Haskallah. If one can look refined and still be Torah Jew, then all the better.

It’s really more of a mindset, for me, than anything else. If I really, truly, am a son of the King, then how I carry myself and how I dress should reflect that honor. This idea really holds true for most things in life. So why would Rav Yisrael stress cleanliness? Simply because I need to be happy with myself when I look in the mirror.

Do the clothes make the man? At times, yes. They also help make one into a Mensch Yisrael (to borrow a Hirschian term) and that’s my goal.

11 thoughts on “Rav Yisrael Salanter’s 13 Midos- #7

  1. Pragmatician

    I’ve learned before that appearances matter for a Jew but I was always surprised about it.
    If it’s about self esteem it makes sense, as it’s a vital ingredient in life..
    Yet in my eyes (for men) being concerned with appearances and clothes is very superficial.

  2. Rafi G

    appearance does matter and every society pretty (except teens) much accepts the fact that clothes makes the man, it is simply a difference of how each society chooses to dress.

  3. wogo

    There is a big difference between being neat and clean and “being concerned with appearances and clothes”.

    Nobody would consider Rav Yisrael “superficial” — his clothes were very simple, but always clean and pressed.

  4. Neil Harris

    I use to, in my early days of becomming frum, stick to my older style of dress, just to show others that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. That tactic was rather sophmoric, I believe.

    I guess the next question is “how much do appearances matter?” Any thoughts?

  5. FrumGirl

    Yes! I totally agree! I am what I wear! You just tapped into what the average american girl already knows, lol.

    Seriously speaking I once heard that a torah learner who has stained clothing is over an a huge aveirah! I dont know the source of this but I do think dressing nicely and cleanly is extremely important! Also, I never understood how some frum people dont brush their teeth andwalk around with plaque and stuff stuck in them… ugh!

  6. A Frum Idealist

    To some degree this is definitely true. I don’t think it’s so much what they are wearing, but perhaps how they are wearing it.
    If someone were to look at a talmid chacham with a critical eye because he was dressed like a slob and it would create a tremendous chillul hashem, that’s obviously wrong and a problem. That being said, I don’t think the same would apply to black hat or not black hat, white shirt vs. colored shirt.

  7. Neil Harris

    Frum Idealist said:
    ” I don’t think it’s so much what they are wearing, but perhaps how they are wearing it.”

    Once again, we’re on the same page. There are plent who will debate colored/white shirts. I believe there’s more to a passionate level of observance than that issue. I know plent of yirah shamyim Jews who would never put on a hat. I think most people judge to quickly.

    Bob said it nicely.

  8. chaverah

    Hello there Neil Harris first time to comment here. Funny how you mentioned about dressing clean and neat since I was just talking to a friend of mine and we were just talking about this. However unfortuanlty the opposite is true. During the 3 weeks you can not trim your beard so it gets “out of hand”. And for some reason men look “frummer” with longer beards. Why is that when a beard gets long and crazy do you have this “look” for more yeshivish then when you have a nice trimmed beard. Something to think about.

  9. Neil Harris

    Beards look different on each person. Some people look better with a long beard, others should be trimmed.
    We see “long beard” we think rabbi. It’s conditioning.
    Thanks for reading.

    Wogo: What reports I’ve read about Rav Yisrael seem to agree with our statement. Pomp and circumstance was not is MO.


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