(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 1:82-83)
Gemara: Rabbi Tzaddok said: The practice of the House of Rabban Gamliel was to give their white garments to the launderer three days before Shabbat [so that the job would be finished before Shabbat], but their colored garments even on Friday. From their words we learn that it is more difficult to wash white garments than to wash colored garments. Abayei gave a colored garment to a launderer and asked him how much he was charging to wash it. He answered: "The same as white." Abayei responded: "The Rabbis already preceded you [with the insight that it is easier to wash colored]."
Ein Ayah: [The context of the gemara is clearly in the realm of halacha and practical household information. However,] it is proper to attach a moral element to this discussion.
A person should try to fix natural characteristics so that natural shortcomings do not become attached to them. He should also be concerned about the actions he performs, for although they are not within the essence of the spirit, they still create an imprint on the form and the nature of the spirit.
White garments, whose color is from within, hint at natural characteristics, just as a spirit is imprinted by its characteristics. Colored garments, whose colors come from the outside and leave an imprint upon the garment, hint at one’s actions. Since the Rabbis said that it is harder to wash white garments, we can by extension say that it is harder to purify oneself from the natural characteristics he has acquired, as they require more time and more effort.
Shabbat should be a boundary for a person, so that in preparation for Shabbat, he should try to purify himself from flaws before the holy day comes. Regarding natural characteristics, this entails efforts three days before Shabbat. Regarding actions, even though they eventually impact on the spirit, it is like dyeing from the outside, and one day suffices. This is because something that is natural is harder to change than something that became incorporated only by means of bad habits created by improper actions.
Although it is important to work to improve one’s traits and actions, it should be done in a measured manner so that it should not be unnecessarily draining. This is especially true for a talmid chacham (like Abayei), for whom the Torah he studies directs his natural tendencies toward goodness and sanctity. Therefore, a sin that a talmid chacham commits would be a passing one that would not have as deep an imprint as a natural inclination, and thus can be more easily remedied.
One who tries to make things more difficult for a talmid chacham by telling him that he needs as much toil in fixing a passing improper act as in fixing an inborn personality flaw is doing an injustice. After all, the Torah he learns will remedy the serious flaws over time. If, at times, it is necessary to make such changes, this is indeed a serious matter. However, equating passing remedies, which are comparable to washing colored garments, with washing white garments, which is generally the lot of those who are not dedicated to intensive Torah study, is wrong. This is what Abayei responded. The Rabbis already distinguished between the different types of laundering for different types of fabrics. The scholar should take upon himself to fix the impact of imperfect actions, but within reason and with the realization that the power of Torah and fear of Hashem reinforce one’s proper attributes so that they are tilted toward goodness. Given the lesser degree of additional work that is needed, one should not overly burden the talmid chacham and take him away from his concentration on additional study, in order to remedy the situation in a different way.