Rabbi Eliezer said: “A person should repent one day before his death.” (Avot 2:10)

The foolish servants came all sweaty and soiled…"
The foolish servants came all sweaty and soiled…"
How can a person repent one day before his death? No one knows when he might die. Let a person therefore repent every day, lest tomorrow be his last.

Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai explained this with a story. Once a king informed all the people in his palace that they were all invited to a feast. However, he did not tell them when he would make it.

Some of his servants said to themselves, “We have so much work to do. We cannot just stop everything. When the king decides to make his feast, we will notice the preparations being made, and then we will wash up and get ready.”

Other servants were wiser. They said, “The king can arrange a banquet at a moment’s notice. We had better wash up and get dressed now, so that we won’t be caught off guard.” In eager anticipation, they put on their best clothing right away.

Some time went by. Then suddenly, the king made an announcement.

“Everyone is requested to come to the banquet hall immediately!”

Everyone rushed to fulfill the order. The clever servants were all dressed nicely. The foolish ones were afraid they might be locked out if they came late. They came in their soiled clothes, all sweaty from their labors.

The king was very pleased with the wise servants. He served them with wonderful food and drink. Then he turned to those who had not prepared. “Fools!” he said. “Why did you not get ready immediately? Did I not tell you I was preparing a lavish banquet? How dare you come in shabby clothes? You do not deserve to enjoy the feast!”

“What shall we do?” they asked in shame.

“You will stand by and watch as the others enjoy their feast. Your embarrassment will be your reward.”

Rabbi Johanan explained, “My students, you must be like the clever servants of the story.

G‑d can summon anyone of us to His palace on a moment’s notice.

“Wash and prepare yourselves each day, through repentance and good deeds. Then when your time comes, you will ascend directly to Heaven with pure souls, and you will be admitted at once to the banquet, to enjoy the presence of the Shechina (G‑d). This is the way of the righteous.

“The foolish servants are like those people who think they can be selfish and do whatever they want their whole life long. They bless themselves in their heart, saying that they will change for the good just before they die.

“They listen to their Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) day after day, and never repent. Then they are summoned to Heaven, and come still wearing their ‘filthy clothes,’ full of stains from all their bad deeds. What shame they feel, as they see the truth, and watch the righteous enjoying the feast G‑d has set out for them.

This story has a special meaning for us. Now we must prepare ourselves to greet Moshiach. The time for the redemption has arrived, and Moshiach can come any minute.

We must put on our best “Shabbat clothes,” with good deeds, good words, and good thoughts, so that we will be “properly dressed” for the great banquet that will take place when Moshiach comes.